Blair: Iraq Linked To Al-Qaida

January 29, 2003 - LONDON (AP) -- Iraq has links with the al-Qaida terrorist network, but the "exact extent" of their cooperation is unknown, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

Blair's comment came a day after President Bush said in his State of the Union speech that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida."

Blair responded to a question from opposition Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who recalled that British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon had said earlier in the week that ties between Iraq and al-Qaida were "not strong."

Pictured added to this article on December 16, 2011"We do not know of evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaida in circumstances concerning the Sept. 11 attack," Blair told the House of Commons.

"We do know of links between al-Qaida and Iraq. We cannot be sure of the exact extent of those links."

Blair did not say what evidence Britain had of such links.

In Baghdad Wednesday, Hazem Bajilan, a member of the Iraqi Parliament, denied that his country had any connection with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

"These allegations have been raised before by Mr. Bush," lawmaker Hazem Bajilan told AP Television News. He dismissed the allegations as pretexts for war.

Blair again faced hostile questioning from a lawmaker in his own Labor Party about Britain's enthusiastic support for U.S. policy.

Lawmaker Lynne Jones asked Blair why Saddam poses "a greater threat today than he did in 1997, 1998, 1999, and all the time my right honorable friend was prime minister, up until President Bush's 'axis of evil' speech, when apparently the situation changed."

Blair countered that he had long regarded Saddam as a menace. "Precisely because he was a threat, there have been thousands of British forces down in the Gulf the whole time, flying over the no-fly zones," Blair said.

"The fact is, way before President Bush's speech, at the very first meeting I had with President Bush back in February 2001, I said that weapons of mass destruction is an issue, and we have to confront them."

Responding to a lawmaker who called out, "Who's next?", Blair said: "After we deal with Iraq we then do ... through the United Nations, again, have to confront North Korea about its weapons programs. We have to confront those companies and individuals trading in weapons of mass destruction.

"And another question is shouted at me, 'When do we stop?' We stop when the threat to our security is fully and properly dealt with," Blair said.

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