9/11, Iraq: Cheney again claims tie
VP attacks Dems for first time since Libby conviction


Stewart M. Powell, Hearst Newspapers
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

(03-13) 04:00 PDT Washington -- Vice President Dick Cheney, lashing out at Democrats for the first time since the felony conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his former top deputy, resumed his controversial claims Monday that the war in Iraq is the central front in the worldwide U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney linked Iraq and al Qaeda even though post-invasion reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the presidential Commission on Intelligence Capabilities found no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invasion on March 19, 2003.

In remarks to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Cheney contended that U.S. Marines face al Qaeda operatives in Anbar province, that the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown has unmasked al Qaeda car bomb operations in Baghdad and that Osama bin Laden has promised to make Baghdad the capital of a radical Islamic empire reaching from Indonesia to Spain.

"As we get farther away from 9/11, I believe there is a temptation to forget the urgency of the task that came to us that day, and the comprehensive approach that's required to protect this country against an enemy that moves and acts on multiple fronts," Cheney told the annual conference of the pro-Israel group, which interrupted his speech at least 27 times with applause.

"Iraq's relevance to the war on terror simply could not be more plain," Cheney said. He said al Qaeda terrorists have made Iraq the central front in the U.S. war against terrorism.

The U.S. invasion, occupation and counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq over the past four years has claimed the lives of at least 3,193 U.S. soldiers, wounded 23,785 other GIs and cost taxpayers more than $400 billion.

Cheney spoke as part of the Bush administration's public relations offensive to win congressional support for the president's decision to send at least 26,100 additional U.S. combat and support troops to Iraq to try to stem bloodshed in Baghdad and Anbar province.

The administration also seeks congressional approval of an additional $100 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cheney has long contended that the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago this month was justified in part because of suspected ties between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

But a 148-page report released by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee in September showed that U.S. intelligence agencies disagreed with Bush administration claims of links between Hussein and al Qaeda.

Cheney's hard-hitting remarks represented a symbolic rejoinder to some critics' contention -- and some Democrats' hopes -- that the vice president might be sidelined by the federal felony conviction of Libby last week.

Libby, facing sentencing June 5, ran afoul of a special prosecutor's investigation into an effort by Cheney to smear a prominent anti-Iraq war critic who raised questions about Bush's effort to justify the Iraq invasion with claims that Hussein tried to buy nuclear weapons materials in Africa.

Cheney spoke six days after Libby, his former chief of staff and national security adviser, was convicted for obstruction and false statements.

"When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that's been called slow bleed, they're not supporting the troops, they're undermining them," Cheney declared. "When members of Congress speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."