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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Bush rejects Saddam 9/11 link
Bush delivers his State of the Union address in January 2003
Bush maintains Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are connected

US President George Bush has said there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 11 September attacks.

The comments - among his most explicit so far on the issue - come after a recent opinion poll found that nearly 70% of Americans believed the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks.

Mr Bush did however repeat his belief that the former Iraqi president had ties to al-Qaeda - the group widely regarded as responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington.

Critics of the war on Iraq have accused the US administration of deliberately encouraging public confusion to generate support for military action.

We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 11 September attacks
President Bush

At a time when the credibility of government intelligence and information is under the spotlight, President Bush probably had little choice but to scotch the confusion, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington.

But if the public believes that they were given the wrong impression by the administration, then there may be a political cost involved with the presidential campaign under way, our correspondent says.

Lack of clarity

"We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 11 September attacks," Mr Bush told reporters as he met members of Congress on energy legislation.

Many Americans believe that some of the hijackers were Iraqi - when none were - and that the attacks had been orchestrated by Baghdad, despite any concrete evidence to support that.

This confusion has been partly attributed to, at best a lack of clarity by the administration and at worst, deliberate obfuscation, correspondents say.

As recently as last Sunday, Vice-President Dick Cheney, refused to rule out a link between Iraq and 11 September, saying "'we don't know".

"We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who've had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Jordanian link

On Wednesday, Mr Bush said Mr Cheney was right about suspicions of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, citing the case of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a leader of an Islamic group in northern Iraq called Ansar al-Islam believed to have links to al-Qaeda.

The US believes Mr Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad and helped to orchestrate the assassination of a US diplomat in Jordan.

And Mr Bush denied there had been any attempt by his administration to try to confuse people about links between Saddam Hussein and 11 September.

"What the vice-president said was is that he [Saddam] has been involved with al-Qaeda.

"And Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda operative, was in Baghdad. He's the guy that ordered the killing of a US diplomat... There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda ties."

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"President Bush has been cornered into making a potentially dangerous admission"

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