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Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Cheney asserts Iraq-al Qaeda link
Vice-President Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney said al-Qaeda was working in Iraq before the 2003 war
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has repeated his assertion that the al-Qaeda network had links with Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003.

Mr Cheney told a US radio show: "They were present before we invaded Iraq."

Hours earlier, a declassified Pentagon report said information obtained from Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein had confirmed they had no strong ties.

Its publication followed pressure from Democrats who suggest intelligence was twisted in the run-up to the war.

The belief that Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda were working together was an important element in the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq.

Critics have since suggested the administration "cherry-picked" from available intelligence to bolster that case.

'Inappropriate' intelligence

Mr Cheney, in an interview with conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, insisted there had been a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the al-Qaeda terror group.

He said former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been leading the network's operations in the country before the 2003 US-led invasion.

Osama bin Laden with followers
The US still does not know where al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden is
"He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organised the al-Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June," he told the show.

The newly declassified Pentagon report was based on interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two of his aides, as well as documents seized in Iraq.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, had pushed for its full release after it was released in summary form in February.

In a statement on Thursday, he said the document showed why a defence department investigation had concluded that some Pentagon pre-war intelligence work had been "inappropriate".

The report into former Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith's handling of intelligence on Iraq was prepared by the defence department's top watchdog, Inspector General Thomas Gimble.

Under repeated questioning by Mr Levin in February, Mr Gimble said the conclusions reached in reports by Mr Feith were not fully supported by the available intelligence.

In particular, his conclusion there was a "mature and symbiotic relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda could not be justified on the basis of the available intelligence.

In addition, an alleged meeting between an Iraqi intelligence officer and a leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohamed Atta, never took place.

Mr Feith's supporters stress that the inspector general found no evidence of illegal or unauthorised activity.

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