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Al Qaeda Still Potent, Report Says

August 01, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — The war against Iraq did not significantly diminish Al Qaeda and may even have hampered the struggle against the terrorist network, a British parliamentary committee said Thursday.

Osama bin Laden's organization continues to pose "a substantial threat" to Britons, even after the capture of many of its leaders, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report on the war against terrorism.

When the United States made its case for war against Saddam Hussein, it linked Iraq to the Al Qaeda network, although many critics insisted that there was no proof of a connection. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush's strongest ally, steered clear of that allegation, saying Hussein had to be disarmed before his weapons of mass destruction reached the hands of terrorists.

The legislators said the Iraq war -- described by Blair and Bush as a battle in the war against terrorism -- may have hampered the struggle against Al Qaeda, which orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks.

The panel said expert witnesses had testified of their fear that the conflict "might have enhanced the appeal" of the terror network to Muslims.

"Al Qaeda has dangerously large numbers of 'foot soldiers,' and has demonstrated an alarming capacity to regenerate itself," the committee said in its report.

Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that he did not believe the Iraq war helped Al Qaeda's recruiting.

"Removing Saddam has removed a sponsor of terrorism," Rammell said. "Removing him I think helps us in the war on terrorism."

The committee's report also said the disorder in Iraq following Hussein's overthrow was predictable, and it criticized Britain and the U.S. for failing to restore stability more quickly.

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