LONDON – British Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted Wednesday that Iraq has some links with Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, despite a British Broadcasting Corp. report that British intelligence has discounted any ties.
Blair said, however, that he did not base his support for possible military action against Iraq on any such links.
The BBC said a leaked document, written by an intelligence unit at the Ministry of Defense three weeks ago, concluded there is "no current link" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The document said a past effort by the two to work together had fallen apart over ideological differences.
Blair said he read the document Wednesday morning, denying the BBC report that he had been given the document earlier.
"It actually isn't primarily about Al Qaeda and Iraq at all," he said, answering questions in the House of Commons.
"What it merely says, which is absolutely true, is that historically it has always been the case that, of course, Al Qaeda and Iraq would have different positions."
The BBC said the Defense Intelligence Staff report accepted there had been contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the past. But any "fledgling relationship foundered, due to mistrust and incompatible ideology" between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party, the BBC quoted the assessment as saying.
"Though training of some Al Qaeda members in Iraq may have continued, we believe that bin Laden views the Baath as an apostate regime. His aim of restoration of an Islamic caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, is in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq," the BBC quoted the document as saying.
Repeating past statements, Blair told the House: "Yes, on the one hand, we do not know of a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, but there are unquestionably links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Just how far those ... links go is a matter of speculation."
"This is not a situation that is static. It is changing. We are getting fresh intelligence the entire time," Blair added.
Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, asked Blair whether he was losing the battle for public opinion "by talking up links between Al Qaeda and Iraq which do not appear to be sufficiently supported by our own domestic intelligence services."
"I think he will find that, far from having pushed this as the reason for action, what we have done on each occasion is merely, as I have done just now, respond to questions," Blair said.
"And I do not think it is fair to suggest that we are trying to push this in some way as a cover for any lack of argument on weapons of mass destruction," the prime minister said.
President Bush has accused Iraq of being linked to Al Qaeda and said those ties "portend a danger for America and for Great Britain, anybody who loves freedom."
Saddam denied he had any links to Al Qaeda in an interview broadcast Tuesday in Britain.
Earlier Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of current links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
"The Iraqi regime appears to be allowing a permissive environment in which Al Qaeda is able to operate," Straw said. "But we don't know the full extent."