WASHINGTON – The Bush administration believes a new tape purportedly of Usama bin Laden, aired by the Al-Jazeera satellite television station, is clear evidence that there is a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday the audiotape of the Al Qaeda leader confirms the terror network's "linking up" with the Iraqi regime. U.S. counterterrorism experts say they believe the voice on the tape is that of the elusive bin Laden, though Fleischer said the proof is not yet considered conclusive.
Sen. John McCain said the tape, aired Tuesday, proves that bin Laden and Saddam will do anything to destroy the West. "The two of them together can make a very potent recipe," McCain said in a television interview.
But he cautioned that he's not sure if the tape shows a definite Al Qaeda link to Iraq.
The voice on the tape urges Iraqis to stage suicide attacks and lure American troops into bloody urban battles to inflict "big casualties."
Fleischer dismissed critics who've noted the bin Laden voice backs the Iraqi people, not Saddam Hussein. "The world cannot afford to be in denial," Fleischer said.
In an interview Wednesday with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan denied his country has any links with Al Qaeda or has sheltered any members of bin Laden's group. He claimed the United States was using the Al Qaeda allegation as a pretext for war.
"They are looking for oil, for Arab oil and want to protect the Zionist entity that usurped the land of the Arabs," Ramadan said.
Germany also isn't buying into U.S. claims that Iraq has a link with Al Qaeda, with a spokesman for Germany's chancellor saying the government doesn't believe it can conclusively say there is a tie.
On the tape, the speaker says Iraq is governed by socialist "infidels," including Saddam. But he says that it is acceptable for Muslims to fight on behalf of Iraqi "socialists" because "in these circumstances" their interests "intersect in fighting against the Crusaders," or Christians.
Some U.S. analysts wondered at bin Laden's motives for issuing a statement supporting Iraq, given many countries' skepticism of U.S. allegations of Iraqi-Al Qaeda links. Others worried the recording would inflame Muslims against U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region.
The tape was broadcast as U.S. officials were warning of imminent terror attacks in the United States or in the Persian Gulf, where more than 113,000 U.S. troops are massing for a possible attack on Iraq.
On the tape, the speaker urges Iraqis to profit from the lessons learned by Al Qaeda fighters in the war against the Americans and their allies in Afghanistan.
He says the strategy of digging camouflaged trenches was especially effective against U.S. bombing in Tora Bora in December 2001. Bin Laden is believed to have escaped death or capture despite intense American bombing of the stronghold in eastern Afghanistan.
"We advise about the importance of drawing the enemy into long, close and exhausting fighting, taking advantage of camouflaged positions in plains, farms, mountains and cities," he says.
The speaker urges the Iraqis to draw the Americans into urban combat, saying "the thing that the enemy fears the most is to fight a city war" because the United States is afraid of suffering "big casualties."
"We stress the importance of martyrdom operations (suicide attacks) against the enemy, these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before," the man identified as bin Laden says.
U.S. military planners fear Saddam might ring Baghdad with his best troops of the elite Republican Guard and draw U.S. forces into bloody street fighting where they could not use their high-tech weapons for fear of causing massive civilian casualties.
The speaker also tells Iraqis not to worry about American smart bombs and laser-guided weapons because "they work on only the clear, obvious targets."