BEIRUT, Lebanon – Iraq has rejected U.S. claims of links to a Kurdish terrorist group believed connected to Al Qaeda, and said it has offered to hand over a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Baghdad had no ties to Ansar al-Islam nor an alleged Al Qaeda fugitive Abu Musaab Zarqawi, who has been linked to the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan and poison plots in a half-dozen European countries.
Sabri, in a 13-page letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to rebut U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council earlier this month, also said Baghdad is offering to hand over to Washington Abdul-Rahman Yasin, a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who is on the FBI's most-wanted list.
Sabri's letter, which was posted on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's Web site Thursday, denied any link between Iraq and Zarqawi or Ansar, saying both operated in northern Iraqi areas under the control of Kurdish groups allied to Washington and beyond Baghdad's reach.
Powell also accused Ansar of harboring Al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan, implying the group would not have offered Al Qaeda any refuge without Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's consent.
"The Government of the Republic of Iraq stresses that no Iraqi government or nongovernment party had any meeting in the past or currently with this person (Zarqawi)," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry statement said.
Baghdad found no evidence Zarqawi had entered Iraq through any border point "whether using his own name or other aliases the Jordanians have provided." They are still looking for other fugitives, whose entry into Iraq also have not been proven.
Iraq said Zarqawi is in Biyara, part of the Sulaymaniyah region in northern Iraq. The areas "are not under central authority since 1991," the statement said. That was a reference to autonomous Kurdish areas that are protected by U.S. and British warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone.
Iraq also denied U.S. accusations of Iraqi government links to Ansar, saying it has helped fight the group.
The Iraqi letter said Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan militia asked Baghdad for light arms and military equipment to fight the militants, a request Baghdad honored. Ansar is operating in an area outside Baghdad's control "and under the control of Talabani, the friend of the United States," the letter said.
Sabri also said Washington refused Iraqi offers of cooperation in the case of Yasin, the man accused of mixing the bomb that blew up in the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993, killing six people and injuring 1,000.
Iraq arrested Yasin in Iraq in 1994. Baghdad has offered America information and, through an international mediator, said it was willing to hand Yasin over, but the U.S. government rejected the offer, the statement said.
It did not explain why the United States would have rebuffed the offer, and U.S. officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the Iraqi account.
"Iraq's government once again would like to assert that it is ready to hand over this suspect in a formal way to American authorities," the statement said.
The FBI has offered a $25 million reward for information leading to Yasin's arrest. The FBI questioned him after the bombing but let him leave America. He was later indicted on charges he helped mix the explosives.
Yasin, of Iraqi heritage, was born in Bloomington, Ind., while his father studied at Indiana University. He moved to Iraq as a child and returned to the United States in 1992.