While Bush administration officials continue making their case against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before members of Congress today, a new poll shows their efforts to win over the American public may be working.
Seventy-six percent of Americans believe Iraq supports al-Qaida or other terrorist groups, according to the national public opinion poll conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.
The institute is a non-partisan think tank based in San Francisco which provides research and policy analyses to Jewish and other communities around the world.
“While some argue that the war against terrorism and the war against Iraq are somehow separate, the American public clearly sees the connection,” said institute president Dr. Gary A. Tobin.
In a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, CIA Director George Tenet echoed the details of the case against Saddam laid out by Secretary of State Colin Powell last week to the United Nations Security Council.
Tenet told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee the key link between Iraq and al-Qaida is an Osama bin Laden collaborator, Abu Musab Zarqawi, who spent two months last summer receiving medical treatment in Baghdad. He said about two dozen of Zarqawi’s followers remain in Baghdad and are members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that has merged with al-Qaida.
Although Iraq harbors this group, Tenet said he had no evidence suggesting Iraq has any operational control over it.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters this afternoon that the taped message purportedly of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden broadcast on al-Jazeera television yesterday offers new proof of “linkage.”
“We have a exhortation from Osama bin Laden on this tape to people inside Iraq – as he calls them, the mujahedin brotherhood or brothers … ‘to roll up their sleeves and prepare for jihad.’ And he said, ‘It will not hurt under these circumstances that the interest of Muslims would meet with the socialist in fighting the crusaders.’ The socialist he refers to is Saddam Hussein. … That is linkage,” Fleischer said.
The institute’s survey results complement those found by Scott Rasmussen Public Opinion Research last month, in which more Americans supported the U.S. using military force to disarm Saddam Hussein without the U.N.’s blessing.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Rasmussen’s data also showed 75 percent of Americans believe that Iraq has nuclear or biological weapons.
Saudi Arabia’s role
In addition to the Iraq-al-Qaida connection, the institute’s study finds Americans are making another connection, one that United States officials have not acknowledged: 53 percent of those surveyed believe the Saudi government also supports al-Qaida or other international terrorist groups. Just 23 percent regard Saudi Arabia as a reliable ally in the war on terror.
The perception of Saudi Arabia’s support of international terrorism increased 9 points from 44 percent a year ago.
When asked about their attitudes toward Saudi Arabia’s current government, 53 percent indicated they favor the Saudi Royal Family gradually being replaced by a democratic government. Twenty-three percent oppose having the Royal Family relinquish control.
“It appears that most Americans now see the Saudis as part of the problem rather than part of the solution,” commented Sid Groeneman, a research associate who helped develop the survey.
Meanwhile, Bush administration officials appear loathe to rock the boat of its 60-year U.S.-Saudi relationship, and downplayed the fact that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis with allegiance to bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
As WND reported, some Washington policy analysts want a reassessment of the U.S-Saudi relationship. In a Defense Policy Board briefing in July, analysts from the Rand Corporation think tank told former administration officials who consult the Pentagon that Saudi Arabia “supports our enemies and attacks our allies.” The analysis presented at the briefing concluded, “the Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader” and recommended U.S. officials tell the Saudis to stop supporting terrorism or face seizure of oil fields and financial assets currently in the United States.
Both the Defense department and the Rand Corporation were quick to distance themselves from the report. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were some concerns over simmering Islamic fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia but on balance the relationship is “very productive.”
The State and Treasury departments have also released statements applauding Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the war on terrorism.
The statements were released even as U.S. investigators were probing donations from Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of Saudi envoy Prince Bandar, that ended up in the hands of Sept. 11 hijackers.
Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence and the princess’ brother, has also come under scrutiny, having been named in a lawsuit by family members of 9-11 victims.
Former federal prosecutor John Loftus claims the Saudi government has used charities as a front for sponsoring terrorist groups in the Middle East for 15 years, and that the U.S. government has provided cover for the kingdom’s covert operation.
Loftus believes the Saudi purpose is twofold: the destruction of the State of Israel and the prevention of the formation of an independent Palestinian State.
Saudi officials soundly deny accusations that the kingdom supports terrorism and mounted a public relations offensive in December to combat the claims.
“We believe that our country has been unfairly maligned,” said Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “Saudi Arabia and the United States have been the two countries that have worked the closest in the war on terrorism, with all due respect to naysayers,” he said.
Al-Jubeir said there is no proof of a direct link between Saudi charities and al-Qaida, and that the Saudi government had tried for the last 10 years to cut off funding to Hamas.
“But that does not mean cutting off funding to Palestinians in the territories, building hospitals, building roads, buying pharmaceuticals, buying food,” he said.
‘Axis of evil’
Respondents to the institute’s survey also agree with President Bush’s concern over the “axis of evil.” Sixty-two percent see Iran, and 44 percent see North Korea as supporters of international terrorism.
Sixty percent also feel Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat supports terrorism.
Forty-two percent answered that Syria supports terrorism
The survey was taken Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 by the polling firm International Communications Research, for the institute. The sample consisted of 1,002 randomly selected adults from across the country. Percentage estimates based on the full sample are accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.