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Monday, May 21, 2007

White House says bin Laden ordered Iraq plots

By Matt Spetalnick
Tue May 22, 8:34 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden ordered al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to form a cell in 2005 to plot attacks outside of Iraq and make the United States his main target, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Citing newly declassified intelligence, Fran Townsend,

President George W. Bush

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President George W. Bush's adviser for homeland security, said the information backs the administration's assertion that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq for now to prevent it from becoming a "terrorist sanctuary."

Mindful of its trouble selling its war strategy to the American public, the White House is trying to put the spotlight on bin Laden's connections to Zarqawi, the head of Iraq's al Qaeda wing who was killed in a U.S. air strike in June 2006.

Bush's critics accuse him of trying to de-emphasize the role of sectarian fighting in Iraq's chaos and justify an unpopular war by focusing on links to bin Laden and al Qaeda, the authors of the September 11 attacks on the United States.