Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, urged President Bush to consider bombing Iraq almost immediately after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, says a former senior aide.
Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism coordinator at the time, has revealed details of a meeting the day after the attacks during which officials considered the US response. Already, he said, they were certain al-Qa'ida was to blame and there was no hint of Iraqi involvement. "Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq," Mr Clarke said. "We all said, 'No, no, al-Qa'ida is in Afghanistan.'"
But Mr Clarke, who is expected to testify on Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, said Mr Rumsfeld complained in the meeting that "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." A spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld last night said he could not comment immediately.
Mr Clarke makes the assertion in a book, Against All Enemies, published tomorrow. In an interview for CBS's 60 Minutestonight he says he believes the administration sought to link Iraq with the attacks because of a long-standing interest in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. "I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection" between Iraq and the al-Qa'ida attacks in the US, he says. "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qa'ida."
Mr Clarke also criticised Mr Bush for now promoting his efforts against terrorism."Frankly, I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism," he told CBS. "He ignored terrorism for months."