During his first visit to Iraq as defense secretary, Leon Panetta seemed to link America’s presence in the country to the 9/11 attacks.
“The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked,” Panetta said to American troops at Camp Victory in Baghdad Monday, as reported by the Washington Post. “And 3,000 Americans — 3,000 not just Americans, 3,000 human beings, innocent human beings — got killed because of al-Qaeda. And we’ve been fighting as a result of that.” (9/11 victims may have had voicemails hacked into by journalists)
Democrats allege the Bush administration tried to connect Iraq to the 9/11 attacks in order to build a case for war. While there were pieces of intelligence that suggested that the Iraqi regime had contacts with al-Qaeda, no evidence ultimately emerged tying Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks.
After the speech, Panetta attempted to clarify his comments to reporters.
“I wasn’t saying, you know, the invasion — or going into the issues or the justification of that. It was more the fact that we really had to deal with al-Qaeda here, they developed a presence here and that tied in,” he said.
Panetta arrived in Iraq Sunday to urge Iraqi leaders to come to a determination of whether they want some of the roughly 46,000 American troops in Iraq to remain in the country past 2011, by which time all American troops are scheduled to withdrawal, according to reporting by Agence France Presse.