(WASHINGTON) - The United States is aware of allegations that a radical group operating in northern Iraq has ties to al-Qaida, but officials say they are unable to verify a link.
Analysts are concerned that reports of the supposed link could be based on accounts by opponents of Saddam Hussein who are seeking U.S. military action against the Iraqi leader, an official said, asking not to be identified. One account says the group is controlled jointly by Iraq and al-Qaida.
Much of northern Iraq is beyond the control of Saddam because U.S.-British overflights prevent the Iraqi air force from attacking the area's Kurdish population. The Kurds generally are strongly opposed to Saddam.
The radical group is known as Ansar al-Islam, which is said to operate in a region that is beyond the reach of both Iraq and Iraqi Kurd organizations that control much of the area.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he could not comment on Ansar al-Islam because official information on the matter is based on intelligence and therefore cannot be discussed publicly.
An article in the current New Yorker magazine suggests that Iraqi intelligence has been in close touch with top officials in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida group for years. It says the two organizations jointly run Ansar-al-Islam
The administration has said it has no information linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Officials have also said that such a link may or may not be important. They contend Saddam was a problem well before Sept. 11 because he has been attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.