SLUG: 2-304336 Pentagon / Iraq (L-O)
TITLE=PENTAGON / IRAQ (L-ONLY)
INTRO: U-S forces in Iraq have staged a raid and captured what are described as al-Qaida sympathizers. But as V-O-A Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida reports, a senior military official is casting some doubt on the claim.
TEXT: A statement issued by the U-S military's Central Command (Friday) says elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade apprehended 74 suspected al-Qaida sympathizers in a raid near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
The statement says the raid was carried out Thursday after U-S forces received what was termed intelligence information about alleged anti-coalition elements.
But the top U-S Army commander in Iraq says it is too early to say whether those detained have any connections with the al-Qaida terrorist group.
Lieutenant General David McKiernan was speaking to Pentagon reporters via a satellite link-up from Baghdad.
As we always do, as we apprehend suspected either terrorists or regime hold-outs, we'll go through a series of screening, interrogations and decide what we have. But I couldn't confirm to you right now that those are all al-Qaida linked persons.
The alleged presence of al-Qaida elements in Iraq was cited by the Bush administration among the reasons for going to war with Iraq.
But so far there have been no announcements of any al-Qaida operatives being killed or captured in the country.
Similarly there have been no confirmed discoveries of actual chemical or biological weapons, another key justification cited by Washington for the war.
General McKiernan says he has no doubt such weapons will eventually be found, but he says they are probably well-hidden and it will take time to uncover them. (Signed)
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