MUNICH, (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Saturday terrorists had made Iraq the “central front” in their fight against the West but denied the U.S. invasion of the country had been a catalyst for terrorism.
“Iraq is the central front of the current war. And they have announced it. The terrorists have announced it,” Rumsfeld told an annual security conference in Munich.
Eventually “they will move it elsewhere”, he added.
Rumsfeld said radical Islamic terrorists were using Iraq as a training and recruiting ground, in the same way as they operated in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in charge.
But he vehemently rejected any suggestion that Iraq had been a catalyst for a global wave of terrorist acts.
“Any argument that Iraq might have been a trigger is inconsistent with the facts,” he said.
In addition to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which are believed to have been carried out by al Qaeda, Rumsfeld listed other attacks which he said Islamic terrorists had masterminded. He mentioned the massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia and bombings in Britain, Spain, Egypt, Israel and elsewhere.
Rumsfeld said that the world needed to prepare itself for a long fight against Islamic terrorists who he said wanted to set up a global Islamic empire.
“They have designed and distributed a map where national borders are erased and replaced by a global extremist Islamic empire,” he said. “As during the Cold War, the struggle ahead promises to be a long war.”
Washington and its allies were doing everything possible to ensure that terrorists did not get hold of weapons of mass destruction, which he described as a nightmare scenario.
“The world would change overnight if a handful of terrorists managed to obtain and launch a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon,” he said.
He described Iran, which Washington and the European Union suspect is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme, as the worst sponsor of terrorism on the planet.
Iran denies charges by the United States and Europe that it is developing atomic weapons, insisting it wants nuclear energy to meeting booming demand for electricity.