updated 9/29/2005 11:58:07 AM ET 2005-09-29T15:58:07

Al-Qaida is the main enemy to peace and stability in the Middle East and the terrorist group is seeking to acquire — and use — weapons of mass destruction there, a top U.S. commander in Iraq told Congress.

“The enemy that brought us 9/11 continues to represent one of the greatest dangers to this nation,” warned Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

He was testifying alongside Gen. George Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, before the Senate and House Armed Services committees. Also to testify Thursday were Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Effort to bolster support
President Bush sent the group to Capitol Hill to try to convince lawmakers — and their skeptical constituents — that the United States is making progress in the war. The back-to-back hearings in the House and Senate are part of a White House effort to bolster slipping public support for the war.

After weeks of being criticized for his hurricane response, Bush also is trying to put the focus back on issues considered his strengths — the fight against terrorism and Iraq.

The president plans to address the nation Oct. 6, following speeches on Iraq by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the next few days.

Before the Senate panel, Abizaid stressed the difficulty the U.S. and coalition forces face in the region against an enemy driven by their religious beliefs, and said the Al-Qaida threat “should not be underestimated.”

He said Americans should be assured that people in the Middle East “don’t buy this perverted view of Islam.”

“They do not want the extremists to win,” Abizaid said.

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