Al Gore accused President Bush yesterday of lying about a link between al Qaeda and deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and said Bush refuses to back down from that position to avoid political fallout.

"They dare not admit the truth lest they look like complete fools for launching our country into a reckless, discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever," the former vice president, who lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush, said in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center.

Republicans responded that the Democrat's assertions were false and out of touch.

Ken Mehlman, chairman of Bush's reelection campaign, admonished Gore for delivering what he called "another gravely false attack." The Republican National Committee contended that Gore is out of touch.

Gore accused Bush and Vice President Cheney of ignoring warnings from international intelligence services, the CIA and the Pentagon before the Iraq war that their claim of a link between al Qaeda and Hussein was false.

With a smirk, Gore then added: "So when the bipartisan 9/11 commission issued its report finding 'no credible evidence' of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, it should not have come as a surprise. It should not have caught the White House off guard."

The independent, bipartisan commission looking into the terrorist attacks found "no credible evidence" of a link between the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Iraq.