- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

From combined dispatches

U.S. officials yesterday insisted the decision to go to war in Iraq was justified, brushing aside comments from a former Iraqi exile that faulty intelligence before the war had served its purpose because it led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Ahmad Chalabi, perhaps the most influential Iraqi exile in Washington before the war and now a key player on the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, said in an interview earlier this week that anti-Saddam exiles were “heroes in error” if their overstated claims for Saddam’s weapons programs led President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to declare war.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli yesterday declined to comment directly on Mr. Chalabi’s assertions, contained in a London Daily Telegraph interview, but maintained that the U.S. decision on Iraq was correct.

David Kay, who recently resigned as head of the so-far fruitless search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “has borne out the intelligence we had that showed Saddam had the intent and capability” to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Mr. Ereli said.

What has been learned since the war about Saddam’s weapons program shows “that it was a good thing that we acted when we did because otherwise the world would still be in considerable danger.”

Another U.S. government official, speaking on background, said it was widely known that anti-Saddam exiles, in particular defectors supplied to the U.S. government by Mr. Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), had an interest in inflating the threat posed by the regime, but the official said that was taken into account.

“There is no question that while there were different interpretations and various intelligence sources, they were all taken into account and we did the right thing,” the official said.

“On the other hand, there is no question that there was a concerted effort on the part of Chalabi and the INC to systematically pollute the intelligence pool.”

In the Telegraph interview, Mr. Chalabi shrugged off concerns that INC information had misled Western intelligence agencies about the threat from Iraq.

“We are heroes in error,” the paper quoted him as saying from Baghdad. “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful.”

“Our objective has been achieved. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a speech at Princeton University yesterday, again defended the administration’s decision to go to war and insisted President Bush and other top policy-makers acted in good faith based on the intelligence reports they saw on Iraq.

Staff writer Sharon Behn contributed to this report.

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