- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday warned pro-Saddam holdouts fighting U.S. troops in Iraq not to take comfort in the political wrangling over intelligence matters in this country and Britain.

“To the extent that they believe [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair and President Bush have been weakened in some way, I think that gives them certainly something they would welcome,” Mr. Powell said in an interview with senior editors and reporters of The Washington Times, held in the secretary’s conference room at the State Department.

“But they are deceiving themselves if they welcomed it for very long because I think this will all pass in due course,” he said. “People will see that what President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and other members of the coalition did was right.

“As more graves are opened, as more mass killings are made known and as Mr. [David] Kay [the former United Nations weapons inspector heading the U.S. search] completes his work in Iraq searching for the evidence needed to make clear to everybody that we knew what we were talking about with respect to weapons of mass destruction, I think this issue of what was in the State of the Union address will fade into insignificance.”

Mr. Bush has been strongly criticized by Democrats and repeatedly challenged by media pundits for the statement in his State of the Union speech in January that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in March that the documents on which the charge was based were forgeries, though the British government still stands by the intelligence, saying it has other sources on which to base its conclusions.

CIA Director George J. Tenet has taken the blame for allowing the 16-word sentence to remain in Mr. Bush’s speech. U.S. intelligence sources have been unable to independently confirm the British intelligence claim. Mr. Bush’s critics continue to argue that he “lied” to push U.S. public opinion to approve of war on Iraq.

Mr. Powell said in the interview yesterday that intelligence “is not always perfect knowledge.” He could recall many times “when something looked very good at a particular point in time and looked better over time or looked worse over time as more information came in.”

Mr. Powell had taken care not to repeat the claim about the uranium when he made a presentation about Iraq’s weapons programs to the United Nations in February.

His concern at that time, he said yesterday, was “not the audience in the Security Council [or] the massive television audience waiting for the ‘Adlai Stevenson moment.’”

Rather, he had been worried about the Iraqis who “could shoot down anything I said if I didn’t have it right.” He observed that no details of his presentation had been challenged by Saddam Hussein’s government.

Mr. Powell, asked yesterday to judge the impact the argument over intelligence conclusions was having on Iraqi opposition to U.S. nation-building efforts, said: “Of course, they welcome anything that looks like disarray within the coalition. But is this what is driving them more than their desire to inflict casualties on coalition forces? No, I don’t know that it does.”

The secretary also appeared not to share Army Gen. John Abizaid’s description of the Iraqis continuing to fight U.S. troops. In a break with his own boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gen. Abizaid, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told reporters last week that Saddam loyalists in Iraq are waging what he called a “classic guerrilla-type campaign.”

Cells of up to eight guerrillas are attacking U.S. troops daily, he said, and have regional financial backing. Mr. Rumsfeld as recently as June 30 rejected the idea of an organized guerrilla resistance in Iraq.

Mr. Powell yesterday echoed Mr. Rumsfeld’s viewpoint and dismissed any parallels between Iraq and Somalia or Vietnam, where increasing U.S. casualties prompted the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“I don’t know how classic a counterinsurgency it is yet. I don’t know how organized and sophisticated they are yet,” he said of the Iraqi opposition.

“I have not yet seen a body of evidence that says this is the equivalent of what we saw in Vietnam and that all of these pieces are connected and that there is one central nervous system that pulls this all together.

“Some of them are nothing more than criminals. Some of them are terrorists. Some of them are people who are resentful of the American presence. …

“And there are others who realize an American presence is going to work against their interests over time, and they’re going to take shots at us,” Mr. Powell said.

“But what they will discover is what others have discovered over the years: America has much more staying power and understands that occasionally this kind of effort requires sacrifice as far as the loss of life on the part of our young soldiers.”

The retired Army officer, a commander of infantry in Vietnam and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quietly observed: “Every life lost is regretted.” Since President Bush declared the war over on May 1, 39 Americans have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq.

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