- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

NEW YORK — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell returned to the United Nations yesterday, a year and a day after his Security Council presentation on Iraq’s suspected weapons — this time with an unrepentant defense of the intelligence that prompted the United States to oust Saddam Hussein.

“I don’t think any apologies are necessary,” said Mr. Powell on his way to a conference on aid to war-ravaged Liberia.

He said his multi-media presentation to the Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, was based “on a solid body of advice, a solid body of information” — as was the war that began six weeks later.

In response to reporters’ questions, he said that President Bush “was totally justified by the information that he had, the intelligence he was provided, on the record of [former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein].”

But doubts about the unpopular war and difficult peace persisted yesterday, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan making uncharacteristically blunt remarks about U.S. intelligence.

“Of course, there has been some damage,” Mr. Annan told reporters, “damage that will probably take some time to heal.

“People are going to be very suspicious when one talks to them about intelligence. And they are going to be very suspicious when we try to use intelligence to justify certain actions.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. technical team en route to Iraq was in Amman, Jordan, yesterday, and expected to arrive in Baghdad over the weekend.

Details about their itinerary and routes are closely guarded, with the United Nations exceptionally concerned about their security.

Mr. Powell reaffirmed yesterday that the Bush administration expects to hand sovereignty back to the Iraqis by the end of June, the timeline worked out with the Iraqi Governing Council back in November.

“We are sticking with the plan — right now,” Mr. Powell said. “Let’s wait and see what [the U.N.] report says.”

Mr. Annan said that he would await the report of the electoral team, but indicated that he would be willing to propose a change in the date “if everyone concerned accepted there should be some shift in the dates.”

The technical team is to determine whether direct elections are feasible by the June 30 deadline, and if not, what can be done to make the proposed caucuses to choose an interim national legislature more palatable to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the Kurdish minority.

Both ethnic groups are suspicious of the process.

Meanwhile, in Tikrit, the U.S.-led coalition announced the arrest of six individuals said to have been close to Saddam.

“The individuals are closely tied to the Saddam family and the former regime,” said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division.

“They represent some of the last of the main network that we have been targeting for many months.”

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