- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bush administration officials said yesterday that they do not regret that America went to war against Iraq even though banned weapons have not been found a year after the U.S.-led invasion.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he thinks that weapons of mass destruction still could turn up. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that even if they don’t, that doesn’t mean prewar intelligence had been distorted to make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein, as some Democrats charge.

“We may not find the stockpiles. They may not exist any longer. But let’s not suggest that somehow we knew this” before the war, Mr. Powell said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We went to the United Nations, we went to the world with the best information we had. Nothing that was cooked.”

Friday marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the war.

Mr. Powell, Mr. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the decision to topple Saddam and to highlight progress in rebuilding Iraq.

They cited work on schools and hospitals, an improving economy, and creation and development of Iraqi security forces. They said that after decades of Saddam’s rule, Iraq has an interim constitution that protects human rights and is building a democracy.

Asked on CNN’s “Late Edition” whether the war was worth the lives of the 564 U.S. soldiers killed, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “Oh, my goodness, yes. There’s just no question … 25 million people in Iraq are free.”

President Bush’s handling of Iraq has become a leading issue in the presidential campaign. Democrats say Mr. Bush rushed to war, planned poorly and failed to build a broad international coalition, leaving the United States mired in a conflict with an extraordinary cost in lives and tax dollars.

Mr. Bush built the case for war around intelligence that Saddam had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and an advanced nuclear weapons program. But the former U.S. chief weapons inspector, David Kay, has said that intelligence was wrong. He has urged Mr. Bush to acknowledge the error.

Mr. Rumsfeld said 1,200 inspectors are continuing to look for weapons that could be well concealed in a country the size of California.

“I think it’s perfectly proper to reserve final judgment until we’ve been able to go through that process, run down those leads and see what actually took place,” the secretary said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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