Baltimore Sun

'Irrefutable' Iraq evidence

Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses the United Nations Security Council yesterday at U.N. headquarters.
UNITED NATIONS - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, presenting satellite images, intercepted telephone calls and informants' accounts, warned the Security Council yesterday that Iraq is making extensive efforts to build weapons of mass destruction and deceive United Nations arms inspectors, bringing it "closer to the day when it will face serious consequences."

Powell's evidence included aerial photos of what he identified as munitions bunkers, sites where Iraq tried to conceal chemical weapons, tapes of Iraqi generals ordering subordinates to "clear out" facilities and diagrams of mobile biological weapons labs, much of the evidence bolstered by information from defectors and informants.

Powell also presented the most thorough U.S. case to date of high-level connections between the Iraqi government and Osama bin Laden's terror organization. He said members of bin Laden's group remain in Baghdad and that the Iraqi regime keeps an agent at an al-Qaida haven in northeastern Iraq that includes a training camp for chemical warfare.

Powell argued that the "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence left the Security Council no choice but to conclude that Iraq is flagrantly violating its demand in November that President Saddam Hussein disarm, and that to preserve its credibility it has to authorize the use of force to do the job.

"Clearly, Saddam will stop at nothing until something stops him," Powell said. "Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world.

"We must not shrink from whatever is ahead of us. We must not fail in our duty and our responsibility to the citizens of the countries that are represented by this body."

Powell's 80-minute presentation brought no immediate change in the position of council members, with the foreign ministers of veto-wielding France, Russia and China each insisting that the inspections continue and that all alternatives to force be explored.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France, a pivotal force on the council, proposed that the inspections be beefed up with enhanced monitoring and a doubling or tripling of the number of inspectors, but would not rule supporting military action if Iraq ultimately failed to cooperate.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for continued inspections but expressed support for the passage of one or more additional U.N. resolutions to increase the pressure on Iraq.

Most speakers looked ahead to this weekend's scheduled visit to Baghdad by chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei as a new test of Iraqi behavior, expressing the hope that Powell's evidence will give the inspectors new ammunition to sway the Iraqi government.

But Iraq responded defiantly to Powell's presentation, with its ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri, saying that the secretary's "incorrect allegations" were based on "unnamed, unknown sources" and assumptions. The United States' intention, he said, was to "sell the idea of war" without any justification.

Making the case

In sending Powell to the United Nations, President Bush clearly was reaching out beyond the foreign ministers and diplomats in the council chamber to their anti-war constituents at home. The White House also hoped to convince the American public why war may be necessary and to show that the administration is making every effort to win international support.

The quantity and variety of intelligence disclosed by Powell rivaled anything revealed during a public council session in decades, showing the sophisticated technical abilities of a superpower to monitor the actions of a recalcitrant, secretive state.

As anticipation built toward yesterday's meeting, many commentators compared Powell's appearance to the moment in October 1962 when Adlai E. Stevenson, President John F. Kennedy's U.N. ambassador, displayed spy plane photos of Soviet missile batteries in Cuba.

Unlike Stevenson, Powell did not reach for a single moment of high drama. Instead, using skills honed in his years as a military briefer, Powell gradually laid out his case, drawing on precise examples from what appeared to be a large store of damaging U.S. secrets about Iraq.

He said with conviction that the information came from "solid" sources. CIA Director George J. Tenet, sat just behind Powell in a sign that the often-fractious U.S. intelligence community stood behind Powell's presentation.

Summarizing the threat posed by Iraq, Powell declared: "When we confront a regime that harbors ambitions of regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present, and unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future."

Powell played a tape of a conversation he said occurred Nov. 26, the day before inspections began, between a brigadier general in Iraq's Republican Guard and a colonel discussing what to do with "modified" vehicles that the inspectors might be looking for.

"I'm worried you all have something left," the general says.

"We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left," the colonel replies.

In another conversation, an officer orders a subordinate to destroy a message warning that inspectors would search for forbidden material.

Powell said the deception was coordinated at the highest levels by a committee that included Iraq's vice president, Hussein's son Qusay and the official responsible for working directly with the inspectors, Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi.

"This effort to hide things from the inspectors is not one or two isolated events, quite the contrary," Powell said. "This is part and parcel of a policy of evasion and deception that goes back 12 years, a policy set at the highest levels of the Iraqi regime."

Powell, citing unnamed informants, said Qusay Hussein had ordered the removal of prohibited weapons from presidential palaces, that government officials and scientists have hidden documents in their houses and that other officials have placed key files in cars "being driven around the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection."

"Tell me, answer me, are the inspectors to search the house of every government official, every Baath Party member and every scientist in the country to find the truth, to get the information they need, to satisfy the demands of our council?" Powell asked.

Much of the evidence he presented about Iraq's chemical weapons program was from satellite images. In one instance, displaying "before" and "after" photographs, Powell said the first image showed a decontamination vehicle and a temporary structure commonly placed at chemical facilities. A later image, taken just as inspectors were approaching, showed the vehicle and the structure to be missing.

"We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites," he said.

Powell also showed photographs of a site that he said had been bulldozed and graded to conceal chemical weapons, and a photo showing what he described as 15 munitions bunkers, four of them containing chemical agents. Citing informants, he said Iraq had dispersed missiles containing biological weapons.

Powell alleged that Iraqi scientists had been forced to sign agreements that divulging information to inspectors would be punishable by death. Informants said scientists were warned that anyone agreeing to be interviewed outside the country would be regarded as a spy.

'These are facts'

In December, Powell said, Iraqi intelligence agents took the place of weapons experts at one site; in November, weapons experts were trained in misleading inspectors; in one instance, officials issued a false death certificate for a scientist who was then sent into hiding.

"Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions," Powell said. "These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries."

In a rebuttal to U.N. weapons inspectors' contention that they had found no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, Powell showed photographs of crates containing aluminum tubes that he said Iraq wanted to import to produce nuclear weapons fuel - tubes manufactured to otherwise inexplicably high specifications.

"Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb," Powell said.

Going beyond the suspicions raised last week in a report by Blix to the Security Council, Powell said Iraq is developing missiles with a range of more than 600 miles and showed that such missiles, forbidden under U.N. resolutions, could allow Iraq to target Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

For the first time, Powell gave a detailed description of mobile biological weapons labs, some in trucks, others moved by rail.

"We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories," he said. "The truck-mounted ones have at least two or three trucks each. That means that the mobile production facilities are very few, perhaps 18 trucks that we know of - there may be more. ... Just imagine trying to find 18 trucks among the thousands and thousands of trucks that travel the roads of Iraq every single day."