POWELL'S SMOKING GUN



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Last Updated

06 Feb 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2003

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Powell's Smoking Gun

In an article here Monday, Colin Powell warned that his U.N. presentation yesterday would contain no "smoking gun." He was too modest. The array of evidence he presented amounts to a smoking fusillade of Saddam Hussein's efforts to resist and confound the U.N. order that he disarm.

The Powell brief contained reconnaissance photos, communications intercepts as well as information from human sources. Some of it probably shouldn't have been made public, since it no doubt tipped off Iraqis about U.S. intelligence sources and methods. But there can be no further doubt that Iraq is in material breach of U.N. Resolution 1441 -- at least not among anyone still open to the facts.

Consider the audio of a conversation between two officers of the Iraqi Republican Guard on November 26, just a day before inspections resumed: "About this committee that is coming . . . Yeah, yeah . . . with Mohamed El Baradei [Director, International Atomic Energy Agency] . . . We have this modified vehicle. . . What do we say if one of them sees it . . . You didn't get a modified . . . You don't have a modified . . . By God, I have one . . . I'll come to you in the morning. I have some comments. I'm worried you all have something left . . . We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left."

Or a January 30 conversation between Republican Guard headquarters and an officer in the field: "They're inspecting the ammunition you have, yes . . . Yes . . . For the possibility there is by chance forbidden ammo? . . . Yes . . . And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas . . . Make sure there is nothing there . . . After you have carried out what is contained in this message, destroy the message because I don't want anyone to see this message."

Keep in mind that Resolution 1441 calls on Iraq to "cooperate fully" with inspectors, not to "evacuate everything" or "destroy the message." Clearly the Iraqis have been systematically hiding evidence and lying to inspectors. A third intercept heard one commander in Iraq's Second Republican Guard Corps tell another to remove the expression "nerve agents . . . wherever it comes up . . . in the wireless instructions." Instructions on nerve agents?

Mr. Powell offered much more, including satellite images of removal operations (including the removal of top soil) at suspect WMD facilities. "We saw this kind of house cleaning at close to 30 sites." No wonder Iraq had refused to allow U-2 reconnaissance flights, a "specific violation of operative paragraph seven" of Resolution 1441.

Another piece of video showed a modified Iraqi Mirage jet spraying a simulated 2,000 liters of anthrax. Iraq is known to have fitted unmanned aerial vehicles with such sprayers. But despite the claim in Iraq's declaration that it has no such vehicles with a range of more than 80 kilometers, the U.S. recently tracked one 500-kilometer flight.

The Secretary of State had to provide this smoking proof because some people still refuse to believe what they see with their own eyes. An example is the way many, including U.N. inspector El Baradei, have accepted Iraq's explanation that its import of high-strength aluminum tubes was for conventional rocketry, not uranium enrichment.

Mr. Powell responded yesterday that Iraq was not allowed to import these for any reason under U.N. resolutions, and that the seized tubes were manufactured to much higher specifications (higher than even the U.S. government requires) than necessary if they were destined to be blown to shrapnel as part of a rocket.

Mr. Powell saved his evidence on Iraq's links to al Qaeda until last, but they were certainly worrisome. Al Qaeda and Iraqi agents met many times in 1990s, he said, and recent cooperation centers around Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who operates out of a camp in northern Iraq but has visited Baghdad extensively in recent months for medical treatment. Detainees say he is linked to the al Qaeda cells recently rounded up while plotting poison and bombing attacks in Europe.

All of this serves as powerful evidence that Iraq cannot in fact be "contained." As soon as world pressure starts to ease, Saddam will return to his weapons pursuits. And while Mr. Powell didn't present a photo of Saddam meeting with Osama bin Laden, we know Saddam has trucked with terrorists in the past. We do not want to gamble -- and no American President can afford to gamble -- the future of U.S. security on the hope that Saddam will not link arms with al Qaeda or other terrorists.

The world increasingly seems to agree. Although the French responded yesterday by saying the inspectors just needed to "open more regional offices," they also gave themselves wiggle room to come around. The heretofore skeptical Turkish daily Sabah ran with the headline "Saddam Caught Red-Handed." Ten Eastern European countries issued a statement declaring that Saddam is in "material breach." Even U.S. Senator John Kerry called the Powell evidence "real and compelling," perhaps positioning himself for his third (or is it fourth?) Iraq flip-flop.

The Powell evidence will be persuasive to anyone who is still persuadable. It proves that Saddam is defying the will of the U.N. one more time, hiding his weapons in the hope that the world will again lose its will to stop him. Mr. Powell is the American official who pushed hardest for President Bush to take his Iraq case to the U.N. The only question remaining is whether the U.N. is going to have the courage of Mr. Powell's convictions.