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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 19:50 GMT
The United States v Iraq


Colin Powell said that he would not produce a smoking gun. Instead he produced a talking tape - three of them in fact.

They were the most dramatic moments in his presentation and because they were real voices, they were perhaps the most memorable elements in the case for the prosecution.

They showed at best that Iraq appeared to be hiding something and at worst that it was deliberately concealing illegal material.

To hear Iraqi officers talking about hiding "modified vehicles" and removing references to "nerve agents" from military transmissions was compelling to listen to.

Flaw in evidence

But the Secretary of State did not land the killer blow as Ambassador Adlai Stevenson did against the Soviets in 1962 when he showed the Council photos of missiles in Cuba.

Mr Powell's case that Iraq has not cooperated fully will be persuasive to many, and his case that Iraq still seeks and may even have weapons of mass destruction will persuade some.

But he still could not point to actual weapons of mass destruction in Iraq's possession. And that is a gap which others will point to.

If it did nothing else, it showed why the US is determined to act and to attack Iraq if the Security Council does not itself authorise action.

Prosecution cases are often like this. They build up a case with myriad details which individually can be challenged but which overall can be damning. That was the Powell method.

US determined to act

If it did nothing else, it showed why the US is determined to act and to attack Iraq if the Security Council does not itself authorise action.

However, the doubters on the Council will still want to wait until the UN inspectors themselves report to the Council on 14 February.

Indeed, both the Russian and French foreign ministers promptly said that the need for inspections was even stronger. The French Minister Dominque de Villepin said almost loftily that Mr Powell's statement "deserved further study."

Wrong question?

And the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans who is now president of the International Crisis Group has said that the wrong question is being asked.

It should be, he says: Is Iraq such a threat that it must be overthrown by force?

Appeal to Russia

Mr Powell's evidence linking Iraq with al-Qaeda was even more detailed than had been expected, perhaps because of challenges to assertions made by the US and UK governments that such a link has existed.

He thus tried to tie the knot uniting Saddam Hussein and international terrorism, which is the threat that Western public opinion is most worried about.

Mr Powell went further.

He said that a named al-Qaeda operative, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was being harboured by the Iraqis and was directing a network which had already tried to poison European countries with ricin.

He thus tried to tie the knot uniting Saddam Hussein and international terrorism, which is the threat that Western public opinion is most worried about.

And he cleverly made an implicit appeal for Russian support by referring to al-Qaeda activity in Georgia and Chechnya, where Russia is fighting its own fierce battles.

So, what was new in the Powell case?

The new elements

  • The link between Iraq and al-Qaeda: The names and alleged operations and contacts have not been seen in such detail before. There is collateral for some of it in that arrests have been made in Europe and ricin has been found. The overall link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda though will still be questioned.

  • The recordings of the Iraqi Republican Guard (which now knows that its communications are compromised, something the Americans will think is a price worth paying). But the tapes, while highly incriminating, lacked context.

  • Satellite photos of activity at chemical sites. These are certainly suspicious, but again do not prove the case.

  • Drawings of the alleged mobile biological laboratories. Reference to these vehicles was made in British and CIA documents last year. That has now been added to by three eyewitness reports. The reference that work was carried out on Fridays to evade inspections on the Islamic holy day is the kind of detail which adds authenticity.

  • Witness and defectors' reports (human intelligence) on the warnings to and restrictions on Iraqi scientists and other incriminating behaviour. By their nature, these reports are open to challenge.

  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) for use in chemical warfare spraying. Again, these were referred to in the dossier of last year. Now the allegation is that they are much smaller and more mobile than previously thought. But none has been produced.

  • The aluminium tubes. The interpretation of these is highly contentious, as Mr Powell admitted. But the Americans are sticking to their allegations that they were indeed aimed at the production of enriched uranium and not for rockets and had some new detail about their high specification. The nuclear inspectorate IAEA has not come to a conclusion.

    Mr Powell also relied on some older evidence:

    The previous evidence

  • The unaccounted for material. This is the difference between what the UN reckoned that Iraq had and what is known to have been destroyed. The material includes biological and chemical agents and bombs and shells. The Iraqis say it was all destroyed and does not exist.

  • Rocket engines. The illegal import of 380 engines was previously reported by Dr Hans Blix. Their importation is illegal whatever their ultimate use.

    The next stage in the crisis will be the reports of Dr Hans Blix of Unmovic and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA to the Security Council on 14 February

  • The attempted procurement by Iraq of suspicious items like magnets and balancing machines used in the centrifugal separation of enriched uranium. This was mentioned in the dossiers last year.

    The next stage in the crisis will be the reports of Dr Hans Blix of Unmovic and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA to the Security Council on 14 February.

    Their evidence will then be laid alongside that of Secretary Powell, and the Security Council will have to make its judgment.

    But what Mr Powell said leaves no doubt that if the Council does not act, the US will.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    US Secretary of State Colin Powell
    "Saddam Hussein's regime has made no effort to disarm"
    UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
    "All members will share our frustration that Iraq is spurning this last chance"
     VOTE RESULTS
    Are you convinced by Powell's evidence?

    Yes
     39.71% 

    No
     60.29% 

    21801 Votes Cast

    Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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    See also:

    05 Feb 03 | Middle East
    05 Feb 03 | Middle East
    05 Feb 03 | Middle East
    04 Feb 03 | Middle East
    04 Feb 03 | Middle East
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