In an interview published today in the "The Washington Post," Powell said, "the absence of a stockpile [of banned weapons in Iraq] changes the political calculus." He said the U.S. went into the war last year, "with an understanding that there was a stockpile [of WMD] and there were [banned] weapons."
Powell's remarks follow last month's revelation from chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay that it was "highly unlikely" that Iraq possessed large quantities of weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led war last March.
Kay's remarks coincided with his stepping down from the Iraqi Survey Group, the team that has been searching Iraq for banned weapons -- without success -- for most of the past year.
In spite of the failure to find WMD, Powell still believes the war was the right thing to do and that history will vindicate the decision.
Powell said, however, in spite of the failure to find the weapons, he still believes the war was the right thing to do and that history will vindicate the decision.
He said the Iraqi threat was credible because Iraq had produced banned weapons in the past and had retained the capability -- in the form of trained scientists -- to do so again.
Nevertheless, the comments represent a shift from his forceful presentation one year ago (5 February 2003) to the United Nations, where he presented the U.S. case for war to a skeptical UN Security Council.
At the time, Powell told the 15-nation council there was "no doubt" that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has biological weapons.
"There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to produce more -- many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that cause massive death and destruction."
Powell went further -- itemizing by the liter and the ton the quantity of illegal weapons he said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had never accounted for.
"Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry -- 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty munitions, and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents."
He told the group that these were not assertions, but "facts." "Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
In the end, the Security Council never sanctioned the war. The U.S. and U.K. instead led an independent coalition to oust Saddam Hussein.
Greg Thielmann, a former official in Powell's State Department, later called the secretary of state's UN presentation "one of the low points in [Powell's] long, distinguished service to the nation."
Powell told "The Washington Post" that his UN presentation was fully vetted and supported by the main U.S. intelligence organization, the Central Intelligence Agency. He said: "there wasn't a word in that presentation...that was not totally cleared by the intelligence community."
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had used the issue of Iraq's suspected weapons programs as one of the main justifications for the Iraqi war.
Yesterday, Bush called for a bipartisan commission to look into possible intelligence failures ahead of the Iraq war. Bush said he wants to "know the facts" on Iraq.
Powell said regardless of any possible intelligence failure, he retains confidence in the intelligence community. He said the analysts were only giving their best advice at the time.