"With respect to Iraq, yes we are safer. A dictator is gone. A tyrant is gone. Not only are we safer, the people of Iraq are safer. The region is safer. We can debate weapons of mass destruction all we want to about what was there in the past, but we know they will not be there in the future," Powell said.
Bush cited Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction as a key reason for going to war. No such weapons have been found.
Powell appeared before the committee to testify on the State Department's proposed budget for fiscal year 2005. But he spoke only briefly about the budget proposal, filing his formal statement in a document.
In what he called extemporaneous opening remarks, Powell said that America should be proud of its record on Iraq. He said the U.S. "did the right thing." He said Bush made his decision to go to war based on the best advice that was available to him -- both on political policy and military intelligence.
The secretary of state also defended his presentation a year ago to the United Nations in which he presented documents, surveillance photographs, and other evidence that he said proved Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction and the capability to produce more.
Powell said his presentation was based on the best information available at the time and that he had been confident of its validity. "Every word in that presentation was supported by [CIA Director George Tenet], by his analysts," he said. "I took it with great confidence to the United Nations."
Powell said earlier this month that he is not sure he would have supported the war in Iraq had he known the country did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
In his testimony yesterday, Powell acknowledged that the continuing deaths of Iraqis and coalition soldiers in Iraq are worrisome signs of instability. Two bombings in two days this week killed some 100 Iraqis. Two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad last night, bringing total U.S. deaths from hostile fire in Iraq to 374. Fifty-five soldiers from other coalition nations have been killed by hostile fire.
But Powell said there are many signs of success in rebuilding Iraq. He also said other nations are preparing to join the United States in its efforts to rebuild Iraq as a democratic nation. "And I believe that as we move forward, we will have more and more nations join us," he said. "We're working with the United Nations now to give it a vital role to play. We are working with our European colleagues who had a difference of view about this a year ago."
Powell pointed to the decision of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to stop his country's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction as another sign that U.S. resolve in Iraq is earning international dividends.