The Heritage Foundation

WebMemo #203 on Iraq

February 5, 2003

February 5, 2003 | WebMemo on Iraq

Powell's U.N. Speech: A Powerful Indictment of Iraq

Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5th speech to the United Nations Security Council was a damning indictment of Iraq for failing to comply with its disarmament obligations. Powell did not reveal "smoking gun" evidence of Iraqi possession of prohibited weapons, but he was not required to do so. All that he needed to do was to prove that Iraq was not cooperating as required under Security Council Resolution 1441, and he did that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Powell's skillful use of "solid intelligence" exposed the systematic efforts Iraq has made to cover its tracks. These include intercepted communications between Iraqi Republican Guard officers discussing plans to hide prohibited weapons and satellite photos of trucks removing material from suspected weapons sites before the arrival of U.N. inspectors.

Powell also revealed new information about Iraq's links to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorists, which underscored the urgent need to disarm Iraq to prevent it from passing chemical and biological weapons -- the ultimate terrorist weapons - to the world's most dangerous terrorists.

Powell charged that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of bin Laden's lieutenants who oversaw a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan that specialized in the use of poisons, had moved to Iraq and established another Al Qaeda training camp there. Al-Zarqawi, now based in Baghdad, has operated freely in Iraq for more than eight months, moving terrorists, money, and supplies throughout that country and beyond. Last year, two Al Qaeda agents associated with al-Zarqawi's Baghdad cell were caught trying to cross Iraq's border with Saudi Arabia.

Powell's speech would be strong enough to persuade any impartial jury of Iraq's failure to disarm and the urgent need to enforce U.N. Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq one last chance to avoid "serious consequences." As Powell noted, "The facts speak for themselves." But the Security Council is far from an impartial jury. It is a collection of U.N. member-states that often pursue their own narrow national interests at the expense of collective defense. France, Russia, and China have an economic and political stake in the survival of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime because of their past ties to that regime. They likely will continue to lobby for more time for U.N. weapons inspections, despite Iraq's manifest failure to cooperate with the inspections as required under Resolution 1441.

Giving inspections more time will not solve anything. As Secretary of State Powell noted, the inspectors are not detectives. They are not capable of finding prohibited weapons hidden by a ruthless regime in a country bigger than Texas. Moreover, ineffective inspections are worse than no inspections at all, because they convey the dangerous illusion that arms control is working in Iraq.

The United States cannot afford to be diverted from its urgent goal of disarming Iraq by shortsighted efforts to prolong a stillborn inspection process that allows Saddam Hussein to feign disarmament. The Bush Administration should follow up Powell's strong speech by seeking the Security Council's acknowledgement that Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441. If the Security Council fails to enforce its own resolution to disarm Iraq, then the United States should do the right thing and lead a coalition of the willing, effectively implementing the course of action laid out in Resolution 1441.

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About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Iraq