A year ago, America invaded Iraq, taking aim at Saddam Hussein and the banned weapons the White House thought he had, with the goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
ABCNEWS This Week's George Stephanopoulos and George Will spoke with the man who made the administration's case for war, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to examine where things stand with Iraq.
Following are excerpts of the conversation.
George Stephanopoulos, ABCNEWS' This Week anchor: The Iraqis [ABCNEWS] is talking to, including members of the Iraqi Governing Council, aren't quite sure whether they're ready for the handover of power on June 30.
Secretary of State Colin Powell: We are creating a democracy where one has not existed before. But the Iraqi people seem to want a democracy. They want to live in freedom. They enjoy the ability to speak out the way Peter Jennings just described [in a preceeding segment]. There is this vibrant debate and discussion taking place now in Iraq. And so we are going to shoot for returning sovereignty, and I think we can make it on the first of July. But it doesn't mean we're abandoning Iraq on the first of July. We will continue to have 100,000 troops there helping them with their security as their own security forces show greater ability to protect the population. We'll also have a very large embassy. So we're not walking out on Iraq on the first of July. We will be with them. And what they have to do over the next several months is determine what kind of government they want to have during this interim period. And then there's a lot more to come — the writing of the full constitution, real, full national elections for an assembly and for a new government. Well, let's not discount how much we have accomplished in the last year. Schools are being rebuilt, hospitals are being rebuilt, the infrastructure's coming back up, the oil is starting to flow. We're going to jump-start the economy as fast as we can with the money that Congress has provided. And most importantly, an administrative law has been written — which is the forerunner of the constitution that will be written — that is quite astonishing with respect to basic rights and liberties and how all these different ethnicities can come together. There's a majority — the Shias are the majority. But this basic law also shows how the rights of the Kurds and the rights of the Sunnis will be protected in a representative form of government. It's hard, it's difficult. But they want to move in this direction. They want to end the occupation, sure. They also know that they have friends and partners in the United States that will help them during this difficult period.
George Will, ABCNEWS' This Week: It's been an American position from the start that Iraq shall remain a political unit. You say they want to live in freedom. Do they want to live together? Do the Kurds really want to be part of this? And are we producing a constitution that might be the beginning of slow-motion secession?
Powell: That's certainly not our intention, and it need not be the result. The Kurds want the nation to stay together. But for the last 12 or so years, they have had a degree of independence that they've enjoyed. And that independence has brought them quite a bit of success. And so they are prepared to yield some of the independence and some of the authority they had over the Kurdish region to a central government. But they also want their unique situation and, to some extent, the fact that they have a regional government up there, something that doesn't exist in other parts of the country, they want that to be recognized. And so in the administrative law, this situation was dealt with in a delicate manner. And I'm sure it will be something that'll come up again in the course of the writing of the constitution.
Stephanopoulos: You still seem to be having some difficulty coming up with a plan for which Iraqi entity will take over on June 30.
Powell: Over the next several months, we will work with the Governing Council, Ambassador Bremer, those of us back here. And we hope the U.N. will work with the Governing Council to determine what's best. Right now it consists of 25 individuals. I don't think that's representative enough of the entire country. … There are a variety of models that are being looked at, [including to] make the Governing Council larger. Some people have suggested having something like a loya jirga, as we had in Afghanistan. I don't think there's enough time for that. But we're looking at a variety of models. And ultimately, the only thing that'll work is something that will be satisfactory to the Iraqi people, that will be seen as representative, seen as moving in the right direction. And keep in mind, this will be an interim government — not even a transitional government yet, an interim government — till we can get to a transition government sometime hopefully the beginning of 2005.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Stephanopoulos: Let me turn to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. We haven't had that on the program for several months. Since then, David Kay has come out and said he doesn't expect any weapons to be found. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, in his new book, talks about the damage to U.S. credibility by failing to find these weapons. And [Saturday], Sen. Ted Kennedy gave a radio address on the subject:
[begin audio clip]
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.: On no issue has the truth been a greater casualty than the war in Iraq. The administration's credibility gap is vast. There was no immediate threat, no nuclear weapons, no persuasive link to al Qaeda. But we went to war anyway.
[end audio clip]
Stephanopoulos: How do you answer the charge of credibility gap?
Powell: When we presented our case to the American people and to the world, my presentation at the U.N. last February, the presentation that went to Congress earlier in the National Intelligence Estimate, we were presenting to the world the facts as we understood from our intelligence analysis. It was not cooked. It was what the intelligence community believed and had reasons to believe.
Stephanopoulos: But it was wrong.
Powell: Parts of it were not. I mean, most of it, I think, was not wrong. We had a country that had the intention to have such weapons. They had the capability of having such weapons. They had the infrastructure for such weapons—
Stephanopoulos: Yet they had no stockpiles.
Powell: The question was, did they have stockpiles or not? And we all thought they had stockpiles, not because we wished it. The evidence suggested that they had stockpiles. The U.N.'s own data over a period of 12 years suggested they had stockpiles. They hadn't answered questions with respect to materials we knew they had, but we don't know what happened to that material, and they wouldn't tell us. So the presumption was, and the evidence was, that they had stockpiles of these weapons, particularly chemical weapons. And so we are now examining that more closely under the leadership of Charlie Duelfer, who took over from Dr. Kay. Dr. Kay went in thinking that there were stockpiles. He came out saying, I don't think there are stockpiles now. And so we may not find the stockpiles. They may not exist any longer. But let's not suggest that somehow we knew this. We went to the United Nations, we went to the world with the best information we had — nothing that was cooked. I spent a great deal of time out at the CIA with Director Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin and all of their experts, going over that presentation. And it reflected the view of the intelligence community, the United Kingdom's intelligence community, [the] intelligence community of many other nations. And it was consistent with reporting from the United Nations over time. And so we had solid basis for the information we presented to the president, the intelligence community presented to the president, and for the decisions that the president made.