Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’: Remembering the lies of wars past
Left: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council in this Feb. 5, 2003 file photo. Powell's claims about the weaponry, all of which have since been refuted, were used by the Bush administration to sell the world on its imperialist invasion and occupation of Iraq. | Elise Amendola / AP

This article is part of the People’s World 100th Anniversary Series.

On Feb. 5, 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a presentation to the United Nations claiming Iraq possessed and was imminently planning to use “weapons of mass destruction.” The allegation was used by President George W. Bush as the excuse to launch his destructive invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was eventually concluded that no such weapons existed and the war was all based on a lie.

What was supposed to be a rapid “shock-and-awe” strike turned into an eight-year occupation that cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—even perhaps as many as a million—their lives and killed at least 4,000 U.S. troops.

The article below shows how then-PW Editor Tim Wheeler covered Powell’s speech as it happened. The article originally appeared in People’s Weekly World on Feb. 15, 2003, under the headline, “Powell at UN caught in web of lies.”

NEW YORK—The Bush administration faced a widening credibility gap in its efforts to convince the world that a war to remove Saddam Hussein is imperative even if 100,000 Iraqis die in the Pentagon’s “Shock and Awe” war scenario.

A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll released Feb. 4 showed that only 24% of the people trust George W. Bush, while 63% trust Sec. of State Colin Powell on Iraq. Thus, Powell has been assigned as chief drum major for war.

He delivered a smooth, 90-minute speech to the U.N. Security Council, on Feb. 5, arguing that Saddam Hussein is deceiving the U.N. and only war can disarm Iraq.

Powell relied heavily on a British Intelligence report entitled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation.” The Sec. of State told the ambassadors, “Every statement I make today is backed up by solid sources … I would call my colleagues’ attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.”

The day after Powell’s speech, Cambridge University scholar Glen Rangwala revealed that the report cited by Powell was a plagiarized patchwork of old magazine articles.

Entire sections were lifted verbatim, including errors in punctuation, from a dissertation by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a post-graduate student at Monterrey Institute of International Studies in California. Reached by reporters, al-Marashi pointed out that his thesis covered Iraq’s weapons in 1990, not 2003.

Powell failed as France, Germany, Russia, China, indeed, a majority of nations lined up against war while calling for more time and more inspectors to disarm Iraq.

John Quigley, a professor of International Law at Ohio State University, told the World, “The U.S. has presented information to the Security Council on war and peace issues that later turned out to be false. It was presented as current information about Iraq when in fact it was several years old. Powell’s entire presentation was shaky in terms of the facts. Plagiarism by a student is one thing. This is more serious. They are talking about going to war on the basis of that report.”

Gordon Clark, national coordinator of the Iraqi Pledge of Resistance, told the World, “Chief UN Inspector Hans Blix says there is no evidence to support Powell’s claim that Iraq is using mobile laboratories to hide weapons of mass destruction. That’s one reason the French and the Germans are pushing their proposals for expanded inspections and peacekeepers as an alternative to war.”

Bush, he said, “is losing support, and they are speeding up their war timetable because they know time is running out.” Clark warned that as many as 100,000 people could die in a unilateral, preemptive U.S. war on Iraq.

Powell flashed satellite spy photos of Sarget, a village not under Saddam Hussein’s control, where the militant group Ansar al-Islam, he claimed, is hiding a “terrorist poison and explosives factory.” Twenty reporters visited the village and found no signs of a factory or even running water. Two Ansar officials who escorted journalists through the village spoke of its unmistakably crude condition and dismissed Powell’s allegations as “baseless.”

Powell claimed that Iraq has given safe haven to an al-Qaeda cell founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But the New York Times revealed that a member of the Qatar Royal family has set up a safe house for al-Zarqawi in Qatar and provided him a million-dollar bank account to finance his terrorist activities. The Bush administration has been silent because Qatar is the main base for the U.S. war on Iraq.

“We will certainly win the war, but how do we win the peace if there are massive civilian casualties?” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., in an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Feb. 8. “What will it cost in American lives, especially if the war involves hand-to-hand, door-to-door urban combat in Baghdad?”

He and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., are co-sponsors of a resolution that would repeal the authorization for U.S. war on Iraq approved last Oct. 16. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and 11 other House members have introduced a companion measure in the House.

To avoid U.S. casualties in house-to-house combat, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has embraced the “Shock and Awe” strategy, in which the U.S. will strike Iraq with 800 or more cruise missiles in the first two days, more than was unleashed in the 40 days of Operation Desert Storm.

It is based on a 1996 book, Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, by Harlan Ullman published by the National Defense University in Washington. Ullman writes that his plan will achieve a “simultaneous effect—rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima—not taking days or weeks but minutes.”

Janis Shields, public relations director for the American Friends Service Committee told the World, “Will dropping bombs on the women and children of Iraq make us safer? Or will it fuel more anger and despair across the Middle East and around the globe? We should give the U.N. weapons inspectors the time they need and not use this as a trick to launch a war.”

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.