Secretary of State Colin Powell says he's confident that American forces in Iraq can "wipe out" elements there responsible for the series of lethal attacks that have killed at least 20 U.S. soldiers since combat was declared over on May 1. Two U.S. servicemen were killed and several others wounded in fresh attacks Thursday.
Mr. Powell, himself a former armed forces chief of staff, said U.S. officials always knew the post-war situation in Iraq would be dangerous. In a talk with reporters after meeting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, the secretary said he is concerned, but not alarmed about the situation. And he said he believes U.S. forces will eventually be able restore security both for themselves, and the Iraqi general public.
"I'm confident in the ability of our military authorities to do everything they can to wipe out these pockets of resistance, whether they are old Saddamites, and Baathists, or Fedayeen or just criminal elements who are doing it," he said. "But it's going to take some time and determination, and we will take the time and we will apply the determination and military and police power to do it."
Mr. Powell also said neither he nor others in the State Department had come under political pressure from the White House and Pentagon to exaggerate evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction efforts in the run-up to the war.
Under questioning, he acknowledged, as reported by The New York Times Thursday that State Department analysts had questioned the conclusion of the CIA and defense experts that two mysterious truck trailers found in Iraq after the war were mobile biological weapons labs.
Mr. Powell said the reservations were communicated to the CIA and fully discussed within the administration. He said he is confident about the intelligence assessment on the trailers, and that he stands by his presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February, in which he described such an Iraqi mobile weapons capability in extensive detail.
"I think the presentation holds up," he said. "And I've never felt that I've been under any political pressure to say anything that was not supported by the intelligence community or that I didn't believe. The President asked me to go and make that presentation. And I did, and I think it's a presentation that will stand the test of time."
Mr. Powell said the discovery in Iraq this week of buried components of uranium-enrichment centrifuges reinforces the case he made to the Security Council in February about Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions.
Though U.N. weapon inspectors certified that the nuclear program was ended years ago, the Secretary said the Saddam Hussein regime retained the necessary knowledge and plans for nuclear weapons.
He said the former authorities in Baghdad "had never lost sight of their goal" to develop a nuclear weapon, and said if they ever had the chance to re-start the program, they would had.