Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq is holding together well overall despite the departure of some member countries, most recently the Philippines. The comments came in an appearance in Washington in which Mr. Powell also had harsh words for Iraq news coverage by the al-Jazeera Arabic TV network.
This week's departure from Iraq of Philippines troops in the face of the kidnapping of a Filipino national has spawned news reports that the Bush administration is becoming worried about the cohesion of the 31-nation coalition.
But in a wide-ranging talk on Iraq at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, Mr. Powell said the United States is blessed by coalition partners who he said are not blinking, are not faltering. He cited in particular South Korea and Bulgaria who have re-affirmed their intention to remain despite fatal terror incidents involving their citizens.
Mr. Powell told the audience at the U.S.-funded think tank that terrorism in Iraq aimed against the coalition and newly-sovereign Iraqi interim government must and will be defeated.
"This kind of action cannot be allowed to succeed, anywhere in the 21st century and above all, not in Iraq," he said. "Bowing to this kind of kidnapping threat only encourages it and only makes it more difficult. In these difficult times, we have to remain steadfast and we're so proud that the coalition partners that we have, almost all of them, are remaining steadfast."
The remarks came in a 90-minute address and questioning session largely devoted to an election-year defense of the Bush administration's decision to go to war last year to oust the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
The secretary of state said pre-war intelligence information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles was not, in his words as solid as we thought it was and that investigations of how it was compiled and interpreted should continue.
But he insisted that Saddam Hussein had not given up aspirations to eventually shake free from U.N. sanctions and re-constitute his weapons programs, and that the decision to oust him was the right one.
"It would have been irresponsible not to have made a decision to deal with this problem while it was still a problem there and not a problem here," he said. "And so the president made the right decision along with [British] Prime Minister Blair, [Australian] Prime Minister Howard and [Italian] Prime Minister Berlusconi, President Kwasniewski of Poland, and so many other leaders who recognized this danger and felt that action was required."
Mr. Powell said a terrible regime in Iraq is gone, and the challenge now before the coalition allies is not to get faint, or allow the current security problems to deter them from their mission of bringing democracy to Iraq and the region.
In the question and answer session, Mr. Powell leveled some of the harshest U.S. criticism to date of the al-Jazeera Arabic broadcast network, and said the United States has had numerous meetings with the host Qatari government about what he said was the network's inflammatory Iraq news coverage.
"We are not trying to control the media," he said. "But when a particular outlet, al-Jazeera does such a horrible job of presenting the news, and when it takes every opportunity to slant the news, present it in the most outrageous way, and when it will do such things as put on videotapes that it has received from terrorists, and put it on for the purpose of inflaming the world and appealing to the basest instincts in the region, then we have to speak out, and we have."
Mr. Powell said he is pleased that in recent weeks, al-Jazeera has taken some steps to address the criticism, including inviting outside experts to advise it on its editorial policies. The channel, largely funded by Qatar's government, also this week announced a code of ethics it said would insure balanced reporting.