2004Edition>News Center>World

Bush, CIA defend Iraq war
Updated: 2004-02-06 10:57

U.S. President George W. Bush defended his war on Iraq as the "right thing to do" even though the head of the CIA denied on Thursday that his analysts had ever said Saddam Hussein posed an "imminent threat."

In Britain, the opposition called on Prime Minister Tony Blair, the U.S. president's main military ally, to resign after Blair said he had misunderstood the gravity of the threat Iraq's alleged weapons posed when he made his case for war last year.

CIA Director Geprge Tenet speaks at Georgetown Univeristy in Washington Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004. In his first public defense of prewar intelligence, Tenet said U.S. analysts never claimed before the war that Iraq posed an imminent threat. [AFP]
In Iraq, where Bush conceded U.S. forces had so far failed to find any such chemical and biological arms, violence again underlined the difficulties Washington faces installing a stable democracy in a country riven by ethnic and religious tension.

An attempt to assassinate the most influential cleric among the long oppressed Shi'ite Muslim majority failed, aides said in the holy city of Najaf. The reclusive 73-year-old ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, was unhurt after gunmen fired on his car.

The incident was the latest in some occasionally very bloody assaults on Shi'ite leaders since the U.S. invasion and followed suicide bomb attacks against leaders of the Kurdish minority in the north on Sunday which killed more than 100 people.

In his clearest acknowledgment yet of problems with the intelligence that underpinned the case for war, Bush said in a speech in Charleston, South Carolina: "We have not yet found the stockpiles of weapons that we thought were there."

But, speaking shortly after CIA Director George Tenet had defended his agency, Bush added: "Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq."


Tenet denied the CIA tailored information to build a case for a war and said his analysts had never said they were sure that Saddam's suspected weapons posed an "imminent threat." Bush had spoken of a looming threat that had to be pre-empted.

"They never said there was an imminent threat," Tenet said.

He said the pace of Iraqi nuclear arms research may have been "overestimated," while on chemical weapons he said: "Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production, however we have not yet found the weapons we expected...We need more time."

Facing re-election in November, Bush is resisting charges by his Democratic challengers that the war which has so far cost 528 American and thousands of Iraqi lives and soured relations with key European and other allies, was not justified.

"We had a choice -- either take the word of a madman or take action to defend the American people. Faced with that choice I will defend America every time," Bush said.

Though not obliged to call an election before 2006 and sitting on a big parliamentary majority, Blair is under pressure from within his own Labour party as well as the opposition over his decision to send 45,000 troops into a barely popular war.

Conservative leader Michael Howard suggested he resign after Blair said that he, unlike his defense minister, had not understood that a prewar government claim Iraq could launch an unconventional attack within 45 minutes referred only to short-range munitions, not missiles threatening other countries.

Britain has lost 57 military personnel in the conflict.


Details of the attack on Sistani remained unclear.

In recent weeks, the cleric has spoken out against U.S. proposals for transferring power back to an Iraqi government by July 1. He says he wants direct elections to be held rather than the U.S. plan for a system of indirect regional caucuses.

His words carry great weight with the 60 percent Shi'ite majority and his opposition to the U.S. plans has thrown into question the timetable for handing over sovereignty.

Some in the Sunni minority, some of whom remain loyal to the now imprisoned Saddam and mount daily attacks on U.S. forces, fear democracy could spell Shi'ite domination.

The assassination attempt comes days before United Nations experts are due to arrive to assess the feasibility of holding early elections along the lines that Sistani has demanded.

A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded in a mortar attack on Baghdad airport and a nearby U.S. military installation on Thursday, a U.S. Army spokesman said.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

37 killed in Beijing lantern festival stampede



Officials confident bird flu in check



New Asset supervision goals set out



23 Chinese stranded off English coast



China reopens Iraq embassy, cuts debt


  Bush, CIA defend Iraq war
  CIA boss: Iraq never an imminent threat
  Pakistan's President pardons disgraced scientist
  Indonesia quake kills at least 7 - Official
  Iraq Shiite leader targeted by assassins
  Rebel group seizes control in Haitian city
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
CIA boss: Iraq never an imminent threat
Powell says invasion justified by Iraqi 'intent'
  News Talk  
  The evil root of all instability in the world today