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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 08:17 GMT
Iraq: Are you convinced by the new evidence?

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  • Click here to read the transcript

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell has presented tape recordings, satellite photographs and intelligence data to the UN Security Council showing what he called evidence of Baghdad's "evasion and deception".

    Mr Powell warned against any further delay in disarming Iraq saying the UN must act to prevent Iraq's "active and systematic efforts" to hide its efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction.

    France, a key Council member, reacted to the evidence with caution saying that inspections should continue and force should only be used as a last resort.

    UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Mr Powell had presented the most "powerful and authoritative" case against the Iraqi regime.

    Are you convinced by the evidence presented by Colin Powell? Or do you need further proof?

    Bob Hagerty, London Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal and Faisal Bodi, a freelance journalist, answered your questions in a LIVE interactive forum.

  • Transcript:

    Hello I'm Susanna Reid, welcome to this BBC interactive forum. The US Secretary of State Colin Powell has presented tape recordings, satellite photographs and intelligence data to the UN Security Council, showing, what he describes, as evidence of Baghdad's evasion and deception.

    Were you convinced by the evidence? Is there a case for war? Well to answer the many questions from our viewers in the UK and the rest of the world the journalists Faisal Bodi and from our Westminster studio Bob Hagerty, the London bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks both of you very much for taking part.

    Let me put the first question to you Faisal Bodi, as you're here right next to me in the studio. Donald Beggs from Gold River, BC, Canada says: "Was Colin Powell's case strong enough to justify war according to international law?" What did you make of the case?

    Faisal Bodi:
    It wasn't a very convincing case by any measure and I think the best indication of that was presented yesterday and today by the other members of the Security Council, especially by the French and the Chinese. There seem to be a lot of outstanding questions that have been left unanswered.

    I think what Powell went in for yesterday was to compensate, in terms of style, where the so-called US evidence is lacking in substance and I think if anything I stand by the conviction of most of the main objectives that the case that was spelt out yesterday actually is a case for allowing the inspectors more time and allowing them - perhaps arming them with more powers to allow them to actually come up with the evidence if indeed it exists.

    Bob Hagerty of the Wall Street Journal what did you make of the case and what do you think that the American public will have made of Colin Powell's case?

    Bob Hagerty:
    Well I think the general feeling will be that he gave a pretty good performance with the material he had. I think it's the kind of material that may sway you if you're sitting on the fence and inclined to go along with the Bush policy. However, if you were formerly against the idea of any war I don't think it's going to sway you at all.

    Faisal you mentioned the inspections - George Smith from Boston Massachusetts says: "Resolution 1441 has already indicted Iraq. Shouldn't we be asking if inspections are and will continue to be a failure?" I mean in a sense the inspectors are having the ground sort of dug from under them aren't they?

    Faisal Bodi:
    Well there's no doubt that any regime which has had this kind of imposition forced on them - like the UN resolution 1441 - is going to be playing a cat and mouse game. I don't think there's anybody in the world that's denying that.

    But the onus is clearly on the weapons inspectors to prove that the substances that they believe could be used for potentially offensive purposes and as weapons of mass destruction are there in the quantities and are being used for the purposes that the Americans and the British and their allies suspect. Now until that evidence is forthcoming there isn't a case in international law, there's all the talk about a second UN resolution being needed before any war can be undertaken.

    But I think the general perception in the Muslim world and I think increasingly in the West is that the Americans and the British have only conceded to the route of international law, have only gone down that road, under pressure and under protest but if needs be they'll go to war regardless.

    Bob Hagerty what do you sense is the support for inspectors to be given more time and also where do you think public opinion in America lies on going for a second resolution?

    Bob Hagerty:
    I think much of the message from Mr Powell yesterday was on what he seemed to see as the futility of indefinite inspections. However, I think there is a strong desire in the US, particularly on the part of the general public, to see international agreement before we take any action.

    So I would think that there would be support for allowing at least some more time for the inspectors. It's going to be very important to hear what Hans Blix has to say a week from tomorrow.

    Faisal Bodi, Lisa Stiller from Las Vegas says: "Do you feel there's an imminent threat to any other nation posed by Iraq's weapons and if so could you explain the threat?" And obviously the British and the Americans believe there is an imminent threat.

    Faisal Bodi:
    Well it's interesting a lot of the claims made by Colin Powell yesterday had already been contradicted or flatly contradicted by intelligence reports surfacing in newspapers like the New York Times.

    Our own intelligence services in Britain rubbished the idea of a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Also Hans Blix said on the 4th February to the New York Times that there was no indication that Iraqi informants were being dressed up as scientists and that they were deliberately obstructing - there were mobile laboratories of weapons of mass destruction and so on.

    So we've got lots of claims and lots of counter denials, so there is no compelling case there for acting now. On the other hand if you look at the countries surrounding Iraq none of them is particularly inclined towards a war now.

    In 1990-91 we had a scenario where every single Arab country, barring Syria - well even the Syrians came on board at the last minute - but every single Arab country was firmly in favour of a war to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Now we have a scenario where none of them particularly wants a war - they are absolutely implacably opposed but in the event they're helpless to do anything about. So we have a completely changed circumstances.

    We have a scenario where American forces are being fired at by Kuwaiti citizens in a country which Americans liberated only 10 years ago. Now this is the level of opposition that's built up over this change in policy which has happened in the United States since 2000 when the new government came in.

    But up until 2000 the US was locked in a policy of containment of Saddam Hussein, since 2000 that has changed, it was coming from a far more aggressive policy which seeks really to sort of consolidate American oil interests in the region and also the position of Israel now.

    This is what the perception is in the Arab world - that this war is all about maintaining American oil interests and about the position of Israel in the Arab world.

    Bob, Elmer Mesina from Manila in the Philippines wondered if there are members of the UN Security Council who may be afraid of a backlash from terrorists if they do go to war against Iraq? What do you make of that?

    Bob Hagerty:
    I would think that the two countries that would have the most to fear from a backlash of terrorism would be the US and Britain, which are the two most aggressive in dealing with Iraq.

    So I think they definitely need to take this into their calculations. They seem to be saying we think that Saddam is the greater risk and we're willing to take him on but I think much of the general public would be worried about that kind of retaliation.

    France and Germany have expressed strong doubts about going to war against Iraq, what do you think, Bob, what evidence do you think they will need before they agree to back wholeheartedly the American position? That's a question that comes from Paul Quigley in Toronto.

    Bob Hagerty:
    Well I think Germany has made itself more or less irrelevant in this debate by stating in advance what its ultimate position is.

    The French are a much more important question - they do have a veto in the Security Council. If there is to be a Security Council resolution backing a war they would have to be in favour of it.

    What they're saying is that we should do nothing until we've exhausted all we can do with inspections. So how much patience they will have with the inspectors is something that perhaps only Jacques Chirac knows.

    Faisal, Doug Greene from Cazadero in California wants to know the evidence of links between al-Qaeda in Iraq - have they been proved?

    Faisal Bodi:
    Absolutely not, as I just mentioned earlier. We had a British intelligence report that was leaked to the BBC yesterday or the day before yesterday which flatly contradicted that claim, we also have US intelligence services claims which have been published in the New York Times flatly contradicting the claims.

    I think anybody with any common sense would know at an ideological level the position of people like Osama bin Laden is completely in contradiction to the religious - the Islamist orientation of these parties is in opposition to people like Saddam Hussein.

    It's for the Americans to actually make public any evidence they have and I think what was presented yesterday quite clearly it was supposition and we had claims of an al-Qaeda operative being given hospital treatment in Baghdad and forming the node of a terror network there and this group called Ansar al-Islam operating in the northern Kurdish areas of Iraq.

    But again the leader of this movement, Ansar al-Islam, came out on BBC TV denying yesterday that in fact they have any connection or they've received any assistance from Saddam Hussein.

    It would be I think an anathema for such groups to seek assistance from Saddam Hussein. On top of that the leader of the so-called terror group called Ansar al-Islam has said that if this continues, if this persecution or this focus on his group continues he's going to make public approaches by the CIA to this group, Ansar al-Islam, to help gather intelligence and help in the war against Saddam to effect regime change in Iraq.

    So there's a very, very complicated and dirty business going on. I think what the Americans have failed to do and what they're seeking desperately now to do is to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

    The war against terror in Afghanistan is failing, they want to extend it to Iraq, they've got to convince a very, very sceptical public and the way to do it now is to link Osama bin Laden with Saddam Hussein.

    Okay Bob we've been getting hundreds of e-mails through to us while we've been on air, let me put a final e-mail to you, Vivec in India asks: "How is the war going to solve the problem of disarming Saddam? Instead it'll only claim the lives of civilians, Iraq will retaliate - does that do anybody any good at all?"

    Bob Hagerty:
    I suppose the US government's answer would be that they would disarm Saddam by removing him from power and putting in power a new regime with different aims. Whether this can be done successfully is another question, what are the consequences in terms of world opinion turning against the US, is yet another question.

    Bob Hagerty from the Wall Street Journal and also to Faisal Bodi, specialist on Muslim affairs, thank you very much both of you indeed. I'm afraid that's all we've got time for. My thanks of course to our guests and from all of us here goodbye.

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