U.S. `goofed' in Iraq, Powell says here

Former secretary of state sees mistake in failure to crush insurgency early

December 06, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a Baltimore audience last night that the United States "goofed" by not stamping out the insurgency in Iraq and by allowing what he called a civil war to develop. Iraq's success, he said, is now ultimately up to the Iraqis.

On the eve of the release of the Iraq Study Group report - written in part by Secretary of Defense nominee Robert M. Gates, whose confirmation hearing was yesterday - Powell said he expected the report to offer strategies that have been already presented to President Bush.

"I don't think Jim [former Secretary of State James A. Baker III] and his [study group] colleagues will come up with something others haven't thought of," Powell said. "There's no magic solution. I think it will be an important document that the president will take seriously."

Powell's speech at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was the third in the Baltimore Speakers Series sponsored by Villa Julie College.

His comments came as the public's support of the war in Iraq has waned amid an increase in violence and what Powell and others have categorized as a civil war between the country's Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Bush has vehemently rejected that label.

Last month, Republicans lost their majority in both houses of Congress, widely seen as a referendum on the war in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, an architect and staunch proponent of the war, resigned the next day. Gates, whose nomination won approval yesterday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, will likely be confirmed as the new defense secretary.

Powell, who served as the secretary of state from 2001 to 2004, came under fire last night for a speech he gave to the United Nations indicating that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, an assertion that later proved false.

About 25 protesters assembled outside the Meyerhoff before Powell's speech, chanting, "Thousands died, Powell lied," and holding signs showing what they said were injured Iraqi civilians with messages such as, "Powell: Tell the Truth!"

Nick Sheridan, 57, a retired caterer from Baltimore and member of an anti-war group called Citizens for Peace, was among the protesters.

"Moderates believed him," Sheridan said of Powell. "The war in Iraq killed our troops and thousands of Iraqis and I know he was under pressure, but we have to stand up for the truth."

The issue of his United Nations speech was raised in a question-and-answer period that followed Powell's hourlong talk. He vigorously defended the U.N. speech, saying it had been vetted by the CIA, but he acknowledged, "Intelligence is not a science."

"I'm disappointed, and it's something that I'll always have to deal with," he said.

During his address - attended by about 1,800 people, according to college officials - Powell said tensions with Iran and North Korea, countries that Bush has categorized as part of "an axis of evil," should be solved diplomatically and not with force.

In lighter moments, he joked of missing having a private airplane at his disposal and lamented of his adjustment to private life.

"It ain't easy being me," Powell said. "One day every television editor wants to see you, every king or president wants to see you. ... It requires a degree of transition."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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