US Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged late on Friday that pre-war information he gave the UN on Iraq's mobile biological weapons laboratories to justify the US-led war on Iraq did not appear "solid" any longer.
Before the war, Powell presented the UN with data proclaiming to prove that Iraq was engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction.
"Now it appears not to be the case, that it was that solid," Powell told reporters on the plane taking him back to Washington from Brussels.
"But at the time I was preparing that presentation it was presented to me as being solid," he said.
Powell said that before his Feb. 5 speech last year at the UN he had asked the Central Intelligence Agency for data that would show the danger of the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was supposedly developing, and which have never been found in Iraq.
The US failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the country's occupation has embarrassed the US administration, damaged its standing around the world and drawn sharp criticism of the US intelligence community.
"Now, if the sources fell apart, then we need to find out how we've gotten ourselves in that position," he said. "I've had discussions about it with the CIA."
He said the information about the suspected labs and other Iraqi weapons facilities had been presented to him in preparation for his speech before the UN Security Council "as the best information and intelligence that we had."
"And I looked at the four elements that they gave me for that one and they stood behind them," Powell said.
The secretary of state expressed the hope an independent commission that is going to be starting its work soon will look into these matters to see whether or not the intelligence agency had a basis for the confidence that they placed in the intelligence at that time.
He said he said been assured by intelligence agencies, prior to his UN presentation, had given him all the assurances that the information he was working on was solid.
But Powell also said he had made an effort to check it himself
"I'm not the intelligence community, but I probed and made sure, as I said in my presentation, these are multi-sourced," he said.
The Washington Post reported last month that information about the mobile laboratories was second-hand and came from an Iraqi exile, a chemist, who had never been interrogated by US intelligence officials.
The exile was also linked to the Iraqi National Congress, a group that had been pressing for a US invasion of Iraq to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein, according to the report.
Powell indicated Tuesday that he might have refrained from recommending a US invasion of Iraq, if he had had proof that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
But he pointed out that US President George W. Bush had taken the right decision to launch military action against the country.
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