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Powell: U.S. misjudged pre-war Iraq

Despite the bustle of rush hour in Baghdad, Iraq's infrastructure is in worse shape than the U.S. government believed, according to Powell.
Despite the bustle of rush hour in Baghdad, Iraq's infrastructure is in worse shape than the U.S. government believed, according to Powell.

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(CNN) -- The United States failed to properly assess Iraq's pre-war economy U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday, but he blamed the condition of the country on its deposed leader Saddam Hussein.

In an interview on ABC News' "Nightline," Powell acknowledged that the official pre-war view of Iraq's economy was far too rosy.

"I will say, in all candor, that we underestimated the level of damage that had occurred to the infrastructure as a result of the period of sanctions, but more importantly as a result of the manner in which he ran that country in such a brutal, dictatorial way for almost 30 years," Powell said.

Money "was misused to buy weapons," Powell charged. "It was misused to enrich the elite of the regime. It was not used to restore the infrastructure."

The secretary promised full cooperation with congressional investigators looking into U.S. intelligence assessments before the war.

He also downplayed the significance of the pullout from Baghdad of many relief agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, in the wake of Monday's suicide attacks that killed more than 30 people. The deadliest of those attacks was the suicide assault on the ICRC offices in Baghdad, which killed 12 people.

Powell said he had spoken to Jakob Kellenberg, head of the ICRC, and to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and asked them not to withdraw wholly from Iraq.

"I'm confident the security situation will improve over time and these organizations will come back [to the capital]," he said.

"I don't want to downplay this. It is a dangerous situation," Powell said. "Our principal goal in the near future is to get the security situation under control in the Sunni triangle -- Baghdad, Fallujah, that whole triangle. Once that is done, then you'll see a lot of criticism -- about whether we are on the road to success or not -- go away."

Powell said that, to beef up security, more former members of Saddam's army and police will be incorporated into the new militias, police forces and border patrols. "We'll build 'em up as fast as we can, and when they come back this time, they will be representatives of the people and not of Saddam Hussein."

Responding to Friday media reports that Saddam is leading armed resistance in Iraq, Powell said he sees no evidence.

"We don't know where he is," Powell added. "I don't know if he's dead or alive. But it is not appropriate to say that intelligence has told us that he is pulling the strings and he is coordinating these attacks that we have been seeing in recent days."

U.S. officials have said they believe Saddam is still in the country, protected by his loyalists.

Soldiers have been scouring the region around Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral home, and cracked down on the movements of people in and out of a nearby town that is Saddam's birthplace.


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