Loyal Condi Defends Iraq Invasion When Questioned About McClellan's Allegations

STOCKHOLM -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice fended off new charges against the U.S. reasons for invading Iraq by saying Thursday it was "not alone" in believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Before the start of an international conference on Iraq in Stockholm, Rice declined to comment directly on charges in a harsh new book by President George W. Bush's former chief spokesman that the war was unnecessary.

But Rice reiterated the administration's defense against a long litany of such charges.

"It was not the United States of America alone that believed he had weapons of mass destruction," Rice told a press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country is organizing the conference.

"It was not the United States alone that knew Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against the Iranians," Rice said.

Saddam was also a threat because "he continued to flaunt the terms of the armistice" he signed to end the 1991 Gulf war to liberate Kuwait, continued "to threaten his neighbors" and "he tyrannized his own people," she said.

In summing up her answer to a question on how, with the fresh allegations, the U.S. could lead an international consensus here on rebuilding Iraq, she said: "You can agree or disagree about the decision to liberate Iraq in 2003.

"But I would really ask do you really believe he was not a threat to the international community?" she asked.

"And if you believe he was not a threat to the international community then why in the world did you allow the Iraqi people to suffer" under UN economic sanctions imposed from 1991 until Saddam Hussein was toppled, she added.

Released five months before November elections to decide Bush's successor, former White House spokesman Scott McClellan charged in his memoir What Happened that the U.S. public was misled into "an unnecessary war."

The former aide writes that history and the U.S. public seem to agree that the March 2003 invasion "was a serious strategic blunder" and accuses top Bush aides of sidelining inconvenient truths in their rush to sell the war.

The U.S. president wanted to topple Saddam "primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East," but knew that the U.S. public would never agree to send troops into harm's way for that purpose, he says.

So Bush went along with "shading the truth; downplaying the major reason for going to war and emphasizing a lesser motivation that could arguably be dealt with in other ways (such as intensified diplomatic pressure)," he said.

Rice said she could not comment on the book because she had not read it.

She conceded "we did some things well, probably some things not so well" when asked about mistakes over the war but cautioned "that history's judgment and today's headlines are rarely the same."

She said Iraqis now have "a chance to build a decent society" that is integrated into the rest of the world as well as play a stabilizing role in the Middle East.

"I'm very sure that the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do," Rice said.

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