Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out America's case for military action against Iraq Wednesday, providing "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
Powell presented tape recordings, satellite photos and statements from informants at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to prove that Iraq has not complied with the order that it disarm. He also told the assembled nations that Iraq has links to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror organization.
"Iraq and terrorism go back decades," Powell said.
• Raw Data: Full Presentation — Text, Slides, Video
• Photo Essay: Powell's U.N. Slide Show
• Video: Communications Intercept 1
• Video: Communications Intercept 2
• Video: Communications Intercept 3
• Video: Iraqi Test Flight of a F-1 Mirage
• Video: Inspectors Examine Warheads
With all the information the United States has now, Powell said, "leaving Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction for months or years is not an option -- not in a post-Sept. 11 world."
Iraqi officials quickly dismissed the American allegations.
"This was a typical American show -- complete with stunts and special effects," Amar Al-Saadi, Saddam's adviser on Iraqi weapons program, said during a press conference.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri added that Powell's information was full of "incorrect allegations, unnamed sources, unknown sources. There are assumptions and presumptions, which all fall in line with the American policy towards one known objective."
Al-Saadi said Iraqi officials will address each and every point of Powell's presentation -- including allegations of ties to Al Qaeda -- in a press conference Thursday night. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will send a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday responding to Powell's "lies and allegations."
But Powell said every statement is backed up by "solid sources," not assertions.
"Instead of cooperating, Saddam Hussein and his regime are busy doing all they possibly can to ensure inspectors succeed in finding absolutely nothing," he told the Security Council.
In his presentation, Powell said the U.N. places itself in "danger of irrelevance" if it doesn't take action soon.
"How much longer," he asked, "are we willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we as a council -- we as the United Nations -- say 'enough, enough'?"
"Resolution 1441 gave Iraq one last chance, one last chance to come into compliance, or face serious consequences … By this standard, I believe that Iraq is now in further material breach of its obligations. I believe this conclusion is irrefutable and undeniable....
"Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort -- no effort -- to disarm," he said.
During his presentation, Powell:
• played recorded excerpts of conversations between Iraqi officials and field agents as they scrambled to evacuate any trace of prohibited arms before U.N. weapons inspectors find them.
• said the Iraqis got rid of hard drives containing information regarding Baghdad's banned weapons program, as well as the weapons themselves.
• said Saddam has a "higher committee for monitoring the inspection teams," headed by Iraq's vice president and including officials such as Saddam's son and top adviser, who also serves as the contact person for U.N. weapons inspectors. The British government says Iraqi intelligence bugged inspectors' telephones and hotel and conference rooms.
• noted that the United States also has "first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and rails" -- as many as 18 trucks, according to Iraqi defectors.
• said Iraq has the "drying expertise" to successfully weaponize anthrax, botulinum toxin and other harmful agents, has investigated others that cause the plague, hemorrhagic fever and smallpox and has perfected ways to disperse these agents.
"There can be no doubt. Saddam Hussein has the weapons and the capability to produce more -- many more," he said.
Powell said Iraq hasn't accounted for "vast amounts" of chemical weapons, including 515 artillery shells with mustard gas, 30,000 empty munitions that could hold 500 tons of chemical agents and VX nerve gas. But he said evidence of these substances may be hard to find because Baghdad has integrated banned weapons programs with legal programs, otherwise known as "dual use infrastructures."
"Any inspections in such facilities would be unlikely to turn anything prohibited," Powell said. "Call it ingenious or evil genius, but the Iraqis designed their chemical weapons program to be inspected."
Also included in Powell's presentation was information such as:
• satellite photos showing cargo vehicles and decontamination vehicles moving chemical weapons, of which the United States estimates Iraq has 100 to 500 tons.
• an intercepted conversation between two commanders in the Iraqi Republican Guard with a message of: "Remove the expression 'nerve agent' wherever it comes up in the wireless instructions."
• witnesses saw Iraq's regime testing chemical agents on prisoners, who had blood oozing out of their mouths. Autopsies were performed on their bodies to confirm the effects of the agents.
• Saddam was impressed by the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
• Saddam has two of the three components needed to produce a nuclear bomb; he still needs the ability to enrich uranium.
"We have no indication Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program," Powell said. "Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb."
Powell also said Al Qaeda has a "deep interest in weapons of mass destruction" and that bin Laden looked to Iraq to help his terror regime manufacture chemical and biological weapons. Iraq allegedly offered training to two Al Qaeda associates in December 2000.
Powell said Iraq has harbored Al Qaeda officials and people close to bin Laden, and he said the terrorist group Hamas opened an office in Baghdad in 1999.
"None of this should come as a surprise to any of us," Powell said. "Terrorism has been a tool used by Saddam for decades … with this track record, Iraqi denials of supporting terrorism take their place alongside the other Iraqi denials of weapons of mass destruction.
"It is all a web of lies."
Of the 15 Security Council members, only the United States and Britain have voiced support for forcibly disarming Saddam.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw quickly voiced support for Powell after his presentation.
"Saddam Hussein has defied every nation.... He questions our resolve and is gambling we will lose our nerve rather than resolve our will," Straw said. "These briefings have confirmed our worst fears.... Iraq is in further material breach."
But Powell's remarks did not seem to sway the other three veto-holding members of the Security Council. Representatives of China, Russia and France all argued that the work of the weapons inspectors should continue. France proposed tripling the number of inspectors and opening more regional offices in Iraq.
The Bush administration is counting on Spain and Bulgaria, among others, to be part of its coalition. Its next step is to decide whether allies will support a resolution specifically authorizing force against Iraq, a senior official said. The key is France, this official said. But if President Jacques Chirac insists on vetoing such a resolution, Bush won't seek one.
The foreign ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, put out a statement in support of the U.S. position.
"It has now become clear that Iraq is in material breach of U.N. Security Council Resolutions," the statement read. "We are prepared to contribute to an international coalition to enforce its provisions and the disarmament of Iraq."
Powell planned to meet later in the day with the foreign ministers of Russia, Chile, Cameroon, Mexico, Angola, Pakistan, France, Spain and Bulgaria.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are scheduled to make another report to the Security Council on Feb. 14. The Security Council is not likely to take any action until that report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.