WASHINGTON – The White House launched a public relations campaign on Wednesday, sending out National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) to describe the details of the interim report by chief weapons inspector in Iraq David Kay (search).
Rice told a foreign policy forum in Chicago that Saddam Hussein (search) harbored ambitions to use unconventional weapons despite their not having been found yet.
More importantly, Kay, whose team has been on the ground for three months, "is finding proof that Iraq never disarmed and never complied with U.N. inspectors."
In fact, Rice suggested, if the U.N. Security Council knew last winter what Kay's group has uncovered now, it never would have rejected the U.S. call for war.
"Right up until the end, Saddam lied to the Security Council. And let there be no mistake, right up to the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons activity," she told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (search).
Press secretary Scott McClellan said the increase in speeches by Bush and his senior advisers is the president's way of fulfilling his promise to keep Americans informed about the war on terrorism.
"This is a time when we are accelerating our efforts on a number of fronts and as we do, it's important to keep the American people informed," McClellan said.
But, privately, aides say Rice's speech in Chicago marks the launch of a public relations campaign to counteract what officials see as largely negative media coverage of Kay's report on the hunt for Iraq's chemical and biological weapons. Bush himself said he is determined to break through what he called "the filter" that deprives Americans of a true sense of the accomplishments in Iraq.
Kay spent two days on Capitol Hill last week in closed-door meetings with legislators who said they were generally impressed with Kay's remarks despite the fact that no actual weapons of mass destruction have been found.
Still, polls suggest fewer and fewer people feel reconstruction efforts in Iraq are going well, and Democrats have increased their attacks on the administration.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said the multibillion-dollar postwar reconstruction effort shows that Iraq was never the threat it appeared to be.
"Some people are not opposed to fixing that which we bombed and which we destroyed," Waters said. "But to go in and create an infrastructure that they have never had is a hard pill to swallow for the American public."
Part of the public's hesitation comes from the growing number of U.S. military casualties. Three more U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this week, adding to the number killed since the war ended, though not all from hostile action.
In the meantime, Democrats are criticizing the administration's $87 billion supplemental budget request for Iraq as a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution intended to generate more international support falters.
"Why should American troops take virtually every risk and the American taxpayer pay virtually every cost of what is happening in Iraq?" asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Turkey has offered troops to take the load off U.S. forces, but the Iraqi Governing Council opposes having its neighbors on Iraqi soil.
Rice reported that Kay did find that Saddam had continued dozens of activities related to weapons of mass destruction and the inspectors found indications that he had committed chemical weapons tests on people.
"Today, in Iraq, the killing fields are yielding up their dead," she said.
Rice also seemed to indicate that the prior Bush administration had not finished its task when it originally went to war.
"You don't leave a man with those ambitions, with that technology, with that history, with those weapons, with that ability to pull this all together with $3 billion in illegal revenues every year. You don't leave that threat in the middle of the Middle East," she said.
Rice challenged the notion that Bush took the world to war in Iraq, saying that since the Gulf War ended 12 years ago, the United States and Britain maintained large naval forces in the Persian Gulf and enforced two no-fly zones over Iraq.
It was "hardly a state of peace," she said.
Rice also said that while no evidence yet exists linking Saddam to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the possibility of a future attack "beyond the scale of 9/11 ... could not be put aside."
Bush will give his own spin on the Kay report in an address to Thursday to National Guardsmen in New Hampshire. Friday is Vice President Dick Cheney's turn in a speech in Washington.
The PR campaign continues with high-profile trips to Iraq by Cabinet secretaries to illustrate areas of progress, such as the reopening of schools and the introduction of a new currency.
Bush at times will reach beyond the Washington media to try to drive his point home with regional and local press corps, officials said. The United States is also beefing up press operations in Baghdad to provide more live video opportunities and greater access to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Bush will devote all of his Saturday radio addresses in October to Iraq and will sit down for a series of interviews with regional media Monday to press his case.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.