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A failure to disarm

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Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world.
—Colin Powell

A Failure to Disarm, a.k.a. Failing to Disarm, was a Powerpoint presentation presented by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. In it, Secretary Powell tried to prove that the government of Iraq remained in material breach of UN Resolution 1441, which called upon Iraq to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction and to cooperate fully with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix. Reaction to Powell's presentation and speech ranged from increased support for the forthcoming US invasion of Iraq (in the US), to cautious skepticism elsewhere. During the course of the invasion, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was found, according to the final official report of the US Central Intelligence Agency.[1]

The presentation[edit]

The presentation begins by quoting alleged intercepted dialog that Secretary Powell claims proves that Iraqi military personnel were giving instructions to hide arms from inspectors, although the nature of those arms is not specified in the dialog. In fact the quoted instruction is to check the "scrap" and "abandoned" areas for any possible banned ammunition. The presentation then shows satellite photos of alleged chemical and biological munitions sites, an aluminum tube claimed to be for use in uranium enrichment, "delivery systems" (a small plane and an alleged liquid fuel testing area) and pictures of non-Iraqi terrorists.

A cleaned up, more compact version of the presentation was later released to the public.

Allegations reported as facts[edit]

Many US news organizations presented the allegations presented by Secretary Powell as established facts, even though those organizations did not bother to source any collaborating evidence.[2] But many in the intelligence community at the time expressed doubts about the reliability of the evidence presented, including Greg Thielmann, who was in charge of analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat for Powell's intelligence team.[3]

Ties to 9/11[edit]

In his presentation, Secretary Powell tried to link Iraq to the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York by suggesting that Iraq "could at any time" give weapons and aid to "terrorists."[4] This sneaky attempt by the Bush administration to link Iraq to events Iraq had nothing to do with and stir up war fever worked: In late 2003, almost half of Americans polled by Newsweek believed that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attacks, vs 37% who did not.[5]

Human rights side note[edit]

Although the war was later justified by US President George W Bush as an act of humanitarianism, Powell's presentation contained only one slide addressing human rights violations.

Reactions to the speech[edit]

Many American commentators, including many progressives, expressed alarm over the allegations in the presentation, giving them full credence and putting their support behind US administration plans for military action.[6] Most western governments, on the other hand, expressed caution and supported further investigation, especially since the UN investigation team had yet to turn up any concrete evidence of banned weapons.


According to US figures, supported by documents leaked by Wikileaks, more than 104,000 deaths occurred due to the war in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including more than 92,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.[7]

In 2005 Colin Powell admitted that his presentation was "'painful' for him personally and would be a permanent 'blot' on his record."[8][9]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

The slide show: