Other items: Aziz won't testify against Saddam and Iran official disputes claims of meddling

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Colin Powell told President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month that there were too few troops in Iraq, according to people familiar with official records of the meeting.

Powell made his assertion during one in a series of intense discussions on Iraq between Bush and Blair this fall, The Washington Post reported. Less than three weeks after the White House meeting, the Pentagon announced it would boost the U.S. military presence in Iraq by 12,000 troops, to 150,000.

Powell made his remarks Nov. 12, just 10 days after the end of a presidential campaign in which Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and his decision to limit troop levels there had been a major issue. Powell announced his intention to resign his post three days later but submitted his letter of resignation on the day of the Blair meeting.

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One U.S. official said Powell flatly stated: “We don’t have enough troops. We don’t control the terrain.”

But a senior State Department official familiar with the exchange said Powell was less pointed, raising the issue in the context of continuing conversations that focused on the turmoil in the Sunni Triangle, the Iraqi elections scheduled for next month, and the shape and size of the U.S.-led military presence in the country. This official said Powell spoke about the size not only of the U.S. presence but also of the British and Iraqi forces.

The secretary of state, who is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the key task in warfare is to dominate the ground and control the situation. Overall, Powell concluded, according to this official, the number of troops — U.S., coalition and Iraqi — was insufficient to ensure such control.

The discussions between the two leaders have gone on in recent months in a series of videoconferences that have been considered so sensitive that the transcripts of the meetings are destroyed after other senior officials read them.

Aziz won’t testify against Saddam

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told his lawyer at their first meeting yesterday that he would not testify against his former leader.

“We talked a lot about many issues, about oil, about his testimony in Saddam’s case,” Iraqi attorney Badih Aref said. “He says he has no evidence against Saddam.”

Aziz is one of 12 top figures from the former regime who are in U.S. custody awaiting trials for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Iran official disputes claims of meddling

DAMASCUS, Syria — Iran’s foreign minister challenged U.S. and Iraqi officials yesterday to prove their allegations that his country is meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Kamal Kharrazi, speaking to reporters during a visit to Syria, which has faced similar charges from Washington and Baghdad, said such accusations were meant to “evade reality instead of discussing the crisis and trying to find solutions for it.”

Earlier this month, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, plus former operatives from toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s security forces, were cooperating with an al-Qaida-linked group in Iraq.

President Bush has warned Iran and Syria that “meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest.”

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Hungary has pulled out the last of its 300-strong military contingent from Iraq after Parliament refused to extend the transport unit’s mission beyond 2004, a Defense Ministry official said yesterday. The Hungarian contingent arrived home via Kuwait this week.