Saddam Hussein used poison gas to kill his people

The United States' new public relations chief on Friday defended Washington's decision to go to war against Iraq, claiming Saddam Hussein used poison gas to kill "hundreds of thousands" of his own people. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes made the claim before a group of Muslim students in Indonesia, days after the former president went on trial in a U.S.-backed court in Baghdad for alleged atrocities carried out during his rule.

It was not clear what she based her estimate on, the AP reports.

"The consensus of the world intelligence community was that Saddam was a very dangerous threat," Hughes told the students.

"After all, he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people," she said. "He had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas against them."

Saddam has been blamed for using poison gas against Kurdish guerrillas and civilians in the border town of Halabja, killing 5,000 people at the height of the Iran-Iraq war.

The United States sees Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, as a close ally in its war on terror.

The visit by Hughes, a longtime confidante of President George W. Bush, is part of an effort to enhance the U.S. image abroad.

Hughes is the latest in a series of top administration officials to visit Indonesia, where anti-American sentiments have risen sharply following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.