- (AFP) - The spectre of Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein still haunts the Bush administration, which is spending an increased
amount of time plotting his ouster should he again reject the return of
UN arms inspectors, experts here said.
Saddam's refusal to allow authorities to verify whether factories once
dedicated to weapons of mass destruction have indeed been closed has brought
debilitating sanctions on the Iraqi people and turned US attention to Iraq,
despite the US focus on its anti-terror campaign.
But despite the known military risks and likely diplomatic sparks any pursuit
of Saddam entails, Washington analysts suggest the regime in Baghdad, part
of US President George W. Bush's "axis of evil," is on the US
"I think that the United States at some point, probably after the
November election, will put themselves in a position to change the regime
in Iraq if Saddam does not agree on inspections" demanded by the United
Nations, said Lawrence Korb, an undersecretary of defense under president
And though no links exist yet between Baghdad and the September 11 attacks
blamed on the al-Qaeda network of top terror suspect Osama bin Laden, Washington
has made it clear Saddam's weapons-grade ambitions pose as great a security
threat as the Islamist terror network in Afghanistan and beyond.
Within top layers of Bush's Republican party, said Joseph Cirincione, a
strategy specialist at the Carnegie Endowment, "it's not a question
of should we attack Iraq, but rather when."
Korb said such an assault could begin with support of armed operations
by the Iraqi opposition, and be followed, if necessary, by the military
engagement of as many as 50,000 troops -- a number bandied about by the
Pentagon, according to US media reports.
The announcement last week that Vice President Dick Cheney would travel
in mid-March to the Middle East, Turkey and Britain prompted renewed speculation
that Bush's team, which includes members of the administration responsible
for the 1991 Gulf War, seeks to isolate, and possibly strike, Baghdad.
But the White House strongly denied that was the purpose of the trip by
the former secretary of Defense, while stressing that for Washington, the
Iraqi people would be in a better situation without Saddam Hussein.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week that Washington was examining
a "full range" of options against Iraq, but kept tightly-lipped
when pressed for further details, except to hint that "regime change
is something the United States might have to do alone."
"How to do it? I would not like to go into details of the options
that are being looked at," he said Wednesday in testimony to Congress.
But Judith Kipper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies
said it was doubtful Bush would move to strike Iraq without assessing the
long-term risks of such a move.
"This president knows what a price he would pay for his presidency
and the consequences," Kipper said.
"I think also in the back of his mind he probably is thinking that
if he tries it and fails, it will not only hurt his presidency but it will
also destroy his father's legacy," a reference to former president
George Bush, whose administration successfully fought the 1991 Gulf War.
The US focus on ridding Afghanistan and the rest of the world of al-Qaeda,
coupled with the crucial midterm Congressional elections in November, make
it unlikely that anything "military" would happen in the near
term, Kipper added.
It is also important to remember, suggested Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie
Endowment, that unless the United States has a clear mandate and the support
of regional allies, occupying Iraq and the resulting need to rebuild the
country "threatens to be more than even Washington can handle."
"Baghdad is not Kabul and (Saddam Hussein's) Republican guard is not
the Taliban," he said.
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