Archives>MIDDLE EAST> Powell Says U.S. Is Weighing Ways to Topple Hussein

Powell Says U.S. Is Weighing Ways to Topple Hussein
MICHAEL R. GORDON and DAVID E. SANGER . NY Times . 13 february 2002

Iraqi children with a picture of Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, at a demonstration in Baghdad commemorating the 11th anniversary of the bombardment of a civilian shelter by U.S. warplanes during the Persian Gulf war.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that the administration was considering a variety of options to topple Saddam Hussein, amid indications that President Bush and his top advisers are close to settling on a plan.

While taking an unusually tough tone toward Iraq, Secretary Powell was careful to draw a distinction between Iraq on one hand and Iran and North Korea on the other, three countries that President Bush had lumped together as an "axis of evil" because of their quest for weapons of mass destruction.

"With respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea, there is no plan to start a war with these nations," Secretary Powell said. In contrast, in discussing Iraq, he delivered a stern message.

"With respect to Iraq, it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people," he said. "And we are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about."

Secretary Powell's comments were made in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee as the administration approached a decision about how to dislodge Mr. Hussein. Senior officials said there was a consensus within the administration that he must be overthrown and that plans to do so are being drawn up. But there no agreement as to how precisely that should be done or how long the United States should be prepared to wait for action. Still, there are indications that the planning is becoming increasingly serious.

Next month, Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to visit a number of nations that border Iraq, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. Mr. Cheney also plans to visit Britain, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, all of which might provide useful support in a campaign against Iraq.

At the Pentagon, officials have been drawing up plans for an Iraq campaign. The Iraqi National Congress, as the Iraqi opposition is known, has received a much warmer reception from the administration since the State of the Union speech, though the administration still has not agreed to provide its members with military training. During a recent meeting at the White House, a senior administration official told Iraqi opposition officials that President Bush had decided that Saddam Hussein needed to be replaced.

"We were told that the president has made up his mind: Saddam has got to go," one opposition official recalled.

At the hearing today, Secretary Powell stressed that Mr. Bush had not made any final decisions and that military action was not imminent.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the United States Central Command, which is overseeing the campaign in Afghanistan and which would run any campaign against Iraq, said today that a military plan had not yet been settled.

"I do not think I am at a point where a decision has been made about where to go next, leave alone the precision of how we will be going about doing this," General Franks said at the end of a visit to Kuwait.

One senior administration official said the Pentagon still needed several months to end the fighting in Afghanistan and prepare for a potential military campaign in Iraq.

Among the issues that officials are wrestling with is the possibility that Saddam Hussein would respond to an attack by using weapons of mass destruction against United States forces and possibly Israel; the extent to which American ground forces would be needed, and how a post-Hussein Iraq would be administered.

The Bush administration also needs to lay the diplomatic foundation. The British government is still wary of an Iraq campaign, the Turks are fearful that it could lead to an independent Kurdistan, Israel is apprehensive that it may be targeted by Iraq's missiles, and others in the region are skittish about a major American military operation in their backyard.

Several senior administration officials have begun to talk privately about a two-track approach to deposing Mr. Hussein that would balance military and diplomatic planning.

The first steps, which could take five months or more, involve working through the United Nations to develop tighter but more focused sanctions against Iraq and demand that it allow nuclear inspectors unfettered access to the country.

But senior administration officials say they fully expect that such an effort would fail, which would lay the base for a military campaign, one in which the United States would both encourage internal rebellions against the Iraqi leader's rule and use American military power.

"If we put smart sanctions in place in May, then it gets harder for Iraq to make the case that it should not allow weapons inspectors," a senior official said. "But we know that it is only matter of time before the weapons inspections get stopped and we have yet another bit of proof that Saddam will never give up."

Discussing the diplomatic approach, Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said after a recent meeting with Secretary Powell that he expected that when the United Nations Security Council met in May to renew economic sanctions against Iraq, the United States and Britain could issue an "ultimatum" to Mr. Hussein to let in the weapons inspectors. Mr. Straw said he hoped that Russian pressure would persuade Iraq to cooperate, but unlike hard- liners in the Bush administration, he did not say what action should be taken if Iraq refused to comply.

Though some Bush officials consider that a likely scenario, one senior official said the military and diplomatic tracks were still being developed independently.

Secretary Powell's appearance today was significant because he has long been considered the most cautious member of the administration when it comes to confronting Iraq. By making his statements in a Congressional hearing and making them in a more strongly worded fashion than in similar testimony he gave last week, the secretary of state demonstrated his loyalty to the president and thus gave himself an opportunity to influence the outcome as deliberations continue within the administration. But his comments also indicated that the deliberations over Iraq have a new sense of urgency.

Senior officials said a consensus was emerging that it is important to take on the Iraqi leader, with the help of allies if possible, and without them if necessary.

Secretary Powell's comments today marked the first time he drew a sharp distinction between the administration's strategy with Iraq and its strategy with the two other countries Mr. Bush called part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address last week.

In Iraq, he continued, "we are always examining options for regime change." Mr. Bush, he added, using a curious time element, "does not have a recommendation before him that would involve an armed conflict tomorrow."