- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

The Bush administration's internal debate on Iraq has reached the point where officials believe military or covert action against Saddam Hussein is a certainty unless he allows independent weapon inspectors back in his country.
Left unsettled, U.S. officials said in interviews, are the questions of timing and the military strategy.
One official participating in the discussions said he has "no doubt" President Bush will move to oust Saddam if the Iraqi dictator refuses White House demands on inspectors.
The inner-sanctum debate is heating up as the Afghanistan campaign enters a final phase in its mission to uproot terrorists, and the international community asks "Who is next?" in Mr. Bush's declared war on international terrorism.
In administration meetings on Iraq, three different approaches have emerged from among which the president will likely choose shortly, according to three U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Pentagon policy-makers want to remodel the successful war strategy in Afghanistan (massive air power, covert warriors and an indigenous opposition working along with Army Special Forces) and apply it to Iraq, but on a much larger scale. This general outline is said to be favored by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who, as a civilian, advocated arming the Iraqi resistance.
The uniformed leaders, including Gen. Tommy Franks, who as head of U.S. Central Command would run a war in Iraq, are said to argue that the strategy also must include a large number of U.S. ground troops.
The CIA is said to advocate a coup or destabilization, not a war, to topple Saddam. The agency is said to believe that there remain officers in the Iraqi army who, given the appropriate support, could attempt to wrest power from Saddam and the ruling Ba'ath Party. These officers would then usher in a U.S.-friendly regime.
A senior military source said CIA Director George J. Tenet believes he needs a year to "till the ground" in Iraq and see whether the agency can destabilize Saddam's regime.
Whichever route Mr. Bush chooses, U.S. officials said to look for a new war policy to be in place in months.
It has been the policy of both the Clinton administration, and now the Bush government, to oust Saddam, largely through economic sanctions and the hope that some element would execute a coup.
But the September 11 attacks on America by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror group have intensified discussions inside the Bush administration on how to change the Baghdad regime.
The pro-war argument goes that Saddam's arsenal of chemical and suspected biological weapons will eventually be used by terrorists against the United States unless it takes preventative action now. In addition, Saddam is a known supporter of international terrorism a U.S. State Department status that qualifies the regime for attack under a doctrine announced by Mr. Bush.
No direct evidence has emerged linking Baghdad to the September 11 attacks.
Officials said in interviews that Pentagon civilians are arguing against waiting for a coup. They point out that perhaps as many as six coup attempts after the 1991 Persian Gulf war ended in failure.
"What they want to do is go in and help the Iraqi opposition," said one senior official. "Kind of do what we did in Afghanistan."
But CIA officials say Kurdish opposition fighters in the north and ragtag Shi'ite fighters backed by Iran in the south are no match for Saddam's army.
"The CIA wants the coup option," said an official. "But they tried this before and it didn't work. They don't believe in resistance operations."
According to one official, even the top brass willing to wage war against Saddam say "a good number of ground troops" would be required.
Advocates of the Afghan model say the CIA and Army Green Berets will need time to train and equip an Iraqi opposition force.
"It would be a tough go," the official said.
But the source added, "You have a band of courageous civilians in the Pentagon who supported the [Afghan] Northern Alliance, and, bingo, they were right. The system is so biased against helping an insurgency. Well, it worked. They say, 'It worked in Afghanistan, but it can't work in Iraq.' The Pentagon says, 'Why not?'"
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is skeptical of waging war against Iraq, on Sunday cast doubt that the Afghan design would work against Saddam.
"We are looking at that," he told Fox News Channel. "It's quite a different situation. I mean, it is much, much different, and I think one has to be careful before you take a cookie cutter from some other theater and apply it to another theater. But everything you have just suggested and other ideas are constantly under review within the administration."
Advocates of an expanded Afghan model contend that the State Department and CIA are badly overrating Saddam's army. They assert it is weaker today than in 1991, when the U.S. military was on the verge of destroying many top Iraqi armored units before the ground war was halted after 100 hours.
They say that precision bombing has so improved the past decade that strike fighters and bombers could take down much of Saddam's military, paving the way for opposition advances.
The United States says al Qaeda operates in as many as 60 countries. But large-scale direct military action may be required only in two: Iraq and the east African country of Somalia, where the terror group has a safe haven.
During a NATO visit yesterday, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted by Reuters as saying, "There are countries that worry us because they actively support and harbor [terrorists]. It's one thing to have a cell in your country, it's another to actively support them. And Somalia is one potential country there are others as well a potential country where you might have diplomatic, law-enforcement action or potentially military action. All the instruments of national power, not just one."
Mr. Bush has all but directly threatened Saddam, saying at one point he will "find out" what will happen if weapons inspectors are not let in, after having been kicked out in 1998.
And Vice President Richard B. Cheney has delivered perhaps the most direct threat yet, saying, "If I were Saddam Hussein, I'd be thinking very carefully about the future, and I'd be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban of Afghanistan."

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