- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

The Pentagon is circulating a detailed assessment of Baghdads nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, and has briefed key allies and lawmakers privately as the White House weighs whether to strike Iraq.

The military also is working on a document that purportedly will show links among the al Qaeda terrorist organization and Iraq, its security forces and government-run businesses. Those documents have not yet been widely distributed within the government, officials said.

Administration officials call the weapons briefing "educational" and say it talks of all threats from weapons of mass destruction, not just Iraqs. But they also acknowledge it will help to make the case for invading Iraq should President Bush give the order.

"Its compelling," one official said.The briefing was spearheaded by J.D. Crouch II, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Mr. Crouch is among the so-called "hard-liners" inside the Pentagon who favor military action to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The briefing was presented to NATO allies in Brussels some weeks ago. A group of a dozen or so U.S. senators visited the Pentagon on Aug. 1 to hear the classified briefing in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfelds conference room.

The Bush administration to date has not persuaded European allies to back an attack. Only British Prime Minister Tony Blair has endorsed some of Mr. Bushs tough language aimed at Saddam.

But European opposition could melt if Mr. Bush decides to attack and the White House begins a concerted public relations drive. Officials say the Crouch briefing, in some form, is likely to be part of a public argument for military force. Until then, the Pentagon is using the briefing to make sure key decision-makers are aware of Baghdads commitment to building nuclear weapons.

Officials said the Pentagon briefing makes it clear that Iraq has the ability to use chemical weapons in battle. Sources declined to disclose the latest intelligence estimate on how close Saddam is to owning nuclear weapons. Outside analysts have said Saddam may be two years away.

Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, declined to discuss the briefings specifics."It dealt with all threats," said Mr. Cochran, adding that the briefing was attended mostly by Republican senators and lasted about one hour.Mr. Cochran said he is not convinced that Iraqs weapons programs justify a U.S. invasion.

"People wring their hands over an invasion of Iraq," he said. "I dont think were going to invade Iraq. Thats a personal opinion. Theres no clear and present danger to the United States we know of right now. If there were, we would take action to prevent an attack against our country."

Mr. Cochran said the best approach is to confirm through intelligence sources the location of weapons sites that pose a threat to the United States, and then surgically destroy them.

"The most appropriate and safest thing from our countrys standpoint is to attack that one weapon system. We can do that," Mr. Cochran said. "I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it would be morally unacceptable for us not to take this action."

The Bush administration is weighing options to topple Saddam, including an all-out war.

Two administration officials said in interviews last month that if the president decides to forcibly oust Saddam, the war plan would include three major components: a large ground force, precision air strikes and special-operations forces. Those forces would help organize anti-Saddam rebels and mount an extensive psychological warfare operation to convince Iraqs armed forces to lay down their arms or to turn against Saddam.

Washington-based Iraq Watch, a private research group, estimates that Iraq has scores of aerial bombs, munitions and missile warheads capable of delivering chemical weapons. Evidence suggests the country has 157 bombs and 25 missile warheads suitable for germ agents anthrax, aflatoxin and botulinum.

Vice President Dick Cheney has referred to Iraqs pursuit of nuclear weapons as "this gathering danger [that] requires the most careful, deliberate and decisive response by America and our allies."

Mr. Rumsfeld told soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, last week that Mr. Bush "has made no such decisions that we should go into a war with Iraq. Hes thinking about it."

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