- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

The U.S. administration wants to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before the end of President Bush's first term, but officials have yet to agree on the exact method.
White House officials said in interviews that the administration had reached a remarkable degree of unanimity in recent weeks on the use of covert or military action to depose Saddam and his hard-line Ba'ath Party.
The lone holdout had been Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the officials said. But he "got tired of being the odd man out," one source said.
The officials said the administration is discussing a timetable in which Saddam would be deposed before President Bush's first term ends, which is January 2005. The sources say the time limit is being set because there are no assurances Mr. Bush will be re-elected or that a Democratic president would move aggressively against Saddam.
Mr. Bush is said to want to achieve major objectives in his war on terrorists, such as destroying Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network and removing Saddam from power, during his first term.
"There is now agreement that Saddam must go," a senior policy-maker said. "The big question now is 'how.'"
Mr. Bush has threatened Saddam publicly, saying the Iraqi leader will "find out" what the administration will do if he does not permit independent weapons inspectors back inside his country.
But officials said privately this week that they have little hope that the Iraqi regime would allow unrestricted inspections, thus rendering the process almost worthless. Saddam used evasion and trickery to hide his weapons of mass destruction from United Nations inspectors during much of the 1990s. In 1998, he expelled the U.N. team, triggering U.S. bombing raids against Iraqi weapons sites.
Since September 11, the United States has increased satellite surveillance of suspected Iraqi weapons-production sites. Baghdad has attempted to move development underground to escape potential allied bombings. Officials say the Air Force has been studying how to get at these sites with earth-penetrating bombs.
Mr. Powell displayed a new hawkish stance toward Iraq in Feb. 6 testimony before the House International Relations Committee.
"Regime change is something the United States might have to do alone," he testified. "I would not like to go into any of the details of the options that are being looked at, but it is the most serious assessment of options that one might imagine."
Just three months earlier, Mr. Powell seemed to dismiss talk within the administration of taking on Saddam. "I never saw a plan that was going to take Saddam out," Mr. Powell told reporters. "It was just some ideas coming from various quarters about 'Let's go bomb.'"
Administration personnel are generally advocating three options, officials say.
Civilian aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld are clearly the most hawkish bloc. They want to examine using the "Afghan model" an indigenous rebel army, U.S. special operations forces and massive air strikes to topple Saddam. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Central Command, which is running the war in Afghanistan and would direct operations in Iraq, believe a sizable U.S. ground force would be needed.
CIA Director George J. Tenet is said to counsel that his agency can destabilize the Iraqi regime and perhaps foment a military coup.
But Pentagon civilians favor military action. A special team was set up shortly after the September 11 attacks to identify links between terrorist groups supported by Baghdad and al Qaeda. Such links could be used to justify a U.S.-engineered regime change.
Officials say the justification for ousting the Iraqi dictator already exists: Saddam is actively seeking nuclear weapons that would likely fall into the hands of terrorist groups he supports in the Middle East.
Mr. Bush has labeled Iraq part of an "axis of evil" that also includes Iran and North Korea. Officials have downplayed the chances of mounting an invasion against the other two nations. But they give no such assurances about Iraq, against whom the United States went to war in 1991 to liberate Kuwait. President George Bush and his national security team, which included then-Gen. Colin Powell, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, decided against carrying the war to Baghdad and toppling Saddam.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said earlier this week that the president has not settled on any one course of action for Iraq.
"I think we're going to listen to people, and we're going to have ideas, and there isn't any fixed solution," he told the Fox News Channel. "There's a mix of things, diplomatic pressure, political pressure, military pressure. But the problem has got to be dealt with. It can't be walked away from."
In a sign of how seriously the administration is considering military action, Mr. Bush is dispatching Vice President Richard B. Cheney next month on an 11-nation tour to countries including those that border Iraq. Mr. Cheney was the defense secretary during the 1991 Gulf war and forged close military ties with Persian Gulf allies. Some of these countries could serve as launching pads for U.S. strike aircraft.

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