- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Readers of The Washington Times got a rare glimpse Friday at the top-brass debate over ousting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, compliments of reporter Rowan Scarborough. If Pentagon officials get their way, an operation to topple Saddam would resemble the campaign to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. But Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, favors a "Desert Storm II" approach and is partial to a massive U.S. ground and air troop deployment, according to Mr. Scarborough's sources.

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Sunday that any offensive against Iraq would likely be put on hold until early next year. "Until recently, the administration had contemplated a possible confrontation with Mr. Hussein this fall," that newspaper said. "Now that schedule seems less realistic. Conflict in the Middle East has widened a rift within the administration over whether military action can be undertaken without inflaming Arab states and prompting anti-American violence throughout the region."

Given this geopolitical backdrop and other considerations, Pentagon officials are calling for an "extensive use of air power and indigenous rebel forces." Gen. Franks maintains that a new war on Saddam would require four or five divisions of ground troops and a total deployment of about 200,000 land, sea and air forces. But, defense officials say, civilian policy-makers in the Pentagon would like to see him scale down ground troop deployment and mirror more closely the tactics used in Afghanistan, such as allowing Army Green Berets to organize anti-Saddam forces in the north and south. Gen. Franks had also originally proposed deploying three divisions of U.S. ground troops to oust the Taliban, but later decided to rely more heavily on special-operations troops and air power, possibly due to prodding from Pentagon officials.

The reasons for supporting an Iraqi insurrection also transcends military considerations. America would embolden Iraq's self-reliance and better allow democracy to take hold if it limited its role in a campaign against Saddam. An Iraqi-driven ouster of Saddam would also limit a potential backlash in the region.

Of course, the dangers include Islamic fervor in what used to be a highly secular Iraq. Anger over 12 years of sanctions and U.S. support of Israel is driving a wider adherence to Islam, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal Monday. Saddam, unsurprisingly, is capitalizing on this sentiment, and has "further increased the dose of Islamic terminology in his speeches" since the United States renewed its calls for his exit in the wake of September 11. If this trend continues, it could be increasingly difficult to rely on a native insurrection.

Still, defense officials told Mr. Scarborough that leaders in the region are more supportive of deposing Saddam than they publicly admit. Likewise, opposition to Saddam could be quite prevalent within Iraq. If this is the case, the Pentagon officials should have their day.

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