- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday that the Bush administration would help install a coalition of Iraqi groups once Saddam Hussein is toppled.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Arabic Al-Jazeera TV network, he also denied allegations that al Qaida leader and Osama bin Laden and Saddam himself were America's creations.

The interview was designed to address the Iraqi conflict from an Arab perspective, raising the issues widely discussed in the Arab streets.

There was an extensive discussion of some of the beliefs about the Iraqi issue prevailing in Arab and Islamic nations, such as:

— The U.S.-Iraq conflict isn't about weapons of mass destruction, it is about removing Saddam.

— The United States would attack Iraq, even if U.N. inspectors find no evidence of weapons there.

— There's no legal justification for changing or wanting to change the regime in Iraq, which is an independent member of the United Nations.

— If America removes Saddam, it should also go after other corrupt and dictatorial regimes that are hated by their people.

— The United States has produced no evidence to prove that Saddam has links to al Qaida and/or bin Laden.

— Both Saddam and bin Laden are U.S. creations.

— The Bush administration wants to invade Iraq to hide its failures in Afghanistan and also because Iraq is the weakest member of the "axis of evil."

— The United States is after Iraq's black gold, the oil.

— The United States wants its Arab allies, particularly the Gulf states, to send troops to Iraq.

— The United States is becoming an imperial power and wants to create colonies.

Speaking of U.S. plans for a post-Saddam Iraq, Rumsfeld assured the Arabs, particularly the Iraqis, that Washington would not stay in the country "a minute longer" than absolutely necessary.

He said the post-Saddam government would include Iraqis, those living inside Iraq as well as those living abroad. Rumsfeld said neither the United States, nor any other country, had a model or template for Iraq. "It has to be decided by the people of that country," he said.

Asked how long the United States would want to remain in Iraq after defeating Saddam, he said Washington and its allies would have several objectives, including the provision of humanitarian assistance, creation of a stable situation and a search for any weapons of mass destruction.

"We would hope to see an Iraqi government evolve soon … that would set itself on a path towards representation for the various minorities and ethnic and religious elements in the country, and that they'd have a voice in that government," Rumsfeld said.

"Our choice would be to stay as long as we needed to do that, but not one minute longer," he added.

He denied allegations that the United States had helped create bin Laden and Saddam — bin Laden to fight the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan and Saddam to fight Iran.

He said there was a period when bin Laden opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the United States had done the same.

"So that commonality of interests led to that coincidence of being on the same side but it would be a misunderstanding to say that therefore the United States or the United Nations or a coalition of countries … opposed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan … created him," said Rumsfeld, adding: "He is what he is. He's a terrorist."

Responding to a question about creating Saddam to fight Iran, he said in the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq's neighbors asked the United States to assist Baghdad to defend itself against the Iranians and "provided some intelligence assistance."

He denied that Washington helped create Saddam but offered no response to Al-Jazeera's question as to whether he had also met Saddam as a U.S. emissary.

Responding to claims that the United States would also work to change other corrupt and dictatorial regimes, Rumsfeld said Iraq was different from others.

"Here's a country that invaded a neighbor, Kuwait. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its neighbor, Iran. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its own people. It's a country that has fired ballistic missiles into three of its neighbors. It is a country that is repressing its people.

"It is a country that … has relationships with terrorist networks and there's the risk of transferring some of those lethal weapons to terrorists. So it's a problem not for the United States alone but a problem for the United Nations and the international community," he said.

Rumsfeld insisted that the dispute was over the WMD that Iraq had been secretly stockpiling — and he refuted the allegation that Washington wanted to remove Saddam, whether armed or not.

"It is about weapons of mass destruction. It is unquestionably about that. And the fact that for many years now the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein has not been willing to cooperate with U.N. resolutions requiring him to disarm."

He said the conflict with Iraq was not "a U.S.-Iraqi issue … this is an issue between the United Nations and the international community and a government that has consistently refused to stop its weapons of mass destruction program."

He said that the idea that U.N. arms inspectors could say Iraq had discarded all WMD and had no weapons left wasn't credible. The inspectors, he said, had said the contrary: that the Iraqis aren't cooperating.

The U.S. official said Saddam now has several choices: "One is to cooperate and he hasn't done it. We wish he would. A second choice is to do nothing and lead to a potential conflict, which is everyone's last choice.

"A third choice is to leave the country and have someone in that country that the Iraqi people want that will not have weapons of mass destruction, will not repress the Iraqi people, will not threaten their neighbors.

"This clearly would be the first choice, for him to just leave, go to another country, and allow Iraq to have a government that's representative of the people of that country and that is respectful of the various ethnic and religious minorities in that country and doesn't invade Kuwait and doesn't make weapons of mass destruction and doesn't traffic with terrorist networks."

As to the legal justification for changing the government in another country, he said doing otherwise amounts to allowing Saddam to continue to make WMD and "puts in jeopardy the Security Council and the international community."

He added: "Here's a country that invaded a neighbor, Kuwait. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its neighbor, Iran. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its own people. It's a country that has fired ballistic missiles into three of its neighbors.

"It is a country that is repressing its people. It is a country that … has relationships with terrorist networks and there's the risk of transferring some of those lethal weapons to terrorists."

Discussing a possible role for America's Arab allies in a possible war against Iraq, Rumsfeld said if the United States decided to use force against Saddam, "it will be a very large coalition of countries and a large number of countries in that general region will be assisting and participating. There are very few countries … in that neighborhood of Iraq that admire the regime of Saddam Hussein."

The United States and other members of the international coalition, he said, would help with humanitarian assistance, provide stability, and look for the weapons of mass destruction.

He rejected the suggestion that Washington was entering Iraq to hide its failures in Afghanistan where, Al-Jazeera suggested, al Qaida was regrouping and U.S. efforts to put together a coalition government has not been very successful.

"There are no longer al Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. They are no longer flying airplanes into U.S. buildings with people trained from that country. The people have picked a transitional government. There are men and women going to school. They're training an Afghan National Army. This is no failure. This is an enormous success," he said.

He also rejected the suggestion that the United States had a master plan for the Middle East and after Iraq; it would go for countries like Iran to make the region safe for Israel.

And he denied that the United States was after Iraq's oil.

"If somebody owns oil they're going to want to sell it. It's going to be in the market … Money is fungible and oil is fungible. This is not about oil, and anyone who thinks it is, is badly misunderstanding the situation," he said.

He also rejected a suggestion from Al-Jazeera's correspondent that the war was about who controls the oil.

"Anyone who controls it wants to sell it. If a bad person owns the oil … and doesn't want to sell it to you … this person's going to be selling it to somebody else. And the world price will be the same. Everyone will have the oil they need. They aren't going to hoard it. They're not going to keep it in the ground. They need the money from the oil. So it's not a problem," he said.

Finally, he said, it wasn't right to say that the United States is becoming an imperial power because "we don't take our force and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil.

"We've gone into help Bosnia be free. We've helped Kosovo — Moslem countries. We've helped Kuwait get free. We helped free the world from Hitler and from the Japanese imperial aggression in Asia in World War II. We didn't keep any real estate. We didn't keep any resources."

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