JAMES CLARK AND UZI MAHNAIMI
AMERICAN military planners have presented President George W Bush with a strategy to defeat the army and air force of Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power within eight weeks.
The Pentagon plan, prepared in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, calls for an all-out bombardment of Saddams forces and installations, followed by an attempt to turn his army against him. The argument on whether to act goes on, but the president needed to know what he was up against and how it might be done, said a military source last week.
Israeli military strategists are concerned about a possible Iraqi counterattack and say their intelligence suggests Saddam could retaliate with warplanes carrying chemical or biological weapons on suicide missions.
Any American assault on Iraq would entail a critical race against time to destroy Saddams air force and missiles, or risk a regional conflagration. The American plan assumes that Iraqs military forces are much weaker than they were before the 1991 Gulf war. But it recognises that while Saddam was reluctant to use weapons of mass destruction a decade ago, he may now be prepared to use chemical and biological warheads. Intimidation of Saddam would be vital in the initial stages of the operation, with America and its allies building up forces of overwhelming strength in the region.
The bombardment would be executed by land and carrier-based aircraft, while special forces on the ground would attempt to destroy Scud and other missile launch pads inside Iraq, along with sites thought to house weapons of mass destruction.
The campaign would then be widened to take in communications centres, broadcast outlets, pipelines and supply depots. With communications broken and all propaganda channels silenced, western intelligence agents would encourage Iraqi insurgents to gather behind an opposition leader and mount a coup.
Only Saddams inner circle would be expected to fight to the death. The plan describes a popular new Iraqi leader who must not be seen as an American puppet. The entire campaign could take eight weeks in ideal conditions, it says, but American ground troops would be required to stay longer to ensure stability.
The idea is said to have split the Bush administration, with Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and John Bolton, the senior official responsible for arms control, sympathetic to a campaign starting as early as this spring, and Colin Powell, the secretary of state, being rather cooler. Iraqi opposition figures have held several meetings with White House officials. One said: There seems no question now that theyre going after Saddam. Its not a question of whether; its a question of when. Powell is believed to fear a regional conflict and intelligence gathered by the Israeli military backs his worst case scenario thinking. Sources in Tel Aviv claim Iraqi pilots are training for suicide missions against Israel.
The Israelis know that the Iraqi air force still has a range of Russian MiG-29 and Sukhoi jet fighters and French Mirages. Experienced pilots are familiar with low-level routes across Jordan and into Israel. Officials have warned Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, that Iraq could target the Dimona nuclear plant. Sharon called a secret meeting last month to discuss the intelligence.
Dalia Rabin, the deputy defence minister, and General Uzi Dayan, the chief of Israels national security council, have been briefed by Avigdor Sheperman, the head of the Israeli biological warfare institute in Nes Ziona, south of Tel Aviv. The Israeli air force has held training exercises for chemical and biological warfare. Israeli intelligence officials say Saddam believes the Americans will strike in April. The 20,000 elite Special Republican Guards, who protect Baghdad, have received increased salaries, and officers have been given cars.
Iraqi morale is said to be better than the Americans suppose. Washingtons planners will meet more leaders of the Iraqi national congress tomorrow. The Iraqis are pushing for military training of insurgents and support to overthrow Saddam. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy US defence secretary, called yesterday for a fundamental reform of Nato.
He told a European security conference in Munich that it should be streamlined into a more flexible alliance capable of preventing the spread of terrorism.
Additional reporting: Marie Colvin
Powell: Regime Change Needed in Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States might have to act alone to bring about a "regime change" in Iraq.
Thu Feb 7,10:26 AM ET
Powell told House members Wednesday that President Bush is considering "the most serious set of options one might imagine" for dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Regime change is something the United States might have to do alone," Powell said. "How to do it? I would not like to go into the details of the options." But he said Bush is "examining a full range of options." On Thursday, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that Bush has not decided on a course of action. A freshly announced trip by Vice President Dick Cheney next month to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait all of which neighbor Iraq raised questions about whether Cheney would seek on that tour to build support for making Iraq the next target of Bush's war on terrorism. "No, I would not urge you to reach that conclusion," Fleischer said. The vice president is "going to represent the president on a wide variety of issues, but the president has not made any determination to quote, unquote go into Iraq," Fleischer said.
In his State of the Union address last week, Bush named Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea. Questioned at the House International Relations Committee hearing, Powell said United Nations inspectors must have an "unfettered right" to conduct long-term searches in Iraq for suspect weapons sites and that Bush "is leaving no stone unturned" as to what the United States might do if Saddam continues to resist inspection.
Many analysts, both inside and outside the U.S. government, suspect Iraq is trying to develop long-range missiles, biological and chemical weapons and possible nuclear devices as well. Powell said U.S. intelligence has concluded that Iraq was unlikely to develop a nuclear weapon within a year or shortly thereafter.
"We still believe strongly in regime change in Iraq, and we look forward to the day when a democratic, representative government at peace with its neighbors leads Iraq to rejoin the family of nations," he said. Bush has denounced Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" that includes Iran and North Korea countries developing weapons of mass destruction as well. Powell dismissed an Iraqi offer to hold talks with the United Nations, an overture conveyed through the Arab League and accepted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Powell said Iraq had to accept the return of accept U.N. inspectors, and that there was nothing to discuss otherwise. By contrast, Powell said the Bush administration was open to "reasonable conversation" with Iran. Powell said the United States had a long-standing list of grievances with Iran, including its support for terrorism and trying to send weapons to the Palestinians.
Iran's "latest provocation," he said, was "meddling in Afghanistan" and unsettling the fragile interim government in Kabul. "Get out of the `axis of evil' column and make a choice that we think your people want you to make and not the choice your nonelected government has been making in recent years," he said.