A NATION CHALLENGED: SADDAM HUSSEIN;
Some Pentagon Officials and Advisers Seek to Oust Iraq’s Leader in War’s Next Phase
By Elaine Sciolino & Patrick Tyler
NY Times, October 12, 2001
A tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government is working to mobilize support for a military operation to oust President Saddam Hussein of Iraq as the next phase of the war against terrorism, senior administration officials and defense experts said.
The group, which some in the State Department and on Capitol Hill refer to as the ”Wolfowitz cabal,” after Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, is laying the groundwork for a strategy that envisions the use of air support and the occupation of southern Iraq with American ground troops to install a Iraqi opposition group based in London at the helm of a new government, the officials and experts said.
Under this notion, American troops would also seize the oil fields around Basra, in southeastern Iraq, and sell the oil to finance the Iraqi opposition in the south and the Kurds in the north, one senior official said.
”The takeover would not be dissimilar to the area we occupied in the gulf war,” the official said.
The group is building its case despite President Bush’s declaration that the war against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, Al Qaeda, must be fought first. The idea is to prepare for what its members see as the coming debate over the next phase of the war.
The group has largely excluded the State Department, where Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has adamantly argued that such an attack would destroy the international coalition that President Bush has assembled. Both Mr. Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney have said there is no evidence linking Iraq to the attacks.
”Our focus is on Afghanistan and the terrorist network hiding in Afghanistan right now,” Mr. Bush said tonight at his news conference. But he called Mr. Hussein ” an evil man.”
”After all, he gassed his own people,” Mr. Bush added. ”We know he’s been developing weapons of mass destruction.” He said the administration was watching Mr. Hussein ”very carefully.”
On Sept. 19 and 20, the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious bipartisan board of national security experts that advises the Pentagon, met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of Sept. 11. The members of the group agreed on the need to turn to Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan and Mr. bin Laden and his organization is over, people familiar with the meetings said. Both Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz took part in the meetings for part of both days.
But while the group agreed on the goal of ousting Mr. Hussein, they presented a range of views, including a discussion of the many political and diplomatic obstacles to military action.
”If we don’t use this as the moment to replace Saddam after we replace the Taliban, we are setting the stage for disaster,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a member of the group, said in an interview.
Richard Perle, who shares Mr. Wolfowitz’s view that the Iraqi regime should be overthrown quickly with military force, said, ”This has never been a fringe issue.”
Neither Mr. Gingrich nor Mr. Perle discussed the substance of the meeting.
Other members of the group expressed concern that they might be pawns in what had become a bureaucratic battle. ”Both Pentagon and State are probably using us to continue to support their arguments,” said one member of the group.
The 18-member board includes Harold Brown, President Jimmy Carter’s defense secretary; former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger; R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence in the Clinton administration; Adm. David E. Jeremiah, the former deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Vice President Dan Quayle; and James R. Schlesinger a former defense and energy secretary.
The State Department, including officials who work on Iraq policy, was not briefed on the two-day meeting.
There are other signs of bureaucratic disarray with regard to setting policy regarding the war on terrorism. The White House inserted a far-reaching sentence into a letter from Ambassador John D. Negroponte, the chief United States envoy to the United Nations, to the Security Council last Sunday, senior administration officials said.
”Powell was surprised to find out about it and he was quite distressed,” a senior administration official said. ”Somebody should have called him.”
The State Department determined that Stephen J. Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, inserted the sentence, and that Mr. Negroponte and at least two senior officials in the State Department saw the final version of the letter but did not change it, officials said.
The letter put the Security Council on notice that the United States might be forced to retaliate against other state sponsors of terrorism if it turned up new evidence, stating, ”We may find that our self-defense requires further action with respect to other organizations and other states.”
In another development, the Knight Ridder newspaper group reported today that senior Pentagon officials authorized Mr. Woolsey to fly to London last month on a government plane, accompanied by Justice and Defense Department officials, on a mission to gather evidence linking Mr. Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The State Department was unaware of the trip but confirmed that it did take place, a senior State Department official said. Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, said, ”We just don’t have any information on it.” Mr. Woolsey did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In a conversation on Wednesday, Mr. Woolsey suggested that he was building a legal case against Iraq.
”The first thing we have to do is develop some confidence that Iraq is involved in terrorist incidents against us, not meaning Sept. 11,” he said.
Mr. Woolsey cited Iraq’s alleged involvement in the assassination attempt against former President George Bush in the spring of 1993, together with its work to develop weapons of mass destruction as terrorist acts that made them ”a prime candidate for regime replacement.”
Mr. Woolsey added that eventually Mr. Hussein would fall if subjected to a military offensive that would give the United States control of the south, support from the Kurds in the north, defections of crucial Iraqis and well-supported insurgencies.
The United States must be ”willing to put up with criticism from European states and other governments,” Mr. Woolsey said.