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Bush Aide Urges 'Bullet' for Hussein

Policy: Spokesman says U.S. hasn't changed its ban on assassination. But if Iraqis oust their leader, he suggests, that would be cheaper than a war.


WASHINGTON — The White House's chief spokesman broached the prospect Tuesday of assassinating Saddam Hussein as a way to avoid war with Iraq, saying that "the cost of one bullet" would be cheaper than military action.

Ari Fleischer said he had heard no discussion about rescinding a 1976 executive order banning direct U.S. efforts to assassinate foreign leaders. But in responding to a question about new estimates of the cost of going to war against Iraq, the White House spokesman encouraged the Iraqi people to oust Hussein, either by throwing him out of the country or by killing him.

Asked about a Congressional Budget Office estimate that war could cost as much as $9 billion a month, the president's spokesman said: "The cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than that. The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that."

Fleischer said there was no policy permitting assassination. Rather, referring to the Bush administration's belief that Hussein is despised by at least a segment of the Iraqi people, he said, "I was stating the obvious."

"If Iraqis took this into their own hands, the world would not shed a tear," Fleischer added.

The statement came closer than any made by a White House official in a public setting to advocating the assassination of the Iraqi president.

Earlier Tuesday, President Bush asserted anew that the administration had set no course for dealing with Hussein.

Asked whether he thought the U.S. economy was strong enough to withstand a war with Iraq, Bush said to reporters during a photo session after a meeting with members of Congress: "I haven't made up my mind we're going to war with Iraq. I've made up my mind we need to disarm the man."

With successive administrations building much of their policy in the region around the question of how to leash Hussein, if not remove him from power, the question of assassinating him has been an undercurrent since the Persian Gulf War nearly 12 years ago.

In unrestrained language, Bush said five days after the Sept. 11 attacks that Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, was wanted "dead or alive." Still, with the United States pressuring the United Nations Security Council to hold firm against Hussein while Washington applies diplomatic pressure backed by the threat that it is prepared to use overwhelming force, Bush has not spoken quite as bluntly about the Iraqi leader.

Pressed later about whether he was advocating Hussein's assassination, Fleischer said, "Saddam Hussein has survived as a result of the repression and suppression of his own people, and that's a reality about what life is like inside Iraq."

"Regime change," he said, using the government's euphemism for removing Hussein from office, "is welcome in whatever form it takes."

Throughout the campaign against Al Qaeda and the period of mounting pressure against the Iraqi leader, administration officials have been careful to pledge their adherence to the 26-year-old prohibition against assassinating foreign leaders that was put into place by President Ford after it was revealed that the CIA had attempted to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

However, attorneys specializing in diplomatic and military law say that a foreign government's command-and-control headquarters is a legitimate military target, regardless of whether a head of state happens to be there at the time.

In 1986, U.S. warplanes bombed Tripoli, the capital of Libya, and suspected terrorist camps where officials believed leader Moammar Kadafi might be staying. He was not struck.

During the Persian Gulf War, the United States used a special bomb to try to hit a Hussein bunker, and again went after him when he was crossing the desert in a convoy.

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