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CONFRONTATION WITH IRAQ | NEWS ANALYSIS

U.S. Now in for the Long Haul

Iraq: War can be avoided, but not involvement in a transformation of the regime, experts say.

October 12, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Armed with broad congressional authorization to confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration is charting a course leading to war--or to the Iraqi regime fundamentally transforming itself in order to prevent it.

Either way, the United States is now in it for the long haul. Conflict can still be avoided, administration officials insisted Friday. But that can only happen, they argue, by planning simultaneously for a military campaign and the ouster of the Iraqi regime--and Washington is in the thick of preparations for both.

"The best way to avoid war is for us to be strong now, both here in the United States and within the United Nations, in order to show that the will of the international community must be obeyed," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

The administration's pledge that war would be the last resort won over wavering senators in the wee hours Friday morning to approve a resolution authorizing the use of force. It's also a recurrent theme as the administration moves the forum of debate from Congress to the international stage at the United Nations, where the U.S. and Britain are still struggling to convince France and Russia to adopt the same language.

But the reality is that virtually no one involved in planning for war at the Pentagon or preparing for its aftermath at the State Department and National Security Council now thinks the Iraqi leader will completely back down.

The focus is on the postwar "management" of Iraq, a period of effective military occupation during a government transition. The U.S. military, probably as part of a coalition, would be responsible for holding Iraq together in the upheaval after a conflict until the transfer to a new Iraqi government, the White House said Friday.

As a model, they cite the U.S. role in Afghanistan after the Taliban's ouster rather than the prolonged military occupation of Germany or Japan after World War II.

But the administration hopes any transition would include allies as well as Iraqis. And it would unfold in phases. One likely scenario would be brief coalition military management of Iraq handing over to coalition civilian managers who would bring in Iraqis until a final transfer to Iraqi rule, according to senior U.S. officials.

"It is the administration's intention, along with those of our allies and the international community, that if military force is used in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is removed, that Iraq not fall apart, for humanitarian reasons and for the stability of the region," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday.

"So the administration is working to find ways to help achieve stability for Iraq and for the region," he said. "And we are considering a variety of ways to do so with our international partners, with the possibility of the United Nations, the possible role of U.S. Civil Affairs units" to deliver services to Iraqis.

The "postliberation" role of the U.S. military also would include accounting for and destroying any weapons of mass destruction, reunifying Iraq, maintaining border security, providing humanitarian assistance and helping map out reconstruction plans to ensure the restoration of institutions and basic services, U.S. officials said.

"We want to very quickly transfer governmental power to the Iraqi people.... And as we are doing so, we want to make certain that there is stability in Iraq, that people can be fed, that electricity can be on, that heat can be provided," Fleischer said.

In light of the array of duties, U.S. military analysts predict a major commitment of troops.

"We have to be prepared for a military occupation that could start at 150,000 total international forces and could stay above 100,000 for several years," Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings Institution fellow, said at a conference last week sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The administration's increasingly public preparations for war and for a post-Hussein Iraq can be seen in part as a grand diplomatic bluff--a gamble that noisy saber-rattling will either force the Baghdad regime to back down or inspire Iraqis to change their leadership.

"I hope this will not require military action, but it may," President Bush said in a speech Monday.

But the U.S. demands will be hard to meet. Besides surrendering any weapons of mass destruction, Hussein would have to end repressive rule, stop support for terrorism, cut off illegal multibillion-dollar oil smuggling, and pay war reparations and account for prisoners from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Bush said Monday.

"If Saddam decides to get right with the world, he can do these things. We have to give it a chance for the sake of the international community, to make the case responsibly that we've tried everything short of war," a senior State Department official said Friday. "But if he doesn't do them, all of them, then we have to do something.

"There's nothing in our experience that would let us believe that Saddam will really comply, that he won't screw this up," the official said.

The administration, with the congressional resolution as leverage, will underscore that point next week as it begins a concerted campaign to break the impasse at the U.N. on a united Iraq strategy.

"We're not going to the U.N. to look for a reason to go to war," Powell said on NPR. "We're going to the U.N. to look for a way of disarming this very dangerous regime. But the only way that will work is if there are consequences for his failure to disarm, his failure to act."

Powell is scheduled to meet with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Washington on Tuesday to map out strategy.

U.S. diplomats will be dispatched overseas to rally backing among the permanent members of the Security Council and the 10 elected members, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage is expected to give a major speech, U.S. officials said.

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