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Iraq Attack Would Focus on Leaders, Rumsfeld Says

September 23, 2002|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WARSAW — U.S. military forces are seeking to minimize the impact of a potential war with Iraq on its citizens and would focus on the country's leaders, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday.

"The small group of people that run Iraq and have run it for a good many years have repressed the people--and, in a very real sense, the people of that country are hostages to a small group of dictatorial, repressive government officials," he said.

Rumsfeld arrived in Warsaw late Sunday for a meeting of defense ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He intended to present his colleagues with classified intelligence information that, he said, indicates that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction pose a threat both to neighboring countries and to NATO members, including the United States.

The threats are said to include either direct action by the Iraqi leader or acts carried out by terrorist proxies; the White House has repeatedly emphasized in recent weeks that there are Al Qaeda cells in Iraq. Administration officials are seeking to craft a plan that gives Iraqi civilians and even soldiers the chance to switch sides or at least stand down if U.S. forces begin a military campaign, defense officials have said.

Former Iraqi military officials suggest that the tactic of trying to enlist the Iraqi military might work. Najib Salhi, a former general who left Iraq in 1995, said in a recent interview that if U.S. forces encircled Iraq, regular army forces would abandon Hussein--and even the elite Republican Guard would eventually stand down.

"They will not defend Saddam," he said.

Consistent with that strategy, Rumsfeld said, any conflict would not target Iraqi citizens.

"The United States hasn't and never had a problem or issue with the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people have been punished on a daily basis, just as their neighbors have been punished by the behavior of their country," Rumsfeld told reporters on his plane en route to Warsaw. "Obviously, no one would want to harm the people of that country. We favor the people of that country."

A White House spokesman acknowledged over the weekend that the Pentagon has delivered to President Bush at least one plan for a potential invasion of Iraq, crafted by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks. Invasion plans have drawn especially close scrutiny since Bush sought the backing of both the United Nations and Congress for measures that would clear the way for a military attack on Iraq, although Rumsfeld has emphasized that such plans are drawn up routinely.

Rumsfeld's comments Sunday were consistent with weekend news reports outlining U.S. war plans against Iraq, including quick strikes against political and military centers of power in lieu of a broader attack against the military rank and file.

However, the secretary angrily dismissed those reports, saying: "Anyone who knows anything isn't talking, and anyone with any sense isn't talking. Therefore, the people that are talking to the media are by definition people who don't know anything."

Questioned about the reported plans on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he concurred with the "quick strike" thinking but urged that Iraqi opposition groups, including "the Kurds in the north [and] the Shiites in the south," be "involved more significantly ... because they're the ones that are going to, over time, have to take over Iraq."

Other lawmakers suggested that the draft resolution sent by the White House to Congress last week be restricted to cover just an invasion of Iraq, instead of mandating the restoration of "international peace and security in the region."

"It's much too broad. There's no limit at all on presidential powers," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted that the resolution would be approved but agreed that there could be some changes in the language.

"These are very, very important definitions, because [the resolution] will guide the president and the nation, probably, into war," Hagel said.

"There may be tinkering around the edges, but the substance of it will pass," Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The resolution is expected to pass easily in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Democrats control the Senate by one vote. The Bush administration wants Congress to approve the resolution before taking a break for the Nov. 5 midterm elections.

At the Warsaw meeting, U.S. officials plan to update a briefing they gave NATO ambassadors in June on the connection among terrorists, national governments and weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld said.

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