As the ground war continues, the Bush administration and Congress are beginning to focus on a potentially divisive issue: what to do about Saddam Hussein.
Saddam's fate, American officials say, will strongly influence whatever peace settlement and security arrangements emerge from the war.
Administration officials make it clear they want Saddam knocked out of power, but they don't say how that might be accomplished if the Iraqi people don't do it.
Secretary of State James Baker said yesterday that restoration of regional peace and stability "would be a heckuva lot easier" if Saddam were gone. Brent Scowcroft, President Bush's national security adviser, said of Saddam: "He has demonstrated, time and again, his character, and that is not compatible with the peaceful world."
If Saddam remains in power, the U.S. will demand an international arms embargo to contain him, according to Baker.
Should they pursue Saddam all the way to Baghdad, allied forces almost certainly would face Iraqi military resistance, and strong criticism from some countries. But the Bush administration invites disappointment, perhaps criticism, if Saddam doesn't fall.
Some members of Congress, perhaps heeding the strong voice of public opinion, say the Iraqi strongman must be removed. A Washington Post-ABC News poll reports that 71 percent of Americans believe the final U.S. war objective should be to force out Saddam.
"Saddam Hussein is an international terrorist, he's a man who has committed some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world and we cannot permit him to continue in power," said Maryland Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st. "We owe it to ourselves to arrest Saddam Hussein and put him on trial."
Gilchrest said United Nations' troops and "representatives from the international community [should] move into Baghdad. This to me almost seems it's going to have to be a World Court sort of thing, like the Nuremberg trials" for Nazi war criminals after World War II.
"We have come so far without backing down, it's not time to back down now," Gilchrest said.
Other lawmakers were more circumspect.
"My own view is Saddam clearly has committed acts . . . which I think can be characterized as war crimes," said Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, leader of the Democratic House Caucus. "Having said that, I don't think anybody knows, at least I don't know, what our plan is with reference to how far we're going. Are we going to Baghdad? Are we going to occupy Baghdad at least temporarily?"
But, Hoyer added, "I would doubt seriously whether we're going to take Saddam. . . ."
Robert Gates, the deputy national security adviser, said the war crimes issue "will have to be addressed by the coalition once the war is over, if he does survive."
The uncertainty over Saddam influences other issues such as the allied occupation of Kuwait, and possibly portions of Iraq, following the war.
Many lawmakers are saying U.S. troops will have to remain as an occupying force until Kuwait's security is guaranteed. But it's widely agreed that, whatever the occupation period, the bulk of troops there now should be brought home quickly.
Some lawmakers said that in the long run there should be an all-Arab peacekeeping force, backed by U.S. naval and air power.
"I think the Congress' gut reaction, and the American public's gut, and the president's gut, will be we would all prefer there would be no American troops," said Hoyer.
House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., said there will be a "minimal role" for U.S. troops in the region.
On the broader subject of a peace treaty with Iraq, Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it "would include Iraq's recognition of Kuwait, the Kuwait borders, the Kuwait government. . . . I think the peace treaty also ought to include some pledges . . . by the Iraqi government about what they're going to do with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the future," Aspin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.