Step up attacks to force Hussein from power, some advisers telling Clinton U.S. military officials believe only armed forces can oust Iraqi leader

January 19, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- As President-elect Bill Clinton prepares t take command, his defense advisers are calling for a sharp escalation in air strikes against military targets in Iraq to apply greater pressure on Iraqi armed forces to topple Saddam Hussein, according to transition sources.

The sources said yesterday that Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several Clinton advisers are eager to break with what they see as the Bush administration's wavering, inconsistent policy, which they believe has ceded the initiative to Mr. Hussein. They are recommending that Mr. Clinton warn Mr. Hussein of stepped-up action, then follow through if he does not comply.

Frustrated by the Iraqi president's ability to remain in power and to flout the United Nations' authority in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, U.S. military officials have concluded that only Iraq's armed forces have the ability to oust Mr. Hussein.

But Iraqi military leaders are unlikely to act, U.S. officials believe, unless allied forces embolden them by inflicting greater damage.

Pentagon sources said that General Powell and Mr. Clinton's advisers hope a stepped-up aerial campaign will demonstrate that the Iraqi military will suffer for Mr. Hussein's continued violations of U.N. and allied demands. But the officials acknowledge that Mr. Hussein's elite units are far from frustrated or angry enough to act against their leader.

American officials hope a campaign of wide-ranging military strikes against weapons depots and troop concentrations of elite forces -- including the Republican Guard and Presidential Guard, which remain loyal to the Iraqi leader -- would change that.

The increase in air strikes would be accompanied by long-term diplomatic and intelligence efforts.

"The United States hasn't done a particularly effective job of convincing the Iraqi military that when Saddam Hussein flouts the sanctions, it's the military that's going to pay and not Saddam," said a Clinton transition adviser close to the deliberations. "When that realization comes through, there'll be a better sense on their part of what they can do."

General Powell met with Mr. Clinton Sunday night and laid out, for the first time in detail, his military recommendations on Iraq.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said on ABC television's "This Week with David Brinkley" Sunday that "from our perspective, we ought to try to achieve some sort of seamless web in terms of U.S. policy that is handled by the Bush administration up 'til noon on Jan. 20 and then picked up by the Clinton administration thereafter."

Mr. Bush, in his final days in office, has rejected plans for a broad attack, adopting instead a series of individual attacks on Iraqi military facilities. On Jan. 13, Mr. Bush chose what he called "proportionate" attacks on air defense complexes and missiles in the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

On Sunday, Mr. Bush shifted the focus of attack to a one-time nuclear weapons plant. Bush officials said that target was chosen to punish Iraq for its continued violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring Baghdad to grant U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access to Iraqi sites. Yesterday, Mr. Bush ordered U.S. warplanes once more to attack air defense sites in the northern and southern no-fly zones, which the allies created to protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south.

But Mr. Bush has rejected as too risky and too provocative proposals to attack vulnerable Republican Guard and Presidential Guard formations. A knowledgeable Pentagon official said that Mr. Bush shrank from those targets because "it would be perceived as Bush going after Saddam Hussein and not getting him."

"They [the Bush strategists] are conducting this policy without a political goal," said a source familiar with the Clinton transition team's national security planning. "Any policy of Clinton's would be conducted within the context of political ends. With Clinton, there'll be a larger purpose to the violence."

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