U.S. would target military units that are key to Hussein's survival Clinton, top military brass discuss ways to punish Iraq for halt to arms inspections

November 11, 1998|By Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews | Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A military strike against Saddam Hussein would not only target sites used to develop chemical and biological weapons but also would target military units that help keep the Iraqi leader in power and threaten neighboring states, administration officials said.

The administration escalated anti-Hussein rhetoric yesterday as President Clinton met with top military leaders and the Pentagon accelerated the movement of U.S. warships to the Persian Gulf.

A Navy carrier group is expected to arrive in the gulf Nov. 23, three days earlier than expected, to relieve Navy forces already there and give sailors time to train for military action.

"The military option is certainly still on the table. I think that we've all indicated that time is running out on this, that it can't go on forever," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters after the Clinton meeting.

The latest confrontation began 11 days ago when Baghdad blocked U.N. weapons inspectors from all but the most routine activities.

The inspection process, which began after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, is key to keeping track of whether Iraq is still trying to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Administration officials said an attack on Iraq would likely begin with 2,650-pound cruise missiles fired from Navy ships, possibly followed by bombers.

Elite units, command centers

Besides targeting suspected chemical and biological weapons-development sites, an attack also could hit military command and control facilities along with units of elite units that guard both Hussein and his coveted weaponry.

Military action would aim at "significant degradation" of Hussein's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction, Cohen said, declining to offer any specifics about a military strike.

He said a carrier group headed by the USS Enterprise is steaming toward the gulf to relieve the carrier USS Eisenhower. The U.S. amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood is leaving Japan and is slated to arrive in the gulf Nov. 26 to relieve the USS Essex.

There are nearly two dozen U.S. ships and 200 aircraft in the gulf, along with 300 cruise missiles -- a 50 percent increase from earlier this year.

Kuwaiti general's support

A high-ranking Kuwaiti general yesterday voiced the strongest support for military action that has been heard so far from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states.

Gen. Fahad al-Ameer, deputy chief of staff, said that with Iraq essentially halting the work of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which is conducting the weapons inspections, Washington and the international community have no choice but to react.

And "the only way Saddam knows," he said, is through the use of military force.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he urged the U.S. to target "Saddam and his regime," including his palaces and the Republican Guard.

Such an attack, lasting days, would gain support in the region, said al-Ameer, whose country was invaded by Iraq in 1990, provoking the U.S.-led military response. However, he said, there would be much less support for a mere "show of force."

If the Iraqi regime is seriously weakened, a revolution simmering in southern Iraq would flare up, he predicted, and an internal war of revenge would ensue against Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

Al-Ameer discounted the view of many in Washington that such an uprising could lead to disintegration of the country.

Clinton briefs allies

As in previous crises involving Iraq, the Clinton administration yesterday injected a new harshness into its rhetoric about Hussein in an apparent effort to prepare the American public for military strikes. The president spoke about the crisis in phone calls with the leaders of Canada, Italy, Israel, Britain, Qatar and Bahrain.

James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said: "We do not believe he [Hussein] has renounced his aggression or using the most ruthless and barbaric means to achieve it."

Rubin added: "If we fail to act, he will feel emboldened to threaten the region further, armed, possibly, with the most dangerous kinds of weapons."

But one former U.S. official involved in Iraq policy said a bombing campaign would accomplish little. It would be unlikely to topple the dictator and probably present only a minor setback in his weapons' programs, the official said. What's important, this official argued, is that international support is increasing for continued sanctions against Iraq.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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