U.S. looks beyond Hussein Toppling regime through third party is a long-term aim

Military buildup continues

8 Arab ministers warn Baghdad about results of defiance

November 13, 1998|By Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman | Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As it readies forces capable of waging an extensive military campaign against Iraq, the Clinton administration is offering only faint glimpses of its long-term strategy to curb Saddam Hussein's threat to the Middle East.

Officials say they expect any airstrikes to weaken Hussein's regime in the eyes of his own people and help sow the seeds of its eventual destruction.

Afterward, they plan to maintain economic sanctions and to step up cooperation with Iraqi opposition figures.

Armed with a new $97 million congressional authorization for Iraqi opposition groups, the White House is trying to decide which ones are worth supporting.

"Our objective is to see a law-abiding and peaceful Iraq return to the family of nations," James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said yesterday.

"We look forward to an Iraqi government that respects the human rights of its people and abides by international law."

Momentum toward military confrontation continued yesterday as eight Arab foreign ministers, in a sharp break with Hussein, warned: "The Iraqi government is held responsible for any consequences that might arise from its refusal to back down from its decision to expel the U.N. weapons inspectors."

Joining in the statement were Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, which declared that Iraq's refusal to submit to United Nations weapons inspections could have serious consequences.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said there remains an opportunity to end the confrontation peacefully if Iraq allows the weapons inspectors to do their job. But, Cohen insisted, "We're not playing games."

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, meanwhile, showed continued defiance at a news conference in Baghdad, demanding an easing of U.N. sanctions.

An extensive campaign

A Western diplomat said he foresaw "a potentially extensive campaign."

Officials hold out hope that Iraq could respond to airstrikes by capitulating to the United Nations and giving free rein to the inspectors.

Despite growing calls from Capitol Hill and Middle East specialists for a military plan aimed at getting rid of Hussein, the Clinton administration has given little hint of its long-term plans.

Its failure to do so has caused congressional Republicans to question the administration's tactics and to venture their own suggestions.

"I talked to a top administration official yesterday who conceded that there was no plan as to what was going to happen after the initial attacks, and I think it is very important to know what is going to happen," Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on NBC's "Today" show.

Despite Hussein's recklessness and despite predictions since the Persian Gulf war that his days are dwindling, the Iraqi president has used terror and brutal suppression of dissent to remain in power.

Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Hussein probably will meet his end not from a popular uprising but from "a one-bullet election."

If Clinton orders military strikes, they would be intended primarily to punish Iraq for its defiance of the U.N. Security Council.

Since 1991, the council has been committed to finding and wiping out Iraq's programs for developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

But since Oct. 31, Iraq has refused to let U.N. inspectors carry out anything except routine maintenance work.

Reducing the threat

Saying that the collapse of the inspections has heightened the dangers facing the region, a White House official suggested that U.S. military strikes would inflict enough damage to compensate for this increased threat.

"If you lose one leg of the stool, whatever action you take would be aimed at compensating for whatever you lost," the official said.

Eliminating Iraq's ability to produce and deliver chemical and biological weapons is central to America's commitment to protect Middle Eastern oil fields that help drive Western economic growth.

"In that environment, you would hope the seeds could be sown" for a change in the Iraqi regime, a White House official said.

"We hope a new kind of leadership for a new Iraq could emerge."

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who serves on the && Foreign Relations Committee, said this week that he had received a call from a high-level State Department official who indicated that "they were looking more favorably on the Iraq Liberation Act."

Brownback was referring to the law that authorizes $97 million in U.S. military equipment and training for the Iraqi opposition.

"I'd be hesitant to say anything else," Brownback said.

"I'm encouraged by the way they're going about it. Last time [the gulf war], it was way too late."

Beyond bombing

A Pentagon official said a strategy is being crafted that would go beyond bombing.

"I think part of that strategy would be to encourage a regime change over there," he said.

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