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Iraq: Bush Says Peace Is Still Possible

U.S. President George W. Bush says peace is still possible in Iraq. But what would have to happen for the United States to call off its military buildup, which is growing daily in the Gulf region?

Washington, 9 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Despite a steady flow of U.S. military personnel and equipment to the Persian Gulf region, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush still insists war with Iraq is not inevitable.

Bush has frequently said he hopes a peaceful solution to the standoff with Saddam Hussein is still possible, even as the U.S. military has launched a massive deployment of troops, battleships, and aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and nearby regions.

Besides a possible war, the military buildup is intended to put pressure on Hussein to cooperate with United Nations inspectors scouring his country for suspected weapons of mass destruction.

But most analysts have concluded that the buildup, along with Bush's incessant rhetoric on Iraq, makes war a virtual certainty sometime after the inspectors present their first major report on Iraq to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

Edward Walker, a former senior U.S. diplomat who now directs the private Middle East Institute in Washington, said, "My sense is that the administration is moving further and further to a position where it's going to be extremely embarrassing and politically very damaging to walk away from military action."

Yet, if there is still a possibility for peace, as U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have insisted, how might it be realized? At a Pentagon briefing on 7 January, Rumsfeld took offense at the idea that war is inevitable. "I don't know why anyone would use the word 'inevitable.' It clearly is not inevitable. The first choice would be that Saddam Hussein would pick up and leave the country tonight. That would be nice for everybody. Or he'd decide suddenly to turn over a new leaf and cooperate with the UN and disgorge all of his capabilities," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld added that he doesn't think either of those scenarios is very likely.

There has been much media speculation in recent days that Hussein could take asylum in a friendly Arab country, thus sparing Iraq another war.

Walker said the U.S. hope is that Middle Eastern countries are pressuring Hussein to do just that. But again, Walker is pessimistic. "I think that's a very slim hope indeed. It doesn't seem to be in Saddam Hussein's personal constitution to walk away from this. The other problem with it is [that] we have made it very clear we're going to try him for war crimes, and it's unlikely that he would be able to find safe haven from that. So it's a very small hope," Walker said.

The other possibility is that Hussein could be deposed in an internal coup d'etat.

Patrick Clawson, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Bush administration has clearly signaled to senior Iraqi military officials that the only way to save themselves and their livelihoods is to overthrow Hussein.

Bush has often sought to bolster his argument for regime change in Iraq by saying it is time for the Iraqi people to be liberated from tyranny and to live in a democracy. But Clawson said that while a coup might not result in a democratic government, the United States would be sufficiently satisfied to call off any war, provided Iraq is disarmed. "If Saddam decides to depart, and there's a new government that's a Baathist government, that's going to upset a lot of people in the external opposition -- upset a lot of pro-democratic forces inside Iraq. But the United States would be prepared to live with that," Clawson said.

Clawson said he's not optimistic that a coup will take down Hussein. But he noted that as Hussein increases his military presence around Baghdad to protect it from a U.S. invasion, he is more likely to be vulnerable to a putsch from disloyal troops. "Historically, Saddam has not allowed any units other than special Republican Guard units to get within 200 kilometers of Baghdad. And he's been very reluctant to see his ordinary soldiers be given ammunition. Well, suddenly they've got a lot of stuff -- why not use it on a coup?" Clawson said.

If Hussein is unlikely to flee because the United States has targeted him to be tried for war crimes, as Walker said, the Iraqi leader's closest advisers are also unlikely to turn on him. That's because they also appear to have been singled out for war crimes.

Media reports out of Amman, Jordan, yesterday cited diplomatic sources as saying that the Bush administration has prepared a list of 13 key Iraqis, including Hussein and his two sons, who would be tried in a criminal court after any war on charges of committing war crimes against thousands of Iraq Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds during a 1991 uprising.

The list reportedly includes Ali Hassan al-Majid, Hussein's cousin and a member of the Revolutionary Command Council, as well as the chief of Iraqi intelligence. Some senior officials apparently are not on the list, including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.