The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says the issue of a possible war with Iraq is larger than Saddam Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the issue boils down to behavior, not who governs Iraq.
Washington, 16 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Saddam Hussein's departure as president of Iraq would not necessarily avert an attack by U.S.-led forces. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon that what is important is not who leads Iraq but how the country is led. He said any successor would have to meet the same UN demands that Hussein is being required to follow. "If somebody takes over that country, whether because Saddam Hussein leaves or because he's displaced by somebody in that country -- or 'somebodies,' plural -- the same principles that we've indicated would pertain," Rumsfeld said.
He said these principles include allowing UN inspectors access to ensure that Iraq has disarmed, not threatening neighboring countries, not splitting up the country ethnically, and beginning political reform.
Rumsfeld's comments were a variation on a theme enunciated by U.S. President George W. Bush in October, that the U.S. government's long-held policy of "regime change" does not necessarily mean Hussein's departure. "If he [Hussein] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations -- conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand -- that in itself will signal the regime has changed," Rumsfeld said.
In the meantime, however, Hussein remains Iraq's president, and Rumsfeld said the U.S. government is not satisfied with the level of his cooperation with UN weapons inspectors.
Rumsfeld said it is not enough that Hussein is not interfering with the inspectors. Instead, the secretary said, he should be showing them how he has dismantled the weapons of mass destruction the UN teams found before the inspections hiatus of 1998 to 2002.
In fact, Rumsfeld said, it is suggestive that the latest inspection teams have reported no concrete evidence of these programs, despite six weeks of searching. "The fact that the inspectors have not yet come up with new evidence of Iraq's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program could be evidence in and of itself of Iraq's noncooperation. We do know that Iraq has designed its programs in a way that they can proceed in an environment of inspections and that they are skilled at denial and deception," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld was accompanied at the press briefing by U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The two men confirmed that some U.S. intelligence is being shared with the inspectors in their search for suspected sites of weapons programs.
Myers said Washington has even offered to let the United Nations use U.S. U-2 high-altitude spy planes and unmanned drone aircraft known as Predators to help gather intelligence for the inspectors.
But the general said Iraq has raised concerns about the use of the U-2 because its antiaircraft batteries might not be able to differentiate between these planes and the U.S. and British jets that patrol the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq -- planes that Iraqi gunners often target. Baghdad does not recognize the no-fly zones.
Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was asked whether he expects that the U.S. intelligence being provided to the UN inspectors will help them find evidence of banned weapons programs more quickly. The secretary said he is not sure. "If, as you give somebody information, it then finds its way to the Iraqis before the inspectors arrive [at the target destination], you might very well not find something," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld and other senior members of the Bush administration have said repeatedly that they have compelling evidence of Hussein's weapons programs. One reporter asked him why, then, Bush does not release some of that information to show the world that his threat to make war on Iraq is justified.
The defense secretary replied that such information is not only classified, it could compromise the safety of U.S. and allied soldiers who are now mobilizing in the Persian Gulf region. "If a decision is made to use force, you can be sure that the president, who makes that decision, not this department [Defense], would take all of your advice about what the world is waiting with baited breath for and make a judgment and decide what can be disclosed that would not jeopardize the use of force and make that case," Rumsfeld said.
Myers said Hussein apparently has no such concern about his own people. He cited recent European news reports that Iraq has begun recruiting civilians to serve as human shields to prevent possible allied air strikes. The general said such a practice is illegal under international law on armed conflict. "Therefore, if death or serious injury to a noncombatant resulted from these efforts [by Iraq], the individuals responsible for deploying any innocent civilians as human shields would be guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva conventions," Myers said.
Rumsfeld said the United States has formally asked NATO for indirect military support in case the United States eventually does lead a war against Iraq. The secretary said Washington has made no specific requests of NATO, saying the overture -- made at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels -- was strictly for long-term contingency purposes. "The president has made no decision to use force, but it does take time to plan, and just as we're planning with individual countries, it seemed appropriate -- to the extent NATO wished to -- to begin that planning process," Rumsfeld said.
Also, Rumsfeld and Myers thanked the government of Hungary for its help in preparations for a possible war against Iraq. Rumsfeld said the first group of U.S. experts who are to train Iraqi exiles as interpreters has arrived in Hungary.
The group will be stationed at the military base in Taszar in southern Hungary in preparation for training that is due to begin later this month or the beginning of February. At yesterday's briefing, Myers expressed the appreciation of the U.S. government. "I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank our friends in Hungary for the use of their facilities. The use of Taszar air base emphasizes a rather long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Hungary, and we thank them very much," Myers said.
As many as 3,000 Iraqi exiles are expected to be trained as interpreters, personnel supporters, and assistants to humanitarian aid operations to bolster possible war efforts in Iraq.
Myers said Iraqi opposition figures are also beginning to report to the U.S. military to assist in a possible war with Iraq. He said the recruits are being financed by a $97 million congressional authorization.