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CNN International Q&A November 27, 2001

Is Iraq the Next Target?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein agreed to allow inspectors in his country in order to prove the world he is not developing weapons of mass destruction. He ought to let these inspectors back in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he does not do that, what will be the consequences? BUSH: He'll find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAIN VERJEE, HOST: The president of the United States says Afghanistan is only the beginning in the war against terror. And he's singled out Iraq as possibly being next in line. Inside the U.S. administration, some argue there are already grounds to strike at Iraq. Others say it would be a mistake.

On this edition of Q&A: Is Iraq the next target?

Welcome to Q&A. I am Zain Verjee. Jim Clancy is on assignment.

Strong words from the U.S. president as he turns his attention to Iraq. CNN's John King has this look at just what the U.S. president said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: If they develop weapons of mass destruction that would be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable. And as for Mr. Saddam Hussein, he needs to let inspectors back in his country to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this speech to Congress at the start of the campaign, Mr. Bush put terrorists and those who harbor terrorists on notice. But he did not list amassing weapons of mass destruction as grounds for U.S. military strikes.

BUSH: Have I expanded the definition? I have always had that definition as far as I am concerned.

KING: Two key lawmakers, just back from the region, say the focus should be on Afghanistan for now.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I think the more that we focus on other places, and particularly if we get specific relative to that, the more challenging it will be to maintain the coalition.

KING: Mr. Bush himself said first things first. But his tough talk about Iraq re-ignited a debate that divides some top administration officials.

Hawks like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have so nicknamed "the bombers" because they advocate strikes on Iraq. But Secretary of State Colin Powell warns targeting Iraq would weaken the international coalition unless there is firm evidence tying Baghdad to the September 11 attacks. U.S. officials concede they have no such evidence.

(on camera): Several senior officials say they see no harm in keeping Saddam Hussein guessing about the administration's intentions. But one said the president's tough talk about Iraq -- quote -- "doesn't help the cause of coalition building" and predicted moderate Arab nations would immediately be pressing for an explanation of just what the president meant.

John King, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: For reaction from Iraq, we reach CNN's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. I started by asking her what she had heard from the Iraqi government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, predictably, Zain, there has been almost no reaction. In fact, Iraq seems prepared to respond to this latest threat the way it does usually to U.S. requests, demands and any sort of threats: by ignoring it. The only response we've had really has been an Iraqi government news agency statement quoting an anonymous spokesman as saying essentially that Iraq isn't prepared to do anything just because the U.S. says it should.

Now, the background of that is that Iraq, for the last three years, ever since the last of the weapons inspectors left Baghdad just before a major U.S. bombing, has said that they are not coming back, nor are any monitors or anything even related to that unless sanctions are completely lifted. That still seems to be its position, and that's what it's sticking to -- no weapons inspectors unless they get something substantial in return -- Zain.

VERJEE: Jane, if there's been no reaction inside Iraq, what about reaction from other Arab or Islamic countries?

ARRAF: Well, the Arab League in Cairo has reiterated that it feels that the U.S. should not attack any Arab country, that it would strongly oppose, as a body grouping 22 members of the Arab League, any strikes against any other Arab nation, meaning Iraq. It's a very different world now than it was 10 years ago, 11 years ago now, when the U.S. rounded up its coalition for the Gulf War.

Iraq, since then, has garnered a lot of support and it's got a lot of friends in business circles and political circles. Counting on one of those friends, Russia, which is its major trading partner these days, to help moderate any U.S. desire to attack Iraq over, what Iraq says, are fictitious reasons. It says there's simply no proof or support for U.S. statements that it's continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction or that it sponsors terrorism -- Zain.

VERJEE: What kind of opposition is there to Saddam Hussein?

ARRAF: That's a very interesting question and very difficult to determine. We do know that there is some opposition. Iraq, this week, announced that it had rounded up and arrested a group of people sponsored, it said, by Iran, who had confessed to carrying out and planning attacks within Iraq. Now, it's impossible to determine what the real story is behind this, whether they were, in fact, sponsored by Iran, which has a historical animosity towards Iraq. But it's an indication that there are things happening here.

The Iraqi leader is very stable at the moment. There is no indication that he's about to be toppled. And the feeling is that he could last as long as he feels like lasting without any big external push to get him out of power. And that's the big question.

They do seem to be weathering things quite well, security wise. There are incidents that go on here, car bombs, that sort of thing, assassination attempts. But overall, he has lasted far longer than anyone in the U.S. certainly believed that he would after the Gulf War. And unless there is a concentrated effort with the kind of forces and the kind of resources that the U.S. doesn't appear to be willing to put in, the feeling is that he is basically here to stay -- Zain.

VERJEE: Jane Arraf. Thanks, Jane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Joining us now with his analysis of the rhetoric and the realities is Rob Sobhani, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Rob, help us differentiate here what's rhetoric and what's reality.

ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think what's rhetoric is what we're hearing from Baghdad. Also maybe rhetoric hearing from the -- publicly from our allies in the Arab world because privately, I think, most people in the Arab world, including the governments, would like to see the removal of Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan -- they would all like to see the removal of Saddam. I think, publicly, they don't come out and say it as of yet.

VERJEE: Do you think the U.S. wants to attack Iraq?

SOBHANI: I think we should be careful at this point using the word "attack", "strike", "military" because there is a very strong connection between striking Iraq and the world energy security, to the extent that United States starts a campaign against Iraq militarily. It has a direct effect on the world oil markets. That's one issue.

But second issue -- I think there are people inside Iraq -- in the North, the Kurds; in the south, the Shias; and even the Sunnis in the middle -- who would love to see a clear, defined objective by the U.S., a statement by the U.S. that we want to get rid of Saddam Hussein. If they hear that from the president of the United States, then I think we've started on the road to removal of Saddam Hussein without necessarily striking at Iraq militarily.

VERJEE: OK. So if you say striking at Iraq militarily raises all these other issues and concerns that you've brought up, how then would the United States, if indeed it wanted to, overthrow Saddam Hussein in practice, nonmilitarily?

SOBHANI: I think there are a whole host of covert methods that could be used, number one. Number two, I think we should immediately start a campaign of making it clear to the people of Iraq that we understand their misery, their suffering, which is enormous. And to make sure that it's clear, we are a partner with the people of Iraq. We want to be their partner in the rebuilding of Iraq. We need to invest in that if we are to succeed in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. We need to clearly define the campaign as being for the liberation of the people of Iraq against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

VERJEE: But, hold on. How is it possible to explain to the people of Iraq, "We understand your problems. We sympathize with you. We want to liberate you" and so forth when there are sanctions on Iraq?

The United States is responsible for that, a bombing campaign that goes on routinely in Iraq. I mean, how do you convince the Iraqi people of the genuine geninuity (ph) of the United States when all this other stuff is going on that contradicts it?

SOBHANI: Zain, you are perfectly correct, and that's one of the biggest problems and hurdles that the United States and Britain are going to have to overcome, which is the sanctions regime. How do we address the issue of wanting to liberate the people of Iraq when there is a sanctions regime? Having said that, however, I think we need to have a sustained propaganda, public diplomacy campaign, that points to Saddam Hussein as the person who is responsible for the misery of the Iraqi people.

After all, by the year 2000, starting from the year 1980, when Saddam Hussein came to power, Iraq should have accumulated close to four trillion dollars in assets. The people of Iraq should be living a very, very successful, prosperous life. They are not and it's because of Saddam Hussein. The United States needs to start sending that message into Iraq, into the Arab world.

VERJEE: Now, President Bush said on Monday, "Iraq, let weapons inspectors back in to that country." And Iraq said, "Forget that. That's not going to happen."

Some see this as a ploy by the United States to get into some kind of confrontation with Iraq that will give it a pretext to deal with it -- quote, unquote -- "however it may see fit." Do you think that that analysis is well placed?

SOBHANI: I think, Zain, at the end of day the president of the United States, President Bush, has made it very, very clear: There are nations that sponsor terrorism. There are nations that are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is no different from terrorism.

And to the extent that that definition is out there, it is no -- it's not a departure from the broad goal of U.S. foreign policy, which is to end terrorism, which is to end the states that sponsor terrorism. It is consistent with the message of the president and we are now beginning to see the second phase of this campaign that the president promised is going to be a very long campaign.

VERJEE: What does phase two look like to you?

SOBHANI: Phase two, I think, will be a combination of political pressure on our allies in the region to stop their trade with Saddam Hussein. Second, increase all covert activities vis-a-vis Iraq. Third, make it clear to the people of Iraq that we are serious this time. We let them down once in 1991. The United States let them down again in 1996. This time we need to be steadfast. We need to be clear that we are with them for the duration.

VERJEE: Why should they trust the U.S.?

SOBHANI: Because the United States is the only power really at this point in time who can confront Saddam Hussein, who can remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power and liberate the people of Iraq.

VERJEE: Unfinished business?

SOBHANI: Absolutely.

VERJEE: All right. Rob Sobhani, Georgetown University, thanks for speaking to us. Appreciate that.

SOBHANI: Thank you very much for having me.

VERJEE: You're welcome. Next on Q&A, The reasons for moving in on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We know very well that Iraq is in possession of weapons of mass destruction. That was the case when they threw inspectors out three years ago. The security council verified that subsequently. And in the three years without inspection, there are countless reports that Saddam is back in business, making more biological and chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: I think he should see it as a very sober, chilling message. He'll find out. There are many, many options available to the international community and to the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: The U.S. president says any country that harbors a terrorist must suffer the consequences and he says the same goes for any country developing weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations. So does that mean Iraq?

With us is John Pike, the director of globalsecurity.org. He joins us from Washington. John, does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: I don't think that anyone knows for sure. But certainly, Iraq had a very large chemical-biological-nuclear program during the 1980s, a large missile development program. Much of that, though clearly not all of it, was dismantled by the United Nations inspection system after the Gulf War. Iraq certainly has the financial, industrial, intellectual capacity to rebuild that. They almost certainly have been doing so for the last three years.

VERJEE: Do you think the U.S. should bomb Iraq?

PIKE: Well, I think that the United States is going to have to do something about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. Certainly, Iraq is not the only country in the world with such capabilities. The United States has them.

Iraq is in a unique situation though. It's planned and waged aggressive war, a war crime, twice in the last two decades. It agreed to disarm its weapons program after it lost the last war, an agreement that it broke.

And these activities are clearly fuelling fears in the rest of southwest Asia. Iran looks at what Iraq's doing, and saying, "Well, if Iraq is going to have the bomb, we need the bomb." The Saudis look at this and they say, "Well, we need to keep the nuclear option open." The Israelis clearly understand that in such a dangerous neighborhood, they need to keep their nuclear and chemical weapons. And so Iraq is really the thing that is driving an emerging arms race in southwest Asia. So changing that regime, disarming it, I think, has to be a high priority of American policy. But it's much easier to say what we want to do than to figure out how to do it.

VERJEE: Well, what is the best way to do it?

PIKE: Well, if there was a good way to do it, we would've already done it. We wouldn't be talking about it right now.

The Clinton administration was working on sanctions, was working on covert operations against Saddam Hussein, who was trying to begin to support and cultivate an opposition outside the country and in December 1998, watched Operation Desert Fox, a bombing campaign against Iraq. None of these have worked to date. And I think that the Bush administration is going to have a hard time explaining what it's going to do differently that's going to have a different outcome.

VERJEE: President Bush said -- quote -- "If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable." Now, as you mentioned, it's not just Iraq that's here in the equation. A lot of people also talking about North Korea.

By that definition, would any way the U.S. would choose to deal, ultimately, with Iraq, if it came to that, be extended to other countries as well?

PIKE: Well, this proposition is not something that just came up within the last several days. Certainly, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who shapes America's defense policy, has being saying for a very long time that America's defense policy basically needs to focus on eliminating regimes like Iraq, like North Korea. Certainly, the defense planning guidance, the quadrennial defense review -- all of the defense reviews that were going on before the September 11 attack were focused on eliminating the current regimes in Iraq and North Korea.

And, really, it's funny when go back and look at Secretary Rumsfeld in his first press conference after the September 11 attacks. All of the questions were about terrorism. And all of his answers were about Iraq. So this is a longstanding, I think, very deeply seated commitment on the part of this administration. But it's a lot easier for them to say that they want to do it than to get other countries to go along with it and to come up with a successful policy.

VERJEE: John Pike, I'd just like to go to Khidhir Hamza. He joins us on the phone from Alexandria in Virginia. He is the author of "Saddam's Bomb Maker".

Khidhir, good to talk to you. Could you give us an idea what your thoughts are about the risks in any attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

KHIDHIR HAMZA, AUTHOR: Actually, there was no serious attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

VERJEE: No, no. If that were to happen.

HAMZA: Yes, I know. I mean the things mentioned by John Pike. He correctly assesses the danger of Saddam, but the attempts he summarized like Desert Fox are really not serious ones. I mean Desert Fox basically hit empty buildings. There was warning before it.

The strike after the attempted assassination of former President Bush was also on an empty Muhabarat building, that is an intelligence building. So there was really no serious attempt.

As for cultivating the Iraqi opposition, that was a joke. In that sense, the U.S. refused to train them, refused to give them lethal training earlier or armament, financed them sporadically, once in a while, and then they drop out. When there was an attack by Saddam on them in the north in 1996, the U.S. refused to help, even with air strikes. So it allowed Saddam to mop them out and get them out of the north and destroy the safe haven in the north for the Iraqi opposition, and for the Kurds effectively early.

Now, it looks like the Bush team is more serious, I mean, more serious in a sense dealing with Osama bin Laden has shown a very serious and very steady hand this time. And the team at the Pentagon is more serious, I believe, this time. But still, we don't see any elements of the policy in place. In a sense, the Iraqi opposition is still not been trained in lethal combat. It is not supported to do operations from inside Iraq yet. There is no clearance to do that yet. The Iraqi opposition refused to accept financing because it was with a condition not to be used for inside Iraq operations. So in this sense, we don't see a policy in place nor a decision being made in place to go after Saddam. There of course the...

VERJEE: Sir, if I could just jump in here and ask you then -- what would then be the most practical way to unseat Saddam Hussein?

HAMZA: Well, Saddam is his own worst enemy. He more or less lost control of the north -- the U.S. is not there fully now -- but he did withdraw from the Kurdish region. And the Kurds don't want him. So that's one-third of the country out of his control in the north.

In the south, he has control mostly in the major cities. And the rural areas, he more or less has no control because he chose to cut food rations on these regions. So the Shia itself is really now desperate. And anybody who comes in with some provisions and some support from the U.S. -- especially the U.S. -- now the U.S. is very credible in the region and back to the region's major possible force of change.

So, if Iraqi opposition-trained troops -- well, they didn't want many, few thousand -- are placed in the south and are allowed to operate in the south, we believe that the Iraqi people, and the Shia especially who are desperate now, will flock to its help and we don't believe there will be serious fighting like we saw in Afghanistan. If they preceded by air strikes and obvious U.S. support and some possible ground troops with training and guidance from the U.S, although the Iraqi opposition did not ask even for that. They just asked for air strikes and limiting Saddam's armies movement and keeping them in their barracks.

So, we believe, it is very easy now to take on Saddam, especially the sanctions has not being lifted. He has limited resources to rearm, especially in conventional armament. His military weapons of mass destructions, partially on nuclear weapon, not yet fully capable...

VERJEE: OK...

HAMZA: ... so we think this is good time.

VERJEE: Khidhir Hamza, thank you for speaking to us. Appreciate that.

John Pike then, coming off from what Khidhir was saying, is this a good time to get Saddam?

PIKE: Well, I think the United States, over the next several years, is going to have to do something about Saddam Hussein's regime. It's obviously going to require stronger effort than we saw under the Clinton administration.

But at this point, I don't think the Bush administration has made a credible political case for action. Even Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister said that at this point, he would not be able to support military action against Iraq. And the notion that we are just going to go straight from bombing Afghanistan to bombing Iraq, I think, simply is not going to engender the degree of political support required either domestically or internationally for that to be a credible policy.

VERJEE: What would be a credible policy? And how do you translate the rhetoric into policy? In 20 seconds.

PIKE: Well, I think that Khidhir basically outlined some of the things that are going to required. It's certainly going to require much more extensive American clandestine operation, military actions than we saw under the Clinton administration.

VERJEE: John Pike, thank you for speaking to us.

That's all for Q&A. I'll be back with another show on Wednesday at 1630, GMT. So stay with us. The news is next here on CNN.


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