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Report: U.S. eyes Iraq invasion in 2003

Report: U.S. eyes Iraq invasion in 2003

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The Bush administration is plotting a potential major air campaign and ground invasion early next year to topple the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein, the New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

The use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops is being considered, the Times said.

President Bush has not issued any order for the Pentagon to mobilize its forces, and there is no official plan for an invasion, the newspaper said.

For years, official U.S. policy has been to work for a "regime change" in Iraq. Since the September 11 strikes, which exposed America's vulnerability to attack, the Bush administration has repeatedly said it has to act to prevent the possibility of Baghdad using weapons of mass destruction. The statements have caused unease among many European and Arab nations.

The Times reported the use of American or combined allied forces became a possibility after two alternate scenarios were rejected. The White house concluded a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed and a proxy battle using local forces there would be insufficient to bring a change in power.

"There have been at least six coup attempts in the 1990s, and they consistently fail," an administration official told the Times.

Dissident Iraqi military officers "sent signals to us, 'We're ready for a coup,' and the next thing you know these guys are murdered or it fails or people have cold feet at the end and leave the country," he said. "It's a horrific police state. Nobody trusts anyone, so how can you pull off a coup?"

The Times reported the timing of early next year delay resulted from a need "to create the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions. These include avoiding summer combat in bulky chemical suits, preparing for a global oil price shock and waiting until there is progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Former President Bush, the current U.S. leader's father, launched an attack on Iraq in 1991 to drive its invading forces out of Kuwait but he concluded the war without toppling Saddam. One question to be answered in the current planning is the extent of expected cooperation from Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon has been working on the assumption it might have to carry out any military action without the use of U.S. bases in the kingdom, the Times reported. The planning anticipates the possible use of bases in Turkey and Kuwait for U.S. forces while Qatar would be the replacement for the air operations center in Saudi Arabia.

According to the Times, there are conflicting views of the diplomatic impact, with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and their senior aides feeling that "Arab leaders would publicly protest but secretly celebrate Mr. Hussein's downfall."

The other view, held at the State Department and among some at the White House, is that "efforts to topple Mr. Hussein would be viewed by Arabs as a confrontation with Islam, destabilizing the entire region and complicating the broader campaign against Osama bin Laden and his network, al Qaeda," which Washington blames for the September attacks, the newspaper reported.




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