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Secret US Plan for Iraq War: Bush Orders Backing for Rebels to Topple Saddam
2 December 2001
America intends to depose Saddam Hussein by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces across the country, The Observer has learnt. President George W. Bush has ordered the CIA and his senior military commanders to draw up detailed plans for a military operation that could begin within months.
The plan, opposed by Tony Blair and other European Union leaders, threatens to blow apart the increasingly shaky international consensus behind the US-led 'war on terrorism'.
It envisages a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations while US forces assist opposition groups in the North and South of the country in a stage-managed uprising. One version of the plan would have US forces fighting on the ground.
Despite US suspicions of Iraqi involvement in the 11 September attacks, the trigger for any attack, sources say, would be the anticipated refusal of Iraq to resubmit to inspections for weapons of mass destruction under the United Nations sanctions imposed after the Gulf war.
According to the sources, the planning is being undertaken under the auspices of a the US Central Command at McDill air force base in Tampa, Florida, commanded by General Tommy Franks, who is leading the war against Afghanistan.
Another key player is understood to be former CIA director James Woolsey. Sources say Woolsey was sent to London by the hawkish Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, soon after 11 September to ask Iraqi opposition groups if they would participate in an uprising if there was US military support.
The New York Times yesterday quoted a senior administration official who admitted that Bush's aides were looking at options that involved strengthening groups that opposed Saddam. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, said that action against Iraq was not imminent, but would come at a 'place and time of our choosing'.
Washington has been told by its allies that evidence it has presented of an Iraqi link to 11 September is at best circumstantial. However, US proponents of extending the war believe they can make the case for hitting Saddam's regime over its plan to produce weapons of mass destruction.
A European diplomat said last week: 'In the past week the Americans have shut up about Iraqi links to 11 September and have been talking a lot more about their weapons program.'
The US is believed to be planning to exploit existing UN resolutions on Iraqi weapons programs to set the action off.
Under the pre-existing 'red lines' for military action against Iraq - set down by Washington and London after the Gulf War - evidence of any credible threat from weapons of mass destruction would be regarded as sufficient to launch military strikes along the lines of Operation Desert Fox in 1998, when allied planes made large-scale strikes against suspected Ir aqi weapons complexes.
Opposition by Blair and French President Jacques Chirac may not be enough to dissuade the Americans. One European military source who recently returned from General Franks's headquarters in Florida said: 'The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment and there is bloody nothing Tony [Blair] can do about it.'
Bush is said to have issued instructions about the proposals, which are now at a detailed stage, to his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, three weeks ago. But Pentagon sources say that a plan for attacking Iraq was developed by the time Bush's order was sent to the Pentagon, drawn up by Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, chairman of the joint chiefs General Richard Myers, and Franks.
The plan is to work with a combination of three political forces: Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq, radical Sunni Muslim groups in and around Baghdad, and, most controversially, the Shia opposition in the south.
The most adventurous ingredient in the anti-Iraqi proposal is the use of US ground troops, Pentagon sources say. 'Significant numbers' of ground troops could also be called on in the early stages of any rebellion to guard oil fields around the Shia port of Basra in southern Iraq.
Peter Beaumont, Ed Vulliamy and Paul Beaver