A U.S. Senate panel has opened two days of hearings on Iraq as the Bush administration weighs military options for toppling Saddam Hussein accused by Washington of developing weapons of mass destruction.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is assessing the threat posed by Iraq on its neighbors, and whether a military response is necessary.
The panel heard experts describe what they say is Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's efforts to rebuild his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction - much of which was destroyed during the Gulf War more than a decade ago.
The former head of the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq, Richard Butler, said the current policy of containment toward that country could be made more effective with Russia's cooperation.
"If we could get Russia to work seriously with us in Baghdad to make very clear to the Iraqis that 'this is it, this is it: you will do serious arms control, or you are facing serious consequences,' we might have a chance. But absent that, we will not," Mr. Butler said.
But Khidir Hamza, a top Iraqi nuclear engineer who worked on Iraq's nuclear weapons program until he defected to the United States in 1994, argues containment alone is not enough.
"Iraq would now be in possession of nuclear weapons without containment, and much larger stockpiles of chemical and possibly much larger stockpiles of biological weapons. But in the end we need something else with containment; my suggestion is that regime change, as stated U.S. policy, would be the correct [way] to deal with this problem," he said.
President Bush has labeled Iraq part of an axis of evil and has openly talked about the possibility of U.S. military action to topple Saddam Hussein.
The idea is not out of the question for Committee Chairman Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat. "One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein must be dislodged from power," Mr. Biden said. But Senator Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, is not convinced. "I do not believe that the administration has yet made the case for military action against Iraq," he said.
Military expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies emphasized that any mission aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein must be well-planned, and would require at a minimum tens of thousands of troops.
He said support from European allies is important, but not as crucial as that of allies in the region. "If you are going to fight this one, you are going to need all of the capacity of Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. You are going to need to stage through Oman. You are probably going to have to use most of your carrier assets, at least initially because of a lack of bases, unless you can get Saudi Arabia," he said.
Saudi Arabia has said it opposes any effort to topple Saddam Hussein, arguing that the nature of the ruling government in Baghdad is an interal Iraqi affair.
Senator Biden said administration officials have told him they have not decided whether to stage an invasion to oust the Iraqi leader. Senator Biden said he does not expect such a mission this year. But he urged the administration to consult with Congress before it moves forward with any such action. He also urged the administration to better explain how it plans to deal with the aftermath of a military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.