U.S. lawmakers are weighing the implications of possible U.S. military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whom Washington accuses of developing weapons of mass destruction. A Senate panel heard from a group of experts for a second day Thursday.
Amid news reports that the Bush administration is considering a range of options to oust Saddam Hussein, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering the costs to the United States of forcing a regime change in Iraq and supporting a new government.
Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said the mission would be a daunting one. "The American people must be prepared for a more challenging mission: urban combat, [Iraqi] chemical weapons attacks, Saddam's use of human shields, and an American presence in Iraq measured in years when we succeed," Mr. Berger said.
Retired Colonel Scott Feil, who served in 'Desert Storm,' the U.S.-led mission to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait more than a decade ago, says a large U.S. presence in Iraq would be necessary as a follow-up to Saddam Hussein's ouster.
"I would see a significant force of about 5,000 people for about five to six years," Mr. Feil said.
Committee Chairman Joe Biden a Delaware Democrat, estimated that toppling Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq rebuild would cost the United States at least $75 billion.
He said U.S. troops would would have a variety of tasks in the rebuilding effort. "The mission is providing security for the largest eight cities, the mission is securing weapons of mass destruction facilities we are going to go around looking for them, the mission is patrolling the Iranian border and the Kurdish areas, securing the oil fields, monitoring the region along the Tigris-Euphrates river along the Syrian border because there is a lot of smuggling there, conducting integrated disarmament and demobilization," Mr. Biden said.
Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, appeared sobered by the costs and risks associated with such a scenario.
"There is an enormous expense and commitment of people as well as treasury for a number of years, and for just one country, and a country in a neighborhood of countries that may in fact feel threatened by democracy if it did evolve in Iraq. Democracy does not necessarily prevail all around this new Iraq," Mr. Lugar said.
But former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger dismissed concerns that a mission to oust Saddam Hussein would be too risky and would require a huge commitment from the United States.
"I think a lot of this is a set of strawmen that are set up as a basis for arguing for inaction. We all agree the regime is terrible and Saddam Hussein is a beast of the worst kind and must go. But then everybody starts pointing out the enormous difficulties afterwards. The departure of Saddam Hussein does not guarantee chaos in the region," Mr. Weinberger said.
Mr. Weinberger said a quick and decisive U.S. operation could successfully remove Saddam Hussein from power. He said a significant post war American presence in Iraq would not be required because, he argued, Arab allies happy to see Saddam Hussein gone from power would be eager to help the nation rebuild.
Although President Bush has called for a regime change in Iraq, administration officials say no decision has been made on whether to invade Iraq.