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Pentagon Refuses to Discuss Possible Iraq Attack - 2002-09-23

Pentagon officials, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are refusing to discuss planning for a possible attack on Iraq. They are dismissing detailed reports on the military options said to be under consideration.

When it comes to toppling the Iraqi government, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes clear that he personally believes it is time for Saddam Hussein to go. "I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is hard to believe you could have a regime that would be worse," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld tells a small group of radio reporters that ousting the Iraqi leader will be good for the Iraqi people, for neighboring countries, and for the international community; in short, good for everybody but Saddam Hussein and his closest backers.

"Everyone would be better off except a small clique," he said.

But when it comes to discussing the military options for removing the Iraqi leader, Mr. Rumsfeld and other top defense officials are simply not talking, despite a recent news reports purporting to outline possible war plans.

The White House has acknowledged the Pentagon has presented President Bush with a detailed set of options for attacking Iraq.

But as one senior military official tells VOA, that is no great surprise. Pentagon planners are constantly working on a variety of contingency schemes for a wide variety of military operations, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.

What is important, says this official, is that those who know the details of the plans for Iraq are not talking, and those who are talking, he says, do not know the details.

This official and others say some of the latest published reports merely state the obvious. For example, that any operation against Iraq will begin with an air campaign, including bombing aimed at knocking out Iraqi air defenses and key command-and-control centers. The officials say this is now standard procedure in almost any military operation, a move designed to remove any threat to allied aircraft and to disrupt communications among an enemy's own forces.

The latest reports also point to January and February as being the most suitable times for a U.S. military action. But officials say this, too, should come as no surprise. They say it is common sense to view cooler winter weather as favorable, especially if U.S. troops, as expected, wear chemical warfare gear, which can be extremely uncomfortable in warmer climates.

The reports indicate American forces have taken many steps in preparation for any eventual action against Iraq, moving ships, planes and troops into the region, scheduling exercises in the Mideast and planning to move key military commanders to the area.

But playing down such moves, Mr. Rumsfeld says it would be wrong to see them as the precursors that confirm an invasion of Iraq is imminent.

"If you start trying to read those tea leaves, I think you will have trouble," he said.

What Mr. Rumsfeld and other top administration officials are also stressing is that the President has made no decision yet on Iraq.

As for those unnamed officials talking to reporters about military planning, Mr. Rumsfeld says simply, it is disgraceful behavior.