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Pentagon Hopeful Iraqi Dissidents Will Oust Saddam - 2002-10-10

Pentagon officials appear hopeful that dissident Iraqis might kill Saddam Hussein or remove him from power, eliminating the need for any U.S. led military action against Baghdad.

A senior defense official says he has "a lot of hope" that Saddam Hussein will be ousted or perhaps killed by disgruntled Iraqis.

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he has no intelligence information to confirm the latest report of a possible attempt on the Iraqi leader's life.

That report appeared this week in an independent Kuwaiti newspaper, al-Qabas. According to the account, an Iraqi Mig-23 fighter broke off from a practice bombing mission north of Baghdad and headed towards one of Saddam Hussein's palaces at Lake Tharthar. The Iraqi leader was reported to have been at the site at the time.

But the Kuwaiti account, citing informed Iraqi sources, says the pilot of the Mig was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by palace guards before dropping any weapons on the palace.

Iraqi officials are not known to have publicly commented on the report. U.S. Intelligence officials tell VOA they have no information that would substantiate it. But like the senior defense official, they say there have been other attempts on Saddam Hussein's life in the past.

"Somehow," says the senior official, "he always seems to survive."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has so far refused to say whether the Bush administration has intelligence indicating dissident elements in the military or other segments of Iraqi society might be poised to revolt against Saddam Hussein.

But Mr. Rumsfeld says he does not doubt that some Iraqis favor toppling the Iraqi leader.

"There have to be people there, who, despite the fact that they have been repressed for many, many decades, who would prefer to live a different life and I don't doubt for a minute but that that's the case, but it's not for me to get into intelligence that discusses that," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld's comment earlier this week came shortly after White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer urged Iraqi military commanders to defy Saddam Hussein, especially if he orders biological or chemical weapons attacks on U.S. forces.

Mr. Fleischer says the message to Iraqi commanders is "think before you act."

U.S. aircraft also recently dropped leaflets on Iraqi air defense units in the south of the country, urging them not to fire on coalition aircraft patrolling what is called the southern no-fly zone.

The Pentagon says coalition aircraft returned to the same area southeast of Baghdad Thursday, hitting a surface-to-air missile site. In addition, U.S. and British planes targeted what military officials say was an air defense radar site near Basra.