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Rumsfeld: US to Rely on Low Level Iraqi Officials in Weapons Search - 2003-05-04

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States may have to rely on low-ranking Iraqi officials from Saddam Hussein's toppled government to disclose the existence of banned weapons. American officials say they remain confident coalition forces in Iraq will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. forces have custody of high-level Iraqi officials from the former regime, but have not obtained useful information on weapons of mass destruction.

"We are going to have to find people not at the very senior level, who will be vulnerable, obviously, if they are in custody, but it will be people down below who have been involved in one way or another," said Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, speaking on Fox News Sunday.

Mr. Rumsfeld said, in the meantime, the change of regime in Iraq sent a powerful message to terrorists and rogue states.

"It is not a good thing for countries to be on the terrorist list or be cooperating with terrorist networks or to be developing weapons of mass destruction," he said. "So I think the message that is going out is a solid one. It is a healthy one. It is good for the world, and we may see some behavior modification."

The defense secretary said he does not know whether Saddam Hussein is alive or dead. But he said U.S. forces would find the former Iraqi president if he is alive. Mr. Rumsfeld added that the successful removal of Saddam's regime directly affected the U-S decision to move bases out of neighboring Saudi Arabia.

"I met with the Saudi leadership, and given the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, the circumstance in the region is vastly different," he said. "And we had Operation Southern Watch positioned in Saudi Arabia. We do not need it now. We had to use various capabilities to remove Saddam Hussein and that threat is gone."

The defense secretary returned last week to Washington from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf region.

Speaking on the NBC television program Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who just returned to Washington from a trip to the Middle East, said the U.S. presence in Iraq is, at the moment, strictly a military operation.

"We are in a hostile environment," he said. "No other department of government could handle this initial phase. What I see happening is that, as stability is gained throughout the country, and as security is obtained, and as the various ministries come back on line, more and more other sorts of organizations, U.N. organizations, non-governmental organizations, lots of our friends and allies will be sending in peacekeeping forces. It will start to take more of a civilian coloration."

Mr. Powell said after U.S. forces hand over the country's administration to an Iraqi government, the American presence there will be in the form of a U.S. ambassador and a diplomatic mission.