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White House mulls attacks on Iraq

SHARE White House mulls attacks on Iraq

WASHINGTON — Tempted to strike at longtime U.S. enemy Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration is weighing whether it should include Iraq sooner rather than later in a wide-ranging battle against terrorists and their sponsors.

Iraq has for years been on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism. It has plenty of targets for U.S. attention, including weapons factories Saddam is suspected of rebuilding after the Gulf War ended.

His warplanes increasingly shoot at U.S. and British aircraft patrolling 'no-fly' zones designed to prevent him from attacking his neighbors and own people.

And many in Washington have regretted for a decade that the first Bush administration left the regime in place at the end of the 1991 war, which expelled the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait.

"Anyone who is not concerned it seems to me would not fully understand the situation," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference Thursday.

Some senior administration officials, including Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, want Baghdad to be among early targets in the campaign against the network of Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in last week's terrorist attacks on America, officials said.

Conservatives inside and outside the government are urging that U.S. military forces now being assembled in the region for the anti-terrorism campaign move against Iraq regardless of whether it was involved in the Sept. 11 hijackings.

Many Arab nations friendly to the United States are worried the administration will seize the opportunity to strike at Baghdad, said Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, and now an international law professor at American University in Washington.

Arab countries already face criticism from their own citizens that the U.N. sanctions against Iraq since the Gulf War have hurt innocent people and children without affecting Saddam. That criticism probably intensify if the United States once again directly attacked Iraq, Maksoud said.

He said Arab nations hope the administration will keep its sights on building a case against bin Laden.

"They hope that this effort would be focused, that the Americans have convincing evidence and that this does not become something to settle accounts with Saddam," Maksoud said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell declined to say whether Iraq will be targeted.

"The president has a clear idea in his mind and has given us our instructions as to how we will begin this campaign, and what the focus of our efforts will be initially," he told a press conference.