• U.S.

Ousting Saddam: Can It Be Done?

3 minute read
Massimo Calabresi.

Toppling dictator Saddam Hussein has been a Bush Administration goal from the start, and the war drums were beating louder than ever last week. Administration hard-liners said Dick Cheney’s upcoming trip to the Middle East will build a coalition for action. Even moderate Colin Powell told the Senate that “a regime change would be in the best interests of the region. And we are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about.”

Still, many of the obstacles to ousting Saddam remain. Some Bush advisers believe a force of just hundreds of U.S. troops bolstering local insurgents could spark a nationwide drive to topple Saddam. But many uniformed officers say it would take between 200,000 and 500,000 troops to assure his downfall. And getting that many soldiers into Iraq would not be easy. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey, likely key launching points for an attack, is eager to help.

Another problem for would-be invaders is how to deter Saddam from launching any biological, chemical or radiological weapons he may have mounted on Scud missiles. “If Saddam feels it’s the end, the constraints that acted on him last time wouldn’t this time,” says an Israeli diplomat. Israeli leader Ariel Sharon expressed this fear to Bush during his visit to Washington earlier this month.

And even if U.S. forces could spread unrest and limit Saddam’s retaliation, there is no one waiting in the wings to take power in Baghdad. One candidate is Ahmad Chalabi, Shi’a leader of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group in exile. But Chalabi has little personal following inside Iraq, is distrusted by many U.S. officials and is opposed by key Arab states like Saudi Arabia. Washington is increasingly looking for an exiled Sunni from Saddam’s professional army to rally the country against him. An emerging candidate is Nazar Khazraji, a former Iraqi chief of staff who defected in 1996 and is living in Copenhagen. Khazraji can rally the professional military against Saddam, experts say, and would reassure the Saudis and others that Iraq won’t fragment into Shi’ite and Kurdish enclaves. But Khazraji’s close ties to the seat of power in Iraq create problems for him. A court in Copenhagen is considering bringing war-crimes charges against Khazraji for the massacre of Kurds in northern Iraq in the late 1980s. Khazraji says the blame for the massacres lies entirely with Saddam.

–By Massimo Calabresi, with reporting by Scott MacLeod/Cairo and Mark Thompson/Washington

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com