Bush stonewalls on Iraq

President George W Bush this week described speculation about an impending attack on Iraq as ”a frenzy”, stressing he was a ”patient man” and would consult with United States allies before any possible action.

Speaking at his Texas ranch where he had broken off his holiday to meet with senior military advisers, he insisted the subject of Iraq had never come up but said: ”One thing for certain is that this administration agrees that Saddam Hussein is a threat … Regime change is in the interest of the world.”

The frenzy has become ever more agitated in the past week, since Condoleezza Rice, the president’s National Security Adviser, made the case for an attack on Iraq in a BBC interview. And the sight of a motorcade of senior advisers racing through the back roads to the presidential hideaway on a torpid August morning only added to the sense of impending drama.

Rice was at the ranch in Crawford on Wednesday, along with Vice- President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card and chairperson of the joint chiefs, General Richard Myers.

Bush said the absence of Tommy Franks, the general who would be in direct command of any invasion, proved the subject could not have been on the agenda. Colin Powell, Secretary of State, who is presumed to be the administration’s most senior voice against any attack, was another significant absentee. When asked about Iraq afterwards, however, the president happily changed the subject from the Pentagon’s budget and contingency and coordination plans, on which Rumsfeld apparently briefed him.

”The world is not stable. The world changes. This terrorist network is global in nature, and they may strike anywhere, and therefore we have got to be prepared to use our military and all the other assets at our disposal in a way to keep the peace.

”What I need to do is to continue to, as we call it, consult with people who share our interest to make the world a safer place. And I will do so.”

Before leaving Washington, Rumsfeld had added to speculation that al-Qaida members were hiding out in Iraq and said the Iraqi government must be aware of the situation. The Iraqis say al-Qaida members are operating in Kurdish areas, controlled by a US-supported opposition group.

The senior Republican foreign affairs expert in the Senate, Richard Lugar, said in London that the president could still pull back.

”I think he’s been sufficiently cautious,” the senator said at a briefing at the US embassy. ”A good number of his often quoted advisers … keep making public comments that the president cannot say no to an attack. But on almost every occasion, he has been pretty consistent in not being pushed.”

However, another influential congressman, Tom DeLay, let it be known he would definitely support an invasion of Iraq. In a speech in Houston, he was due to denounce Republican critics of action as ”apologists for idleness”.

DeLay is the Republican whip in the House of Representatives. — (c) Gaurdian Newspapers 2002

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