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Morning Edition: September 20, 2002

Iraq Hearings


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States must prepare for war against Iraq, even if it means that American troops might remain there afterwards. In congressional testimony yesterday, Powell presented the Bush administration's position on Iraq. President Bush wants Congress to quickly approve the use of military force to remove Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. NPR's Steve Inskeep reports from the Capitol.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

The secretary of State says President Bush is ready to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein whether the international community goes along or not.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): Do it with our friends, do it with the United Nations or do it alone, but the president has made it clear that this is a problem that must be solved and will be solved.

INSKEEP: Speaking to the House Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Powell said the US is determined to remove Iraq's ability to produce nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. This week Iraq offered to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the country. Powell dismissed that offer as a fraud. In two hours of testimony, Secretary Powell actually accepted some of the arguments that had been made against going to war, but then worked to blunt their effect. Some critics of the president's policies say that war in Iraq might prompt anti-American protests and endanger friendly Middle Eastern governments. Secretary Powell said that might indeed happen, but only at first.

Sec. POWELL: In my own mind, these sort of destabilizing activities might occur before, in the buildup to the conflict, rather than after. There is no nation over there that would not like to see a different leader in Baghdad.

INSKEEP: Powell argued that after Saddam Hussein's downfall, the politics of the entire region might dramatically improve. Skeptics of going to war have warned that after Saddam Hussein, the US military might have to police Iraq for years. Secretary Powell accepted that potential burden.

Sec. POWELL: We understand the implications of such a change of regime action and have made a commitment, to ourselves anyway, as we start down this road that we would have obligations to see it through. We would have an obligation to stay for a while.

INSKEEP: Although just a short time later, Powell appeared to contradict that commitment. Michigan Republican Nick Smith wondered if the US might get stuck in Iraq.

Representative NICK SMITH (Republican, Michigan): If we were to go in with military force, would you and the administration develop some kind of an exit strategy in terms of, how long are we going to stay there, how long are we going to try to reform that government?

Sec. POWELL: Nobody wants to go and stay for any extended length of time if it is avoidable.

Rep. SMITH: And my last...

INSKEEP: Secretary Powell spoke at the end of a rambling day of testimony in which a sizeable chunk of the House of Representatives pondered the implications of war. Some lawmakers asked if a war might damage the US economy. A witness warned that war might send oil prices to $40 a barrel. California Democrat Tom Lantos responded that Iraq, under new management, might pump so much oil that it would actually depress oil prices. He even suggested that the United States could seize Iraq's oil income to pay the costs of the conflict. A few lawmakers wondered just what the United States is getting itself into, among them Republican Ron Paul of Texas.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): And here we are, we have a country that you even admit is greatly weakened from where it was before, they're 6,000 miles away, they have a GDP that is 20 percent less than that of Idaho and we're willing to make this commitment to war.

INSKEEP: Congressman Paul said a lot of people still believe in negotiation and containment, but by no means all. Democrat Tom Lantos dismissed any hope of compromise and described Saddam Hussein as a man who, in Lantos' words, `can be trusted only by morons.' Republican Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said the only option is to act. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hopes to act with the support of the United Nations, but only if the UN acts quickly.

Sec. POWELL: We will only be patient for weeks as we go about this work and not months.

INSKEEP: If possible, the Bush administration wants to gain support from Congress even sooner. Steve Inskeep, NPR News, Washington.

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