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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 03:42 GMT
Could Iraq be next?
US F-16 taking off from Kuwait
The US already regularly bombs Iraq
Jon Leyne

Among right-wingers in Washington, it is so obvious it barely needs to be discussed. Saddam is next. The war on terror should be taken to Iraq as quickly as possible.

Woman in Baghdad
Bush has described Saddam as 'evil'
Those hawks now seem to have found a friend in US President George W Bush. For the first time, at the weekend, he described Saddam Hussein as "evil".

And at the White House on Monday he used new language that must sound ominous to Iraq.

"If (anybody) develops weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorise nations, they will be held accountable," he told a Rose Garden audience.

"And as for Mr Saddam Hussein, he needs to let inspectors back in his country to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction."

Right-wing support

There's a familiar queue of right-wingers urging Mr Bush on.

"If we end this with Afghanistan, and leave all the other terror-sponsoring regimes intact, then I don't see how we can call this a victory," says Richard Perle, a consultant to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Richard Perle
Richard Perle: Egging Bush on
"Iraq is not just a tactical issue," insists William Kristol of the Weekly Standard. "Whether we take on Iraq has huge implications for the US role in the world, and fundamentally, it's whether we're going to take it upon ourselves to shape a new world order."

And yet a nagging question remains, articulated most eloquently by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

How to do it?

No clear plan

Mr Powell won the first round of this debate back in September, when the administration agreed to put the Iraq problem on hold.

"With respect to what is sometimes characterised as taking out Saddam," he told a New York Times interviewer at the time, "I never saw a plan that was going to take him out. It was just some ideas coming from various quarters about, 'Let's go bomb'."

Mr Powell's opponents don't have much clearer answers now.

Mr Perle argues the Baghdad regime is already rotten. Support the opposition, add in air strikes, and it could quickly crumble.

As for the alliance against terror, so assiduously cultivated by Colin Powell, that is a luxury, not a prerequisite for success.

Other targets

Of course there are other options. North Korea has long been accused of sponsoring terror, and dabbling in weapons of mass destruction.

North Korean guard
North Korea: An obvious but dangerous target
But 40,000 US troops, and the South Korean capital Seoul, are within easy range of North Korean missiles.

Syria? A tough call if Washington has any real interest in a Middle East peace process.

Somalia? Perhaps there are terrorist training camps to target, but there is no government to accuse of sponsoring terror.

Iran? Even the most ardent hard-liners admit it's too big a bite to chew on.

So the focus moves inevitably back to Iraq - the unfinished business of President Bush (Senior). Unfinished because of the complicated series of interlocking issues that somehow refuse to unravel.

The BBC's Richard Lister
"George Bush would like to be the president to finally remove Sadaam from power"
See also:

26 Nov 01 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over UN inspectors
22 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fears US military attacks
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Powell says Iraq may be next target
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iraq
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