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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Bush 'still undecided' on Iraq
Iraq has refused access to suspected weapons sites
President George W Bush's administration has denied it has agreed on the military strategy needed to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr Bush had "no plan on his desk" for the removal of the Iraqi leader.

He was speaking after the New York Times said it had been told that an attack involving up to 250,000 troops - is being planned for early next year.

The newspaper's sources said the other two options the US administration had been looking at - supporting a coup by Iraqi opposition forces or using those forces as troops in an attack - had been ruled out as unlikely to work.

'Contingency plans'

The New York Times report appeared to be flatly contradicted by Mr Fleischer.

He told reporters that President Bush still had "multiple contingency plans" for Iraq and was still considering the best option for forcing a new government there.

Senior US congressmen have been cautioning against any hasty attacks.

Saddam Hussein celebrated his 65th birthday on Sunday

Senate Majority leader Democrat Tom Daschle said the situation in Afghanistan has to stabilise first.

"We have to do all that we can to ensure that we succeed [in Afghanistan] before we take on another mission," he said on US television.

The senior Republican senator, Trent Lott, said there was "a lot more we could be doing" to increase opposition to Saddam Hussein, both within and outside Iraq.

In contrast, the New York Times said Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were convinced that American action would do no long-term diplomatic harm in the Middle East because most Arab nations secretly wanted a change of leader in Iraq.

Benefit of doubt

Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, figures in President George W Bush's "axis of evil" for its alleged support for terrorism and attempts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Pro-Palestinian demo in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein support for Palestinians has made him more popular in the region

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah said at the end of a five-day visit to the US that the Saudis did not want the US to send in troops.

It was up to Iraq to allow UN weapons inspectors to return, he said.

"If Iraq is willing to do that, we must give them the benefit of the doubt," he said.

"We hope the boycott can be raised and the people of Iraq can return to the normal life that they deserve."

The UN disarmament commission withdrew its inspectors in December 1998, complaining that Baghdad was refusing access to suspected weapons sites.

Shortly after, the US and Britain launched a bombing campaign, Operation Desert Fox, to destroy Iraq's suspected nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq celebrates Saddam birthday
28 Apr 02 | Middle East
Saddam's special day
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq's middle class wiped out
23 Apr 02 | Middle East
Business as usual in Iraq
22 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq 'moving up anti-aircraft missiles'
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Iraq on human rights
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq vows to defy Western 'enemy'
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