GREENVILLE, S.C. – By summer or fall, the United States will undertake a major attack to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein, said U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham Wednesday, arriving with President Bush aboard Air Force One for a meeting with South Carolina firefighters and a $1 million fund-raiser.
"I don't know when, but I know this president is not going to let Saddam Hussein stay in power," said Graham, R-S.C. "If you leave him in power it will just be a matter of time before he gets a hold of weapons of mass destruction."
"I don't know when it is going to be, that's up to the military planners. But I do know that it will be sooner rather than later," he said.
Graham, seeking the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by Sen. Strom Thurmond, told 250 audience members at a Tuesday night speech in Columbia that he learned the information from intelligence briefings, contact with the Bush administration and at a recent international conference in Germany.
"We're looking at going after Saddam Hussein, not to contain him, but to replace him," Graham, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce during a discussion on terrorism and homeland security.
His words completely contradict White House comments that it is undecided about what to do with Iraq.
White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo would not talk about Graham's statement, pointing to a March 20 statement by press secretary Ari Fleischer that the Bush administration has made no decisions "about that phase in the war on terror."
Fleischer said Wednesday morning before leaving Washington that he has never heard the president discuss any plans concerning an attack against Iraq.
Bush attended a fund-raiser for Graham in Greenville on Wednesday.
Making no reference to Iraq, Bush said of Graham, "He understands how Washington works. I want the voters of South Carolina to remember, he was for a strong military prior to Sept. 11. He understood we need a strong military to defend our freedoms. He doesn't need to be educated once he gets to Washington on this issue. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee and has served proudly. And I look forward to working with Lindsey as we fight this war on terror."
U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, attended the Tuesday night meeting but checked Graham's statements, saying that while he supports overthrowing Hussein, an attack would be difficult to conduct while the United States is engaged in Afghanistan and is in the process of trying to resolve the ongoing Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
"I would be surprised if it was the next order of business with the Bush administration," Spratt said.
Spratt added that such an attack would require support from Arab nations, something Vice President Dick Cheney did not secure during a recent swing through the Middle East.
"I'm not sure we want to launch off carrier decks," Spratt said, adding that land bases would be necessary to conduct an assault, much the way it was done in the Persian Gulf War, which took months of negotiations with countries in the region.
Graham said he thinks Turkey would provide the bases.
The United States doesn't need a large international alliance, just the support of key allies, Graham said.
"We will have those allies, they will be there with us," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.