Prominent congressional Democrats said Sunday they agree with President Bush that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power, and endorsed Bush's authorization for the CIA to use deadly force to topple the Iraqi leader.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle told Fox News Sunday that there's "broad support for a regime change in Iraq."
The presidential order expands a previous directive against the Iraqi president, creating a covert program that would increase support to Iraqi opposition groups; step up intelligence-gathering efforts on the Iraqi government, military and people; and possibly call in CIA and special forces teams that would be authorized to kill the Iraqi leader in self-defense. The program already has a budget of tens of millions of dollars.
The president's executive order was first reported Sunday by The Washington Post and independently confirmed by Fox News Channel.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., told ABC the order was "an appropriate action to take."
Earlier this year, Fox News Channel reported that "special non-military units" were entering Iraq through Turkey to gather intelligence in Baghdad and form a resistance to Saddam. Fox News also reported that the U.S. is working with the Kurds in the north and the resistance in the south of the country.
On the CBS program Face the Nation, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., was asked if a broader role for the CIA gives him any pause. His reply: "Only if it doesn't work."
But CIA Director George J. Tenet is pessimistic, telling the administration that without a multi-pronged effort including diplomacy, the military and economic pressure, the plan only has a 10 to 20 percent chance of success, the Post reported.
On Fox News Sunday, Daschle, D-S.D., said the White House has been keeping Congress updated on the plan, but that legislators are not certain if the timing is right.
"The question is how do we do it and when do we do it," he said.
"I think the timing of all this is very important but we want to work with the administration and try to find the best way and the best time to do this."
One source told the Post that the covert plan should be seen as the first, preparatory steps toward military action.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment, the newspaper reported.
Bush has repeatedly said he wants Saddam out of power, by force if necessary. At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point two weeks ago, Bush stressed that the U.S. might have to strike first at regimes that mean America harm.
"If we wait for the threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," Bush said.
But the president has offered little information on how that might be done.
American allies in the war on terror have been wary of an attack on Iraq, and the force needed to invade the country — a far different and more daunting enemy than that in Afghanistan — has been estimated at at least 200,000 soldiers, with an assault probably not feasible until next year.