WASHINGTON – The United States is "prepared and concerned" about possible Iraq-sponsored terrorist attacks if President Bush orders a war to disarm Saddam Hussein, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.
Rumsfeld also said the Iraqi leader could launch chemical or biological attacks on U.S. troops.
"There is a danger that Saddam Hussein would do things he's done previously. He has in the past used chemical weapons," Rumsfeld said on a call-in show on Infinity Broadcasting and National Public Radio stations. "One has to be prepared and concerned that could occur.
"I have no doubt that if he's able, he would like to see that terrorist attacks occur in the event that military action was taken."
If the United States uses military force to oust Saddam, Rumsfeld said, there would be a military command in Iraq while authorities tried to track down all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — a task Rumsfeld earlier said could take many months. Then some sort of interim government of Iraqis should take control, Rumsfeld said.
Iraq probably would not be able to fight for very long after a U.S.-led invasion, Rumsfeld said, noting that ground combat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War lasted just 100 hours.
"I can't say if the use of force would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that," Rumsfeld said. "It won't be a World War III."
He rejected Saddam's claims that Iraq has no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.
"We know that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, and we know he has an active program for development of nuclear weapons," Rumsfeld said.
But Rumsfeld sidestepped a question on whether the United States would respond with nuclear weapons if Iraq were to use chemical or biological weapons.
"The United States government, the president and others, are communicating with people in Iraq, in the military, very forcefully that they ought not to use those weapons," Rumsfeld said. "Anyone in any way connected with weapons of mass destruction and their use will be held accountable, and people who helped avoid that would be advantaged."
Iraq on Wednesday accepted a tough new U.N. Security Council resolution demanding it disarm and allow inspectors unfettered access anywhere in Iraq. But Iraq's acceptance letter was filled with anti-American invective and repeatedly claimed Saddam's government did not have any banned weapons or programs to make them.
U.S. officials were dismissive.
"I've never tried to predict what [Saddam] might do, but one thing I know he better not do, and that is play games," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Added Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a trip to Canada: "I think what we're interested in seeing is a new spirit of cooperation, if there's going to be one, from Iraq."
Bush called Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Thursday and the two leaders "expressed full solidarity in demanding that the Iraqi regime disarm," McClellan said.
The president has said repeatedly that if Iraq does not disarm, the United States would lead "a coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq by force.
The weapons inspectors are to resume their search for illegal caches by Dec. 23 and are to report to the Security Council 60 days after they start looking. Iraq has until Dec. 8 to give a full accounting of all its banned weapons programs as well as programs to develop long-range missiles and remote-controlled aircraft to deliver them.
Administration officials have said the resolution also prohibits Iraq from firing on U.S. and British planes patrolling no-fly zones set up to protect Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq.
But U.S. officials have been deliberately vague about whether they would view any Iraqi firings as a breach of the latest U.N. resolution and therefore an automatic trigger for war.
Powell said Iraq's reactions to enforcement of no-fly zones would be looked at "with all seriousness if they continue to do that" and that Iraq must understand the threat of military action is real.
"If the Iraqis do not comply," Powell said, "there will be consequences. Those consequences will involve use of military force to disarm them, to change the regime."
Rumsfeld recalled meeting with Saddam in 1983, when he was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and the United States backed Iraq in its war with Iran. The United States gave Iraq intelligence information that helped it fight Iran to a standstill in that war, Rumsfeld said.
Since the Gulf War, the United States has provided weapons and other military assistance to various Iraqi opposition groups, including Kurds in northern Iraq, Rumsfeld said.
A caller to the radio show asked Rumsfeld about the recent parliamentary elections in Pakistan, in which pro-Taliban parties won 59 of the 342 seats. Rumsfeld said he was sympathetic to President Pervez Musharraf's attempts to "manage that country as a moderate Muslim state."
"The last thing anyone in the world would want is to see Pakistan as a failed state or a Taliban state, which would be the same thing," Rumsfeld said.