WASHINGTON – An Iraq trounced into submission by U.S.-led forces could tend to splinter into three ministates, but the United States is committed to preserving it as a single nation, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.
At the same time, Powell said repeatedly on the Sunday talk shows that war is not inevitable. He said U.N. weapons inspectors, now working with U.S.-supplied intelligence information, should be given time to do their work. But if war should come, he said, the United States and its allies would win decisively.
War or peace depends on the Iraqis' behavior regarding the inspection teams, sent by the United Nations at the urging of the Bush administration, Powell suggested.
"They have been cooperating with the inspectors, and we'll see if that cooperation continues," he said on ABC's "This Week." "There's been some resistance in recent days ... and we are providing more information and intelligence to the inspectors to cue their visits.
"We'll see whether that attitude of cooperation continues."
Powell was asked what would prevent Iraq from falling apart and splintering into ethnic mini-states if the United States and its allies were to invade and crush President Saddam Hussein's government. Iraq could divide into states based on Shiite and Sunni Islam and the Kurdish ethnic group, he allowed.
"There is that risk," Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We are sensitive to it. We do not believe that would be in the interest of anyone.
"So we are committed to keeping Iraq intact and not allowing it to break up into three Balkan-like pieces. And any government we would support would be supported because it had such a commitment."
Still, Powell said, the first orders of business are the inspections. "If Iraq does not cooperate, or if we find reason to believe they do have weapons of mass destruction that they have not identified and turned over to the international community, then the president has all of his options available to him," including another appeal to the United Nations or military action.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he preferred the U.N. option. Noting that the inspectors are to report their findings to the United Nations on Jan. 27, Lugar said, "My hope would be that we would engage the Security Council in appropriate action, depending on what that report has to say."
Appearing with Lugar, the current Foreign Relations chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said it remains uncertain when "confronted with staying in power or giving up his weapons, what Saddam may do. But I think war is clearly at this point more likely than less likely."
Two aircraft carrier battle groups, each with about 10,000 sailors and marines, are within striking distance of Iraq. Two others were ordered last week to prepare for departure on 96 hours' notice, as were two amphibious warfare groups. The Navy has accelerated training schedules for other warships. Additional military personnel are heading for the Persian Gulf states Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, among other locations.
The Iraqi government scoffed at the plans to deploy. "The beating of war drums, the noise of weapons, the sending of warships, the mobilizing of armies will neither frighten nor terrorize the Iraqis," the official Iraqi army newspaper, Al-Qadissiya, said Saturday in an editorial.
Powell, on "Fox News Sunday," said he could not vouch for the validity of a list that Iraq produced last week of 500 scientists who the Iraqis said worked on mass-destruction arms. He has not seen the list, Powell said, and intelligence specialists still are studying it.
But Powell made another pitch for removing the scientists from Iraq for interrogation about the current state of the country's armaments.
Told that a Baghdad hotel Saddam's government has offered for questioning the scientists is bugged, Powell said: "Whether it's bugged or not is not the issue so much as whether or not the individual is free to talk. The first one who came in had a minder with him."