WASHINGTON – Senate leaders said Sunday there is broad support for toppling Saddam Hussein but that it is too early to take military action against Iraq.
"We've got to win the war on terror, we've got to stabilize Afghanistan. We have to do all that we can to ensure that we succeed there before we take on another mission," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said.
A senior Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said any attack on Iraq probably would wait until next year, but that President Bush has yet to sign off on the time, scope or manner of such a campaign.
Daschle, D-S.D., said on ABC's This Week that there is "strong bipartisan support" and "probably world support" for ousting Saddam.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that the United States needs to first bolster opposition to Saddam among Iraqis inside and outside that country. "There's a lot more we could be doing," he said on Fox News Sunday.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the administration is developing plans for a major air and ground war that would involve 70,000 to 250,000 troops.
Private analysts have said that at least 100,000 troops might be needed to attack Saddam, who could shield his troops among civilians and retaliate against U.S. forces with chemical weapons.
The newspaper said the administration has decided that a coup probably would not succeed and that a proxy battle using local Iraqi forces — which was the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan — would not bring down Saddam.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has been in Mideast peace talks with U.S. officials for several days, was asked about the Times story at a news conference in Houston. What he has heard from the Bush administration is, "There was no plan for that," said al-Faisal.
The administration faces the question of where to base U.S. forces in the region for an attack on Iraq, given the likelihood that Saudi Arabia would deny the use of its territory.
The Saudi foreign minister said military action against Iraq would not be justified if Saddam allows U.N. weapons inspectors to return.
"The military operation, the reason for it, is to assure that Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. The best way to assure that is to have inspectors," al-Faisal said on ABC.
Iraq claims it has dismantled all such weapons.
U.S. forces used Saudi territory as a base for the 1991 Gulf War, but Saudi Arabia did not allow attacks on Afghanistan to be launched from its land.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of U.S. military personnel in the Gulf region and Central Asia has increased from fewer than 25,000 to nearly 80,000.
In Kuwait, which neighbors Iraq, the number of American troops has nearly doubled, from 5,500 to about 10,500. In Saudi Arabia, weapons and other gear have been pulled out of long-term storage. Some computer and communications equipment have been moved to a previously secret base in Qatar.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the U.S. military has been cut too deeply to support an attack on Iraq that would require 250,000 troops.
There also are questions about what would happen in Iraq and the surrounding region if Saddam were removed from power, Hagel said on CNN's Late Edition.
"The real issue is: What comes next? Have we prepared that landscape? Who is it that rules? Would we make the area more unstable? Would there be more conflict? Would we present to the Middle East even more problems, militarily, diplomatically, economically?
But former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the United States should not worry about Arab reaction to a war with Saddam. Arabs respect American principles and power "with an admiration bordering on worship," Netanyahu said on NBC's Meet the Press.
During the Gulf War, the number of forces reached a peak of more than 500,000. Iraq's military has between 350,000 and 400,000 troops, U.S. defense officials say.