The United States will launch a major military action to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein by fall, U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham told an audience of business leaders in Columbia on Tuesday night, on the eve of President Bush's visit to South Carolina.
Graham, R-Seneca, later said his information is based on intelligence briefings, contact with the Bush administration and his attendance at a recent international conference in Germany.
White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo wouldn't comment. She provided a March 20 statement from press secretary Ari Fleischer, who had said the Bush administration hasn't made any decisions "about that phase in the war on terror."
Graham made his comments during a discussion of terrorism and homeland security at the end of a question-and-answer session with a panel of U.S. House members from South Carolina.
"Before the end of summer or fall we'll be in a major engagement with Iraq," he told the group of about 250 people attending the event sponsored by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce at the Adam's Mark hotel.
"We're looking at going after Saddam Hussein - not to contain him, but to replace him," he said.
"We're not going to wait for the world to give us permission."
Rep. John Spratt, D-York, who was also on the panel, expressed surprise and said Vice President Dick Cheney had not received the support from Saudi Arabia on his recent visit to the Middle East that would provide the land base needed for such a campaign.
"I'm not sure we want to launch it off carrier decks," Spratt said.
Spratt said the previous President Bush launched a land war in 1991 against Iraq after months of negotiations that achieved the backing of the United Nations and key allies in the region.
Once such a multilateral approach has been used, it's difficult to act unilaterally, Spratt said.
Graham responded that he believed Turkey would provide bases.
Afterward, Graham said the United States didn't need a large international alliance, but the support of key allies.
"We will have those allies - they will be there with us," he said.
After the event, Spratt said he supports the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but felt the international conditions make action unlikely by fall:
The war in Afghanistan continues. The Taliban have been thrown out of power; the political conditions remain precarious.
The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is raging, and conditions could be worsened by war against Iraq.
The lack of a land base from which to launch a ground offensive complicates things. "You've got to put troops in there. They have to have armor. You don't want light troops."
"I would be surprised if it was the next order of business with the Bush administration," Spratt said. "It becomes a matter of priorities and practicalities."
Copyright 2002 The State