Bush warns Damascus against safe havens
THE WASHINGTON TIMES - Published April 12, 2003
President Bush yesterday warned Syria not to give sanctuary to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or his supporters and urged Damascus to expel any war criminals who may have already fled across the Iraqi border.
"Syria just needs to know we expect full cooperation and that we strongly urge them not to allow for Ba'ath Party members or Saddam's families or generals on the run to seek safe haven and find safe haven there," Mr. Bush told reporters at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
"We expect them to do everything they can to prevent people who should be held to account from escaping into their country," he added. "And if they are in their country, we expect the Syrian authorities to turn them over to the proper folks."
The president's strong words marked a continuing escalation of the administration's rhetoric against Syria, which has been accused of sending military equipment to Saddam's regime. On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged Syria to "move in a different direction."
On Wednesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said the Syrians "are behaving badly."
"They need to be reminded of that and if they continue, we need to think about what our policy is," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
"It's very dubious behavior, and by calling attention to it, we hope that in fact, it will be enough to have them stop," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Like Iraq's former regime, Syria's government is also run by a hard-line Ba'athist dictatorship. The two countries had been longtime rivals, seeking hegemony in the Middle East. But recently, Syria has been a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush vowed to find any American prisoners of war who are still alive in Iraq and delegated to allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks the determination of when the conflict will be over.
In his first public remarks since the fall of Baghdad on Wednesday, the president expressed joy at the success of the war.
"We've had an historic week," he said. "I don't think I'll ever forget — I'm sure a lot of other people will never forget — the statue of Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad and then seeing the jubilation on the faces of ordinary Iraqis as they realized that the grip of fear that had them by the throat had been released, the first signs of freedom."
The president promised not to give up on seven Americans who were taken prisoner by Saddam's forces in the early stages of the war.
"We will use every resource we have to find any POWs that are alive," Mr. Bush said. "And we pray that they are alive, because if they are, we'll find them."
Despite the dramatic success of coalition forces on the battlefield in recent days, Mr. Bush was careful not to declare victory yet. In fact, he left it up to Gen. Franks, the ground commander of the war, to make that determination.
"He's running this war," the president said. "I'm here in Washington, D.C. He's there in Qatar, and he's got commanders in Baghdad.
"He's better to judge whether we've achieved the objective than I have," he said. "The war will end when Tommy Franks says we've achieved our objective."
Mr. Bush declined to equate victory with the killing or capture of Saddam.
"I don't know the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein," he said. "I don't know if he's dead or alive. I do know he's no longer in power."
He emphasized that the purpose of the war "is to rid the Iraqi people of any vestiges of Saddam Hussein and his regime, so we cannot only free the people, but clear that country of weapons of mass destruction."
The president's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, suggested Saddam and his lieutenants had an escape plan in advance. "Either that, or they ran with their tails tucked and they just got out of there," he added.
Mr. Bush, whose war plan was widely denounced by Democrats and the press as insufficient in the opening days of the conflict, was asked yesterday whether he felt vindicated by the success of the war.
"I don't take anything personally," he said. "The wonderful thing about free speech and a lot of TV stations is you get a lot of opinions. Some of them are right and some of them were really wrong.
"But that's OK, that's what we believe," he added. "We believe in free speech, believe people ought to be able to express their opinion."
Mr. Fleischer was less forgiving when a reporter asked if looting in Iraq was indicative of a "country running amok." He recalled similar questions about how "things hadn't gone according to plan" shortly after the war began.
"This is almost starting to remind me of the stories [that U.S.] forces were bogged down," he said.
But the press secretary suggested negative coverage from journalists in the United States was mitigated by many positive reports from reporters embedded with U.S. forces.
"I think it's fair to say, when you look at the press coverage of this war, they've done a very enviable job in most instances, in some very difficult circumstances," he said.
"The decision to embed reporters has proved to be a very good decision," he added. "Good from the media's point of view, I believe. And good from the government's point of view. More importantly, good for the point of view of the American people, so they can get independent reporting from the field."
Although the White House has laid no claim on Iraq's vast oil reserves, Mr. Fleischer said the United States would dispatch a multinational team of experts to take control of the nation's oil fields.
"We have plans to bring in people to help from an international point of view to manage the fields," he said. "The faster we can get resources into the hands of the Iraqi people, the better the country will be."
Regarding the sale of Iraqi oil, Mr. Fleischer said it "doesn't require, necessarily, an international stamp to engage in commercial transactions legally."
"The United States provides products around the world that the United Nations doesn't have to say we can do."
Arms scientists said to have fled to Syria
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 12, 2003
Some of Iraq's top weapons scientists already have fled their country and are in Syria, from where they may seek political safety in France, administration sources said yesterday.
The officials said among those believed to have made it to Syria are Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash and Rihab Taha, both top scientists in Iraq's biological-weapons program. The administration sources said there are intelligence reports that one, or both, made it to Damascus.
Mrs. Taha is a British-trained microbiologist, who led Iraq's drive to cultivate and weaponize deadly anthrax. Nicknamed "Dr. Germ," she is believed to hold vast knowledge concerning all of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction.
Mrs. Ammash has been nicknamed "Mrs. Anthrax" by Western reporters. She has been photographed at Saddam's Cabinet meetings, and at a meeting with his son, Qusai, who ran most of Iraq's military and security organizations.
The two women are notable not only for their expertise in weaponizing germs, but also because they both attained senior positions among the male-dominated Ba'ath Party.
Mrs. Ammash's picture and name were listed yesterday by the U.S. Central Command as one of 55 most-wanted Iraqis for possible war-crimes charges. Mrs. Taha was not listed, although she is wanted for questioning.
They are of great potential value to American weapons inspectors who want leads on where Saddam has hidden his weapons of mass destruction.
One administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there are intelligence reports that Iraqi weapons scientists are seeking safety in France. Paris aided Saddam's nuclear-weapons program, helped build Baghdad's air-defense network and vehemently opposed the ongoing war that toppled the dictator.
U.S. officials declined to put a number on how many Iraqi weapons scientists have entered Syria, but estimated it is fewer than 10 at this point.
Allied forces set up checkpoints early in the war at crucial highway intersections. But military officials say it is impossible to stop every car and search it.
There have been two days of intense firefights between U.S. troops and Iraqi forces in the town of Qa'im, which lies just 20 miles from the Syrian border and is a key juncture in the escape route from Baghdad to Damascus.
During the inspection regime by the United Nations that ended before the war started March 19, inspectors failed to gain unfettered access to any Iraqi weapons scientists except one biological-warfare researcher.
Reports that Iraqi scientists have left Baghdad for Syria comes as the U.S. Central Command announced yesterday a most-wanted list of 55 Ba'ath Party leaders. The "wanted posters" came in the form of a deck of cards — this one with 55 cards, each showing a picture of an Iraqi fugitive. Saddam, who may have been killed in a Monday air strike, is the ace of spades.
The current government in Syria, like Saddam's regime, was founded as a hard-line dictatorship. Since the war started, Syria has purportedly come to Baghdad's aid in several ways, including shipping night-vision military equipment and allowing suicidal non-Iraqi Arabs to travel through Syria to Iraq to attack the allies.
Now, Syria is providing a haven to Iraqi Ba'athists, including some weapons experts. The exodus began with the family members of Saddam's regime. But as Army soldiers and the Marines got closer to Baghdad last week, regime figures started showing up in Syria.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has warned Syria several times publicly to stop helping Saddam's defeated regime and did so again yesterday.
"They have allowed people to come out of that country into their country and either stay or transit. None of these things are helpful," he said.
Mrs. Taha is married to Iraq's oil minister, Lt. Gen. Amir Rashid Mohammed Ubaydi. During the U.N. inspections regime of the 1990s, inspectors interviewed Mrs. Taha frequently. A loyal Ba'athist, she often responded angrily, and in one instance threw furniture.
Gen. Ubaydi is on the most-wanted list of 55.
Mrs. Taha ran Iraq's supersecret biological-warfare program at a research lab in the town of Hakam beginning in the mid-1980s.
Many senior Iraqi ministers, generals and Ba'ath Party members suddenly disappeared on Monday from Baghdad two days before the city fell to the U.S.-led coalition. The vanishing act came hours after a U.S. Air Force B-1B dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a building in Baghdad suspected of holding Saddam, his sons, Uday and Qusai, and other officials.
The target was a safe house for the Iraqi Intelligence Service in the western Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad, behind the popular al Saa restaurant.
"There were two places. One was a restaurant, and one was a house nearby," Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday. "And the question is, who was in what, if anybody? And the answer is, do we have ground truth there? And the answer is no."
The four satellite-guided bombs destroyed a row of buildings, and left a deep crater.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said U.S. forces will eventually examine the bombing site located in the Ba'ath Party stronghold. But for now, occupying troops have more important missions.
"I think our priorities now would not be to be digging in rubble," said Gen. Myers.
The CIA received human intelligence that Saddam went into the building and did not come out before the bombs destroyed it.