Next targets in war could be in another 40 or 50 countries
WASHINGTON -- Iraq tops the lists of countries where the United States might take its war on terrorism next. Some other places -- Somalia, Sudan, Kashmir -- could also face military attacks if Osama bin Laden flees there.
Beyond that, America's next steps probably won't involve bombing runs. Instead, U.S. officials will work with police and armies to find suspects, as they've done in the Philippines and Germany, work to cut off money for terror, as they have in Somalia and Saudi Arabia, and urge governments to end support of terrorists as they have with Syria.
In all, the United States will turn, after Afghanistan, to another 40 to 50 -- perhaps even 60 -- countries where global terrorist networks operate, top Bush administration officials say.
"Any government that supports or harbors terrorists should be very worried right now," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the main Bush administration supporter for hitting Iraq, said recently.
In recent days, Wolfowitz and other top officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have again hinted that Iraq may soon be a target, regardless of whether the United States can definitively tie the nation to the Sept. 11 attacks.
That has led America's Arab allies, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to once again warn that they could not support a strike on a fellow Arab country, because they fear it would further agitate the volatile Middle East.
U.S. officials had put any consideration of hitting Iraq aside for weeks, while the military concentrated on disrupting the Taliban and bin Laden's network inside Afghanistan.
But earlier this week, the United States identified Iraq and five other countries as states that are developing germ warfare programs, and said it worried one might help bin Laden acquire biological weapons. They called the existence of Iraq's program "beyond dispute," stopping just short of making a direct link to bin Laden.
U.S. intelligence is looking into -- but can't substantiate -- reports that Saddam has offered bin Laden and Taliban leaders sanctuary in his country, said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. While Saddam rarely passes up a chance to anger the United States and its allies, taking these leaders in would have "grave consequences," the official said.
'A very dangerous man'
"We do not need the events of September 11 to tell us that he is a very dangerous man," Rice said. She called the Iraqi president "a threat to his own people, a threat to the region and a threat to us, because he is determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction," and added: "We'll deal with that situation eventually."
For now, U.S. officials insist they have not planned any operations beyond finding and destroying bin Laden and the Taliban -- first in Afghanistan, and then wherever they might flee, including Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Somalia or Sudan.
It already has sent military advisers to the Philippines to train troops to fight Abu Sayyaf, extremists supported by bin Laden. Last week, the group released seven of the last 10 hostages they seized earlier this year.
In addition, the United States will seek new areas where it can clamp off al-Qaida support.
Al-Qaida operatives also are known to be active in Egypt and Uzbekistan, and bin Laden has been linked to groups in Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Yemen and other Arab countries.
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States is working with more than 40 countries to shut down terror cells. Wolfowitz said it's up to 60 countries.
"We'll be prepared to use military action should that be required in order to close down these operations," Cheney recently said.