Rumsfeld: No World War III in Iraq
Pentagon: Iraq increasing range of surface-to-air missiles
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted Thursday that a war with Iraq -- if there is one, he stressed -- would not turn into World War III.
"I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that," he said in an hour-long radio interview for Infinity Broadcasting.
"It won't be a World War III," he added, citing the "vastly more powerful" U.S. forces, compared to 10 years ago during the Persian Gulf War.
Rumsfeld made his comments shortly before Pentagon officials said the United States was having air patrols in the region take into account a small upgrade in Iraq's surface-to-air missile range.
The defense secretary said that a "decision has not been made that war is necessary" to get Iraq's compliance with the latest U.N. resolution calling on Baghdad to disclose its weapons of mass destruction program and disarm.
"The president has not suggested that that is going to be needed," Rumsfeld said, although President Bush has said many times that military force will be used to make Iraq comply.
Rumsfeld said the event that would push the coalition to use military force would be one that would be easy to recognize.
"In the event (war) becomes necessary, there would be the precipitating event of rejecting the inspectors, which would be such that people would nod and say, 'Fair enough: If he's (Saddam Hussein) that determined to keep the weapons of mass destruction and that unwilling to disarm himself, then he must have a darn good reason and that isn't going to be very good for the neighborhood or for the rest of the world,'" Rumsfeld explained.
Iraq's missile boosters
What Pentagon officials say is Iraq's modest increase in the range of its surface-to-air missiles is being handled by air-patrol pilots in the area.
U.S. officials say booster rockets added to the Russian-made SA-2 can increase its range by several miles.
Coalition air patrols enforcing U.N.-mandated no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq -- as well as other aircraft on surveillance missions over the country -- have worked with a range for the missiles known to be around 21 miles.
The reported change in range "gives us a different envelope to be aware of, but not sure that it substantially does much," a Pentagon official told CNN on Friday.
He told a caller who questioned the imminent threat from Iraq to remember what life was like pre-September 11.
"Was the attack then an imminent threat two, three, or six months before? When did the attack on September 11th become an imminent threat, when was it sufficiently dangerous? Now transport yourself forward ... if Saddam Hussein were to take his weapons of mass destruction and transfer them, or use them himself, or transfer them to the al Qaeda, and some of the al Qaeda were to engage in an attack on the United States or on U.S. forces overseas with weapons of mass destruction, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something?" Rumsfeld asked.
"Our task, your task ... is to try to connect the dots before something happens. People say, 'Well, where's the smoking gun?' Well, we don't want to see a smoking gun from a weapon of mass destruction," he told the caller, a mother whose son has completed training in the Army and may soon be sent overseas.
When questioned by another caller about the exact relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, Rumsfeld gave an answer he said had been approved by the CIA.
"That our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda is still developing, that there is no question but that there have been interactions between the Iraqi government, Iraqi officials and al Qaeda operatives, they have occurred over a span of some eight or 10 years to our knowledge, that there are currently al Qaeda in Iraq," he said.
The defense secretary added that in a country with such limited freedoms, it would be impossible for the Iraqi regime to be unaware of al Qaeda members within its borders.
Rumsfeld said that if coalition forces had to go to war with Iraq, there would be a period of time after the fighting in which those forces would have to remain in the country to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction, provide humanitarian assistance, and assist "some sort of provisional government of Iraqis" that would find its way to power.
"Absent a dictator, absent the Saddam Hussein regime, our goal would be first to have a single country, not have a country broken up into pieces, it would be to see that it would be a country without weapons of mass destruction, a country that did not try to impose its will upon its neighbors and it was a country that was respectful of the rights of minorities and the ethnic groups that exist in the country," Rumsfeld said.
And if, one caller queried, no weapons of mass destruction were found by U.N. weapons inspectors inside Iraq?
"What it would prove would be that the inspection process had been successfully defeated by the Iraqis," the secretary said. "There's no question but that the Iraqi regime is clever, they've spent a lot of time hiding things, dispersing things, tunneling underground."
CNN's Kris Osborn contributed to this report.