Bush: Iraq battle plans rewritten
From John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday he authorized a rewriting of the Iraq battle plans to target Saddam Hussein after being told the United States had a trusted human intelligence source inside Iraq who believed the Iraqi leader was due to visit a Baghdad-area complex.
Bush recalled being worried "the first pictures coming out of Iraq would be a wounded grandchild of Saddam Hussein," but ultimately gave the go-ahead because the intelligence "got richer and richer."
Bush recounted the tense moment in an interview with NBC News in which he also voiced confidence U.S. forces would find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but said investigations so far lead officials to believe "perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some."
And the president said it was important to him that the Iraqi people choose a new government. He added: "What I would like to see is a government where church and state are separated."
CNN has previously reported the key details of the Oval Office meeting to launch the strikes, but the NBC interview marked the first time Bush has publicly discussed the gathering in any detail.
Even as he considered authorizing the strikes, the hastily drawn up plans were changed again, Bush said, because the source told U.S. officials there was a previously unknown concrete bunker at the residential compound that was "likely to house Saddam" as well as his sons Qusay and Uday.
The Iraqi leader was not at the site when Bush gave the authorization and the president said he was worried Saddam never would show up and "the first images of the American attack would be death to young children."
Bush told NBC the human source believes Saddam was killed or seriously wounded in that strike. But the president said he has no information to confirm that.
"He felt like we got Saddam," Bush told NBC. "According to this one eyewitness, he is not going to show up anywhere."
Bush confirmed, as previously reported by CNN and others, that up until that point, the plan called for moving special operations forces into some key areas at noon on that Wednesday -- to prepare for the broader assault -- and that Bush was to address the nation at noon on Friday to announce that significant air attacks had begun. Instead, Bush addressed the nation that Wednesday night after the Baghdad compound was struck.
Bush said it was accurate to say troops in southern Iraq met tougher resistance than expected, but he also said that U.S. troops handled it quite well and that he never doubted the plan. He said one reason the fighting in the south was stiff was that Saddam did not have to worry about a major assault from the north because of Turkey's refusal to allow U.S. troops to stage a major ground war from its bases.
The president also talked of the heads-up he received before the operation to rescue Pfc. Jessica Lynch, saying Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told him "not to get my hopes up," but that there would be a raid to try to rescue an American POW.
On other points, Bush said:
• He was saddened by looting at hospitals and museums, but not surprised. "It was vengeance, because it's like uncorking a bottle of frustration. These are people whose relatives were beaten, tortured, shocked, killed because they spoke out."
• Britain and Spain were using their contacts with the Iranian government to make clear interference in Iraqi political affairs will not be tolerated.
• Of French President Jacques Chirac: "I doubt he'll be coming to the ranch anytime soon." But Bush said he hoped that tensions would subside and that "the French won't be using their position within Europe to create alliances against the United States, or Britain, or Spain."
• New Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen "is a man dedicated to peace." Bush confirmed what CNN reported Monday of this week: that Abu Mazen is likely to soon receive an invitation to visit the Bush White House -- an invitation never extended to Yasser Arafat.
• The Dixie Chicks "can say what they want to say. ... And they shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out. You know, freedom is a two-way street."
• Of the former Iraqi information minister, jokingly: "He's my man. He was great. ... He was a classic."
• North Korea is "back to the old blackmail game." He said the United States would continue to work with Japan, South Korea, China and others "to say to the North Koreans and the world that we're not going to be threatened."