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Ex-Bush aide: Iraq war planning began after 9/11

This despite doubt that Saddam was responsible, he says

By Corbett B. Daly

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White House
September 11 attacks
Donald H. Rumsfeld

(CBS MarketWatch) -- A second former Bush administration official is set to accuse top presidential aides, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, of planning retaliatory strikes on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, despite briefings from intelligence officials explaining that Iraq likely wasn't responsible.

The accusation from Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official at the White House until February 2003, will come first in an interview on CBS News' "60 Minutes" set to be broadcast Sunday, the network said.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made similar accusations on "60 Minutes" in January.

Although O'Neill said the Bush administration began planning an Iraqi invasion just after taking office, Clarke said Bush's top aides immediately sought to use the terrorist attacks to levy a war against Iraq even though it appeared that al Qaeda, not Saddam, was responsible.

"They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12," Clarke said in the CBS interview that was conducted as part of the promotion for his book.

"Against All Enemies: Inside the White House's War on Terror -- What Really Happened" is scheduled for release Monday by Simon & Schuster's Free Press. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS parent Viacom.

Clarke and O'Neill both say Bush was determined to oust the Iraqi leader and used the terrorist attacks as an excuse to remove him from power.

O'Neill, who was fired from his job as Treasury secretary, said in a book about his time in Washington that Bush was fixated on Iraq from the first days of his administration.

Clarke, who headed a cyber-security office at the White House until the office was transferred to the newly created Homeland Security Department in February 2003, told CBS that Rumsfeld suggested retaliating against Iraq immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq ... We all said, 'but no, no, al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan,'" Clarke said in the interview. "And Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the September 11 attacks].'"

After O'Neill's book was published, Rumsfeld said the idea that Bush "came into office with a predisposition to invade Iraq, I think, is a total misunderstanding of the situation."

Bush administration officials have noted that U.S. policy dating from the Clinton administration was to seek "regime change" in Iraq, though it focused on funding and training Iraqi opposition groups rather than military force.

It was evident before September 11, 2001, that Iraq was a concern for the Bush administration.

In July 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN that Saddam "is on the radar screen for the administration," and senior officials met at the White House two days later to discuss Iraq.

During the same time, Iraq began dispersing aircraft and air-defense capabilities in preparation for more aggressive U.S. airstrikes to enforce the "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq.

A senior administration official told CNN that early Bush administration discussions regarding Iraq reviewed existing policies and plans.

Officials were particularly concerned with enforcement of the "no-fly" zones, where Iraqi air defense forces had been taking potshots at U.S. and British warplanes since late 1998. Iraq considered the areas, set up to protect anti-Saddam elements in northern and southern Iraq, as violations of its sovereignty.

Clarke is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks.

Corbett B. Daly covers the White House and the Treasury Department for CBS MarketWatch in Washington.

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