The 70-Hour War: Presidential bunker was targeted to `build on Iraqi leader's fear of coup'

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The Independent Online
SADDAM HUSSEIN'S presidential bunker was targeted byUnited States and RAF bombers as part of a plan to topple the Iraqi dictator by encouraging a coup among his senior military officers, the Government said yesterday.

As the diplomatic effort was stepped up to gain acceptance for the action, Whitehall released more details of the bombing of 100 targets in an attempt to convince people in Britain that the attacks had been effective, and that Downing Street was pursuing a long-term plan to bring down President Saddam.

With Tony Blair facing stronger criticism about the lack of a clear objective for the raids, the Prime Minister's official spokesman lashed out at Michael Howard, the Tory spokesman on foreign affairs, accusing him of possessing "the intellectual grip of a baby" after suggesting the US and Britain effectively should have set out to kill the dictator. "It is absurd. It is a ridiculous argument," said the spokesman.

Some of the criticism came from pilots who took part in the raids. Downing Street refused to confirm or deny they would be reprimanded for speaking out, but said "individual pilots could not have the big picture".

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, spent the day holding telephone discussions with European and Arab leaders to try to build support for new, non-military, action against Iraq.

One of the clear aims of the bombing was to encourage a renewed attempt at a coup - by the high-ranking officers surrounding President Saddam - by attacking his Republican Guard, destroying his command and control communications, and hitting his presidential bunker and residence in Baghdad.

"The specific thinking behind these targets is to build on to the fears that Saddam has of a coup by his own officers," said the spokesman.

There were reports of Iraqi troop movements "that are thought to deal with the possible uprising they fear", added the spokesman. "Because of his fears about a coup against him and particularly because a series of attempts have been made, he takes most of the important decisions himself. His internal communications have been badly damaged. It will be difficult for him to get his messages out to his military infrastructure. That will be causing him difficulties."

According to the latest assessments of the sites that were attacked, 30 were involved with the production and delivery of "weapons of mass destruction", 20 were command facilities and communications networks and 9 were connected with the Republican Guard. Attacks on 35 targets "have left the Iraqi air defence system in ruins", and 6 targets were related to remotely piloted aircraft designed to deliver Iraq's chemical and biological weapons.

The aim of encouraging a coup among Saddam's officers may explain the US and British reluctance to arm and train the dissident groups in the north and south of Iraq for an uprising. Iraqi dissidents in the UK believe the two governments want to contain President Saddam, but fear replacing him with a powerful Muslim people's leader.