Thursday, March 20, 2003

New intelligence contributed to decision to start air strikes

It was a surprise to everyone, Ohio congressman says

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The decision to commence air strikes over Baghdad Wednesday night was the unexpected result of fresh, last-minute intelligence and had not been planned in advance, said U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, a House member with close ties to the Bush administration.

"It was a surprise not only to the American people, but to Congress, the White House staff, even the president,'' said Portman, who has been the president's principal point man in the House.

The Terrace Park Republican said that members of Congress had been informed earlier in the day that the president had made the decision to go to war to disarm Saddam Hussein.

However, there was no specific information about when the war would start.

Then, Portman said, the White House received fresh intelligence information that indicated the Iraqi leadership might be vulnerable. The decision was made to go ahead with a limited and precisely targeted air strike on Baghdad.

"They used `bunker busters' and it was based on some pretty good intelligence,'' Portman said early this morning. "Hopefully, it had some success.''

Portman's House colleague, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, learned Wednesday morning that President Bush had decided to go to war in a what he called a "somber, serious'' meeting of Republican legislators.

Chabot said House Speaker Dennis Hastert called GOP House members together Wednesday morning. At that meeting, he read them a message he received from the president saying the decision to use military force to disarm Saddam Hussein had been made.

"There wasn't any specific information about the timing, but we knew it was going to happen,'' said Chabot.

The Cincinnati Republican said that he assumed that the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, had also been informed by the White House and that a similar announcement was made at the Democratic conference Wednesday morning.

Even though most of those in the room, including Chabot, heartily endorse the idea of going to war with Iraq, the mood at the Republican conference meeting was "very sober.''

"There wasn't any cheering or clapping,'' Chabot said late Wednesday night. "People were listening very intently to what was being said. Everybody realized the seriousness of this.''

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