WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Preventing a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq from falling into chaos will require a sustained commitment of thousands of U.S. soldiers and cost billions of dollars for years, Iraqi experts and former administration officials told a Senate panel Thursday.
"There's no question that the world will be a better place without Saddam Hussein's regime. But if we don't do this operation right, we could end up with something worse," said Samuel Berger, President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Berger was one of six witnesses who appeared Thursday in a second day of hearings to determine an appropriate course of action against the Iraqi president. President George W. Bush has called for Saddam's ouster, but has not presented a plan to Congress. The hearings are part of an attempt to begin a "national dialogue" on the issue, said committee chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
Like most witnesses Thursday, Berger stressed that careful preparation and a long-term U.S. commitment should be prerequisites for an invasion. Simply eliminating Saddam's regime should not be the war's only objective, he said.
"Our strategy should bring greater stability in the region, not less. It should contribute to ending Israel's isolation, not compounding it. It should not come at the expense of the support we need in the fight against al Qaida, or the stability of friends in the region," he said.
To accomplish regional aims, Berger said an invasion of Iraq should be accompanied by a more aggressive effort in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and a stronger push to gain the support of U.S. allies for the Iraqi strike. That would include, he said, pressing for a resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq through the United Nations.
Berger said Saddam would almost certainly refuse to provide inspectors with full access, as he has since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. But his open refusal could then be used as a logical rationale for his ouster, Berger said.
When U.S. troops do arrive in Iraq, they can expect the Iraqi people to treat them as liberators and cheer in the streets, testified two Iraqi experts, Phebe Marr, a former professor at the National Defense University, and Rend Rahim Francke, of the Iraq Foundation, a pro-democracy group.
But after the initial elation of being freed from the grip of Saddam, the country could well fall into lawlessness and chaos, the experts said.
"If firm leadership is not in place in Baghdad the day after, retribution, score settling, and bloodletting, especially in urban areas, could take place," Marr said.
Marr said she believed the country would stay unified, but that there would be a fight between clans and ethnic groups for power in Baghdad. A critical problem is that there is no one inside the country ready to take over for Saddam, Marr said.
While there is a number of Iraqi opposition leaders in exile, installing those leaders would require the backing of U.S. force, and their legitimacy with the local people would be far from assured, Marr added.
In the resulting chaos, the weapons of mass destruction that are the main cause for any attack could fall into the hands of terrorists or fleeing members of Saddam's government, the experts testified. Thus a U.S. ground force ensuring security at Iraq's borders and within its territory is vital, said retired Army Col. Scott Feil.
To ensure a smooth transition to a democratic government, Feil, a former planning officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that 75,000 U.S. soldiers would be required to stay in Iraq for at least a year after an attack. That number assumes that U.S. allies will not wish to contribute many soldiers to the core force, he said.
The cost of the military end of the reconstruction effort alone could top $16 billion annually, he said. That would be in addition to the $60 billion price tag estimated by some for a full-scale invasion.
One speaker, however, argued against the need for a massive U.S. presence after an attack. Caspar Weinberger, the former secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, said that the call for thousands of U.S. soldiers to remain in Iraq was a part political attempt to "set the bar so high that any operation in Iraq will be deemed the president's failure."
"Representative leadership in Iraq must have the full faith and credit on the United States, and our commitment to enforce unity and democracy. But we don't need a GI on every street corner for the foreseeable future," he said.
In light of his chemical and biological weapons, and his continuing efforts to build a nuclear bomb, Saddam poses a serious and immediate threat, and the United States should move as soon as possible to remove him, Weinberger said.
"Mr. Chairman, Saddam is not contained, and he cannot be contained," Weinberger told Biden. "He has violated all of the promises which he accepted when we crushed his military in the Gulf War. He cannot be believed and he is an implacable foe of the United States. That is why he must be removed."