Skeptical Bush says Hussein still calls shots


WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that President Saddam Hussein is "still calling the shots" despite newly announced changes in Iraq's Cabinet and the naming of a Shiite Muslim as prime minister.

"These are interesting Cabinet shifts, but [there's] nothing that appears to depart from support for Saddam Hussein's policies," Mr. Bush said at a White House news conference after talks with Turkish President Turgut Ozal.

Mr. Bush also disputed official Iraqi claims that government forces have quashed Shiite Muslim insurgents in southern Iraq, saying that "enormous consternation and turmoil" persisted in both the south and the north, where Kurdish rebels are fighting Iraqi troops for control of key towns and oil centers.

"I would simply say that Saddam Hussein appears to still be calling the shots, and as I have said before, normal relations with the United States cannot be effected with Saddam Hussein still calling the shots, still in power," Mr. Bush said.

At Mr. Bush's invitation, Mr. Ozal spent Friday and yesterday at the rain-drenched Camp David presidential retreat to discuss the future of the postwar Persian Gulf, focusing on developments inside Iraq, Turkey's role in the region and the need for more U.S. economic and military assistance.

The leaders spoke "at length" about the changes in the Iraqi government, Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Ozal met in Ankara recently with Iraqi Kurdish leaders, marking a dramatic change in Turkey's Kurdish policy. Turkey, which has fought a Kurdish separatist insurgency, has long viewed the Kurds as a major security threat and has even refused to recognize them as a distinct people.

He replied with a firm "no" yesterday to a question about Turkey's willingness to allow Kurdish rebels in Iraq to create an independent Kurdish state.

Asked whether Mr. Hussein would survive the current crisis, Mr. Ozal said, "That I don't know; it's difficult to estimate. But it's difficult for him to stay.

"We don't mind what is going on in Iraq," the Turkish president added. "What we want to see is a more democratic government and more rights for the people of Iraq."

Both Mr. Ozal and Mr. Bush insisted that they would not intervene in internal Iraqi affairs even though they would prefer Mr. Hussein's removal from power. And Mr. Bush, who denied that the U.S. military was "stepping up" activities to support the rebels, flatly urged Iran and other countries to stay out of the current Iraqi conflict.

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