U.S. Considers Next Target in 'War'

WASHINGTON/KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United States has signaled it will take pre-emptive action in the next phase of its war on terror, ratcheting up the rhetoric that has set off alarm bells in Iraq and Iran.

In Afghanistan, interim leader Hamid Karzai on Sunday scrambled to put a stop to bloody clashes between tribal rivals that have thrown the authority of his fledgling, UN-backed government into question.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking at a security conference in Munich, elaborated on a theme set by U.S. President George W. Bush in recent days when he called Iran, Iraq and North Korea the "axis of evil."

"The best defense is a good offense. ... Our approach has to aim at prevention and not merely punishment," said Wolfowitz, a hawk in the Bush administration. "We are at war."

Iraqi newspapers condemned "the dwarf Bush" as savage and aggressive and Iranian parliamentarians called him a threat to world peace and security.

In Afghanistan, Karzai dispatched a team to the eastern town of Gardez to settle a conflict between his nominated governor and tribal rivals after dozens of fighters were killed.

The clashes are seen as a setback for Karzai as he attempts to stamp his government's authority on a country long riven by tribal and ethnic hostility and battered by more than two decades of war -- including the U.S.-led campaign to crush the Taliban and the al-Qaida members they sheltered.

The fate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, suspected mastermind behind the September attacks in which some 3,100 people were killed, is a mystery.

But more of his loyalists might soon be taken to a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military said it had finished construction of a temporary prison.

The camp's population has stood at 158 since Jan. 21, when the last of six groups of prisoners were flown from Afghanistan to the chain-link prison known as "Camp X-Ray."

In recent weeks, Bush has switched his focus from finding bin Laden to preventing countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea from acquiring nuclear, chemical or germ weapons.

In the biggest U.S. military buildup in two decades, Bush will press Congress on Monday to raise defense spending by $120 billion over the next five years to $451 billion, senior U.S. officials said.

Wolfowitz said Saturday the United States had made no decisions about specific targets, "but the president has made clear where the problems are."

"What happened on Sept. 11, as terrible as it was, is but a pale shadow of what will happen if terrorists use weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Iranian parliamentarians, in a rare show of unity, lashed out at Bush for his "axis of evil" comments and accused him of being under the influence of Israel.

A statement issued by the parliament's reformist faction and endorsed by hard-line members said it was "incumbent upon freedom-loving nations to stand against such irrational war-mongering."

Baghdad-based newspapers said the hands of the Bush administration were stained with blood.

UN inspectors sent to Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War to monitor the destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction left in December 1998 and have not been allowed to return.