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Destroy His Weapons, Then Oust Saddam

by Kenneth R. Timmerman

Boston Globe, November 14, 1998

[Mr. Timmerman is the author of The Death Lobby: How the WestArmed Iraq (Houghton Mifflin, 1991).

Saddam Hussein's October 31 decision to halt all cooperation withUnited Nations arms inspectors presents an immediate problem, whichcan only be dealt with by a vigorous military response. The U.S. mustdestroy as many of the weapons that Saddam has been hiding from theUN, and we must destroy them quickly, before he decides to usethem.

But Saddam's repeated defiance of the UN cease-fire resolutionalso presents a longer-term problem, which this Administration hasnever been willing to face: Saddam himself. There will never be peacein the Persian Gulf region, or for Israel, for as long as SaddamHussein and his radical Baath Party runs the show in Iraq. That isnot to "personalize" the conflict: it is simply to face facts.

For five years, as former top UN arms inspector Rolf Ekeus hassaid, Saddam was willing to forge oil revenues of $30 billion peryear, just to keep from the UN from seizing and destroying thoseweapons. Now, with the inspectors heading out of Dodge, Saddam is ina position to do what the arms inspectors have long warned he woulddo: reassemble those expensive weapons, and use them.

Until now, all the estimates of how long it would take Saddam torebuild his strategic weapons capability have been pegged to the endof the UN inspections. Just last January, CIA director George Tenet said that Iraq could resume production of biological weapons "very,very quickly, in a matter of weeks," and would be able to assemblemissile capable of carrying those weapons to Israel within a fewmonths. Mr. Tenet concluded that "Iraq retains the technologicalexpertise to quickly resurrect its weapons of mass destruction, ifthe UN inspections were ended." Well those inspections have now beenended.

From public statements by administration officials and interviewswith former weapons inspectors, it is possible to estimate Saddam'stime-table with some accuracy:

- Within days of the end of inspections - in other words, now - hewill be able to deploy deadly biological weapons. Iraq is known tohave fitted agricultural aircraft and unmanned drones with specialsprayers to deliver dried anthrax spores. He could use these overstaging areas in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia where the U.S. hasprepositioned military gear, severely limiting if not prohibiting anymajor U.S. deployment in the region.

- Within weeks, he will be able to take hidden al-Hossein missilesout of storage, and fit them with biological and chemical warheads.These are the missiles he used to hit Israel and Saudi Arabia duringthe Gulf War;

- Within months, Saddam will be able to restart production linesto build additional missiles, using critical production machinery andguidance sets imported from Russia over the past three years,apparently with the connivance of the Russian authorities. The UNbelieves Saddam has enough equipment on hand to assemble severaldozen new missiles rapidly.

- Within two years, Iraq will be capable of resuming theproduction of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Added to this is the wildcard of the three nuclear bomb sets whichformer UN inspector Scott Ritter says the Iraqis have built andhidden from the UN Special Commission. According to Mr. Ritter, Iraqis only lacking the fissile cores for these weapons, and may havesucceeded in acquiring the nuclear material on the black market.

Such is the immediate problem the U.S. faces. And yet, rather thanlaunch immediate military strikes using the 170-odd strike aircraftand the half-dozen Aegis cruisers already in the region, theadministration's first reaction was to send Secretary of DefenseWilliam Cohen on a tour of our Persian Gulf allies, seeking theirsupport. They understandably told him they were opposed to the typeof military action planned by the administration, apparently anotherround of cruise missile strikes. During my own tour of the Gulfregion during the last such crisis earlier this year, Gulf leadersexplained that they wanted no more American "pinprick" attacks,because that only emboldened Saddam and made him more popular in theregion. Our friends in the Gulf understand that the U.S. has nolong-term strategy. They do not want to see us stir up the hornetsnest without killing the hornets.

And that brings us to the long-range, strategic problem, which isSaddam and his brutal, dictatorial regime. Siince 1995 the Clintonadministration has pursued a "Silver bullet" solution for Iraq,seeking to encourage officers close to Saddam to assassinate him. Theproblem with that strategy is that Saddam is far more versed in thearts of the palace coup than Bill Clinton or the CIA. When Saddamgets wind of treachery he strikes hard and fast, often killing theentire clan of officers plotting against him, right down to theuncles, the parents, and the grandchildren.

Under Director George Tenet, the Central Intelligence Agency hasrepeatedly been duped by "false-flag" Iraqi defectors, who havepromised to assassinate Saddam in exchange for U.S. promises ofsupport. The problem here is that Saddam was fully in control ofthese officers from the very start. In one telling case, exposed byAmerican Enterprise Institute scholar David Wurmser, a group of Iraqiofficers succeeded in duping the CIA as recently as August. For theirassassination plot to succeed, they argued, it was imperative thatthe CIA hold off a UN weapons inspection team led by Scott Ritter,who was planning to raid buildings under their control, because thatwould bring them and their plot to Saddam's attention. Thinking toprotect those officers, the Secretary of State Madeleine Albrightkilled the inspection - and Saddam laughed. He had been controllingthe alleged dissidents all along, and used them to hide his secretweapons from the UN yet again.

There is only one long-term solution for Iraq, and it is one thatAmericans can support openly and with pride: back the democraticIraqi opposition. Just last month, Republicans in Congress succeededin getting the President to sign a bill authorizing the Pentagon tospend $97 million to train and equip an Iraqi Liberation Army underthe leadership of the multi-confessional Iraq National Congress. These are Iraqi patriots who were dumped by the CIA in 1995 and 1996in favor of coup-plotting officers from Baghdad.

In a short-lived military offensive in March 1995, the INCdemonstrated that it could fight and win against Saddam's army,getting three entire Iraqi brigades to surrender. Saddam Hussein'spolitical base inside Iraq is far from solid; his army is heldtogether solely by fear. By helping democrats mount a popularmovement to undermine Saddam's army, America can also promote thevalues we cherish the most: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.And in the bargain, we will get a more stable, pro-Western MiddleEast, instead of a region constantly under threat from an Iraqidictator whose only goals are conquest and bloodshed.