The Washington Post

October 12, 1994, Wednesday, Final Edition


Saddam Won't Just Fight The Same War Over Again


*BYLINE:* Jim Hoagland




*LENGTH:* 810 words


President Clinton has responded with splendid resolve to Iraq's military thrusts toward Kuwait. But Clinton and his generals should not simply prepare to refight the last war. Saddam Hussein won't.


Saddam is not likely to wage the war he has in mind for Clinton only in the deserts of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti frontier. The Iraqi dictator has openly warned this president to yield to his demands or face terror attacks on the United States and its allies.


It is not true that Saddam is completely irrational or unpredictable, as many in the West assume. He manipulates the politics of brute force better than most leaders. And as he did in the spring and summer of 1990, before he invaded Kuwait, Saddam is again broadcasting the steps he intends to take if his threats go unheeded.


On Sept. 27, Saddam promised in a speech to his followers that he would not stand by and allow Iraqis "to die of hunger" because of U.N. sanctions. The speech was immediately analyzed by Baghdad newspapers under his direct control. They asked if the United States really failed to understand "the meaning of every Iraqi becoming a missile that can cross to countries and cities?" Saddam's scribes went on to warn the world community in these terms in the following days:


"When peoples reach the verge of collective death they will be able to spread death to all." And: "The patience of the Arabs and Muslims is about to reach its end and people have now started to prepare for hot confrontations in more than one country and continent."


Empty Iraqi rhetoric intended to influence the U.N debate on lifting sanctions? Or real threats that Saddam will try to execute? America's only answer can be to hope for the former and prepare for the latter --especially as sketchy evidence suggests that the Iraqis may have already put in motion terrorist networks in America.


But that evidence and the threats coming out of Baghdad had not engaged the Clinton administration, preoccupied at home, in Haiti and elsewhere, before last weekend. My guess is that Saddam has moved his Republican Guard units through the desert to focus Clinton's attention on the dangers Iraq still poses and on the deal that would avoid them.


Do not be surprised, or deceived, if Saddam now indicates that he will lower the tensions he has created and recognize Kuwait's frontier, the major remaining hurdle he has to clear to get sanctions lifted.


In Saddam's mind recognizing Kuwait would be a meaningless commitment that he could reverse when the circumstances change. He has over the years signed and torn up treaties fixing Iraq's border with Iran in the Shaat al Arab estuary as his needs dictate. For Saddam, Iraq's frontiers are etched in blood shed in battle, not in ink scrawled on treaties.


That is why he will be a threat to his neighbors as long as he and his Ba'ath party survive in power. Bush and his generals, Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, continued to underestimate Saddam when they made the political decision to let him recover key Republican Guard divisions from the Kuwait theater and stay in power at the end of Operation Desert Storm.


The Clinton administration was also taking for granted Saddam's greatly weakened state until this new wake-up call. At the Justice Department there has been no aggressive pursuit of the many loose ends created by Iraqi penetration and manipulation of U.S. banks in the Bush years. More surprisingly, Justice has dragged its feet in pursuing Abdul Rahman Yassin, an American citizen of Iraqi origin who fled to Baghdad after being questioned about his role in the bombing of New York's World Trade Center 19 months ago.


The Yassin case and Iraq's potential involvement in the World Trade Center blast have been pursued more diligently by Laurie Mylroie, a perceptive analyst and writer on Iraq, than by the U.S. government. Mylroie has concluded that the New York attack may have been part of a broad revenge campaign by Saddam that included the plot to assassinate

President Bush in Kuwait in April 1993.


That is why Mylroie picked up on the recent rush of threatening statements in the Baghdad media much more quickly than did government counterterrorist agencies, which have not assigned a high priority to countering Saddam's operatives here. The Iraqis were unable to mount terror operations during Desert Storm, the government agencies recall.

Why would they try now?


There can be no excuse of misreading Saddam again. The counterterrorist agencies need to make Iraq their top urgent priority. Iraq's coercive diplomacy cannot be rewarded with a deal on sanctions. Clinton, who ordered a one-shot retaliatory raid on Baghdad for the Bush plot, needs to emphasize consistently to all government departments, not just the

Pentagon, that Saddam's survival is a continuing threat to American interests at home and abroad.