The Washington Times

January 13, 1999

The method to Saddam's madness


BY: Laurie Mylroie


Baghdad's challenges to the no-fly zones represent the latest phase in the chronic Iraq crisis that began over a year ago. But the Clinton administration seems not to understand what Saddam Hussein may have in mind. Indeed, recently, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright dismissed Baghdad's latest moves in terms of "Saddam's increasing isolation and desperation." But it is more likely that Saddam Hussein is acting on a plan. And it could build on a misunderstanding about Iraq that emerged over the long years since the Gulf war and to which both the Clinton administration and Israel's Rabin/Peres Labor government contributed. Both were so fixated on the "peace process" that that diplomacy completely supplanted the problem of the unfinished business of the Gulf war. And as the enemies of the peace process were Iran and the fundamentalists, attention shifted entirely to them, even as Saddam Hussein was already coming back.


The long-term origins of the present crisis can be traced to the Unscom report of April 10, 1995, which raised serious problems for the lifting of sanctions. Unscom reported then, for the first time, that Iraq had an undeclared biological weapons program. That reportedly blocked the considerable momentum building then to lift sanctions, as Unscom believed it had taken care of Iraq's other proscribed weapons programs.  Moreover, in hindsight, it would appear Saddam Hussein, even then, had determined to retain his entire biological stockpile. Thus, the report raised the prospect that sanctions would never be lifted. Saddam Hussein's problems were much compounded a few months later, with Hussein Kamil's August 1995 defection, which precipitated a flood of stunning revelations about the proscribed weapons capabilities that Iraq had retained and kept hidden from Unscom.


But Saddam Hussein did not turn over the forbidden material, once Unscom knew he had it. Rather, he stonewalled the weapons inspectors and engaged in terrorism, which was aimed partly at intimidating the Arab members of the anti-Iraq coalition. The terrorism included the two bombings of U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996.


On April 11, 1995, the day after the key Unscom report, a threat appeared from an unknown group, "the Islamic Change Movement," demanding that U.S. forces leave Saudi Arabia. The threat was later repeated and on Nov. 13, a bomb exploded at a U.S. military facility in Riyadh, killing seven people. As a senior Saudi official told me in February, 1996: "Of course that was Iraq. That was a professional bomb. It was not built by a bunch of Saudis sitting in a tent in the middle of the desert." On June 23, 1996, the first Arab summit since the Gulf war ended. Iraq was the only Arab state not invited, while the conference took a hard-line against Baghdad, blaming it for continued sanctions, while calling on it to comply with the U.N. resolutions. The Iraqi press lashed out at the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and two days later a bomb, 20 times the size of the first, exploded at the Saudi base that housed the U.S. pilots that flew over southern Iraq. As Iraqi radio subsequently warned, "One who lacks something cannot provide others with it. . . . The U.S. administration's inability to provide security and  stability for itself signals its inability to provide protection for others."


Having made his point, Saddam Hussein waited, while consolidating his internal position. He arrested conspirators in an ill-fated CIA backed coup and then in August attacked the popular Iraqi opposition, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), at its headquarters in Irbil, within the Kurdish safe-haven.


President Clinton was reelected in the November 1996 presidential elections and in July, 1997 Richard Butler succeeded Rolf Ekeus as chairman of Unscom. Mr. Butler's first report, issued in mid-October, revealed he would be as tough as Mr. Ekeus, and the Iraq crises began.  The Iraq crises revealed the hollowness of U.S. policy on Iraq. The administration had no coherent plan for the destruction of the dangerous unconventional capabilities Iraq retained, through, for example, vigorous support for Unscom.


Nor did it have any plan to oust Saddam Hussein, having thrown away that option when it allowed Iraq to attack the INC. The Iraqi crises also put strains on Arab governments, as elements within the population supported Iraq, when the U.S. threatened to attack it. But perhaps most importantly, violence has been associated with these crises.


On Aug. 5, Baghdad angrily suspended Unscom inspections. Two days later, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed simultaneously. The administration explanation - the bombings were the work of Osama bin Ladin alone -strains belief. From the earlier terrorism, Saudi Arabia and Egypt understand that Iraq is working with Sunni Muslim fundamentalists and that the Clinton administration has been loathe to acknowledge that, having focused instead on arresting perpetrators and bringing them to justice.


That has satisfied the American public, but it has contributed to a vast gap in the Arab and U.S. understandings of the Saddam threat. The Arabs see Saddam Hussein as unspeakably vengeful and vicious. They are afraid of him, even as Americans tend to regard him as stupid, while accepting the administration position that Saddam Hussein is in a "box," without options. And that has set the stage for more violence, aimed at breaking up the anti-Iraq coalition.


Among the possibilities is unconventional terrorism. If, for example, there were an unconventional terrorist attack against a U.S. target the Clinton administration might well blame Osama bin Ladin, or some other fundamentalists. That would be particularly likely, if the attack were run as a "false flag" operation, with some minor figures set up to be arrested, as seems to have happened with the African embassy bombings.  But the Arab members of the coalition would understand that bin Ladin alone made no sense. They would understand that Iraq was almost certainly involved and that the same kind of attack could happen on their soil.


If the terrorism were awful enough - and a well-executed biological attack on a U.S. city could kill several million people - the Arab members of the anti-Iraq coalition might well decide that it would be better to come to terms with Saddam Hussein than remain party to a policy that holds no promise of really addressing the threat he poses, while leaving them vulnerable to such horrors.


Laurie Mylroie is publisher of "Iraq News" and vice president of Information for Democracy.