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
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
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
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.