Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2004 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
The real truth about Iraq
Two central issues in the campaign intersect: How imminent was the threat from Saddam Hussein, and how long should Washington have waited for France, Germany, and Russia to see him as plain a menace as we did?
The critics of George W. Bush and Tony Blair have drawn much of their ammunition from the report of the Iraq Survey Group led by Charles Duelfer. The Duelfer report confirmed that Saddam had no stocks of weapons of mass destruction, no active programs of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. In short, Saddam was a diminishing threat. But there is more to this simple headline. There is, in fact, a much darker side, and here it is:
Saddam wanted to re-create Iraq's banned weapons programs, including nuclear weapons.
Saddam was determined to develop ballistic missiles and tactical chemical weapons when the U.N. sanctions were either lifted or corroded.
Saddam retained the industrial equipment to help restart these programs, having increased from 1996 to 2002 his military industrial spending 40-fold and his technical military research 80-fold. Even while U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq, Saddam's scientists were performing deadly experiments on human guinea pigs in secret labs.
To what end? The overlooked section of the Duelfer report could not have put it any clearer: "Iraq would have been able to produce mustard agents in a period of months and nerve agent in less than a year or two." While Saddam had abandoned his biological weapons programs, he retained the scientists and other technicians "needed to restart a potential biological weapons program," and he "intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems [that is, missiles] and . . . the systems potentially were for WMD." These conclusions were based on interviews with Saddam Hussein, his closest advisers, and his weapons scientists, along with the kind of industrial equipment the Iraqi government imported and maintained.
A bomb in a garden. But what of the sanctions intended to prevent him from doing these things?
The ugly truth is spelled out in Duelfer's report: "Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem" from France, China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere. How odd that many of these same countries were the ones protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Saddam's strategic objective was quite simple to end the sanctions so he could reconstitute his banned weapons programs. This has been confirmed by Saddam's chief nuclear guru, Mahdi Obeidi, in a book called The Bomb in My Garden. Under orders from Qusay Hussein, Obeidi buried a huge barrel in his back garden that contained the components of an actual centrifuge for the enrichment of uranium, in addition to printed instructions and other information on the subject. Obeidi wrote in the New York Times, "Iraqi scientists had the knowledge and the designs needed to jump-start the [nuclear weapons] program if necessary. And there is no question that we could have done it so very quickly." Why was none of this learned from the interviews of Obeidi by U.N. inspectors before we invaded? Because his family was held hostage by Saddam.
Yes, America was wrong about Saddam's weapons stockpiles and programs. But the Duelfer report makes it clear that the sanctions were increasingly ineffective and that Saddam would simply bide his time, waiting until the sanctions were either ended or eroded while turning the U.N. Oil-for-Food program into an $11 billion slush fund to buy influence among several key U.N. members, including France, China, and Russia. With the complicity of the U.N. officials allegedly involved in Saddam's Oil-for-Food bribery scheme, can there be any doubt that the sanctions would have eventually disappeared?
The French worked at every turn to frustrate efforts to hold Saddam's feet to the fire. A French legislator even told an Iraqi intelligence official that Paris would veto any U.N. resolution authorizing war against Iraq. In fact, France threatened to do just that. But for what, exactly? Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, told Duelfer that "French oil companies wanted to secure two large oil contracts." National bribery on top of individual bribery now, that's something you don't see every day.
Duelfer told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "Sanctions were in free fall . . . . If not for 9/11, I don't think they would exist today" and described Saddam as "a grave threat" to the Middle East and to the entire world.
What stopped Saddam was the will of a few strong-minded leaders who believed in a more forceful response than simply joining hands and singing "Kumbaya."
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© 2004, Mortimer Zuckerman