October 18, 2001 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Not Just Osama, But Saddam As Well

The Bush administration has declared war on international terrorism and has begun fighting that war in Afghanistan. But to win, it must do more than uproot Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. It must target Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as well.

Saddam poses a greater threat to U.S. national security than bin Laden does. He's been busy building nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction -- and the missiles to deliver them -- without outside interference since the expulsion of U.N. monitors in 1998. He already has used chemical weapons in his war against Iran and against Iraq's Kurdish opposition. Now, he reportedly has the nuclear material necessary to build two atomic bombs and soon may finish building such a device -- the ultimate terrorist weapon.

No direct Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks has been proven, but there are disturbing reports of several Iraqi contacts with bin Laden and his henchmen. According to U.S. intelligence officials, bin Laden was in contact with government officials in Iraq shortly before the attacks took place. In addition, Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the 19 terrorists who hijacked the four U.S. airliners on Sept. 11, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Europe earlier this year, U.S. intelligence officials say.

Iraq has a long record of supporting terrorist groups and using terrorism to advance its foreign policy. During the 1991 Gulf War, for example, Baghdad planned a series of attacks against U.S. targets around the world. (Most were blocked by the United States with the help of several foreign governments.) Iraqi agents were also apprehended in an aborted April 1993 assassination attempt against former President George Bush on a visit to Kuwait.

Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, had strong links to Iraq as well as to bin Laden's terrorist network. He flew to the United States using an Iraqi passport. He appears to have acquired a false identity with the help of Iraqi authorities, who doctored his personal file in Kuwait during the 1990-1991 Iraqi occupation. Another suspect in the 1993 bombing, Abdul Yasin, later returned to Iraq and is believed to be living in Baghdad.

Let's also remember that Iraq's failed assassination attempt against former President George H.W. Bush never received an adequate American response. The Clinton administration equivocated for months before launching a symbolic pinprick cruise missile strike against the headquarters of one of Iraq's many intelligence agencies in June 1993. Such a limp response not only didn't deter Saddam from future attacks, it may have emboldened him to escalate his stealth war against the United States.

To keep Iraq from becoming even more dangerous, the Bush administration should consider a full range of military and other options against Saddam's regime. It should fully support Iraqi opposition forces, particularly the Iraqi National Congress (INC). The opposition now controls only a safe haven in northern Iraq established in 1991 to halt Iraqi attacks on dissident Kurds. The United States should cement an alliance between the INC and the Kurds, then allow the INC to return to Iraq's northern mountains to establish a provisional government.

The United States also should establish a "no-drive zone" for Saddam's army in the Kurdish safe haven and in southern Iraq, and expand the two "no-fly zones" already imposed on Iraq's air force to cover the entire country. U.S. military forces should then seize Iraq's southern oil fields and channel oil revenues to a provisional government, with the INC as its nucleus.

To increase the incentive for mass defections from Saddam's regime, U.N. economic sanctions should be lifted on territory controlled by this government. Washington also should agree to the lifting of all U.N. sanctions against Iraq as soon as Saddam's regime is replaced by a government that agrees to halt his weapons programs and stop threatening Iraq's neighbors.

Such steps may sound premature now, with bin Laden at large and the Taliban still in power. But it's clear that we can't really win the war on terrorism unless we're willing to remove all regimes that support terrorism against us. We're in this for the long haul, and it's time to take out Saddam Hussein once and for all.

James Phillips is a research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

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