September 26, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East
Who says the Iraqis don't have a sense of humor? After all, they
slipped an absolute howler into the letter they sent to U.N.
Secretary General Kofi Annan offering to welcome back weapons
"The Government of the Republic of Iraq has based its decision concerning the return of inspectors on its desire … to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction," the letter stated.
Of course, when it comes to the question of whether Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD), there are no doubts to remove. It does. Intelligence from many different countries, U.N. inspectors, defectors from Saddam's weapons program and high-resolution photography can't all be wrong. They indicate that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons now and is within months of having a nuclear weapon if he can acquire fissile material -- the key ingredient in creating a nuclear bomb -- either by making it directly or by buying it on the black market.
So send the inspectors back in, some observers say. But, according to the defectors, inspectors likely won't find much. Saddam's had nearly five years since he thwarted the last batch of inspectors to build his WMD program and find better ways to hide the evidence. His son-in-law and others who have escaped from Iraq say previous inspectors didn't come close to finding everything they should have -- and there's no reason to assume the next group will fare any better.
In short, new inspections won't solve the problems Saddam poses to international security and regional stability. He must be removed, not merely inspected. Inspections focus on the symptoms -- the WMDs. But the world community must focus on the cause -- Saddam's dangerous regime.
Saddam himself has removed any doubts he'll use his weapons if he's not disarmed and deposed. He's used missiles against Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He's used poison gas against his own countrymen and against Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. He has invaded three of his neighbors -- Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He tried to assassinate former President Bush. He's done what he can to destabilize the situation in Israel, even to the point of paying $25,000 bounties to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Saddam's contempt for the international community is boundless. Nearly 20 U.N. resolutions direct him to destroy and dismantle all chemical, nuclear and biological weapons and delivery systems, cease his brutal treatment of his own people and those in neighboring countries, allow unfettered inspections of all of Iraq, and to repatriate or account for thousands of people he has seized as hostages. He stands in "material breach" of all of them, says the war resolution President Bush submitted to Congress.
Saddam absconds with humanitarian aid sent to his country, sells oil beyond what is allowed under U.N. sanctions to finance his weapons production and continues to repress all dissent brutally. He's shown a remarkable capacity to bob and weave through the sanctions, around the resolutions and right past the money. He's foregone more than $100 billion in oil sales to retain his forbidden weapons.
It's time he and other would-be Saddams worldwide see that the United States and the international community are serious about keeping the peace and preventing rogue leaders with dangerous weapons from using them on other nations or selling them to those who would.
Given that Saddam has proven over time he has no intention of disarming, the only realistic means of removing the WMD from Iraq is to remove him. The Bush administration should push for a U.N. Security Council resolution with enforcement teeth, then be prepared to carry out that enforcement and install a government in Iraq that poses no threat to its neighbors or to its own people.
Saddam's offer to resume inspections is strictly a delaying tactic. Already he's back-pedaling, insisting that Iraq and the United Nations must strike "a balanced formula" for inspections that would "reassure Iraq with regard to its security, sovereignty, territorial integrity and its right to choose its own way without interference." Of course, his way puts the lives of millions of people at risk.
Quite a joker, that Saddam. But we can't afford to laugh anymore. Inspectors aren't the answer. Removing Saddam is.
James A. Phillips is a research fellow specializing in Middle Eastern affairs in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire