December 2, 2002

December 2, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East

ED120202a:  Let's Not Go Down This Path Again

Here's a brainteaser for you: The day Iraq announced it would accept the return of inspectors, its foreign minister said, "Iraq will not have weapons of mass destruction." What missing words should go at the end of the sentence?

"... by the time inspectors get here …"?

"... that United Nations' weapons inspector Hans Blix has any hope of finding ..."?

"... that are not already assembled and ready for action …"?

It would be nice if we could hold out hope that Saddam Hussein's government meant what it said about these inspections. If it truly "unconditionally" accepted their return. If it truly intended to comply with all U.N. resolutions about disarming its weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, Iraq's voluminous record of denial, duplicity and deception with regard to weapons inspectors, compliance with resolutions and intentions in the region provides little hope that, this time, it means what it says.

More likely, the Iraqis have used the four years since the last batch of inspectors left to conceal their weapons of mass destruction and production facilities.

We can expect lip service to compliance, but only until Saddam senses that the danger of U.S. military action has subsided. We can expect shell games -- inspectors can look at this, but they can't look at that; they can interview scientists, but only with government "minders" present; they can search only those places where weapons aren't located.

We can expect little of Hans Blix. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he gave Iraq a clean bill of health before the Gulf War, certifying that it had complied with the nuclear non-proliferation agreements it had signed. He has a reputation for discouraging conflict between inspectors and their hosts.

And we can expect little cooperation from Saddam Hussein. He probably will do precisely what he's always done -- feign cooperation at first, then become more belligerent and less cooperative.

How do we know this? Consider a little history.

In April 1991, after a crushing military defeat, Saddam agreed to accept the U.N. resolution that ended the Gulf War. He agreed to let the international community supervise the "destruction, removal or rendering harmless" of all weapons and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers (about 90 miles).

By June 1991, Iraqi officials had begun to block inspections. They had fired warning shots to keep inspectors from intercepting a vehicle loaded with nuclear-related equipment. By the following April, Iraq had threatened to shoot down inspectors' surveillance flights, and that June, it denied inspectors access to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture.

By 1997, Iraqi escorts were physically keeping inspectors from doing their jobs. In one case, they prevented a pilot from flying his plane; in another, they prevented a photographer from taking pictures of sensitive sites from a helicopter.

By January 1998, the inspections had all but broken down under the weight of Iraqi threats and non-cooperation. And by December of that year, the inspectors gave up and departed Baghdad, leading to four days of air strikes by the British and Americans.

Of course, by then, the coalition that pummeled Iraq in Desert Storm had all but fallen apart, and there was little will in the Clinton administration or elsewhere to invade Iraq again. Saddam's strategy had worked. He'd bided his time until the United Nations had lost the will to enforce its own resolutions against him.

He'll do the same this time -- if we let him. The only way to be certain of ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction is to rid Iraq of Saddam's brutal regime.

James A. Phillips is a research fellow specializing in the Middle East at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based research institution.

About the Author

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

Related Issues: Middle East

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