November 25, 2002

November 25, 2002 | WebMemo on Middle East

Iraq Q&A with James A. Phillips

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed on November 8, 2002, has put Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on notice that he has one "final opportunity" to comply with his disarmament obligations and avoid war. The Security Council unanimously approved the resolution, which threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to disclose and dismantle it long range missiles and its clandestine programs for producing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

This resolution, and the October 11th passage of congressional legislation authorizing the use of military force against Iraq if it continues to shirk its disarmament obligations, strengthens the hand of the Bush Administration in its confrontation with Iraq.

Heritage's Jim Phillips says that if Saddam rejects the terms of the resolution then he will find himself isolated in defiance of a broad U.N. coalition. If Saddam accepts the full terms he runs the risk that the inspectors will find incriminating evidence that Iraq has retained prohibited weapons.

Q: What does this resolution mean?

Phillips: It puts the onus on Iraq to cooperate with U.N. inspectors or risk a war with the United States and its allies.

Q: Iraq had barred U.N. inspectors since 1998 and the Security Council had done little about it. Why did the Security Council take this up again?

Phillips: Because of President Bush's September 12 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He essentially challenged the U.N. to live up to the ideals of its founding and enforce its own resolutions. It jolted them into action.

Bush also made it clear that if the U.N. stood by and did nothing about Iraq's flouting of its disarmament obligations, then the United States would take military action, alone if necessary, to rectify the situation. The U.N. therefore ran the risk of becoming irrelevant unless it addressed the issue.

Q: How will Iraq, specifically Saddam, respond to inspectors?

Phillips: I doubt that the Iraqis are going to be any more willing to fulfill their commitments than they were after the 1991 Persian Gulf War when they made the same promise to allow unconditional inspections. And in the second such inspection, they blocked the inspectors. So, I think this is a stalling tactic.

Q: Is the U.S. pursuing Iraq because of specific connections with terrorism?

Phillips: Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorism, including the 1993 attempt to assassinate former President George Bush.

Iraq has given long-standing support of Palestinian terrorist groups such as the PLO, the Abu Nidal group, the Arab Liberation Front, and to Iranian terrorist groups. Iraq also had contacts with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, although there is no evidence that it was involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Baghdad also had some disturbing ties to Ramzi Yousef, who was the ringleader of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Yousef was able to assume a false identity when Kuwaiti files were tampered with, probably during the Iraqi occupation. Former CIA Director James Woolsey has called for a reopening of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation to examine the possibility of Iraqi support. So Iraq has a long-standing record of supporting terrorism.

Q: Saddam has certainly made threats, but does that mean he has the capability?

Phillips: I think too often in the past we've dismissed some of the rhetoric as just idle threats and since September 11th I think we've realized that we can't do that anymore.

Q: What significance does September 11 have here?

Phillips: Congress held hearings about how the government underestimated the threat of Al-Qaeda before September 11th and I would submit that it may hold future hearings on how we underestimated the Iraqi threat, if we stand by and do nothing. Saddam Hussein eventually will obtain a nuclear weapon; according to Prime Minister Blair's dossier, Iraq now is two to three years away from a nuclear weapons and once he gets that nuclear weapon, and that's something we're going to regret.

Q: Is this really about oil?

Phillips: It's not just a simple question of oil, it's the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to that oil and what he does with his oil money; that is, build up his weapons of mass destruction, terrorize his own people, invade his neighbors, launch missiles at four different countries.

Q: Has the embargo been effective?

Phillips: Saddam doesn't care about embargoes. He doesn't really care about the welfare of his own people. What he cares about is that his own mafia stays in power, and I think he's best understood as a leader of a mafia gang that will sacrifice the interests of his nation and of his people as long as he and his lieutenants survive and retain power.

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