- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) — Two widely viewed televised events in the past two days lead to believe that war with Iraq is all but imminent and may well be only weeks away, as President Bush has repeatedly augured.

The first was Tuesday's interview on a British news channel of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, in which the leader of Baghdad denied that his country possesses any weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration insists.

It was, of course, no coincidence that Saddam's interview came only a day before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council, in which Powell was to offer "irrefutable proof" of Iraq's non-compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441, calling for it to disarm.

It was also the final nail in Saddam's coffin, as far as the Bush administration is concerned.

Saddam's interview allowed him little room, if any, to backtrack, without appearing as a complete liar and losing his dignity — a major dynamic of Saddam's personality. It contradicts what Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa and a visiting fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, says is one of the hallmarks of Saddam's decision-making: "his deep attachment to a code of tribal honor."

Saddam "always leaves himself a dignified way out," Baram says.

Less than 24 hours after Saddam's extremely rare televised address to the Western media, Powell went before the Security Council, and the world, to prove — with the help of an audio-visual display — that Saddam is indeed a liar who harbors desires to acquire nuclear weapons. Powell further accused Saddam not only of hiding biological, chemical and other such weapons, but also of actively supporting al Qaida and other terrorists. "The nexus of Saddam and terror is old," said Powell.

The U.S. secretary of state, for the good part of an hour and a half, outlined facts, backed up by satellite photographs and audio tapes, of hidden weapons and of conversations between Iraqi military officers, scheming to hide these banned weapons from U.N. inspectors. He described steps taken by Saddam and his intelligence services, going back to what Powell said was "the old game of cat and mouse."

"How much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq's non-compliance?" Powell asked the Security Council members.

Powell described Saddam's conniving and continued effort to fool the U.N. inspectors and the rest of the world, as "evil genius."

Powell said he felt that given what the U.S. government currently knows, given the intelligence it has gathered through espionage and interviews with Iraqi defectors, that allowing Saddam to pursue his nuclear aspirations was simply not a risk worth taking.

While Powell's presentation was meticulous and well documented, it left some observers thirsty for something slightly more concrete. The proof offered was one that Iraq found easy enough to refute — which, of course, they lost no time doing.

"Utterly unrelated to the truth," is how Mohammad Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, termed Powell's proof. "Fabrication," is how Aldouri referred to Powell's tapes.

Critics will say that what Powell needed was to show a time-stamp on the data he offered to the world council — sort of what kidnappers do when they hold the day's newspaper under their captive's face so there can be no mistaking or misinterpreting the data provided. Powell's information was not enough to convince those sitting on the fence, such as France and Germany.

But this now all seems academic.

So what does it all mean? It means that the diplomatic options have all but been exhausted, and that the military alternative is now — alas — the only avenue left to disarm Iraq.

Mark your calendars folks, as the "weeks" will commence to rapidly wind down until it becomes a matter of days.

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(Claude Salhani is a senior editor at United Press International. Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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