- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

During their Texas meeting, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed "all the options" to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but had "no immediate plans to conduct military operations" against Iraq.

The Iraqi dictator, however, is not sitting back waiting for an Anglo-American force to make the first move. He is taking action to forestall or frustrate any attempt to oust him.

Saddam is paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The defense of Baghdad starts on the West Bank. During the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam tried to cast his aggression against Muslim-Arab Kuwait into a jihad against Israel by launching Scud missiles at the Jewish state. Israel was persuaded not to retaliate, as the U.S. moved to silence Iraqi's military.

Today, Israel has no option but to retaliate against the wave of suicide attacks and to move on its own to silence the terrorist militias on the West Bank. The logic is the same used to send American troops to Afghanistan. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a town hall meeting at the Pentagon last month, "There is no way to defend against terrorist acts, because a terrorist can attack at any place at any time using any technique. The only way it can be done is to take the battle to those people who are determined to try to kill large numbers of human beings."

The situation, however, allows Saddam to whipsaw the Bush administration.

Attempts to "cool" tensions by restraining Israeli retaliation will prolong the conflict by keeping the Palestinian Authority in the hands of a terrorist regime. So long as the pot boils, Washington will find it difficult to build a coalition to support a forceful regime change in any Arab state.

One way out would be if Saddam was ousted by the Iraqi people. Crown Prince Abdullah left the door open for Saudi support in this case when he met with Vice President Dick Cheney. Washington has been working with opponents of the Baghdad regime since the end of the Gulf war, but the insurgents have made little progress. The success in Afghanistan, where local forces supported by U.S. airpower and special forces were able to drive the Taliban from power, has renewed thoughts about an armed uprising.

Unfortunately, the Kurds and Iraqi National Congress are a long way from having the military capabilities of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

After brutally suppressing a coup attempt in 1996, Saddam sent the Republican Guards and secret police into the northern Iraq "safe haven" and routed the opposition. With an army of 400,000 troops well armed with heavy weapons, Saddam is far stronger than the Taliban. And that is not counting his arsenal of chemical weapons which he has used against the Kurds before.

Furthermore, Saddam has his own group of Kurds in action. A radical group known as Ansar al-Islam is said to operate in the northern region. A recent article in the New Yorker magazine suggested that the group is the creation of Iraqi intelligence working with top officials in Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group. The group uses an anti-Western Islamic message to discredit pro-Western Kurds and the INC as traitors. A number of al Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan are thought to have joined up with Ansar al-Islam.

On the economic front, Iraq has continued to undermine U.N. sanctions, and not just by massive smuggling. On April 6, Iraq signed an agreement with Lebanon to expand trade and economic ties. Signed in Beirut, the pact calls for free trade between the two countries. Iraq has recently signed similar pacts with Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Syria.

Two days later, Iraq suspended all oil exports for a month or until Israel withdraws unconditionally from the West Bank. Saddam clearly wants to show that his country remains strong enough to use economic pressure too.

The United States continues to send mixed signals about maintaining sanctions. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf signed an agreement in Moscow March 29 he said was "designed to make clear that the international community is interposing no barrier on goods going to Iraq's civilian economy but it is determined to keep rigorous control over things that Iraq could use to resuscitate its military capabilities." The State Department is still operating as if U.S. policy was merely to contain Saddam, not remove him.

Yet, the "rigorous control" of goods flowing to Iraq has not been effective containment. Mr. Rumsfeld told the Sunday Times of London March 21, "The fact remains that the sanctions [leak] and that things are getting in under dual-use, under the guise of dual-use that are being immediately turned to military advantage." Expanded trade will only increase the flow of resources to Saddam. Domestic discontent will be eased. The presence of foreign capitalists will add legitimacy to the regime while creating more vested interests in the status quo.

Every day Saddam is given is used to strengthen Iraq's ability to resist American pressure. He continues to pursue weapons of mass destruction as the ultimate trump card. CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate Armed Services Committee last month that he suspects Iraq is developing a range of weapons. "Baghdad is expanding its chemical industries" said Mr. Tenet, "We believe Baghdad continues to pursue ballistic missile capabilities. We believe that Saddam never abandoned his nuclear weapons program."

Only decisive military action including enough American ground troops to capture Baghdad, will stop the "doomsday clock" before Saddam gains the power to plunge the region into a long, dark night.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for National Security Studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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