- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Iraqis were still digging out bodies buried in mass graves near Baghdad this week, victims of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror and madness.

More than 100 mass graves in all have been unearthed in the desert since the war ended, yielding thousands of decomposed Iraqis bodies, according to Human Rights Watch and recent press reports. Officials say they expect to find many more such burial sites in the days to come. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, not counting thousands of Kurds who were gassed to death, have disappeared under Saddam’s murderous rule, tortured, executed and then dumped into trenches.

A report buried in the back pages of The Washington Post earlier this week cited two witnesses who saw more than 100 bodies stacked on top of one another at a secret military facility just south of Baghdad on April 10. All the victims had their hands tied behind them and then, one by one, shot in the back of the head, execution-style. Most were soldiers.

These reports provide further proof, if any was needed, that Saddam’s forces were threatened with death if they did not fight the allied invasion.

Many chose to flee from the advancing armies and many, rounded up by Iraqi internal security agents, were executed en masse in an attempt to prevent desertions.

We do not yet know how many soldiers and civilians have been killed by Saddam’s cutthroats but the figure is likely to be huge once all of the mass graves are found and the bodies exhumed, government officials say.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of al Qaeda agents who worked out of Baghdad before Saddam was toppled and who have since fled to Iran and remain there under the protection of the Iranian government.

Just a few weeks ago, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi fled from Iraq to Iran, U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times’ military reporter Bill Gertz.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has called al-Zarqawi an “associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.”

President Bush brought up al-Zarqawi’s name Monday with reporters, noting that it was “al-Zarqawi’s network inside Baghdad that ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen” in Amman, Jordan last October. He was U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley.

These two events — the mass murders in Iraq and the terrorist thugs who have fled Iraq — have to be measured against the news media’s myopia about the search for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

Substantial evidence of such weapons has not been found, yet, leading a cynical network news media to suggest the White House made it up, or at least exaggerated the threat to make the case for war.

But we did find two mobile labs in Iraq that U.S. intelligence experts say were used for chemical and biological weapons. We did find thousands of protective suits and gas masks hidden in hospitals and schools and other nondefense facilities. We did have intelligence intercepts of conversations, as reported by Mr. Powell in his address to the United Nations, in which Iraqi officials talked about cleaning out facilities before U.N. inspectors got there.

I think we will find further evidence of weapons buried in the sands of Iraq. But the news media’s obsession with such weapons overlooks one important and overriding reality: Most Americans think the quest for illegal weapons at this juncture is irrelevant.

Last month a national Gallup poll for CNN and USA Today found that 79 percent of Americans said the U.S. was fully justified in toppling the Iraqi regime without any evidence of such weapons.

An April poll by The Washington Post showed that 72 percent supported the war’s objectives, even if no chemical or biological weapons were found. The Post quoted Pew Research Center pollster Andrew Kohut saying, “If I were a Democratic candidate, I don’t think I would be pushing this issue.” Mr. Kohut noted that at the start of the war, nearly 40 percent said that even if weapons of mass destruction were not found, the war was still the right thing to do. That number leaped to nearly 60 percent by the war’s end.

“Inasmuch as we’ve already done the deed, the need for that as a rationale is less,” Mr. Kohut said.

Surely this is as true today as it was then. Saddam Hussein declared war against Iran and crossed its borders. He invaded and seized Kuwait until we drove him out. He threatened Saudi Arabia and other countries. He housed and financed terrorists who targeted Americans and gave reward money to the families of terrorists who were willing to blow themselves up to kill Israelis and other innocent civilians.

Surely all this, plus the grisly digging that still goes on in Saddam’s killing grounds, is justification enough for the U.S.-led war that rid the world of a very evil and dangerous regime.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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