- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

Saddam can't play his military trump card without losing the larger diplomatic hand.

Iraq has so far refrained from unleashing suspected chemical and biological weapons on rapidly advancing U.S. and allied forces, highlighting a contradiction at the heart of Saddam's strategy to survive the war and win the international public relations war with Washington.

To use his most potent weapons, analysts note, would instantly prove that Saddam has the arsenal he and his regime have consistently denied they possess.

"Saddam seems to understand that the worst thing he could possibly do is take any action that would hand the high ground to the United States," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a National Security Council Iraq expert in the Clinton administration and now director of research at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

With an eye clearly on global opinion, the Iraqi military has already passed up an opportunity to use its weapons of mass destruction against massed and vulnerable U.S. and British forces in Kuwait or against coalition forces rapidly advancing on Baghdad and strategic targets throughout the country.

U.S. and British intelligence experts are convinced Saddam has stockpiled forbidden weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles over the 12 years since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, precisely in order to deter the kind of attack the country now faces.

But many of the countries that opposed the invasion have said they are not convinced the weapons exist.

"We never had and do not have information of this kind," said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Thursday statement slamming the U.S. decision to go to war.

France led the diplomatic push in the U.N. Security Council against the U.S. hard line. But Defense Ministry officials in Paris said this week France was prepared to aid coalition forces if Iraq attacked with chemical or biological weapons.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, asked yesterday why he thought Iraq had not used chemical or biological weapons to date in the war, replied tersely, "Don't know."

But British Maj. Gen. Albert Whitely, deputy commander of the coalition land forces, said in an interview with the Reuters news agency that the allies are pressing to reach Baghdad quickly "to prevent Saddam's ability to effect any form of command, particularly over weapons of mass destruction."

"Do I believe he's got them, yes I do," the general said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, whose teams were withdrawn from Iraq just days before the war started, noted, "If the Iraqis were to use any chemical weapons, then I think public opinion around the world would immediately turn against Iraq, and [people] would say as well that the invasion was justified."

Virtually all experts predict Saddam plans a last-ditch stand in Baghdad and its environs, hoping the urban street fighting will inflict enough casualties and produce enough bloody images on global television screens that the United States will sue for peace. A chemical- or germ-warfare strike does not help that scenario.

"Even Saddam would realize that once he uses his banned weapons, all hope of compromise would have passed," said Hugh White, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Iraq's hesitation has already closed off a retaliatory option for Saddam. Coalition forces yesterday secured control of two western Iraqi air bases considered vital if Iraq wanted to launch a Scud missile attack on Israel in hopes of broadening the conflict.

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