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The Need to Stay Tough With Saddam Hussein



LONDON-- The western world, in particular Washington and London, is too often besieged by inner hobgoblins who warn it of the threat of militant Islam, rogue nations intent on the development of nuclear and chemical weapons, redoubts of unreformed communism in Cuba and North Korea. Most of it is overstated, an unpersuasive zero sum, often counterproductive. But nobody can exaggerate the danger of Saddam Hussein. He is indeed a "cretin, a monster"--the words of a distinguished French journalist, Jean Daniel, unbelievably now being sued by none other than Saddam Hussein in a French court for "insult and defamation." "The damned don't cry," wrote Eugene O'Neil, "but in this case they never stop trying to make everyone else weep and gnash their teeth. The sheer arrogance of the world's premier bully is chilling almost beyond belief.

Early next month there will be another reminder of Saddam Hussein's formidable staying power, just when the world is apparently wearying of the thug who persists in attempting to surmount every obstacle and triumph against all adversity.

Rolf Ekeus, the equally determined Swedish diplomat, chairman of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, is due to present the next biannual report. Already it is clear what he's going to say: Despite the most vigilant arms control inspection regime ever mounted, including U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance flights, helicopter monitoring with ground-penetrating radar and over 100 optical cameras displayed in crucial factories around Iraq, Saddam Hussein is still engaged in secret operations to build weapons of mass destruction.

Thanks to his uniquely intrusive monitoring--in the sky, on the ground, Mr. Ekeus has a pretty good idea of what is still going on. For example, he has reason to believe that Iraq may still have a number of working missiles with warheads--maybe as many as 20 remain hidden. During a three week excavation mission at Dawra near Baghdad in late January UN inspectors uncovered 4 undeclared missile engines.

Since the end of the Gulf War, getting on for six years ago, and the beginning of Mr. Ekeus's investigations, it has been a long game of cat and mouse. At every turn Saddam Hussein has denied what later turned out to be evident.

Mr. Ekeus first uncovered a large-scale nuclear weapons program, with a cumulative cost of around $10 billion and employing some 15,000 people. Later, he discovered an offensive biological program with warheads at the ready.

In his early days Ekeus always got the full backing of the Security Council. In 1993, when Iraq blocked air access to the UN inspectors the Security Council went along with western air strikes against suspected sites. But late last year, when Iraq thwarted attempts by UN inspectors to gain access to Iraqi Republican Guard facilities, waning unanimity on the Security Council seriously undermined the UN inspectorate. Ekeus was forced to compromise and settle for only limited access.

Now that Iraq has finally agreed to the UN's offer of a partial lifting of sanctions (as long as Iraq only spends the money on food and medicine, war reparations and the like), Saddam Hussein obviously feels he has some room for manoeuvre to prize the sanctions door further open. Tragically, he has an audience for such a view, both in the Security Council, with Russia and China and, to some extent France, and with Arab neighbors nearer home.

Despite everything he has done with war and weapons, despite maintaining the worst human rights record in the world, he appears able still to command an audience. The oil-rich United Arab Emirates has tried hard recently to persuade other neighbors that the time had come to normalize diplomatic and economic relations with Iraq. Two of the most important countries in the neighborhood, Egypt and Jordan, while not going along with this move have not strongly repudiated it either. The urge to make peace with Saddam Hussein hangs in the Arabian air. Their argument is that the danger of the present situation is that the only people in Iraq who suffer are the ordinary people, not the ruling clique and the only gainer is fundamentalist Iran which is trying to position itself as the dominant military power in the Gulf.

But Iran is not and probably never will be in the same league. And as for the sorry people of Iraq there is little more that the outside world can do for them until they start to open their own eyes. At least now they have food and medicine. It is more than obvious that any further opening of the door would allow Iraq to resume its nuclear weapons program. Its main assets, its scientists and technicians, are still intact and fissile material could be obtained on the Russian black market. Even though the UN blew up Iraq's germ warfare plant last June another could be rebuilt, underground.

The world cannot afford to have Iraq running amok. The remaining sanctions must stay in place. Mr. Ekeus must be backed to the hilt in his work. The world's prime bully must never be allowed to intimidate us all again. Judge Saddam Hussein by what he does not what he says.


March 26, 1997, LONDON

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

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