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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Developments in US Policy toward Iraq

Iraq News, JULY 27, 1998

By Laurie Mylroie

The central focus of Iraq News is the tension between the considerable, proscribed WMD capabilities that Iraq is holding on to and its increasing stridency that it has complied with UNSCR 687 and it is time to lift sanctions. If you wish to receive Iraq News by email, a service which includes full-text of news reports not archived here, send your request to Laurie Mylroie .

   The Forward informed Iraq News that the claim made in the WSJ, Jul 
17, in "Clinton Seeking Support for Plan Against Saddam," to be the 
first report of Gen. Downing's Iraq briefing was not accurate.  The 
Forward beat the WSJ, May 1, writing, "Senate Majority Leader Lott is 
asking his colleagues to support the Iraqi National Congress as part of 
an effort to unseat Saddam Hussein.  Senator Lott met with the president 
of the executive council of the INC, Ahmad Chalabi, on Monday.  'I hope 
the Administration will engage seriously with the Congress in moving 
toward a policy toward Iraq that is designed to achieve the goal of 
ending Saddam Hussein's reign of terror,' Mr. Lott said.  Mr. Lott's 
office also organized a briefing last week for Republican Senators 
Brownback, Kyl, and McCain, and Democratic Senators Lieberman and Kerrey 
on the substance of how exactly Saddam Hussein can be overthrown.  
General Wayne Downing, retired as the head of the Special Operations 
Group for the US Army during the Gulf War, conducted the briefing, 
congressional aides said.  'We met and had a briefing on how you might 
orchestrate a viable military strategy to overthrow Saddam Hussein,' 
Senator McCain told the Forward."
   The London-based, Al Hayat, reported Jul 22, on its front page, about 
the RCC-Party statement reiterating Iraq's warning to the UNSC, under 
the headline, "Saddam Threatens New Escalation."  That, in contrast to 
the US media, which did not even report it.  A significant difference 
exists between the Arab perception of the Iraqi threat and the US 
perception.  That is due, in large part, to the Clinton administration's 
ceaseless "spinning" about Iraq and all that follows.
    Amatzia Baram, visiting at USIP from Haifa U, in Near East Report, 
Jan 12 wrote, "Saddam is making prodigious efforts to retain at least 
his most lethal poison gas-the VX-as well as his biological weapons, 
which are almost as deadly as nuclear weapons. . .  The danger that 
Saddam might actually use these doomsday weapons is real.  . . . Even 
the most horrifying scenarios cannot be ruled out.  A plague could be 
introduced by Iraqi agents into an Israeli, Turkish, Saudi, or Kuwaiti 
city-as revenge and as a warning to change policy."
    But on Jul 22, Baram, writing about Saddam's Jul 17 repetition of 
the May 1 warning [see Iraq News, Jul 20] as well as the Jul 21 
RCC-Party statement, said, "While the tone is threatening, Iraq's 
intentions are not fully disclosed nor is the time-table for action 
elaborated.  This part of Saddam's speech should be seen as a warning 
shot before the October 1998 UNSCOM report and UN Security Council 
debate regarding the sanctions."  That, of course, is the administration 
position.  It wants to quiet Congressional criticism of its Iraq policy 
and otherwise tell the public that its policy of "diplomacy backed by 
force" put Saddam back in his "box" again.
  Al Quds al Arabi, Jul 13, which interviewed Syrian Vice President, 
Abdel Halim Khaddam, explained, "Khaddam did not rule out the occurrence 
of a major crisis between Iraq and United States in the near future, 
saying that as long as there is a blockade, the crisis will continue; it 
could erupt at any moment."  That is the view of Iraq News.
  Baram also wrote, "As the Iraqi strategists see it, they still have a 
window of opportunity to lift the embargo or seriously erode it until 
the semi-annual report and debate in New York in April 1999.  After 
that, the election campaign in the United States will make it impossible 
for the Administration to show any leniency towards Baghdad."  
   On the basis of what information was the judgment reached that that 
is the way Baghdad is thinking?  And why Apr 1999 in regard to elections 
to be held in Nov 2000? 
   The WSJ, Jul 24, "US Effort to Oust Saddam Hussein Faces Old 
Pitfalls," also wrote of the anticipated Oct crisis, "US officials 
expect yet another Iraqi crisis this fall."   But as the WSJ noted, "The 
US doesn't seem to have a coherent strategy for maintaining effective 
pressure on Saddam Hussein while countering a gradual erosion of 
international support for continued sanctions.  Indeed, an 
administration official concedes the US basically is trying a little bit 
of everything.  'If you want to pursue a strategy to isolate Saddam, you 
push all the buttons,' he said."
   Regarding the administration's recent plan to support the democratic 
opposition [see Iraq News, Jul 14], the WSJ wrote, "Some Iraqi 
opposition leaders privately scoff at aspects of the plan . . . For 
example, the plan for organization-building includes 'training the 
rank-and-file in word processing, fund-raising, media relations, etc.' 
at a cost of $1.1 million."
   And the WSJ noted Congressional criticism, "A July 12 staff memo to 
Rep. Benjamin Gilman, the New York Republican who heads the House 
International Relations Committee, says administration plans would 
produce a 'slightly higher profile for the Iraqi opposition abroad, but 
little effective help in Iraq.' It says that Radio Free Iraq, to be 
based in Prague, will have 'minimal impact on the situation in Iraq.'...
  "The staff memo agrees with Iraqi opposition leaders who call for the 
US to designate and enforce a 'no-drive zone' in northern Iraq, which 
would let Western aircraft attack any Iraqi military vehicles they find 
in northern Iraq.  The US already helps maintain a no-fly zone in that 
region . . . and resistance leaders say a no-drive zone would help 
create a safe haven for defectors and overall operations.  When Saddam 
Hussein's tanks and artillery rolled north in August 1996, they 
destroyed operations of resistance fighters who waited in vain for US 
military support.
  "The lack of help occurred even through only three years earlier--in 
an Aug 4, 1993, letter--Vice President Al Gore had promised Ahmed 
Chalabi, president of the Iraq National Congress, an opposition umbrella 
group, that "I assure you that we will not turn our back on the Kurds or 
the other Iraqi communities subjected to the repression of Saddam 
Hussein's regime."
   Still, the administration, seems to be responding to Congressional 
pressure, even if it is not clear what it intends to do.  Last week, Jul 
18-20, Deputy Asst Sec State, David Welch, visited Iraqi Kurdistan and 
met with Jalal Talabani, at his base, in Sulaymaniyah, and then with 
Massoud Barazani, at his, in Salah al Din, outside Irbil.  
   This was the first trip of a senior US official to the region since 
Apr 97.  Before Welch's arrival, Barzani convened a meeting of 19 local 
Kurdish leaders.  He said that Welch was coming for two purposes-1) for 
a KDP-PUK reconciliation and 2) to organize against Baghdad.  On the 
first, Barzani affirmed that the KDP was the Kurdish Gov't and would not 
return to the earlier power-sharing arrangement.  On the second, he 
affirmed that the Kurds would not become a catspaw for the US against 
Baghdad.  Nonetheless, Barzani and Talabani have been invited to visit 
Washington, as the NYT reported Jul 25. Should Barzani come, it will be 
his first trip to the US since Apr 93, when he was part of an INC 
delegation that met Vice President Al Gore, Sec State Warren 
Christopher, and NSC Adviser Tony Lake.
   Yet there is reason to question whether Barzani's visit will really 
materialize.  Barzani told Welch that he would not work in opposition to 
Saddam, unless there were ironclad guarantees of US protection.  But 
Welch had no authority to give such guarantees and Barzani has already 
sent an emissary to Baghdad to explain Welch's visit.  
   And the NYT report was otherwise somewhat garbled.  The Shi'a and 
Kurds are not "minority groups," as the NYT wrote.  The population of 
Iraq is 55% Shia Arab; 25% Kurds, mostly Sunni; and 20% Sunni Arab.  One 
of Iraq's biggest problems is that the regime is the minority element in 
the country. 
   Also, the CIA never broke with Barzani after Iraq's Aug 31 96 assault 
on Irbil, as the NYT itself seemed to acknowledge.  The CIA continued to 
fund KDP personalities, while a major administration concern then, 
particularly as the presidential elections were two months away, was 
to ensure that Iraq not be seen as an issue.  The administration was 
ready to let Barzani dominate Iraqi Kurdistan, regardless of his 
alliance with Saddam.  Following the assault on Irbil, Barzani paused.  
But after Clinton responded by declaring that US interests lay in 
Southern Iraq, rather than the North, and hit air defense sites there, 
while expanding the southern no-fly zone, and then declared the US 
response to the Iraqi aggression to have been a "success," Barzani 
renewed his assault on the PUK, driving it eastward, to the Iranian 
border.  The PUK regrouped for a few weeks in mountain camps there, and 
when it launched a counter-offensive, recovering the territory it now 
holds, the administration was annoyed with it.
  Finally, Iraq's Foreign Minister wrote the UNSG demanding a role for 
Baghdad in implementing the humanitarian relief program in Kurdistan, 
according to Reuters, Jul 26.  Sahhaf complained that the UN special 
agencies "were not able to fulfill their commitments on behalf of Iraq 
for the implementation of electricity, water, sewerage, education, and 
resettlement rehabilitation."  He charged that agencies like UNICEF, 
UNDP, and UNESCO had spent $200 million in administrative affairs and 
"such amount of money. . . could have been used on purchasing additional 
quantities of food and medicine."

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