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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

SLUG: 7-37665 Iraq and Counterterrorism

DATE= 7/18/03









INTRO: One of the justifications for the U-S led war on Iraq was to help fight terrorism. The Bush administration considers the ouster of Saddam Hussein as an integral part of the U-S counter-terrorism campaign. Before the war many security experts warned that a prolonged U-S presence in Iraq could fuel more terrorism, not less. Amid the increased attacks against U-S soldiers in Iraq, many are asking whether their predictions are coming true. Correspondent Laurie Kassman explores the debate in this Dateline report.

TEXT: President George W. Bush listed Saddam Hussein's links to the global terrorist network and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction as a key justification for waging war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had already invaded two neighbors -- Iran and Kuwait -- and provided support for radicals opposed to the Middle East peace process.

/// BUSH ACT ///

One of the most dangerous threats America faces is a terrorist network teaming up with some of the world's worst leaders who develop the world's worst weapons.

/// END ACT ///

On the eve of the war, Vice President Dick Cheney clearly spelled out Iraq's threat to the region and the world beyond.

/// CHENEY ACT ///

Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction poses a grave danger not only to his neighbors but also to the United States. His regime aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida. He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for their use against us.

/// END ACT ///

Critics of the war argued at the time that involvement in Iraq would distract the United States from its campaign against terrorism and its on-going mission to stabilize Afghanistan and eliminate it as a breeding ground for radicals.

Vice President Cheney insisted that ousting Saddam Hussein was an integral part of the counter-terrorism strategy.


Confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror.

/// END ACT ///

In the aftermath of the war, some terrorism experts have questioned whether the message is lost on the Arab street where many view the U-S presence in Iraq as another form of colonialism. The analysts warn that Muslim radicals will magnify any American missteps in Iraq in order to spread their own anti-U-S message and recruit supporters.

The number of attacks against American troops in Iraq is increasing. So are sabotage operations against U-S reconstruction efforts. Ordinary Iraqis also appear to be taking out their frustrations over the slow pace of reconstruction by taunting U-S soldiers there.

Martha Crenshaw of Weslyan University has written extensively on political terrorism. She says the longer American troops remain in Iraq, the harder it may become to drum up support there for the war against terrorism.


The first argument is that the war and continued insecurity and violence and American occupation forces in Iraq only inflames passions, only reinforces negative images of the Untied States, only reminds everyone of the extent of American military power, in other words have a very negative effect.

/// END ACT ///

A recent opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Group shows a growing hostility toward the United States. In seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, a majority of the respondents say they are concerned their nation could be attacked by the U-S military.

Pew Research Center Director Andrew Kohut:

/// KOHUT ACT ///

The bottom has fallen out in support for America in the Muslim world. Antagonism towards the United States has both deepened and widened.

/// END ACT ///

Terrorism expert Daniel Benjamin says that antagonism plays into the hands of radical Muslim groups like al-Qaida. Mr. Benjamin helped coordinate counter-terrorism policy in the Clinton administration and is now a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.


We have played into the hands of our enemies in one significant regard. We have given al-Qaida the best illustration of its argument, even though we believe it is out of strategic and also positive, sympathetic, charitable reasons that we were going to liberate the Iraqis. Al-Qaida has portrayed this as a definitive proof that the United States is waging a war on Islam. And that is a powerful tool for them to recruit with and fund raise with and there is strong evidence that they have been doing so.

/// END ACT ///

But supporters of the Bush administration's strategy say helping Iraqis establish a pluralistic society that protects civil and religious rights will prove the radical groups wrong and serve as a model for the region.

Some analysts say the war in Iraq has sent a clear message to other states in the region the U-S administration is serious about eradicating terrorist operations. Daniel Byman teaches security studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

/// BYMAN ACT ///

There's no question in the region that the United States is willing to act, can act. And that gets you a lot. Already you've seen sustained pressure on Iran and Syria yield results. I think holding them responsible, not only for attacks on the United States but for broader U-S goals of shutting down terrorism camps, cutting financing, cutting logistic support is a very good idea.

/// END ACT ///

To do that, Mr. Byman says the United States needs to expand cooperation and intelligence sharing with like-minded governments. But he says a faltering mission in Afghanistan and Washington's decision to confront Saddam Hussein without United Nations support has weakened efforts to forge a united, multi-national front. Many allies have resisted U-S calls for more troops to help maintain law and order in Iraq.


The war with Iraq placed an incredible strain on the Untied States. There was talk of over-stretched military two years ago. Since then the United States has invaded two countries, changed two governments, is doing a massive occupation in Iraq. And that places a very heavy burden on the army. The low image in the Muslim world has been made worse. Allies in Europe in particular in Europe but I think also in the world see the United States as somewhat deceptive in its use of evidence to justify its actions. The W-M-D issue, while not a big player in the US, politically has hurt the United States overseas quite a bit. We're largely seen as trigger-happy.

/// END ACT ///

Supporters of the administration's tough stand against terrorism disagree. Jack Spencer is senior analyst for national security policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He cautions against losing sight of Saddam Hussein's threat.


115 The important thing to remember is that Saddam Hussein used international terrorism throughout his reign to achieve his foreign policy objectives. And, there is no doubt that terrorism is becoming globalized, that Saddam Hussein viewed the United States as a primary obstacle to him achieving his goals and that he was supporting at some level terrorists who also viewed the United States as their enemy. So absolutely getting rid of that regime was very important to achieving overall victory in the war on terrorism and that's aside from whole weapons of mass destruction question, which is just as critical as the terrorist question.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Spencer does not doubt Iraq's toxic threat even though the search for weapons of mass destruction -- or W-M-D for short -- has not yet resulted in major findings.


I think what we'll find is that there are weapons there. And if we find that there are not weapons that he had the capability to reconstitute that weapons program once the sanctions were lifted. And put together that combination of WMD, the past history of using them, the intent to use them in the future with the terrorist network that exists and Saddam's -- up to the day he left Iraq -- his support for international terrorism, it's a deadly combination.

/// END ACT ///

On the political front, the Bush administration also sees the transformation of Iraq from dictatorship to democracy as another weapon against the spread of terrorism. U-S officials see Iraq as a potential model for political and economic reforms that could address grievances that are seen as root causes of terrorism.

In the wake of the war in Iraq, he Bush administration's new focus on the Middle East peace process has been welcomed by allies in Europe and the Middle East. Many agree that a resolution of the conflict is key to curbing anti-U-S extremism.

Opinion polls in the region have listed resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict as the top priority. Expectations for a comprehensive Middle East peace were raised high after the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. But the faltering process soon dashed hopes and soon became another rallying point for extremists.

Still, analysts an diplomats worry that a long, difficult transition in Iraq could distract the United States and divert the political energy needed to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks focused and on track.

For Dateline, I'm Laurie Kassman.


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