by Eric Margolis © 1997 Eric Margolis
The Christmas season is supposed to bring peace on earth. But not, it seems, for wicked Iraq. `Let's take out Saddam' echoes across America.
After months of wildly inflated claims about `the threat to mankind' posed by Iraq's secret weapons programs, Americans are again calling for Saddam Hussein's head. An Iraqi opposition group, run by CIA and Israel's Mossad, is being used as the main conduit to spread alarmist disinformation about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
A former Pentagon `expert' even recently made the ludicrous claim that Saddam's anthrax program was capable of `destroying the world three times over.'
Please. The first public revelation of Iraq's covert anthrax program was made in this column, in late 1990, after I secretly interviewed British technicians and scientists in Baghdad. They had worked on germ warfare in a hidden lab north of Basra. The breeder stock for Saddam's anthrax came from Maryland, USA.
My sources say Iraq never subsequently produced the `huge' quantities of toxins the US claims. Only small amounts remain. Still, Israel's American supporters urgently demand US military power be used to destroy Iraq for good. This week, the Clinton Administration again joined Israel in threatening Iraq with nuclear weapons if Baghdad ever used germ or chemical weapons against them.
But these days, only the US and Israel want to attack Iraq. The 1991 Gulf War coalition has collapsed. The Islamic Summit this week in Tehran showed Iraq is gaining growing international support, and wide sympathy over the prolonged suffering of its wretched people. So Iraqophobes have redoubled cries to `take out Saddam.'
Many Americans blame President George Bush for failing to do just this in 1991. People constantly ask me, `why didn't we just match into Baghdad and waste Saddam? (Americans love to use euphemisms when talking of killing foreigners). I always reply, ``which `we' was going to march first into Baghdad? You?''
Bush was right not to attack Baghdad. Iraq's main forces - about 250,000 troops, remained largely intact, contrary to the lies spread about the Gulf War's non-existent, `titanic' battles. In fact, there was no real ground war, just a great deal of bombing and strafing. Saddam's best troops were dug in around Baghdad and Basra.
Attacking Iraq's capital would have meant ferocious urban combat, the ugliest, bloodiest kind of warfare - as the humiliating American disaster in Somalia clearly showed. Even the crack Israeli Army avoids house-to-house fighting. America would have suffered serious casualties.
The fighting would have been prolonged, and certainly have turned into a lengthy guerrilla war in built-up areas, and Iraq's lush river valleys. Equally bad, the US would have had to garrison hostile Iraq - requiring at least 100,000 troops - as well as feeding and financing the entire demolished country of 22 million. Bush wisely avoided these horrible prospects by declaring victory and leaving.
Saudi Arabia pleaded with Bush not to overthrow or kill Saddam. No matter how brutal or stupid Saddam was, without his iron hand, the Saudis warned, Iraq would splinter: Iran would occupy the Shia south, and Turkey the north. Iran would then be on Saudi Arabia's border. Bush agreed.
Instead, the US turned Iraq into a gigantic prison by isolating it behind a wall of sanctions. Ironically, by demonizing Saddam, a former US ally, Bush made it extremely difficult for his successors to ever lift sanctions, or have normal relations with Iraq. No president, particularly not ardently pro-Israel, Bill Clinton, dared risk being called `soft on Saddam.'
Now, American armchair Rambos want to have another go at Saddam. Assassinating foreign leaders is against US law, a fact often ignored when they are Muslim malefactors. In the American view, delivering a laser-guided bomb on a Mideast leader's residence or office - as the US did in an attempt to kill Libya's Col. Khadaffi and Saddam Hussein - is not assassination, but merely a `retaliatory airstrike.'
Maybe a lucky cruise missile will catch Saddam in the open - the way Chechnya's independence leader, Dzhokar Dudayev, was murdered by a Russian missile that homed in on his portable telephone. Or maybe one of CIA's attempts to launch a coup against Saddam will finally succeed, after so much bungling.
Assassinating Saddam, however, won't end Iraq's weapons programs. Most of Iraq's military production facilities and stocks of germs and gas have been destroyed. But there are also 10,000 Iraqi military technicians and scientists who could recreate most of the weapons programs. The only way to totally eradicate Iraq's military potential is to either deport or kill them all.
Today, Israel has the Mideast's sole nuclear arsenal, and the largest chemical/biological weapons programs in the region. Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iran all have chemical weapons. Iraq, with the Mideast's second largest oil reserves, will inevitably acquire such weapons - as long as its hostile neighbors have them. Most chemical and biological weapons are relatively easy to manufacture - though very difficult to deliver efficiently. Saddam's nasty anthrax germs could be made in a bathtub in Baghdad's El Mansour Hotel.
Crying wolf about Iraq by wildly exaggerating its threat is not foreign policy. Nor is trying to brutally starve Iraq into submission. Washington needs new ideas.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]