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Get And Stay On Saddam’s Case

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 25, 1998

The United Nations secretary general says Iraq has agreed to allow free and unfettered U.N. inspections of all sites in Iraq without any time limits. And President Clinton has said he is prepared to give the accord a chance.

However, Iraq has already agreed numerous times since 1991 to free and unfettered access to all sites in Iraq by the inspection teams of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). The reason there have been so many agreements is that Iraq has simultaneously engaged in a systematic, massive and blatant program of deception, deceit, denial, diversion and evasion against UNSCOM.

This program has three aims: preventing or delaying the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, and the infrastructure for building them; sabotaging or negating UNSCOM’s inspection and verification procedures; and wearing down the international consensus and will to enforce Iraq’s compliance with U.N. resolutions and to maintain sanctions absent that compliance.

The program’s centerpiece has been the construction, at a cost of billions of dollars, of more than 60 “presidential sites” (not just the eight that the Iraqis have offered) around the country. At these sites, as well as in dozens of other “sensitive” military and security installations, which have been barred to UNSCOM inspections in blatant violation of UN resolutions, Iraq has created a “parallel universe” where it could continue or resume its forbidden weapons programs.

If Iraq succeeds in keeping these sites uninspected and unmolested, UNSCOM and its monitoring devices will be rendered largely useless and actually become part of the Iraqi deception and evasion program.

While Iraq’s program has been systematic and long-term, the same cannot be said for U.S. policy toward Iraq. By dealing with Iraq only when Saddam Hussein causes a crisis, the Clinton administration has allowed the Gulf War coalition to fall apart and has left doubts and skepticism domestically, and especially abroad, about the seriousness of Hussein’s transgressions and the threat he poses.

The United States has also succeeded in turning the current crisis into a question of prestige. Bomb Iraq and Hussein gains face for standing up to Washington; Iraq gains international sympathy as well as support due to civilian casualties. In addition, Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction are only “diminished.” Don’t bomb Iraq and the United States loses face and credibility (and Hussein keeps his weapons).

Meanwhile, the United States has given Hussein months to disperse and hide his unconventional and conventional weapons and forces, while filling up potential bombing targets with civilians. In short, the Clinton administration has maneuvered itself into a potential lose-lose situation with Iraq whether it bombs or not.

This has been the price of the U.S. failure to pay attention to Iraq and to make sure the rest of the world paid attention during the past seven years.

It is hoped the administration has learned that U.S. policy toward Iraq can no longer be just crisisdriven. It must be made very clear that violation by Iraq of the U.N.-arranged accord will bring swift punishment. And even if bombing attacks go forward, U.S. policy henceforth should be based on the following points:

Hussein will no longer be allowed to drag out the process of destroying his weapons of mass destruction, delaying the day that Iraq is in compliance with U.N. resolutions and the U.N. sanctions can be lifted.

Denial of access to U.N. inspectors to any site in Iraq or harassing them in their work will result in denial of access to Iraqis. The site (or a presidential palace) will be destroyed.

Reports on Iraqi evasion and deception activities will no longer remain within just a small circle of officials and policy wonks, but will be regularly given the widest distribution and publicity.

A worldwide educational campaign should explain that these actions are being taken to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people, because the sooner Iraq complies with the U.N. resolutions, the sooner the sanctions can be lifted.

The sites in Iraq that have been barred to U.N. inspections cover hundreds of square miles and include hundreds of buildings (and whatever may have been buried underground). There are thousands of Iraqis whose only job is to protect forbidden weapons from the 200-odd UNSCOM inspectors. The United States must stay in Hussein’s face to make sure he gets no more chances.

After seven years, it is time for the tail to stop wagging the dog.


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