January 31, 1998 in Nation/World

Saddam’s War Time And Time Again, Iraqi Leader Has Shown Resolve To Drive The World To The Brink In A Deadly Game Of Power.

Peter Slevin And Richard Parker Knight Ridder

How bad is Saddam Hussein?

He is a menace, a danger to his neighbors and his own country alike, the Clinton administration says. He has used poison gas on Iraqi villages and on nearby Iran. He refuses to comply with United Nations inspectors. He routinely pushes the edge of convention.

“He’s dangerous,” said Judith Yaphe, an analyst at the National Defense University in Washington. “He was willing to lob Scud missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia. You have to be worried about what he would do. In Saddam’s mind, he is at war.”

U.N. inspectors, repeatedly thwarted in their efforts to uncover and halt Iraq’s illegal weapons production, believe the Iraqi government has stocks of anthrax, a biological agent, as well as chemical poisons.

The Iraqi government denies the charges but refuses to permit open access to some possible weapons sites.

Iraq would not be able to restart an ambitious weapons program without the lifting of economic sanctions and outright halt to U.N. inspections, CIA Director George Tenet said this week. But Pentagon officials are worried that Iraq could build a small biological weapon, using botulinum toxin or anthrax, each of which is fatal.

“They could do it in a month and put it on something as simple as a truck,” said one senior defense official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. It would kill 80 percent of the people in a 10-square-mile area, the official said.

Or Iraq could use an airplane to spray a target, something like the way a crop-duster would work a field of corn. But Iraq’s air force is pinned down by U.S. and allied air patrols.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is racing through Europe and the Middle East to build a case for military action against the defiant Iraqi leader. She argues that time and negotiation only work in favor of Saddam’s campaign to build deadly weapons.

“Saddam’s goal is to have it both ways - to achieve a lifting of U.N. sanctions while retaining and enhancing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs,” Albright said. “We cannot, we must not and we will not let him succeed.”

Albright, who warned that the “diplomatic string is running out,” won support from the British but hit other resistance on Friday, when Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov declared that the international stand-off requires greater patience and diplomacy.

Russia, which has extensive economic ties to the Baghdad regime, is seeking a negotiated end to the latest crisis over U.N. inspections, just as Primakov brokered a November deal that later fell apart. China, too, announced Friday that it opposes force.

Nothing in talks with Primakov in Madrid convinced Albright that the Iraqi leader is likely to change course, a senior Albright adviser said later.

Primakov said, however, that he hopes further discussions with Saddam will “yield a change in position,” according to the U.S. official.

In Baghdad on Friday, the Iraqi government opened one of Saddam’s palaces to foreign diplomats, trying to show that no secret weapons are hidden there. The Iraqi refusal to permit U.N. inspections at sites triggered the current crisis.

“Iraq will not use weapons of mass destruction for the simple reason that Iraq has none of these weapons left, and the U.S. president knows this himself,” said Information Minister Humam Abdel-Khaliq in a statement carried by Iraq’s official news agency.

If Saddam does not permit access to suspected chemical and biological weapons sites, a determined Clinton administration - joined by Republican leaders of Congress - is prepared to launch a sustained military strike that could come as soon as February.

Neither U.S. nor U.N. officials know the true extent of Iraq’s weapons programs. The fear is that Iraq is hiding more than it has admitted and that it might shake off the dual shackles of inspections and sanctions.

Iraq’s recent rebuff of chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler is seen by administration officials as a clue that Iraq is hiding something.

“The Iraqi decision to put certain sites off-limits and the refusal of Butler is a very serious threshold,” said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saddam has been economical with the truth before. One of his sons-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected in 1995 and revealed the existence of four different biological warfare production sites in Iraq, plus the existence of 20,000 liters of botulinum toxin, anthrax and aflatoxin, which went into at least 166 bombs and 25 missile warheads. Microscopic amounts of all three agents can be lethal

Kamel, assassinated shortly after his return to Iraq, detailed extensive field trials involving bombs, animal testing and successful efforts to fit biological warheads aboard short-range rockets and Scud missiles - all contrary to Iraq’s official assertions.

U.N. weapons inspectors have since destroyed many of the facilities, and razed at least one, Al Hakam, to the ground. Yet U.S. analysts believe Iraq is trying to build more, while exploiting or strengthening legal short-range rockets that could deliver the toxins.

So far, however, Iraq would have trouble landing its poisons on target, analysts believe.

At the most, U.N. inspectors believe, Iraq has a handful of hidden long-range missiles that could reach a distant foreign target.

But the condition, whereabouts and even the existence of those modified Scud missiles is not publicly known.

“There’s some belief that at least some of these missiles have been buried to keep them hidden, which would mean they’re not a very militarily useful system,” said a senior U.S. specialist, who asked not to be identified.

“A missile delivery is very tricky. Not only because of heat in flight but, depending on how you rig the explosives, you can destroy a good deal of it.”

Yaphe said the Iraqis look likely to be able to make crude rockets equipped with chemical or biological poisons: “It wouldn’t be fancy, it wouldn’t be sophisticated. It just has to work, and it doesn’t have to work well.”

Albright will not answer questions about potential targets of U.S. attack. She said the purpose of any military strike would be to “coerce” Saddam to comply with U.N. resolutions barring Iraq from possessing or producing weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. message is clear: If Saddam will not permit U.N. inspectors to investigate suspected weapons sites and halt production, the United States will use bombs and missiles in an effort to achieve the same goal.

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