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DANGER IN THE AIR: FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD OFFER SADDAM NEW OPPORTUNITIES TO ACQUIRE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
for Security Policy
20 November 2000
Over the weekend, the Iraqi News Agency trumpeted the arrival in Baghdad of the latest planeload of foreign visitors to breach what little remains of the Clinton-Gore Administration's effort to contain Saddam Hussein. According to the state-controlled press, a Russian-built passenger plane brought "around 100 prominent Bulgarians, including members of parliament, former ministers, businessmen, doctors and university professors." The question is: Was there something or someone else whose presence aboard went unmentioned by Saddam's wire service?
Unfortunately, Bulgaria joins a growing list of nations -- including the likes of Russia, Libya and Syria -- to take advantage of the United States' understandable reluctance to enforce the no-fly zone against unarmed passenger flights. No one in the West knows for sure exactly what coming into (and, for that matter, out of) Iraq via these flights but, given many of the regimes in question, it strains credulity that there is nothing untoward going on.
This is especially true in light of the fact that it is obvious to Saddam Hussein, and virtually everybody else, that the Americans' will to resist his comeback is falling apart. Less well appreciated in the West, at least, is how dangerous the latest erosion -- to say nothing of the complete collapse of the containment strategy that it portends -- may prove to be.
Fortunately, two recently released books fill in the blanks. The first is entitled Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda (Scribner, 2000). Its author, Khidhir Hamza, was the Iraqi scientist responsible for these programs until his defection in 1994.
Dr. Hamza revealed that Saddam now has a workable design for a small atomic weapon capable of being fitted aboard an extended-range Scud missile. The only thing he has appeared to lack to operationalize this device is a sufficient quantity of bomb-grade uranium. After discussing the technical challenges to producing indigenously a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium, the defector observes:
"Another option for obtaining bomb-grade uranium, of course, is simply to buy it on the black market. The most likely sources are disenchanted, unemployed, underpaid or simply corruptible officials in Russia or other nuclear-armed states. Another possible supplier is Serbia, which clandestinely aided Iraq's missile programs in the past and is now said to possess fifty kilograms of bomb-grade uranium."
It is entirely possible -- if not highly likely -- that flights like that recently made from Bulgaria will enable Saddam to get his hands on whatever materials, technology and even people he needs to advance his weapons of mass destruction programs. While smuggling has been taking place into and out of Iraq ever since Operation Desert Storm (just as it historically flourished in the region for thousands of years before,) air delivery is particularly appealing insofar as it permits these transactions to take place in a relatively secure and timely fashion. It must also appeal to the Iraqi dictator insofar as this method brazenly flouts the vaunted U.S.-U.K. air blockade.
No less worrisome is the apparent motivation behind Saddam's long-standing efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons detailed in the second new book, Laurie Mylroie's excellent Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War against America (AEI Press, 2000) -- namely, to inflict harm on the United States and its interests and to assert leadership of the Arab world.
Dr. Mylroie has concluded, on the basis of exhaustive research into the World Trade Center bombing, that the deadly 1993 attack on the twin towers was not the work of "amorphous, ill-structured groups, the existence of which might scarcely be known before they burst onto the scene with a spectacular act of terrorism." Rather, she believes individuals associated with a radical Muslim cleric and Iran were deliberately used by Saddam Hussein's operatives to conceal direct Iraqi involvement in one of several acts of terror intended to exact vengeance on the United States for its role in the 1991 Gulf War. She contends that the Clinton-Gore team has deliberately ignored evidence of that involvement in order "to spare...the administration the necessity of mounting a serious response to a terrorist state."
Dr. Mylroie warns that:
Official silence is undoubtedly the most dangerous possible response to a terrorist adversary. It is, quite simply, the opposite of a policy of deterrence; instead of holding out the threat of retaliation, the silence holds forth the promise of a blind eye, if a convenient cover story is provided....The clear inference would be that, in any future terrorist attack, the United States would be unlikely to blame it on Iraq if the attack could plausibly be identified as the work of Muslim extremists.
If Laurie Mylroie's thesis is correct, the next act of Iraqi-backed terror against the U.S., its friends and/or equities could involve the use of the chemical, biological or atomic weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has never stopped seeking.
The Bottom Line
This danger underscores how much is riding on the as-yet-undecided U.S. presidential election. Vice President Gore has been party to the Administration's failed containment policy and its refusal to provide material and sustained support to the Iraqi opposition. Governor George W. Bush has made a point of stressing his determination to prevent Saddam from wielding weapons of mass destruction and seems committed to bringing down the despot's regime.
Which man wins, and which policy approach he pursues, may determine whether the United States faces an unprecedentedly devastating act of terror inflicted by a man rightly known as the Butcher of Baghdad.
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As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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