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PREPARE NOW FOR THE IRAQI ENDGAME
for Security Policy
7 April 1998
Recent developments in Iraq demand fresh attention from American policy-makers: Unless action is urgently taken, the United States may find itself confronting a number of ominous prospects: the sanctions regime unraveling; Saddam Hussein still in power and stronger than at any time since the end of Operation Desert Storm; and with U.S. allies in the region distancing themselves from Washington and seeking to cut the best deals they can with the resurgent Butcher of Baghdad.
'Handwriting on the Wall'
As Dr. Laurie Mylroie, editor of the valuable e-mail newsletter Iraq News and longtime member of the Center for Security Policy's Board of Advisors, has noted in her publication of today's date:
"Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement yesterday lauding the diplomat-supervised palace inspections and calling for accelerated action toward lifting sanctions. As Tass reported, 'It is necessary to step up efforts toward complete fulfilment of the mandate of the United Nations Special Commission [UNSCOM], and enhance the effectiveness and transparency of its work, taking into account the priority importance that the lifting of sanctions has for Iraq. There exist now good conditions for speedily sorting out whatever questions the commission still has and for closing all disarmament files, which will make it possible to discuss the lifting of the oil embargo strictly in accordance with the Security Council's decisions.'
"On 28 March, Egypt's newspaper of record, Al Ahram, asserted, 'It has become necessary for the United Nations to start seriously working to lift the unfair and unjust blockade imposed on Iraq and its people because the reasons for imposing it disappeared once the Gulf War ended and Kuwait was liberated.'"
These comments, whether issued by or simply reflecting the views of their respective governments, are hardly surprising given the statements being made by UN personnel including UNSCOM's Chairman, Ambassador Richard Butler. As the Center noted in its 1 April 1998 Decision Brief entitled Endgame for UNSCOM?, Butler asserted that Iraq's cooperation with UNSCOM's inspections of the Iraqi presidential sites engenders "the appropriate environment for the conduct and conclusion of the disarmament tasks."*1
The truth is, as could have been -- and was -- predicted,*2 the Faustian deal negotiated with Saddam by UN Secretary General Koffi Anan created an irresistible momentum toward the effective end of the Iraqi inspections and sanctions regimes. It may not happen this month or even next but, as Dr. Mylroie has put it, "the handwriting is on the wall." It is now just a matter of time and how unsatisfactory are the circumstances under which Saddam clambers out of the "box" in which the Bush and Clinton Administrations have tried unsuccessfully to keep him in since 1991.
Time to Empower an Effective Iraqi Opposition
Another member of the Center's Board of Advisors, Douglas J. Feith -- a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration -- recently laid out a game-plan for U.S. policy in light of this state of affairs. In the 20 March edition of the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Feith urged that the United States be prepared to implement a strategy that would protect U.S. and regional interests, whether Saddam once again breaks his promises and/or the sanctions-and-inspections regime comes undone:
"A sensible aim [of such a strategy] would be to maximize chances that Saddam Hussein's regime can be undermined and replaced by a popular opposition movement....The key to such a strategy is building on the existing no-fly zones. U.S. military power could support a declaration that those zones in the north and south of Iraq must also become 'no-drive zones' for the Iraqi military. The goal would be to protect these limited areas as a base for Iraqi opposition forces....
"An Iraqi opposition movement - comprising Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds and Christians - now functions under the umbrella of an organization called the Iraqi National Congress, which espouses democratic and pro-Western principles. Were the US to recognize the INC as the provisional government of Iraq, it could release to it portions of the $800 million in Iraqi government assets that have been frozen in the US since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. This could help the INC establish its authority in the exclusion areas and fund opposition military forces.
"In protecting the exclusion areas, the US could put into the opposition's hands virtually all the approximately three million barrels of oil that Iraq could produce daily. One of Saddam's principal vulnerabilities is the concentration of Iraq's oil in the mainly Kurdish north and mainly Shi'ite south, both regions in which large-scale anti-Saddam uprisings occurred immediately after the 1991 Gulf War. The opportunity still exists to exploit the powerful anti-Saddam resentments that fester there.
"The US should urge the UN to lift sanctions from any area of Iraq under the opposition's control. This would tell the Arab world and others that America aims not to punish innocents in Iraq, but to relieve Iraqis of penalties they suffer as a result of Saddam's rule. The opposition would gain financial and political strength from oil sale revenues. And, if Iraq's oil were controlled by the opposition, Russia and France would have less incentive to back Saddam against the US and more to cultivate ties with his opposition.
"The US could bolster that opposition and encourage defections by working to have Saddam and his top officials indicted as war criminals and challenging the current regime's right to represent Iraq at the UN. America's purpose would be to communicate impressively that Iraq's future is not with Saddam, but the democratic opposition. To that end, the US should also make the small but valuable investment needed to establish a Radio Free Iraq.
"The Iraqi military is in general ill-paid, ill-equipped, and maltreated. Even the Republican Guard units, which enjoy the greatest privileges, have evinced signs of discontent with their wicked, overreaching dictator. It is by no means certain that the various elements of Iraq's army would fight well, or, in some cases, at all if the U.S. showed determination to delegitimate Saddam and to create exclusion areas to be placed under Iraqi opposition control, defended with U.S.-supplied anti-tank weapons, and protected by the U.S. Air Force and, only if necessary, by U.S. ground forces.
"If Saddam attempts to subjugate the exclusion zones, the US is capable of pushing him back as it pushed his forces back from Kuwait. If he refrains from challenging the zones, he will lose much of his ability to threaten his neighbors, for he will have lost control of Iraq's oil. He is unlikely to survive for long thereafter and would be largely defanged if he did...." (Emphasis added throughout.)
Jordan Gets It, Does the Clinton Administration?
Interestingly, the 27 March edition of The Forward reported a fact largely unremarked by other American media: "Just as the Senate is appropriating $10 million for the removal of Saddam Hussein, King Hussein of Jordan is throwing his support behind the free, democratic Iraqi opposition, the Iraqi National Congress (INC)."
The Forward noted that "At a press conference [earlier in March] with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright [the King] said, 'As far as I am concerned, I visualize Iraq as a free country, as a democracy, as an example of pluralism. I hope that the people of Iraq will be able to come together in dialogue to live in a democracy.'" It also included remarks by yet-another valued member of the Center for Security Policy's Board of Advisors, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle:
"'There's a lot of momentum now with the INC,' said [Mr. Perle,] a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most vocal proponents of deposing Saddam. 'One of the arguments that has been used against the INC is that there is bad blood between King Hussein and [INC leader Ahmed] Chalabi. I think the King going out of his way to see Chalabi is a good indication that there is no problem.'"
Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration -- whose irresolute, incompetent and/or subversive policies*3 toward the Iraqi opposition have repeatedly undercut the INC -- still seems unwilling to take the same stance as the King of Jordan by embracing the only broadly based, democratic and organized force capable in due course of liberating Iraq, namely the Iraqi National Congress. As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on 2 April: "We will explore ways to work more effectively with the Iraqi democratic opposition."
Dr. Mylroie asks:
"What does the administration intend to do with the opposition? In pursuit of what goal -- the 'containment' of Saddam or his overthrow? The opposition is not interested in containing Saddam, a policy which is not working anyway, which is why the US is losing Arab support. Moreover, given that this is the second year of a second term administration, if the administration were serious, it would be beyond the stage of 'exploring options' by now."
The Bottom Line
The time has clearly come for proactive action on Iraq. The Clinton Administration's must not be allowed to employ vacuous rhetoric about its support for the Iraqi opposition as a cover for a policy that is, at best, characterized by drift and at worst by appeasement of Saddam and his sponsors in Moscow, Beijing, Paris and the UN. The Congress is to be applauded for its efforts to date to empower and assist the Iraqi opposition. The executive and legislative branches must now begin to work together to articulate and implement the strategy articulated recently by a distinguished bipartisan group led by Richard Perle and former Democratic Congressman Stephen Solarz*4 and lucidly summarized above by Douglas Feith.
*1 - See letter dated 27 March 1998 from the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission addressed to the President of the Security Council (UN document # S/1998/278).
*2 - See the Center's Decision Brief entitled This Is the Time to 'Bash' -- Or At Least Repudiate -- The U.N.; Bipartisan, Bicameral Consensus Emerges That Saddam Must Go (No. 98-D 36, 26 February 1998).
*3 - A recent example of such subversive policies may be the manner in which the defection of Nassir Hindawi, widely believed to be the father of the Iraqi biological weapons program, was ineptly handled -- resulting in his imprisonment in Baghdad (and presumably, in due course, his execution). Congress should immediately establish whether the Clinton CIA was responsible for trying to exfiltrate this invaluable human asset who reportedly sought to flee Saddam's regime with a treasure trove of information about the Iraq's still-concealed BW activities. If so, did it rely yet again upon organizations known to have been penetrated by Saddam -- such as the Iraqi National Assembly or the Kurdistan Democratic Party? This episode could be more than just a tragically wasted opportunity to gain insights into the ongoing threat posed by Iraq; it could be a paradigm for the Administration's continuing fecklessness in dealing with that threat.
*4 - See the Center's Decision Brief entitled 'Serious Consequences': If Clinton Means It, Here's the Alternative to His Failed Strategy of 'Containing' Saddam (No. 98-D 33, 24 February 1998).
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