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WHY THE UNITED STATES SHOULD HELP THE IRAQI OPPOSITION
Heritage Executive Memorandum No. 563
14 December 1998
The Clinton Administration's reactive policy toward Iraq allowed Saddam Hussein to take the initiative and provoke three crises in the past year to wear down and extract concessions from the fragile coalition supporting the United Nations weapons inspection program. By focusing narrowly on the inspection regime, the Administration has failed to address the underlying cause of the problems in Iraq--Saddam's aggressive regime. So long as Saddam retains power, he will outmaneuver the Administration and obstruct U.N. efforts to dismantle Iraq's clandestine programs to build weapons of mass destruction, which threaten Iraq's neighbors and U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The Administration should adopt a proactive, long-term strategy to end Saddam's regime. It should build on the efforts of Congress, which passed the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA) by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses in October. The ILA expresses the sense of Congress that the goal of U.S. policy should be to remove Saddam's regime from power. It authorizes, but does not require, the Administration to assist the growing opposition in Iraq to Saddam's regime with up to $97 million in military equipment and training.
Although President Bill Clinton paid lip service to the ILA's goal when he signed it into law on October 31, his Administration has a long way to go to close the gap between its rhetoric and its minimal actions in supporting the Iraqi opposition movement. In 1996, the Administration did little to defend the opposition during Saddam's August attack on the Kurdish "safe haven" in northern Iraq. Instead of responding forcefully in this region, the United States lobbed a few cruise missiles at Iraqi air defense radar sites located 500 miles to the south. This negligence demoralized the opposition.
Resistance to Saddam's regime continues inside Iraq, primarily in the north in the mountainous stronghold of the non-Arab Kurds, and in the south, which is inhabited predominantly by Shiite Arabs who resent Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime. Iran provides support to radical Shiite groups in the south and several Kurdish factions in the north. Iraq's other neighbors have extended little support to the opposition, in part because the Clinton Administration has vacillated in its support for them. Still, the smoldering popular discontent with Saddam's repressive rule is his Achilles' heel.
To exploit Saddam's vulnerability, the United States should:
Supporting the Iraqi opposition will not give the United States a quick-fix for the threats posed by Saddam's regime, but such a policy--backed by the firm application of U.S. air power and the support of Iraq's neighbors--offers the United States a long-term solution. This policy may turn out to be even less risky and less expensive than the current policy of staging billion-dollar military buildups on Iraq's borders only to back down at the last moment and make concessions in exchange for empty promises.
The only way to rid Iraq of its prohibited weapons is to end Saddam's dangerous regime. The United States should use military force primarily to weaken Saddam's grip on power, reduce his capabilities to threaten his neighbors, and support opposition forces, not just to enforce sporadic weapons inspections that provide the illusion of arms control. And the Clinton Administration should work closely with the Iraqi opposition to end Saddam's threat, not just contain it.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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