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Scott Ritter: "Iraq's Hot Season, Redux"

Scott Ritter - the former UNSCOM arms inspector who is a vociferous opponent
of economic sanctions - has written the following article for "American
Spectator" (available online at


Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
Iraq's Hot Season, Redux
by Scott Ritter

There is a space on the calendar, a 90-odd day span of time between early
July and late September, that veteran Iraq hands watch with a mix of
interest and dread. In the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM, the
organization mandated by Security Council resolution to oversee the
disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction), we referred to it by a
number of names, perhaps the most appropriate of which was the "Hot Season".
The "Hot Season" is aptly named, for in addition to being the hottest time
temperature-wise in Iraq, it also produce a disproportionate number of major
confrontations between Iraq and the United Nations Security Council in the
wake of the Gulf War of 1991. These confrontations have more often than not
produced their own political, diplomatic and military "heat".

The nine past Hot Seasons underscore this: 1991, Iraq obstructed weapons
inspectors hunting Iraq's undeclared nuclear program; 1992, Iraq blocked
inspectors from gaining access to a cache of proscribed documents hidden in
the buildings of the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry; 1993, Iraq interfered with
the installation of cameras at ballistic missile test sites; 1994, Iraq
moved troops towards the Kuwait border in an attempt to trade the
recognition of that border for an easing of sanctions; 1995, Iraq threatened
to sever relations with the UN weapons inspectors, only to have the crisis
shift gears with the defection of Hussein Kamal; 1996, Iraq confronted
weapons inspectors over the issue of access to "sensitive sites," forcing a
compromise reducing the effectiveness of the inspection regime, and Iraq
invades Kurdistan, routing CIA-backed coup plotters; 1997, Iraq again
blocked the work of weapons inspectors, this time over the issue of
inspector access to so-called "Presidential Sites"; and 1998, Iraq refused
to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, prompting a confrontation which
led to military action and the final expulsion of the inspection personnel.
If one includes the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, we have a
decade of Hot Seasons which have shaped the world's relationship with Iraq.

An examination of each crisis shows that the Iraqis react aggressively to
initiatives undertaken by others, in particular the UN weapons inspectors.
It is very rare that the Iraqis initiated a crisis. Iraq appears to time its
Hot Season activities in an effort to define the nature of the debate in the
Security Council that occurs every October concerning Iraqi compliance with
resolutions calling for its disarmament of weapons of mass destruction (such
discussions have been scheduled every six months since the passing of
Security Council resolution 687 in April 1991). In 1996 the Iraqis succeeded
in splitting the coalition when France objected to the expansion of the
southern no-fly zone in response to Iraq's incursion into Kurdistan, and in
1997 Iraq was able to parley its "Hot Season" crisis into an abstention from
voting on new sanctions by Russia, France, and China. This gradual erosion
of consensus within the Council reached its climax in 1998, when Iraq was
able to parley repeated confrontations into the demise of the UNSCOM weapons
inspection process.

Since the 70-hour bombardment of Iraq in December 1998 (Operation Desert
Fox), the international community has struggled to come to grips with the
Iraqi problem. The Security Council remains hopelessly divided, with three
of the five veto-wielding permanent members (Russia, France, and China)
pushing for the total lifting of economic sanctions with a reduced
inspection process, and the United States and the United Kingdom
diplomatically maneuvering to align the ten non-permanent members of the
Council with their own policy of trading off the resumption of vigorous
weapons inspections for a suspension of economic sanctions which leaves
control of how Iraq spends its oil-derived income in the hands of the
Security Council. 

The problem of what to do with Iraq is far more complicated than just the
issue of arms inspections and disarmament. Two other factors have appeared
on the landscape which shape the Iraqi political battlefield in ways not
foreseen by original Security Council when passing its disarmament
resolutions. The first is economic sanctions and the horrific devastation of
the Iraqi economy and quality of life since 1990, and the second is the
low-grade war of attrition being waged by the United States and the United
Kingdom over northern and southern Iraq. Both factors result in the death
and suffering of innocent Iraqi people, and neither have a direct impact on
resolving the current impasse over stalled weapons inspections. However,
these two factors play a critical role in shaping the upcoming debate in the
Security Council on how to facilitate the resumption of weapons inspections.
And, as the "Hot Season" for 1999 gets into full swing, it is on these two
issues that Iraq will focus on in trying to influence the future of weapons
inspections and Iraqi sovereignty. 

The American and world media are only now wakening to the reality that the
United States is knee-deep in an undeclared war against Iraq. The goals and
objectives of this conflict are nebulous and purposely ill-defined by the
Clinton administration. The sustained campaign of air strikes in northern
and southern Iraq are ostensibly acts of self-defense, carried out by our
pilots in response to Iraqi threats and attacks on their aircraft patrolling
the skies over these regions. The reality is much more complicated. The
current quasi-war in Iraq was implemented in the aftermath of Operation
Desert Fox, when the Pentagon adjusted its military might in the region to
contain and degrade Saddam Hussein through a low-profile, yet sustained war
of attrition. Continued Iraqi defiance of the no-fly zones only provides a
pretext for the United States to bomb an expanded list of targets. 

Further complicating the current air war is its lack of any mandate under
international law. While the original humanitarian focus of the no-fly zones
shielded the United States from harsh criticism prior to Operation Desert
Fox, since December 1998 this humanitarian pretext has worn thin, and
increasingly the United States finds itself criticized for waging an illegal
war against Iraq in contravention of the United Nations Charter. It is this
sentiment Iraq is hoping to tap into in the coming weeks and months. Saddam
has already escalated the war of words concerning the no-fly zones; his next
step will be to escalate the scope and scale of the conflict, trying to
provoke the United States into what Pentagon officials call
"disproportionate response," massive bombing in retaliation for a minor
offense. Iraq has tried, unsuccessfully, to score political points by
highlighting recent miscues by American warplanes, publicly decrying the
destruction of mosques, grain silos, and civilian housing, and the
inflicting of scores of casualties among the Iraqi civilian population. The
growing frustration on the part of the Pentagon and the White House over the
ineffectiveness of their air campaign is almost palpable. Iraq is rebuilding
its air defenses and command and control sites as quick as the American and
British pilots can destroy them. Military aid, brought in from Russia via
Syria in violation of sanctions, has enabled Iraq to expand its air defense
capabilities. These expanded defenses, when combined with an increase in
provocation by the Iraqis, may well prove to be too much of a red flag for
the American military bull.

The other point of contention is economic sanctions. A recent UNICEF report
highlighted the disaster unfolding in central and southern Iraq (those
regions controlled by Baghdad; Kurdistan, in the north, is self-governing).
The infant mortality rate has doubled in the years since 1993, reinforcing
the case humanitarian organizations have been making for years: Thousands of
Iraqi children are dying every month as a direct result of the deprivations
brought on by economic sanctions. While the world as a whole has been slow
to rally around this particular cause, citing the threat from Saddam Hussein
as the greater of two evils, the recent UNICEF report may be the beginning
of a turn in public opinion. 

The inability to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein's Iraq has led to a
growing sense of Iraq fatigue, both in the United States and the United
Nations. The threat of Saddam's Iraq is no longer as looming as it once
seemed, opening a crack in the armor of public opinion that the Iraqi
government, by emphasizing the results of surveys such as that conducted by
UNICEF, hope to capitalize upon. If attempted in isolation such a tactic
might not stand a chance. However, when undertaken in tandem with a surge in
American military strikes against Iraq, the two issues might succeed in
redefining Iraq as the aggrieved party and the United States as the
aggressor in the arena of world opinion. Such a posture would have enormous
benefits to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, especially during the Security Council
debates scheduled in the coming weeks concerning the future of weapons
inspections and the status of economic sanctions. This, more than any thing
else, appears to be the underlying goal behind Iraq's current Hot Season

The Clinton administration is approaching the upcoming Security Council
deliberations with a very low profile. Its objectives are clear: Keep Saddam
Hussein "in his box" by maintaining economic sanctions and continued
enforcement of the no-fly zones. The resumption of weapons inspections are
actually very low on the American agenda. The surprisingly open assessment
put out by the CIA last month which found no evidence that Iraq was taking
advantage of the lull in inspections to rebuild its prohibited arsenal was
released to the public in part to minimize the importance of getting
inspectors back into Iraq. The CIA report stands in marked contrast to the
alarmist rhetoric dispensed by Washington, DC and London during the build-up
to Operation Desert Storm which emphasized the immediacy of the Iraqi

The current British-Dutch draft resolution, the subject of the upcoming
Security Council discussions, attempts to jump-start the inspection process
by "suspending" most of the economic sanctions on Iraq (subject to periodic
review) in exchange for Iraqi acquiescence on a fresh, "vigorous" regime of
inspections carried out by a new inspection body renamed and reorganized to
address the sensitivities of Iraq and its Security Council allies, Russia,
France, and China. However, the United States has no intention of allowing
Saddam Hussein to stray far from the box that has been constructed for him.
The United States knows that the British-Dutch draft resolution, in its
current form, has no chance of withstanding a veto from Russia, France, or
China. This, of course, makes for interesting dialogue in the Security
Council when the draft resolution's merits are debated. The United States
will seek to extract as much political mileage from this resolution as
possible (i.e., being seen as moving forward on issues such as disarmament
and humanitarian relief), while transferring responsibility for the failure
to resurrect arms inspections onto Iraq and its erstwhile Security Council
allies. In this manner, the administration's policy of containment is
continued and, in their eyes, justified. 

But it is Saddam and the Iraqis who seek to have the last laugh. Through an
escalation of tensions with the United States and Great Britain over the
enforcement of the no-fly zones in the coming weeks, Saddam hopes to lure
the Americans into a trap, one which will forever redefine the nature of the
debate, minimizing Iraq's disarmament obligations while underscoring the
humanitarian debacle in Iraq and the undeclared war of attrition being waged
over north and south Iraq. The Iraqis will most likely to seek to coincide
this escalation of confrontation with the Security Council debate of the
British-Dutch draft resolution, thus seeking to enlarge the debate in the
Council to include issues other than disarmament. If Iraq succeeds in this
strategy, the United States will be hard pressed to satisfactorily explain
the inherent contradictions in its current Iraq policy, shifting initiative
and world opinion to Iraq, Russia, France, and China. 

The United States must avoid stumbling into this trap. Iraq must be held
accountable for its disarmament obligation, and there are significant issues
that need to be resolved before Iraq can be given a clean bill of health.
UNSCOM's case concerning the scope and scale of Iraq's VX chemical weapons
program is a clear case in point. Iraq's VX nerve agent program is a
documented fact. Iraq admits to producing 3.9 tons of this deadly chemical.
UNSCOM disputes these figures, expressing concern that chemical precursors
capable of producing some 200 tons of VX have not been adequately accounted
for. Iraq denies that it ever produced significant quantities of the VX
agent in a stabilized form, i.e., so that the agent would not chemically
degrade, thus rendering it useless, while stored in a weapon. Iraq also
denies that any VX agent was ever loaded into a weapon. UNSCOM's discovery
last year of SCUD missile warheads buried in Iraq which contained chemical
residues that proved the presence of stabilized VX gas contradicts Iraq's
position on both these counts. This impasse between UNSCOM and Iraq remains
one of the greatest obstacles towards UNSCOM's ability to certify Iraqi
compliance with its disarmament obligations. The VX issue represents a real
and meaningful capability that must be dealt with before any comprehensive
resolution of the overall problem of Iraq can be considered.

The absence of a sound American policy regarding Iraq in no way absolves the
Russians, Chinese, and French from their unfortunate and highly destructive
recent statements regarding Iraq's VX program. Any contention that somehow
the missile warhead fragments uncovered by the Special Commission might have
been deliberately tainted by inspectors not only flies in the face of the
forensic evidence assembled (evidence supported, ironically, by the findings
of French chemical laboratories), but also plays into the hands of the Iraqi
regime. It is high time for the Russians, and their French and Chinese
allies to stop playing such games. These nations must use the legitimacy
that a permanent seat on the Security Council brings to pressure Iraq to
come clean on VX. Similar actions would be required concerning certain
aspects of Iraq's past biological weapons programs as well. Only through
such action might Russian diplomacy towards achieving the lifting of
economic sanctions stand a chance. Ditto for France and China. 

There are other obstacles as well. There can be no progress on disarming
Iraq as long as the United States adheres to its current policy of seeking
the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. The Iraqi Liberation Act, put into
law by a bi-partisan Congress, has so far failed to threaten Saddam Hussein
in any meaningful way. On the other hand, it has succeeded in
institutionalizing a disparate and ineffective Iraqi opposition and
politicizing its support inside the United States, further entrenching the
authoritative rule of Saddam Hussein. In seeking to implement the Iraqi
Liberation Act, any potential for a meaningful diplomatic initiative is
hamstrung by locking the United States into a unilateral policy of regime
removal that is the antithesis of forging Security Council consensus. Trying
to pursue a Security Council-brokered arrangement with Iraq and a policy of
overthrowing Saddam Hussein in parallel are inherently contradictory. 

Of course, it doesn't have to be this complicated. Instead of conducting a
policy which has repeatedly found itself in danger of slipping away
altogether, America could be pushing a policy that results in the rapid
reintroduction of weapons inspectors into Iraq, and use this as the
cornerstone of a new relationship regarding Iraq. Trading the lifting (vice
suspension) of economic sanctions for the resumption of meaningful
inspections is one means of accomplishing this. New Security Council
resolutions are not required; the Security Council has already passed
resolutions calling for the monitoring of Iraqi compliance (resolution 715)
and Iraqi export-import activities (resolution 1051). What is required is a
conclusion to the original resolution 687, one which redefines the
disarmament obligations of Iraq to meet more realistic qualitative
benchmarks. The subsequent refocusing of inspection goals and objectives on
preventing the future reconstitution of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
capability would not only capitalize upon the many accomplishments of UNSCOM
in rooting out and disposing of Iraq's prohibited weapons, but also help the
Security Council regain some of its lost credibility and resume its role as
a viable overseer of international peace and security.

Thus, as the Hot Season of 1999 progresses, there is little on the horizon
that suggests that the five members permanent members of the Security
Council will be able to break the current deadlock over Iraq. It is just
this environment that the wily strategists in Iraq will be seeking to
exploit as they plan their next moves. Saddam Hussein will pursue a fresh
round of confrontations, this much is certain. His goal is escalation, and
it is this trap that the United States must avoid falling into if it wants
to continue to implement its current containment policy. However, even if
the United States avoids this trap, given the fact that the Americans are
not putting forward any meaningful options beyond the policies currently
pursued, there will be no victors, only losers. Twenty-two million Iraqi
citizens who continue to suffer under the combined effects of economic
sanctions and tyrannical rule, and hundreds of millions of others will pay a
price in economic and security concerns as the Iraqi crisis stumbles,
unresolved, through yet another Hot Season.

The fallout from the failure of the current American policy towards Iraq has
serious implications for the formulation of foreign and national security
policy in the new millennium. It is this very reason that the lack of
discussion on Iraq from the camps of the various Presidential hopefuls of
both parties is disheartening. The American people, and the world, deserve

Scott Ritter is a former weapons inspector for the United Nations Special
Commission (UNSCOM) who resigned his post in August of 1998 in protest of US
and UN policies concerning Iraq, and is the author of Endgame: Solving the
Iraq Problem Once and For All.

(Posted 9/1/99)
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