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Khidhir Hamza: "Each Day We Wait, Saddam Grows More Powerful" (10 Dec 01)

Letters to the Editor:
* Attention: Ned Crabb

Source: Khidhir Hamza, “Each Day We Wait, Saddam Grows More Powerful”, Wall
Street Journal, 10 December 2001, pg. A18

With the war against Afghanistan more or less won, the focus is once again
on Iraq. During the eight years of the Clinton administration's weak hand in
dealing with Saddam Hussein we were led to believe that a catastrophe awaits
those who try to unseat him. The real catastrophe, however, would be
allowing him to remain in power.

What are the facts about Saddam's military situation -- including his
weapons of mass destruction that President George W. Bush is so concerned
about? Things have definitely changed as a result of the Gulf War and 11
years of sanctions, but Saddam is still very  dangerous.

Regardless of one's opinion of United Nations inspections and sanctions,
they did force a serious change in the ways Saddam deals with his war
machine. He was made to spread his weapons of mass destruction into smaller
units and hide them within the various   government complexes. While this
might shield them from potential air strikes, it also  reduces their
production capacity and creates a huge logistics problem in terms of
servicing them.

After the Gulf War, Iraq moved quickly to reconstruct its chemical weapons
complex in a way that would avoid discovery by inspectors. It mainly used
military compounds to hide   the units, and, according to some testimony,
Russian experts were used at these sites.   Because Iraq had extensive
experience in the production and use of chemical weapons, it  was relatively
easy to get the program back in working order.

The biological weapons program proved more problematic. Restrictions on the
use of imported growth media caused delays, as did the need for additional
work on the design  and manufacture of production units.

The biggest challenge, however, was the nuclear weapons program. It was
possible to   separate parts of that operation into smaller working units,
including the groups  responsible for designing parts and for manufacturing.
The difficult part was designing and hiding the plants needed for uranium
enrichment. These plants are easily detectable given the unavoidable release
of uranium compounds. As well, splitting them into smaller units is
detrimental to their efficiency and creates multiple sources of possible

Iraq possesses more than 10 tons of uranium and more than a ton of low
enriched uranium.  Small facilities are capable of handling these amounts,
and, even taking into account process losses, there is still enough uranium
to make three nuclear weapons. Iraq has already designated a site for
nuclear weapon testing and if intelligence estimates are correct the first
tests could happen by 2005. Without the inspectors or sanctions these
processes would have been complete by now.

Iraq's conventional forces also suffered from sanctions. Though smuggling
helped, Iraq is effectively without an air defense capability or air force.
Conventional arms are in limited  supply and their distribution is tightly
controlled -- especially heavy armament.

This has limited their use to the special Republican Guard divisions.  Those
pampered  forces -- which are estimated to be 20,000 to 30,000 strong -- are
drawn from the Sunni  Muslim regions loyal to Saddam. He needs them to guard
himself, members of his family, and the most sensitive parts of his war
machine. The rest of the armed forces are relegated to a much lower status
in terms of armament; they are therefore more likely to surrender in any
serious combat.

Saddam remains his own worst enemy. For several years he refused the
oil-for-food  program, which meant prices of basic food and medicines
skyrocketed. The Iraqi currency sank in value several thousand times. This
dramatically reduced government wages, including those of the armed
forces -- which didn't help with loyalty.  People gradually sold all of
their possessions for sustenance. Saddam also cut off food rations in
regions considered disloyal to him, including most of the southern provinces
outside the major cities and the Kurdish enclave.

Army officers, meanwhile, were allowed incredible latitude. Most of them
took to  pilfering their conscripts' wages and food rations. Some took money
from their soldiers in return for unlimited leaves of absence.

In fact, after the Gulf War there were so many deserters that they formed
their own gangs at the outskirts of southern towns. These bands did hits for
hire, committed highway   robberies, and foraged for food in nearby
villages. The security forces chasing deserters were even worse, wreaking
wholesale destruction on any village considered to have  provided sanctuary
or help. British reporters working from the Iranian border document many of
these instances.

Beating Saddam might not ultimately be that difficult. The Iraqi National
Congress, an opposition group, estimates that a few thousand U.S.-trained
Iraqi volunteers placed in the south, along with declared U.S. support,
would help to draw disgruntled army units and deserters and turn them into a
fighting force against Saddam. All that may be  required of the U.S. is air
support to help prevent Saddam's forces from leaving their barracks and to
create a military no-drive zone. Limited numbers of U.S. Special Operations
forces may also be required, as in Afghanistan.

But regardless of how the U.S. tackles Iraq, one thing is clear: There is no
time to waste.  Saddam's express goal is to continue building up his
chemical and biological stockpiles, and to ultimately wield a nuclear
weapon. Each day we wait, we allow him to go further toward that goal.


Nathaniel Hurd
Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)
162 Montague Street, 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel.: 718-237-9145, x 21
Fax: 718-237-9147
Mobile: 917-407-3389
Personal E-Fax: 707-221-7449
Afghanistan Factsheets:

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