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[casi] from today's papers: 15-03-02

A. Iraq: the myth and the reality, Guardian, 15 March


The above appears to be the only coverage of Iraq in today's papers. Though
it sticks to the issues of Iraq's WMD capabilities, the military prospects
for an attack against Iraq and possible successors to Saddam Hussein (and
therefore entirely omits the most important issue - sanctions and their
impact on ordinary Iraqis - and the most important 'myth', namely that
'Saddam alone is to blame for the suffering of his people' (Robin Cook)) it
nevertheless contains some useful information eg. Ritter's assertion that
'the 5-10% of Iraq's known pre-1990 stockpile of chemical and biological
arms [that] has not been accounted for', "would no longer be viable" 'even
if Saddam Hussein had tried to hide this remnant of his arsenal'.

Best wishes,

voices uk

A. Iraq: the myth and the reality

As the drumbeat grows louder for a possible attack on Baghdad, we ask arms
inspectors and military and foreign affairs experts: is Saddam as dangerous
as the US makes out, and what would be the consequences of war?

Julian Borger in Washington, Richard Norton-Taylor, Ewen MacAskill and Brian
Friday March 15, 2002
The Guardian

1. Does Iraq have, or is it developing, weapons of mass destruction?

The case for military action against Saddam Hussein stands or falls on this
apparently simple factual question. President George Bush and his deputy,
Dick Cheney, backed by Tony Blair, claim there is no doubt that Baghdad
possesses and could use weapons of mass destruction, and so, as Mr Bush put
it, "inaction is not an option".

Most analysts, however, concede that there is considerable doubt about the
extent of Saddam's weapons programme, and about how dangerous it could be to
the rest of the world. What is not in doubt is that Saddam has a record of
aggressively pursuing the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, and
has had more than three years since the UN weapons inspectors withdrew to
try to reconstitute his former nuclear, biological and chemical programmes.

At the centre of the debate on Iraq's weapons capability are the inspectors
from the now-defunct United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (Unscom), who
spent seven years, from 1991 to 1998, attempting to gain access to the
regime's arms facilities. Despite their shared technical background, not all
of them can agree on the facts.

Charles Duelfer, an American who was deputy chairman of Unscom, believes the
Iraqis still have dangerous weapons in their arsenal - probably not nuclear
warheads, but possibly chemical weapons and, almost certainly and most
worryingly, biological agents.

"The biological issue is the biggest issue and the least understood," Mr
Duelfer says. "[Saddam] has mobile labs, which have the capacity to produce
stuff in large quantities, and he's continuing to build weapons."

Mr Duelfer's judgment is that Iraq "retained a missile capability that could
constitute a strategic reserve; how effective that would be is an open

Not effective at all, says Scott Ritter, who stands as a vocal minority at
the other end of the former arms inspector divide. While in Unscom he gained
the reputation of being one of its most aggressive sleuths, but he has since
sharply shifted tack and is today a leading sceptic on the issue.

Mr Ritter is sure the Iraqis never succeeded in turning their chemical and
biological agents into a weapon that could spray its lethal warhead over a
large area.

"They lacked an effective dispensing mechanism. That requires specific
capabilities, like bomblets, and the ability to aerosolise the weapon.
Missiles require a precise fusing mechanism which Iraq never had."

Although Mr Ritter concedes that 5-10% of Iraq's known pre-1990 stockpile of
chemical and biological arms has not been accounted for, he argues that even
if Saddam had tried to hide this remnant of his arsenal "it would no longer
be viable". Weapons built before the Gulf war that slipped through the
Unscom net would by now have passed their sell-by date.

Ali Muhsin Hamid, the Arab League's ambassador in London, agrees. UN
inspectors destroyed 95% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the
remaining 5% has been rendered unuseable by the fact that Iraq is prevented
under sanctions from replacing equipment needed to deploy them.

Ben Bradshaw, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East,
including policy on Iraq, has no doubts that "Iraq has and is developing
weapons of mass destruction. We cannot afford to ignore his weapons".

More specifically, Saddam is developing new missile-launching technology
that would allow him to strike beyond the 150km (93-mile) limit imposed by
the UN. Israel and several Gulf states would lie within his range.

Most analysts believe that Iraq has so far failed to procure long-range
missiles able to deliver weapons of mass destruction. However, it has
developed an unmanned aerial vehicle modelled on a converted jet trainer
aircraft, which the CIA said recently had been adapted to deliver chemical
or, more likely, biological warfare agents.

The most vexed area of disagreement relates to the most profound fear: is
Saddam building nuclear weapons? Western intelligence agencies and
independent analysts all agree that nuclear weapons are far more difficult
to develop than chemical or biological, simply because of the difficulty
involved in acquiring fissile material.

Rosemary Hollis, head of the Middle East programme at the Royal Institute of
International Affairs, says that from discussions with nuclear scientists it
seemed clear that Iraq does not have the capacity to build nuclear weapons.
She suggests that the emphasis now on Saddam's nuclear ambitions is dictated
by Washington's plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

Mr Bradshaw believes that Iraq has restarted its nuclear weapons programme.
"Saddam could develop a nuclear weapon within five years," he says, though
he adds that would only happen "if controls are lifted".

Opponents of military intervention such as Mr Ritter counter that even
before Saddam was walled in by sanctions and international surveillance he
failed to create a nuclear bomb.

Were Saddam to possess fully operational weapons of mass destruction, would
he use them? Among Iraqis themselves, there is rare agreement between
supporters and opponents of the Baghdad regime that Saddam is unlikely to do
so. Dr Burhan Chalabi, an Iraqi-born British businessman and a strong critic
of sanctions against Iraq, said deploying such weapons would serve no useful
purpose. "Apart from Kuwait and Israel, Iraq has made peace with all its
neighbours, including Saudi Arabia."

Brigadier-General Najib Salihi, a prominent member of the Iraqi opposition,
agrees. Saddam would risk losing control of both the army and his people if
he pressed the button, he says.

Mr Bradshaw points out that Saddam has already used chemical weapons against
Iran and against the Kurds of northern Iraq at Halabja, attacking and
killing them with mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun.

To which Mr Ritter replies: "Under international law, at what point do we
justify a war about bad behaviour in the past?"

2. What evidence is there for Saddam's possession or development of weapons
of mass destruction?

For the Iraqi-born Dr Chalabi, the answer is blunt: "There is no evidence."

Mr Hamid, of the Arab League, makes the same point more expansively. Talk of
"evidence" is political rhetoric, he says. "Either the US aim is to force
Iraq to accept the inspectors again or to have this issue burning in order
to distract the attention of Arabs from the situation in the Palestinian
occupied territories."

Sir John Moberly, who was the British ambassador to Baghdad between 1982 and
1985, argues that to dismiss any fear of the regime as rhetoric is to belie
the evidence of history. Though he concedes he is not privy to specifics, he
is familiar with Saddam's past duplicity.

"The Iraqis said they had abandoned weapons programmes but we found later
when one of the leadership defected to Jordan that the programmes were

Exhibit A in the debate over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is the final
substantive report delivered by Unscom in January 1999, in which it gave an
account of what biological and chemical weapons had been accounted for and
what remained unknown. The document confirms that much of the pre-1990
stockpile was destroyed either in the Iran-Iraq war or under Unscom
supervision. For the rest, though, the key recurring phrase was "cannot be

Colonel Terry Taylor, a former UN inspector in Iraq, says he and his
colleagues had proof that the Iraqis had weaponised anthrax, botulinum toxin
and aflatoxin. They also carried out research and development work on other
agents including ricin (a toxin) and animal and plant agents, and had
several hundreds of tons of mustard agent in missiles, artillery and rocket
form, as well as a weaponised version of the nerve agent sarin.

"The most worrying outstanding issue is that Unscom had documentary proof
that the Iraqis had acquired hundreds of tons of the chemicals essential to
the production of VX nerve agent - one of the most deadly nerve agents
developed in recent times. They refused to disclose the location and confirm
the quantities."

Col Taylor adds that the Iraqi engineers and scientists are still in place
to develop and produce similar weapons. "Having been at close quarters with
these programmes over a number of years in Iraq I concluded that they would
make every effort to conceal their weapons of mass destruction programmes
and continue to develop them as far as possible."

Mr Duelfer described as "very credible" an Iraqi defector named Adnan
al-Haideri who fled Iraq last year. Mr al-Haideri, a civil engineer, claimed
that he had worked on renovations to secret weapons of mass destruction
facilities concealed in private villas, wells and under the Saddam Hussein
hospital in Baghdad.

Evidence of a nuclear capability is sketchy. The International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for monitoring nuclear weapons and which
is still making visits to Iraq, is upbeat, concluding recently that there is
no sign of a surviving programme.

However, the comfort that affords is undermined by Mr Duelfer and Mr Ritter
who for once can agree that the IAEA has proved largely ineffectual. Key
components of three prototype nuclear bombs are reported to have been made
before the Gulf war but were never handed over, including the high explosive
"lenses" designed to force the fissile core to implode.

However, according to Mr Ritter the same Iraqi source which revealed the
existence of the three lenses also said that the delicate devices had been
roughly handled and wrecked by Saddam's Special Republican Guard. "What the
Iraqis retained is useless," he says.

Mr Duelfer accepts that it is unlikely Saddam has a nuclear bomb, but argues
that there is credible evidence from defectors and other intelligence that
the Iraqi leader is marshalling his nuclear experts to have a fresh attempt
at building a bomb.

3. Would an offer to allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq be a
meaningful and sufficient response to negate the threat of military force?

Again, the experts at the centre of the dispute - the arms inspectors -
cannot agree. The most optimistic view comes from Hans Blix, the Swedish
head of Unmovic, which in 1999 replaced Unscom after it was expelled from
Iraq. He is confident that once his newly trained 230-strong team of
inspectors are back in Iraq they will have a real impact. He is also certain
that this route would be a much safer and more efficient way of removing the
fangs from the regime than a military offensive.

"Ten years and thousands of inspections and reports later it is recognised
that Unscom's efforts probably led to the destruction of more weapons of
mass destruction than did the Gulf war," he says.

Mr Duelfer, with years of experience of Saddam's evasions, is less sanguine
about Unmovic's chances. "Blix can do no more than what Iraq permits and the
security council is willing to back up," he says, pointing out that as a UN
body, it would have to make its information and intelligence available to
countries such as France, Russia and China, which have had a history of
sympathy and cooperation with Iraq.

Sir John Moberly thinks that if the Iraqis did allow the inspectors back,
they would take much wind out of US military sails. "It will be very
difficult to carry out any attack and maintain support internationally if
Iraq has complied."

Other analysts suggest the US is adopting a cynical approach. For Mr Ritter,
no Iraqi response would be sufficient to stop an attack by an administration
that has set its sights on "regime change".

Dr Chalabi also sees a double game being played. "If the Americans have made
up their mind to attack Iraq, they don't need any excuse such as demanding
to send inspectors back. This is just spin to prepare public opinion for an

Mr Hamid, of the Arab League, says the only way to convince Arabs that the
US is genuine in its resolve to deal with weapons of mass destruction is to
tackle Israel's nuclear arsenal as well as Iraq's. "If the Israeli weapons
are looked at, the Arabs will feel that the US is serious, fair, even-handed
and objective."

In the strategy being pursued by Washington and London, access to UN
inspectors and military action are inextricably linked - one depends on the
other. The British government now shares the Bush administration's view that
there is no chance of Saddam allowing in UN inspectors without a credible
threat of serious military action.

Col Taylor agrees with that view. For him, bargaining is not on the agenda.
"You have to demonstrate to Baghdad that substantial and credible military
action will take place. You cannot negotiate with Saddam Hussein."

4. How easily, and with what risks, could Saddam be removed militarily?

For many defence analysts, the answer to this question takes us back to the
beginning. If Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction and is ready to
use them, then the battle to topple him will be neither easy nor risk-free.

Rear Admiral (retired) Stephen Baker, the chief analyst at the Centre for
Defence Information in Washington, stresses that such weapons have to be
regarded with utmost respect. "We would have to have a very, very robust
defensive response."

The attacking forces would need to have airborne tactical aircraft with
precision-guided missiles, as well as upgraded Patriot missiles, able to
intercept Iraqi missiles minutes after they were launched.

John Pike, who runs - a military and intelligence online
newsletter - said the greatest danger could be an Iraqi attack on Israel,
instantly transforming the conflict into one that pits all Arabs against the
Jewish state and its supporters. Pentagon planners, he said, "are having a
very hard time coming up with a workable plan which does not involve
chemical or biological weapons versus Israel".

How much resistance could the 400,000-strong Iraqi army put up? There is
general agreement that the bulk of the force, made up of conscripts, will
not fight. Adm Baker believes that even applies to the elite Republican
Guard. "They have paid attention to Desert Storm. They know the lethality of
the coalition and the US."

But Judith Yaphe, a former senior analyst on Iraq for the CIA now at the
National Defence University, warns that the Republican Guard has grown "a
lot leaner and meaner" since the Gulf war.

Once again, Mr Ritter takes the most radical view. "The Republican Guard
never cracked during Desert Storm," he says. "They always fought. And the
Special Republican Guard, about 50,000 to 60,000 men, will fight to the

Moreover, Mr Ritter said, the ruling Baath party would mobilise a guerrilla
resistance. US casualties, he predicted, could run to hundreds and perhaps
thousands. Iraqi deaths would be in the tens of thousands or higher.

Dr Chalabi paints a similar doom-laden picture. Just as the US has been
unable to pin down the leader of al-Qaida, so Saddam could simply disappear
into the Baghdad crowds.

"Saddam is one person in 25 million. He would be more difficult to find than
Bin Laden. He has only to put on a dishdasha and walk in the souq, and
nobody would recognise him."

Any serious military campaign would take months of planning, say British
defence officials. They dismiss as extremely unlikely a ground invasion that
would require tens of thousands of troops, the support of neighbouring
countries and a massive bombing campaign.

"Where would American troops invade from?" asks a senior defence official,
adding that only Kuwait would provide a base, and even then with extreme

In Afghanistan, much of the fighting against al-Qaida and the Taliban was
conducted by local opposition groups.Gen Salihi thinks Iraqi opposition
groups would be just as crucial in any strike against Saddam, and insists
that were these groups properly supported by the US then victory would be

"That's a dream," says Ms Yaphe, who scoffs at the idea of a substantial
involvement of local opposition forces. "It's going to be 99% American

Sir John Moberly also questions any central role for the Iraqi opposition.
"The Americans hope a lot of Iraqis would rise up. I am not sure that would
be the case. The Kurds would not want to get involved and the Shia muslims
in the south, who have the best military capability, look to Iran as their
mentor. It was not very sensible to include Iran in the 'axis of evil'."

5. If America went to war with Iraq, would it be in the British national
interest to take part?

"Absolutely not," says Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford
University. "It would risk destabilising the the whole region."

Dr Hollis is also fearful that by backing a US strike, Britain could be
brought into the firing line. Iraq could be provoked into establishing
direct links with al-Qaida and provide the network with more recruits, she
says, raising the spectre of terrorist attacks on Britain.

But for diplomats such as Sir John Moberly a middle path needs to be struck.
"It would certainly be in the British interest not to be creating problems
for the Americans," he says. But nor should Tony Blair allow himself to be
seen as Washington's puppet. "We have to be ready to support the Americans,
but not accept everything they do."

6. What kind of regime would replace Saddam were he toppled?

No Iraqi with an ounce of decency will ever accept a government bearing the
stamp "Made in the USA". So says Dr Chalabi, who ridicules the idea of
exiled opposition leaders returning to Baghdad to replace Saddam. "Once the
dollars stop, none of these dollar-revolutionaries in the opposition will
leave the comfort of London and New York to live in Baghdad and rule people
that most of them haven't seen since the Gulf war."

Gen Salihi, by contrast, holds up the vision of a post-Saddam multiparty
democracy representing all peoples and religions. The Kurds must get their
rights, within a united Iraq, and no group or family should dominate Iraq

"A democratic system can resolve all problems and give all groups a chance
to participate in the next government," he says.

It is precisely Iraq's ethnic and religious diversity that would be the
problem were Saddam overthrown, believes Mr Hamid, of the Arab League. He
prophesies not one, but several civil wars inside Iraq.

Whitehall officials also speak of a potential "nightmare scenario" with Iraq
split into three parts, with the Kurds in the north demanding a separate
state, something which would be fiercely opposed by Turkey, Iran and Syria.

"There is an enormous risk of expectations. Kurdistan is not what people
want," said a defence official.

At worst, says Sir John, such would be the instability that there would be a
great temptation to replace Saddam with another Saddam - another iron-fisted
military man.

"The US has a personal animus against Saddam. I do not think they have a
clear idea of what they are going to do or what the results will be."

7. Would removing Saddam by force make the world a safer place?

"The biggest danger is you might remove one danger and increase another,"
says Dr Hollis, referring to the prospect of further alienating Arab and
Muslim opinion at a time when "Israel was being allowed to get away with

"It is most likely to lead to further tension and conflict", says Prof
Rogers. Alternative solutions would have to be found, he added.

For Dr Chalabi, the Middle East is only safe with an Iraq that is fully
intact and fully participating in the peace process. Mr Hamid goes further,
warning that war would be "a disaster for the region, because Iraq's
neighbours will be flooded with tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees".

Mr Duelfer sounds a rare note of hope, not least for Iraq itself. "Iraq
could be the engine of development in the Middle East. It can rebuild
itself. They've got a lot of real talented people, and there is a lot more
holding Iraq together than pulling it apart."

In the end, this question also circles back to the beginning, and President
Bush's maxim: Inaction is not an option. "Saddam Hussein is a danger to
Iraq, to the region and to the world," says Col Taylor. "Whatever you do
entails risks, but the risk in not doing anything is more risky."

The panel:

Rear Admiral Stephen Baker is an analyst at the Centre for Defence
Information in Washington. He served in the Gulf war and helped impose
sanctions on Iraq

Hans Blix is the executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and
Inspection Commission

Ben Bradshaw is the Foreign Office minister responsible for Middle East

Dr Burhan Chalabi is an Iraqi-born British businessman

Charles Duelfer was deputy chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq
from 1993 to 2000

Ali Muhsin Hamid, a Yemeni-born diplomat, is the Arab League's ambassador in

Dr Rosemary Hollis is head of the Middle East programme at the Royal
Institute of International Affairs

Sir John Moberly was the British ambassador to Iraq from 1982-85, and
returned in 1992 with a UN humanitarian mission

John Pike was a military analyst for a Washington think tank

Scott Ritter was an intelligence officer in the US marine corps. After the
Gulf war, he was head of the Concealment Investigations Unit which tried to
find Iraq's weapons

Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University

Brigadier General Najib Salihi is an Iraqi exile living in Virginia, US, who
is a rising figure in the Iraqi opposition

Colonel Terry Taylor is assistant director at the International Institute
for Strategic Studies. He is a former member of the UN inspection team

Judith Yaphe served for 20 years as a senior analyst on Middle Eastern and
Persian Gulf issues in the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence


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