Once again, the terrifying elements of war were all in place: the ultimatum of a deadline, the harsh threats of an invasion and the machinery of mass destruction poised to strike across a border. But this time, the bellicose rhetoric came from Washington, not Baghdad. And the July 25 deadline was contained in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, compelling Iraq to disclose the full extent of its nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic weapons, as well as its gold reserves—or else. Last week, the suspense built in capitals from the Persian Gulf to North America, as a 2,500-member allied rapidstrike force stood at the ready in Turkey, across the border from northern Iraq, awaiting the UN verdict. But approaching the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s movement of tanks and troops into Kuwait before dawn on Aug. 2, the deadline for a threatened air strike passed with a resounding sense of anticlimax.
In a speech to a religious group in a Washington suburb, President George Bush took the opportunity to denounce the Iraqi leader as “a man of brutal means and unmitigated evil.” But, while conceding U.S. suspicions that Iraq had failed to comply fully with UN demands, White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk pointedly downplayed the deadline. And, it turned out, the UN’s fourth successive atomic inspection team was not due in Baghdad until July 27. Why then, critics demanded, did the Bush administration raise all the fuss?
Middle East scholars point out that the ultimatum was part of an allied effort to pressure Hussein into disarming with the new weapon of
choice: psychological warfare. Indeed, intelligence sources indicate that Hussein’s greatest danger now comes not from outside Iraq, but from within, as Washington funnels millions of dollars in covert aid to Iraqi opposition groups in an effort to overthrow him. In one of the first public signals of that goal, Bush’s deputy national security director, Robert Gates, told a publishers’ convention in Vancouver last May that “Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed.”
Last week, as the Security Council debated behind closed doors whether to partially lift an embargo and allow Hussein to sell only enough Iraqi crude oil to buy food and medicine for his people, Baghdad residents rushed to stockpile supplies of rice, beans and cooking oil in anticipation of the worst. And they watched anxiously as anti-aircraft guns once again sprouted on the roofs of the capital’s tallest buildings. Some of the city’s inhabitants, taking advantage of the fact that the government had lifted a travel ban, fled to the á countryside or to neighboring ^ Jordan.
o Despite state television & broadcasts featuring boasts
that Iraqi troops would resist any American attack, the nation displayed no appetite for renewing a conflict that had already cost as many as 200,000 lives. And in mid-July, Iraqi armed forces suffered heavy setbacks and casualties when Kurdish guerrillas, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers,
I won control of the northern city of Sulaimaniya, near the Iranian border, after a bloody six-hour firefight.
Indeed, even Hussein himself, isolated as an international pariah, began I overtures of apparent conciliation to the United States. On July 11, former U.S. attorney general Elliot Richardson, in Baghdad as a member of a UN humanitarian delegation assessing the war’s damage, found himself summoned to a surprise meeting with one of the Iraqi leader’s closest confidants, his son-in-law and defence minister, Hussein Kamel Hassan. But in the hour-long confidential session, the pistol-packing minister reportedly told the respected Washington lawyer that Iraq was serious about wanting improved relations with Washington and
I its Arab allies.
II But perhaps no event more Hz clearly emphasized Hussein’s 11 humiliation than the fact that,
nearly a year since he invaded Kuwait in a quarrel over oil prices, and five months since Iraqi troops set the tiny sheikdom’s oilfields afire in a last act of vengeance, Kuwait last week exported its first shipments of crude.
In contrast, Hussein, who had tried last year to boost oil prices in an effort to pay off his $90-billion debt from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, has been unable to ship more than a few truckloads of Iraqi crude to Jordan since a UN embargo cut off his pipelines on Aug. 6 last year. His oil industry lies in tatters, and the price of oil is now averaging just over $20 a barrel, only $2 higher than when he began his misadventure. But, in a final irony, oil « analysts predict that if the UN allows
Iraq to resume exports, the influx on the world market, coupled with Kuz wait’s revived production, could send g prices plummeting.
Despite the fact that the last 1,500 U.S. troops left northern Iraq in midJuly, there was no doubt that Bush had both the public support and the military capability to launch another air strike on Baghdad. His personal popularity remains at an all-time high. And a bipartisan poll, released last week by a Washington-based group calling itself the American Talk Issues Foundation, showed that 80 per cent of respondents still believe the nation “did the right thing” by going to war in the Persian Gulf. Indeed, if anything, the poll confirmed Bush’s claim that the country has now vanquished its so-called Vietnam syn-
drome, shying from military entanglements on distant shores. A stunning 79 per cent of those surveyed declared that they now favor the use of U.S. military intervention abroad when diplomacy and sanctions do not seem to be working.
But Bush was under pressure from several Arab leaders, whose support he now needs for a Middle East peace conference, not to immediately launch another air strike on Iraq. And renewing hostilities at a time when the world is still haunted by the postwar images of massive Kurdish suffering could also revive increasing questions about just how much the 42-day Persian Gulf War achieved. Last week’s poll showed that only 62 per cent of respondents now agree that the war was a great victory, down 22 points from last March. And the Bush administration has found itself embarrassed by the speedy and ruthless return to autocratic feudalism by the Kuwaiti regime it championed in the Persian Gulf.
Only after appeals from Bush and British Prime Minister John Major did Kuwait announce in late June that it was commuting 29 death sentences passed against accused collaborators who had not been allowed lawyers under the country’s martial law. One youth received a 15-year prison sentence for wearing a T-shirt bearing Hussein’s portrait. And de-
spite reconvening Kuwait’s national council on July 9, the emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed alSabah, continued to ban political meetings of the increasingly militant opposition.
But most frustrating of all for the White House has been the revelation that, despite U.S. claims of having destroyed 80 per cent of Iraq’s nuclear facilities in the early days of the war, Hussein still possessed enough carefully concealed enriched uranium to create weapons. Over the past two months, a defecting Iraqi nuclear scientist and a series of inspec-
tions by teams from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Commission have demonstrated how much the Iraqi leader had succeeded in hiding. At times, the inspectors’ attempts to track down the truth took on the aspect of a Keystone Kops pursuit. When the third team arrived at Iraq’s Al Fallujah facility on June 28, they discovered Iraqi soldiers trying to sneak mysterious machinery out the back door. And their attempts to follow the convoy were discouraged by a military escort, which started firing its guns into the air. Now, an enraged Bush has warned Hussein that a decision about another allied air strike will depend on his reception of the fourth inspection team this week.
But the issue of Baghdad’s full nuclear disclosure raises the awkward issue of some U.S. allies’ clandestine capacity to produce atomic bombs—notably Pakistan and Israel. And the UN ultimatum also poses the awkward question of who supplied Hussein with chemical and biological weapons in the first place. Indeed, one of the key concerns that forced the delay until September of confirmation hearings for Gates, Bush’s director-designate of the Central Intelligence Agency, was a series of media charges that he personally oversaw the transfer of U.S. arms, including the technology to wage chemical warfare, to Iraq through Chile.
But as the UN continues to debate whether to ease its embargo against the man who once ranked as the West’s best arms customer, Hussein, freshly branded a man of evil, might take note of history’s penchant for irony. This week in Moscow, Bush is scheduled to sign a nuclear-arms treaty with the leader of a nation that, only eight years ago, Bush’s predecessor, Ronald Reagan, declared an evil empire.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.