Canada and the World

IS SADDAM NEXT?

While Washington may want to take on Iraq, its allies are not so eager

ARTHUR KENT December 3 2001
Canada and the World

IS SADDAM NEXT?

While Washington may want to take on Iraq, its allies are not so eager

ARTHUR KENT December 3 2001

IS SADDAM NEXT?

Canada and the World

While Washington may want to take on Iraq, its allies are not so eager

ARTHUR KENT

The illusion of an early victory in its war against terrorism in Afghanistan has prompted the Bush administration to consider next that most tantalizing of targets, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. On the surface, to some American eyes, the Butcher of Baghdad is just too enticing a

tyrant to pass up. He embarrassed and outlasted the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. He has exploited Western economic sanctions to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi people. And he kicked out United Nations weapons inspectors and stepped up the rebuilding of his weapons industry, chiefly to threaten Israel and his Gulf neighbours.

There’s just one problem. None of America’s allies, including Israel, are anxious to see the Pentagon open up this most volatile

and unpredictable of second fronts. In fact, moving too swiftly on Saddam could well jeopardize America’s most important partnership, its alliance with Britain, which is already badly strained over the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

These don’t appear to be the diplomatic tea leaves being read in Washington. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, openly favour action against Iraq, and their administration

colleague responsible for arms control, John Bolton, floated the idea on the international stage in Geneva last week by telling a conference that Iraq had “developed, produced and stockpiled biological warfare agents and weapons” since ejecting UN inspectors in 1998. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has swung around and joined the hawks of the Bush team and even their ideological adversary, the ever-cautious Secretary of State Colin Powell, has stated: “We will turn our attention to terrorism throughout the world, and nations such as Iraq, which have tried to pursue weapons of mass destruction.” This sabre rattling plays well in Wyoming, no doubt, but not at Westminster, where British parliamentarians, including members of Tony Blair’s cabinet, are

sharply critical of American strategy in Afghanistan. Clare Short, Britain’s international development secretary, accused the Bush administration last week of placing too low a priority on humanitarian imperatives as it presses home the attack on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. When asked by the Prime Minister’s Office to tone down her remarks, Short promptly repeated them. Behind the scenes, some of the Blair government’s top military advisers are equally exasperated with the Pentagon’s unwillingness, or inability, to prosecute the war in Afghanistan on more than one single, offensive dimension. “We had a door open, briefly, to send in our troops to help stabilize the country,” one analyst for the ministry of defence told Maclean’s of the abortive attempt to airlift up to 6,000

British troops to Kabul and other Afghan cities. “The door slammed shut before we could get our American friends’ attention.”

With regard to the Baghdad regime, while the Blair government has supported and participated in American-led air strikes since coming to power in 1997, British military planners are said to assess the odds of succeeding in Iraq, even to the arguable degree seen in Afghanistan thus far, as far too marginal to justify an early campaign there. As well, politicians and political commentators in Britain doubt that the case against Saddam Hussein, vis-a-vis his alleged links with Osama bin Laden, can be sold to warweary constituencies, both at home and around the world, with the same effectiveness as the operation against the Taliban.

On this, there is surprising agreement

from the intelligence services of two Middle Eastern adversaries—Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Israelis last week let it be known that, in their view, the meeting in Prague earlier this year between suicide hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent does not constitute an active role by the Baghdad regime in the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal, told The New York Times that his country’s spies, too, have concluded that Osama bin Laden and his confederates had no need for the Iraqi regime’s help, and in any event regard Saddam as “someone not worthy of being a fellow Muslim.”

Still, the Bush administration is listening to the voices of other intelligence agencies—its own—and this evidence, above and beyond the issue of the Iraqi dictator’s possible connections to Al-Qaeda, is damning. Only this year, American and British diplomats blocked more than 100 export contracts between French companies and Baghdad, proposed under the UN’s oil-for-food program, which allows

Iraq to buy humanitarian aid with its petroleum revenue.

The goods in question, claimed Western weapons specialists, included components that could be used in nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Insecticides, sprinklers, valves and transducers suitable for bombs do, indeed, seem suspicious items on a nation’s shopping list to aid long-suffering civilian populations. Then again, mere suspicion passed out of fashion in Iraq years ago, according to the men and women tasked by the UN to determine how and where Saddam’s scientists might be working to reconstruct the regime’s weapons program.

“It was entirely obvious what Saddams weapons people are up to,” one former UN inspector, a non-U.S. or British national, told Macleans. “The pattern of components that they were trying to import, a centrifuge through one port of entry, an electronic

valve through another, and so on, it all came together in a pretty clear way. In some cases we could see exactly the kind of weapons system that was being assembled, adapted or improved, although determining exacdy where the work was going on was always more difficult, if not impossible.” The verdict of the specialists on the ground? “Saddam is cheating,” he says, “there’s no doubt about it.” At least one European spy agency, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, has confirmed in German newspaper reports this year that the Iraqi dictator may well be nuclear-capable by 2004, and have missiles able to reach Europe as soon as one year later.

Against this, however, is the shameful reality of the U.S. and British campaign to suppress the Iraqi regime, one in which collateral damage has itself been turned into a deeply depressing growth industry. The West’s economic sanctions have systematically been twisted by Saddam, his family and closest intimates to enrich themselves while weakening hapless Iraqi civilians—especially those judged to be enemies of the regime. Yet the sanctions remain. Western strategy is ossified, as unchanging, in its own way, as Saddam’s. U.S. and British bombing, while harassing elements of the regime’s army, have removed mainly low-value air defence assets, which are relatively easy to replace.

Iraqi civilians, meanwhile, continue to suffer. As in Afghanistan, the West’s military might has not yet been accompanied by any real proof of basic human sympathy, much less inspired efforts to rebuild war-shattered societies. As perverse as it may seem, many people in places such as Iraq’s southern city of Basra believe that the U.S. is secretly in league with Saddam Hussein, to keep him in power. Shake your head dismissively at this notion, and an Iraqi will invariably ask you to explain how it is that they grow poorer and hungrier as the years go by, while Saddam’s grip on power tightens, and America and the West continue happily on their way. It’s a bizarre perception, perhaps, but proof that both America and Britain have some serious homework to do before unleashing any new military initiatives in the region. GU

CONFUSION AND CONFLICT

So much for swift resolution. After a series of surprisingly easy victories, the Northern Alliance’s march across Afghanistan was halted by dug-in Taliban forces in two key cities-Kunduz and Kandahar. And in Canada, the federal Liberals’ anti-terrorism legislation stalled. The details: ■ Around Kunduz, confusion reigned. Depending on which Alliance commander was talking, rebel forces were either a) negotiating with Taliban fighters for their surrender, or b) preparing for a “military solution.” Either way, outsiders feared a bloodbath. While Alliance leaders were prepared to take Afghan opponents alive, they promised no mercy for the thousands of Al-Qaeda-trained outsidersPakistanis, Arabs and Chechens-in Kunduz.

■ Despite claims by coalition officials that they were closing in on Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders, the whereabouts of terrorist head Osama bin Laden was still a mystery. The Americans offered a reward of up to $25 million (U.S.) for information leading to the capture of bin Laden and his Egyptian accomplice Ayman al-Zawahiri. U.S. warplanes were bombing Afghan caves, while navy personnel began boarding and inspecting cargo ships in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

■ In Ottawa, the Liberals tabled a second postSept. 11 anti-terrorism bill. The sweeping Public Safety Act would control the export of sensitive

technologies and boost security at airports, among other things. Meanwhile, the first bill, tabled in October, was bogged down in the approval process. Amendments, including the promise of a sunset clause for the most contentious components, failed to appease critics concerned about institutionalized racial profiling and new powers for law-enforcement agencies.

■ The experience of Mohamed Attiah reinforces those concerns. Attiah was removed from his job with Atomic Energy of Canada in Chalk River, Ont., on Sept. 21, right after being interrogated by Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents.

The 54-year-old engineer has no criminal record and has been a Canadian citizen for 27 years. His four children were all born here, but he was told he was a security threat. Last week, AEC admitted its mistake and offered Attiah his job back.

■ The 1,000 Canadian troops readying for Afghan duty didn’t get off the ground last week. They were supposed to help deliver humanitarian aid, but that plan was delayed when Ottawa decided the situation in Afghanistan was as yet too fluid and dangerous.

■ In Connecticut, investigators were stumped by the death of 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren from inhalation anthrax. The bacteria, similar to the strain found in letters sent to several U.S. politicians, did not show up in tests on Lundgren’s mail and home.