Declaring US Foreign policy on Iraq early this year, President Clinton reiterated that "We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction." (Feb. 17 press conference, CNN) At the same time, the US government wished to assure the world that it still cared for the well being of the ordinary Iraqi citizen when US National Security advisor Sandy Berger declared (also on Feb. 17) that "We have no intention of trying to wreak havoc on the Iraqi people."
How can that possibly be the case when the aim is to destroy
Saddam's so-called chemical and biological weapons stockpile via a massive bombing
campaign? The campaign itself would spell more destruction for the Iraqi people already
suffering from a seemingly never-ending sanctions regime. Needless to say, the dangerous
toxins and biological agents released into the atmosphere by such a campaign would cause
Perhaps there are grounds for suspecting that Iraq is still concealing weapons of mass destruction each time it refuses to cooperate with UNSCOM. According to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (CNN Feb. 18), weapons inspectors have found and destroyed "38,000 chemical weapons; more than 100,000 gallons of deadly chemical agents; 48 operational missiles; and six missile launchers; along with a biological warfare factory."
Even so, as former congressman, and presidential candidate, Jack Kemp said in early November, 1998 his staff could find no evidence of UNSCOM documentation of further weapons finds. "Indeed, when I asked Rubin about this on Friday, he cited specifically only the weapons pointed out by the Iraqis in 1991, though he added that he had been assured there have been other discoveries." (See Robert D. Novak's Op-Ed page, The Washington Post Nov. 16, 1998)
This creates a great deal of suspicion. At the very least, it implies that the US does not have reliable intelligence on the suspected location of Saddam's hidden weapons of mass destruction. And this means that in order to conduct successful bombing raids as many targets of opportunity as possible would have to be hit in order to increase the likelihood of success.
It would explain the military estimates of civilian casualty from an initial strike which according to the media would be in the range of 10,000 Iraqi dead. More importantly, however, considering the fact that other less violent means have not been totally exhausted, the proposed strikes may have been another Clinton ploy to again divert attention away from the impeachment process precipitated by independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
At the very least, Clinton may be said to have been looking for just such an opportunity because the J-3 operations section of the Pentagon had begun logistical propositioning about a month before Saddam Hussein triggered the latest crisis by refusing cooperation with UNSCOM on Oct. 31, 1998 (also quoted in Novak's Op-Ed page).
The fact that the US did not strike at the first opportunity does not make such a scenario implausible for two related reasons. The first is that considering how poor US intelligence is on the location of hidden chemical and biological weapons or components, the proposed strikes were called off at the eleventh hour because they could have resulted in another international relations disaster similar to that which arose from the bombing of Sudan's pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum.
Secondly, even if the strikes did produce some results, they would be considered utterly disproportionate to the cost of human lives lost in the process, either as a direct result of the strikes or the fallout from bombed out chemical and biological weapons or components. And the outrage felt by millions across the globe would bring the US' double standards vis-a-vis Israel under greater scrutiny.
In this regard, during the past few months, dramatic evidence has been unearthed to show that Israel is engaged in a chemical and biological weapons programme. For example, a Dutch newspaper had recently revealed that 800 pounds of uranium and substantial amounts of three of the chemicals needed to make deadly nerve gas have been discovered. It offered reasonable explanation as to why, in the past six years following the 1992 El Al crash in Holland, at least 1,200 residents of the crash site's neighborhood have complained of mysterious illnesses including skin disease, birth defects and cancer. (See James J. Zogby, "Campaign Against Chemical and Biological Weapons Must Be Consistent," in MSANews, Nov. 17, 1998; http://msanews.mynet.net/Scholars/Zogby)
Subsequently, on Oct. 1, 1998, the Israeli government admitted that its El Al cargo plane that crashed into an apartment building in 1992 did in fact carry a sizeable shipment of deadly Sarin gas components. As a result, the Dutch Parliament has ordered a full inquiry to determine whether their government participated with the Israelis in a cover-up of this incident.
A few days later, the Sunday Times of London (Oct. 4, 1998) reported that Israeli military sources confirmed that "Israeli assault aircraft have been equipped to carry chemical and biological weapons". They identified the site where these weapons were produced as the same location where the cargo of the crashed El Al plane was to have been delivered.
In short, the US could not take drastic steps against Iraq if it was seen to be ignoring the blatant actions of Israel, especially when this staunch ally of the US is not known for its exemplary human rights record or for respecting the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours.
Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman
26 November 1998.
[[Currently, he is the Assistant Director of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). He was also a Researcher for the Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia (IKIM)].]