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Iraq - Act Now Before It's Too Late

Western Morning News, 13 January 2003

Many senior churchmen and other serious people are completely opposed to the notion of war in Iraq. This is completely understandable. All wars are to be avoided if possible. Peace should always be given a chance.

But peace has already been given a chance in Iraq - 11 years of chances in fact, since the end of the first Gulf War. It has not worked. Saddam still threatens his own people, the region and the world, just as he did in 1991. Continuing indefinitely to give peace its chance becomes mere appeasement, with all the dangers implicit in that.

Of course there are grave risks in going to war with Iraq. But opponents of the war tend to exaggerate them, as they did before the Gulf War in 1991. Moreover, when you consider the risks that Saddam in power represents, it is continued inaction which should terrify us more.

Weapons of madestruction are the greatest threat to life on Earth. Saddam Hussein is the dictator who has made the most diabolical effort to acquire them (closely followed now by Kim Il Yong of North Korea). He is a terrifyingly brutal dictator whose own people suffer dreadfully from his regime of murder, torture and every other kind of human rights abuse.

His invasion of Iran in the 1980s resulted in millions of deaths. In 1988 he attacked his own people - the Kurds of Halabja - with chemical weapons. His 1990 invasion of Kuwait was accompanied by murder, torture and pillaging. He launched missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Gulf War. He wants to destroy Israel. He is busily acquiring the means.

After his defeat in 1991 he agreed, as a price of the peace, to declare his weapons of madestruction in full. This agreement is international law. Many subsequent Security Council resolutions gave the UN inspectors the absolute right and duty to go everywhere, see everything, seize and destroy everything they thought was connected with WMD.

Despite his attempts to lie and frustrate them, the UN had considerable successes in finding illegal weapons. But most of the finds were the result of tip-offs from Iraqis inside or outside the country. The job became increasingly hard, until Saddam illegally got rid of the inspectors in 1998. Since then he has had four years to build up his weapons in peace - and to conceal them brilliantly. As a result, the sanctions have remained in place and, though the UN has made large-scale exceptions to allow the import of food and medicines, the Iraqi people have suffered. Had Saddam decided to surrender his WMD all that suffering would have been avoided. It is important to remember that he, not the UN, let alone the West, is responsible for the plight of the people.

Now the inspectors are back searching, only because the US and Britain have applied enough diplomatic muscle to make the UN fulfil its own obligation to carry out its resolutions. I am a great supporter of the UN and I applaud the fact that Saddam is at least having to go through the motions of obeying its binding resolutions. Without the determination of the US, assisted by Britain, we would not even have got back to this Square One.

So far the inspectors say they have found no "smoking guns" in terms of WMD. The reason is clear enough. Saddam has had four years to conceal his weapons - most of them are underground. Others are in trucks which move continually around the country.

The resolution which the Council passed unanimously last November demanded "a currently accurate, full, and complete" report on all its WMD programmes. Iraq did produce a 12,000-page report but the inspectors (not just the US) have criticised it roundly. It completely fails to answer the questions which the UN has about the stories of poisons and weapons that Iraq was known to have when the inspectors' work was forcibly stopped in 1998. That alone puts Iraq technically "in material breach" of resolution 1441.

The resolution also repeated that it is not for the inspectors to find Saddam's biological, chemical and nuclear programmes - it is for Saddam to hand them over. So the fact that the inspectors have not yet found anything does not mean that he has abided by international law. He has not.

There are those who equate the US and UK position with that of Saddam himself. This is grotesque. We have in fact been very slow to addrethe threat he poses. Too slow. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001 have refocused us quite properly on that threat.

The Afghan precedent shows that if you do nothing about known threats you reap the whirlwind. If the US had dealt with Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the 3,000 people who died in the September 11 attacks would probably be alive today.

Such complacency is no longer an option. Once Saddam has the nuclear weapons he is known to have been trying to build, removing him will be far more difficult and dangerous - particularly for the people of the Middle East.

There is an argument that says that the Iraqi people should overthrow the dictator themselves. That is specious. Some dictatorships are so violent and repressive that they simply cannot be overthrown from within. The Taliban in Afghanistan was one. Iraq is another. When I was in Kabul last year everyone I met expressed their gratitude to the US for overthrowing the Taliban. The same will happen when Saddam has gone.

War is the only or the inevitable route to that. It is quite possible that the massive build-up of military might and the threat of war will bring about a coup in Iraq by senior officers desperate to protect their own future. There is also talk of Saddam being forced into exile. Either result would be excellent and a vindication of the UK and British positions.

But if Saddam proves unmovable, military force may become the only option. It should not be seen as Western warmongering. It is the opposite. Bush and Blair have been scrupulous at using the United Nations. But in the face of the intransigence of an absolute dictator, there are some tasks the UN cannot carry out, as we saw with Milosevic.

In 1991 the international community pledged not to allow Saddam to threaten the Middle East any longer. So far we have failed to implement that pledge. We must do so now, before it is too late. That is the moral course of action.


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