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Let's Take Him Out

The Guardian, Thursday August 1, 2002

The threat to the world posed by Saddam Hussein's rule of terror is too great to ignore any longer. There is only one solution, argues William Shawcross - military action

The new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said that it would be immoral and illegal for the British to support an American war against Iraq without UN authority. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned against an attack on Iraq, saying it would open a "Pandora's box" in the Middle East. The prospect of war against Iraq has provided a field day to anti-Americanism. I would argue that, on the contrary, the illegality is all on the side of Saddam Hussein. The real immorality and the greatest danger is to allow this evil man to remain indefinitely in power, scorning the UN and posing a growing threat to the world. Tony Blair is both brave and right to support American demands for a "regime change" in Iraq.

Weapons of mass destruction are the greatest threat to life on earth. Biological weapons are often called the poor man's atomic bomb. Saddam Hussein is the ruler who has for decades been making the most determined and diabolical illegal effort to acquire them.

In the 80s, during Iraq's war with Iran, Saddam used more than 101,000 chemical warfare munitions. In 1988 he killed at least 5,000 Iraqi Kurds with chemical weapons in the town of Halabja, because he suspected them of collaborating with Iran.

Before the Gulf war, Saddam was thought to be about three years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. He would have been much closer if the Israelis had not bombed his Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. He had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

His 1990 invasion and annexation of Kuwait was accompanied by murder, torture and pillage. He launched missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel, and would have invaded the former had the US not come to its defence. He still seeks to destroy Israel. There is no real doubt that his long-term aim is to control the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields, with their massive reserves. That would put him in a position to blackmail the industrialised world.

His defeat in 1991 was supposed to end his ability to threaten his neighbours. UN security council resolution 687 decreed that Iraq must unconditionally accept, under international supervision, the destruction of all its weapons of madestruction. It created an inspection regime, a UN special commission, known as Unscom, with freedom of accethroughout Iraq, to see that all illegal weapons were surrendered and destroyed.

Until Unscom certified that Iraq had agreed by the terms of 687, an oil embargo would remain in place. Iraq signed up to all this but has spent the past 11 years trying to evade its obligations and defy international law as written in resolution 687 and subsequent resolutions. Saddam has shown himself to be far more interested in creating and keeping weapons than in anything else. The consequent impoverishment of the Iraqi people is a small price to him.

Unscom found and destroyed masses of illegal weapons, including thousands of litres of concentrated anthrax and botulinum, the most poisonous substance in the world. But the inspectors knew there was a lot more the Iraqis managed to conceal. They could not account for hundreds of chemical munitions, chemical agent production equipment, a number of long-range missiles and components, including warheads. Most troubling, they had no confidence in the disposal of Iraq's extensive biological weapons programme.

Through the 90s, Saddam became more impatient, more intransigent. He exploited divisions on the security council - where France, China and Russia were far keener on compromise than the US and Britain - until he created a series of crises for the inspectors at the end of 1997. The US and Britain threatened to attack. In February 1998, Kofi Annan put the UN's authority on the line and flew to Baghdad to try and get the inspections restored.

After meeting privately with Saddam, he thought he had a deal but even before he arrived back in New York, the Iraqi regime secretly began to undercut it.

At the end of 1998, Annan acknowledged that Saddam had torn up his deal. In December 1998, these violations of international law finally resulted in a short US and British bombing campaign known as Desert Fox. No inspector has been allowed back since - and there is every reason to suppose that Saddam has since rebuilt his stocks unhindered. Otherwise why deny the inspectors access?

In early July, Iraq once again refused, during talks with Annan, to allow the inspectors back. But if and when an American-led attack appears to be imminent, Saddam will probably offer to allow them to return, in order to divide his enemies and diminish international support for the US position. Their task is likely to be hopeless. The creation and concealment of the weapons is just too important to the regime. Charles Duelfer, a former deputy chairman of Unscom, points out that 200-300 engineers, technicians and scientists are known to have been involved in its weapons programme before 1998. The UN must be able to interview them - without Iraqi government minders - if there is to be any hope of understanding just what Iraq has done with its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons since 1998.

Given the way that Saddam has always lied before, there is every reason to fear that new inspections will fail to disarm him. How else are we then to enforce international law and eliminate the threat which Saddam represents, except by military action to change the regime?

Obviously there are dangers and difficulties in attacking Saddam. Iraq is not a failed state like Afghanistan. It is a ruthleand tenacious dictatorship which terrifies, tortures and murders its opponents. It has a large army with a supposed elite, the Republican Guard. The determination of the regime to survive through perpetrating a reign of terror should not be underestimated.

The nervousneof most of America's European allies is real. So far, only Britain has offered support for the overthrow of Saddam. Others have been evasive or downright hostile. After September 11, Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, promised the American people unlimited solidarity. He has heavily qualified that since.

The opposition of Iraq's neighbours must be acknowledged. King Abdullah of Jordan's concerns are real but don't forget that his father, King Hussein, supported Saddam and opposed the Gulf war in 1990-91. Other Arab regimes would be happy to see Saddam go but do not dare be associated with the military action necessary to achieve that - at least not until it succeeds. Then there is the question of how the US would do it. There are not the same regional bases on offer as in the Gulf war of 1991. There is no equivalent of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The risk of Saddam launching a pre-emptive attack against Kuwait or Israel during an American build up have to be taken into account. But that would represent desperation on his part, given the retribution which would follow. On the plus side, the Iraqi armed forces are much weaker than in 1991. Most of Iraq's tanks are obsolete. Its air force is virtually non-existent.

Faced with the ruthless, terrorist nature of the regime, the Iraqi people alone cannot change their government. Only outside intervention can do that. If war begins, Iraqis at all levels will understand that the cost of keeping Saddam is too high. The question then is: who will succeed him? Any immediate successor will probably come from the military. That need not be bad. The first and most important thing is to get rid of Saddam's regime. When he falls there will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad, as there was in Kabul when the US drove out the Taliban. The Iraqis will be rid of a monstrous incubus.

There is also a compelling regional argument for removing Saddam - the Israel-Palestine impasse. Many believe that we cannot take on Saddam as long as the current state of war exists. I would argue the opposite: So long as Saddam is in power there can be no realistic hope of a solution.

In 1991 Israel endured attacks by Iraq with 39 Scud missiles, with exemplary restraint. Saddam still wishes to destroy Israel. Like other Arab regimes, the Iraqis preach and practise anti-semitic hatred. Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister who dealt with Unscom, told Richard Butler, its director, "We made bioweapons in order to deal with the Persians and the Jews." One of his senior officials said at an Arab summit in 2000, "Jihad alone is capable of liberating Palestine and the rest of the Arab territories occupied by dirty Jews in their distorted Zionist entity." Yet we continue to ask Israel to take risks for peace while the Iraqi threat remains unchecked. The removal of Saddam would give Israel greater confidence in its prospects of peaceful co-existence with a Palestinian state. It should also temper the anti-semitic zeal of Syria and other neighbours of Israel.

Some of the critics of war - such as the Archbishop of Canterbury designate - voice honest concerns. But when you consider the nature of the beast, it is the consequences of the failure to act which should terrify us. It will be much harder to take him on in 10 years' time - his nuclear and other weapons will be far more dangerous.

If September 11 and America's response to it had not happened, think of the world we would still be living in: the Taliban would still be in power, terrorising Afghans; Bin Laden and al-Qaida would still be planning other outrages unrestricted. The same is true of Saddam today. He not only oppresses his own people savagely but also represents untold dangers to the region and to the world. His defiance also makes a mockery of the international legal system as represented by the UN. The UN's basic responsibility for the "maintenance of international peace and security" is daily undermined by a dictator of whose malign intent there is no doubt. To appease him endlessly is to weaken the UN. That, too, is both dangerous and immoral.

While it would be preferable to have a new UN security council resolution authorising military action against Saddam Hussein, as Rowan Williams argues, it is not strictly necessary. Saddam is already in defiance of existing resolutions and article 51 of the UN charter provides the right to self-defence against the threat he poses to all of us.

Moreover, we all know that the security council, a political body, does not always provide an adequate defence against evil. The council refused to help Rwandans during the genocide of 1994. Nato's 1999 action in defence of Muslims in Kosovo was conducted without a council resolution - because Russia and China would have vetoed it. Weighing the risks of action against Iraq is entirely proper. It is very difficult for the international community to deal with intransigent evil.

Much lelegitimate is the anti-American abuse from, for example, the infantile Daily Mirror, the singer George Michael and those journalists (some on the Guardian) who depict Blair as Bush's poodle. They disgrace themselves by demeaning the argument. I repeat: the decision of how to deal with Saddam is not an easy one. Much depends on how you perceive the threat. In my view, the threat from Saddam is intolerable. Washington is right - the regime must be changed. And Tony Blair is right to support Washington.


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