Why It's Now or Never with Iraq

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, December 2, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Why It's Now or Never with Iraq

Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Having gotten the inspectors back into Iraq with unfettered access, the Bush administration had better brace itself for the most likely outcome--they will find nothing. Don't get me wrong. Iraq is surely producing weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations and the United States have accumulated powerful evidence of this over the past decade, including testimony from Saddam

Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, about Iraq's biological weapons. But Iraq has become increasingly expert at dispersing and hiding these facilities, which are often small enough to fit into a bathroom or a van. And in a country the size of France, finding those few dozen bathrooms and vans is going to be impossible. From 1994 onward, with the exception of finds related to Hussein Kamal's tips, the inspectors looked at more than 700 sites and got nothing. And for the past four years Iraq has been inspection-free, giving it time to devise new ways to hide its wares.

Saddam Hussein understands this advantage. Brookings's Kenneth Pollack, the author of "The Gathering Storm," notes that Iraq's leader has not moved any of his Army divisions, is not encircling Baghdad and is not building fortifications: "Saddam is not preparing for war; he's preparing to derail America's plans diplomatically."

Earlier this month Saddam gave a remarkable interview--his first in 12 years--to an Egyptian weekly. The interviewer asked him, "Mr. President, do you think that time is working in your favor, or against you?" Saddam replied, "No doubt time is working for us. We have to buy some more time and the American-British coalition will disintegrate." The interviewer also asks why Saddam is handling this crisis differently from the gulf war, implying that he is making concessions now when he made none in 1990. Saddam replied, "Politics is a science and in any science there are experiments... Making mistakes is a human act and correcting them is a human act that could be improved. No one among us is infallible." Saddam has learned his lesson and is planning to "cooperate" for months, maybe years. If he does so, not only will the momentum for genuine disarmament and war slip away, Russia and France will begin clamoring that U.N. economic sanctions against him be lifted.

To stop events going down this road, the administration must force a crisis. Its first opportunity will come right after Dec. 8. By that day Iraq has to provide a complete declaration relating to its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq will likely produce an expanded version of the hefty document it has given the United Nations in the past, called a "full, final and complete declaration" of its weapons programs.

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