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The Bomb and Iraq

January 28, 2001


As war clouds gather in the Middle East public opinion is being prepared for a possible regional war that could likely include a combined Western/Israeli effort to take out the weapons of mass destruction in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

There are some credible analysts who believe the plot might be even thicker, including some kind of secret plan not only to finally topple Saddam but to use the moment of Middle East restructing to forceably "resettle" large numbers of Palestinian refugees in Iraq -- as fanciful as this idea seems to many others.

The Telegraph in London is one of the newspapers leading the charge.

Over the weekend the newspaper headlined a story that Iraq now has two functional nuclear bombs with more on the way. With the right-wing nationalists already in power in the U.S., and Sharon and the racists coming to power in Israel, the year just begun may be one for the military history books as were '48, '56, '67, '73, and '82 in the past.

These three articles from The Telegraph in the week past.

By Jessica Berry

The Telegraph, UK -28 January: SADDAM HUSSEIN has two fully operational nuclear bombs and is working to construct others, an Iraqi defector has told The Telegraph.

The defector, a military engineer who fled Iraq a year after United Nations arms inspectors left the country, says that he helped to oversee the completion of the weapons programme. He is currently in hiding in Europe. International nuclear officials are investigating his evidence, which contradicts recent reports that the Iraqi dictator's plans were still at a preparatory stage.

Saddam's efforts to build atomic weapons were delayed by the UN Special Commission (Unscom) inspectors who were forced to leave in November 1998, but scientists resumed the work immediately after their departure.

According to the defector, who cannot be named for security reasons, bombs are being built in Hemrin in north-eastern Iraq, near the Iranian border. Last week, the defector said: "There are at least two nuclear bombs which are ready for use. Before the UN inspectors came, there were 47 factories involved in the project. Now there are 64." The information has alarmed security experts, who were aware only that the area around Hemrin was well-guarded.

The defector said: "The area is restricted to the Special Security Organisation. Some of it is under the control of the military industrialisation ministry which is in charge of building up Saddam's weapons arsenal, but one area is entirely under the control of the nuclear energy organisation. They are digging shelters there."

The nuclear programme is shrouded in secrecy. The chain of command leads directly to the presidential palace and Saddam's closest aide, Abed Hmoud, a Baath Party stalwart who runs the Iraqi dictator's private office. According to the defector, General Raad Ismail, the head of the Committee for the Use of Nuclear Weapons, answers directly to a Dr Khaled, the director-general of the al-Athir factory, who oversees the final stages of construction of weapons.

The factory was attacked in air raids by Britain and the United States in 1998, but has since been rebuilt. Also involved is Awad al-Benck, who is responsible for procurement in the presidential office. Involvement of such senior men means that the programme is top secret. The defector says that apart from the scientists, only four or five people know what is happening. One security expert said: "This is vital information. The fact that General Ismail is involved can only mean that the programme is complete."

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN-founded International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said that the IAEA was unable to confirm that the Iraqi dictator was complying with Unscom resolutions. Mrs Fleming said: "I will bring this to the attention of the members of the agency immediately. We want to investigate this as soon as possible."

The fresh evidence comes only a week after President George W Bush took office. In his inaugural address, he promised to confront weapons of mass destruction, without mentioning Iraq. Under Anglo-US policy, any attempt by Saddam to build nuclear or biological weapons could lead to military action.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State and a Gulf war veteran, and Vice-President Dick Cheney are both known to favour a radical approach in dealing with Iraq. General Powell said of Saddam last week: "His only tool, the only thing he can scare us with are those weapons of mass destruction, and we have to hold him to account."

The new White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said: "The President expects Saddam Hussein to live up to the agreements he's made with the UN, especially regarding the elimination of weapons of mass destruction."

By Anton La Guardia in Baghdad and Ben Fenton in Washington

The Telegraph, UK - 24 Jan: THE Foreign Office said yesterday that it shared American fears that Saddam Hussein has rebuilt factories capable of producing chemical weapons.

The claim came amid signs that the new US administration is considering a tougher policy towards Baghdad. With Baghdad scoring almost daily successes against its international isolation, President Bush is coming under pressure to deal with Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and fulfil his campaign promise to "take 'em out".

Mr Bush has been presented with intelligence evidence that Saddam has rebuilt factories which could already be producing chemical and biological weapons. Richard Perle, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and assistant secretary of state for defence under Ronald Reagan, said yesterday that he believed the Bush administration would seek to support Iraqi opposition groups.

He said: "We are simply losing this now. If you saw the parade marking the anniversary of the end of the Gulf war, Saddam had a thousand tanks going through Baghdad. When the war ended, he had 300. Sanctions have collapsed and are a failed policy. We need to get the Iraqi opposition back into northern Iraq, where they can be effective in providing an alternative to Saddam."

A diplomatic source in Washington agreed that the Bush administration, which in Vice-President Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, has two of the men who defeated Saddam in 1991, would look for a radical approach in dealing with Iraq.

American intelligence reports, confirmed by Britain, say Iraq has repaired "dual-use" factories bombed by the US air force and the RAF in 1998 after United Nations inspectors pulled out of Iraq. But they stopped short of saying that Saddam has acquired new weapons of mass destruction.

Baghdad has so far ignored the American claims, preferring to rebuild its political and economic ties in the region and erode the 10-year-old international sanctions. Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan is expected to visit Damascus this week to conclude a free-trade agreement similar to one reached with Egypt recently.

Egypt and Syria were key members of the US-led alliance against Iraq, providing vital Arab political cover to the American-led campaign to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But Arab countries are drawing closer to Baghdad, pushed by a popular feeling that sanctions have gone on long enough and attracted by Iraq's growing economic power as a result of high oil prices.

Iraq has become one of Egypt's biggest export markets, while Syria stands to make good profits by importing cheap Iraqi oil through a 552-mile pipeline that is being refurbished.

Last week Turkey, a close American ally long involved in smuggling goods to Iraq, upgraded its relations with Baghdad by appointing an ambassador despite protests from Washington. Several Western countries, especially France, have re-appointed diplomats to head high-powered "interests sections" in Baghdad.

By Anton La Guardia

The Telegraph, UK - 16 Jan: IRAQ is back on the warpath, despite suffering two debilitating wars and a decade of sanctions. That, at least, is the impression that Saddam Hussein wants to give.

Television pictures of military parades, soldiers marching in serried ranks, and Saddam firing his gun in the air are interspersed with pictures of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and set to the tune of a song that proclaims "The anger is coming, coming, coming!"

The message is clear: Iraq's armies will liberate Palestine. To redouble the point, the propaganda includes film of Iraqi Scud missiles striking Israeli cities 10 years ago. In the official Iraqi view, the 1991 Gulf war was not an unparalleled disaster for Iraq but the prelude to the momentous battle for Jerusalem.

As Iraq prepared to mark the tenth anniversary of the war tonight, the main headline in Al-Thwara declared: "By the leadership of President Saddam Hussein, Iraq has crushed the biggest imperialist aggressive campaign."

A cartoon in the daily Al-Joumhouriyya yesterday depicted soldiers proudly raising the Iraqi flag over the Dome of the Rock.

On the streets of Baghdad, normally sensible people profess that they are ready to die fighting alongside the Palestinians. One Iraqi, who in past years would whisper his loathing for the devastation that Saddam had brought to the country, said: "You have to die some time in your life. Jerusalem is very important," Foreign Office diplomats scoff at the empty rhetoric. One said recently: "It's easy for those who are far away from Israel to threaten war. Iraq does not even have a common border with Israel. It would first have to invade Jordan or Syria."

The problem for London and Washington is not whether a militarily weakened Iraq may go to war with Israel. The challenge is that Saddam's sabre-rattling against the Jews has strengthened him both at home and in the wider Arab world.

His building of sumptuous palaces signifies to many Arabs defiant reconstruction, his nasty brutality is seen as strength and toughness of character, and his attempts to build weapons of mass destruction would be, if successful, a huge military asset for the Arab cause.

Just a few years ago, a few brave Iraqis would complain in whispers that both the Americans and Saddam were to blame for their misery. The man who presides over what one exiled critic calls "the Republic of Fear" had, after all, bloodily put down all opposition, whether real or imagined, and led his country into two devastating military adventures.

The fear remains everywhere, but it is mixed with new respect for Saddam. Today it is the Americans who are usually blamed, even in private conversations. One former critic of Saddam said: "Ten years of sanctions is too much. The Americans don't understand that they are pointless."

Iraq has erased the physical damage of the war in Baghdad. The bridges and buildings have been rebuilt by home-grown engineering skills. Construction includes a new double-deck bridge over the Tigris, the Saddam Tower with its revolving restaurant, and a string of new palaces, sorry, "guest houses". There are ever more statues of Saddam.

Abdel-Razek Hashimi, a former ambassador to France and now president of the Organisation of Friendship, Peace and Solidarity which nurtures links with foreign sympathisers, said: "Iraq is not a refugee camp where people just eat. Iraq is a society. It needs schools, medical facilities, electricity and, yes, guest houses for foreign dignitaries."

The sanctions economy has created two faces to Baghdad. One is the beggars and the parlous state of the hospitals, where doctors say there are shortages and erratic supplies of everything from spare parts for equipment to modern drugs. Infant mortality rates have more than doubled in the past decade as a result of war and sanctions. Academics abandon the country by the week, and those who stay have to sell their books.

Yesterday Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, said critics of sanctions were playing into Saddam's hands and reiterated Britain's support for the measures while Iraq continues to refuse to co-operate with United Nations arms inspectors.

He said: "This anniversary should be a reminder to us all of why it is as necessary to contain the Iraqi threat now as it was 10 years ago." Yet in the past year there has been an explosion of visible wealth in Baghdad. The streets are rich with goods, from piles of fruit on stalls to stores packed with consumer goods, jewellery and clothes. One Iraqi said: "If you have money there are no sanctions."

Privatisation, usually encouraged as the means to attract western finance, has been adopted in Iraq in the name of foiling western sanctions. Private merchants have been given carte blanche to import a range of goods and get around the UN by means fair or foul. The liberalisation has, in turn, allowed the "war millionaire" oil smugglers and other beneficiaries of the regime to recycle their money on luxuries at home.

The sharp rise in oil prices, which at one point tripled in two years, has brought a flood of new money into Iraq, and this purchasing power has given it new leverage with its neighbours. Jordanians, Turks, Iranians and even the oppressed Kurds take their cut of Iraq's oil wealth.

Sajjad Al-Khasaki, the owner of a sweet shop, said: "According to Saddam Hussein, we should live and we should break the sanctions. We have to make our own happiness. It is not going to come from abroad."

For years, when sugar was strictly rationed, sweet shops were forced to close. Now they are richly stocked with syrupy sweets like baklava, cookies, cakes and a white-powdered bun called "Gifts from Heaven". For rich Iraqis, life has indeed become sweet.
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Source: http://www.middleeast.org/articles/2001/1/42.htm