The Times | OCTOBER 29 2001

Saddam must go

Still mad and bad - why Saddam must go


Some of my friends think I’ve gone slightly out of my mind about Iraq. They are mostly too polite to say so, but I know what they are thinking. “We are already bogged down in a terrible war in Afghanistan, with no end in sight, and that fool wants to start a war with Iraq.” That’s what they are thinking. Now, it’s true that I think the war on terrorism cannot be won without deposing Saddam Hussein, but I don’t think that makes me foolish. Then again, perhaps you think that is precisely what a fool would say. So let’s do a deal. I am going to tell you three stories. You read them, and if you still think I’m wrong at the end, I will shut up about Iraq. Let’s start with the story of Amal al-Mudarris, once the best-known personality on Baghdad radio and much admired by the educated elite. She was not, however, much admired by President Saddam Hussein’s wife. Sajida Hussein began calling the presenter, complaining that she wasn’t praising her husband often enough. One day at the radio station, after yet another crude call, al-Mudarris was chatting to some of her friends. “That woman isn’t fit to be Iraq’s first lady,” she said. Unnoticed, one of her colleagues slipped away and phoned the Ministry of Information. Within minutes the station was surrounded and the presenter was arrested. Amal al-Mudarris was tortured until she confessed what she had said. Then she was hanged. After her execution her tongue was cut out and delivered to her family. Since it came to power, Saddam’s Baath Party is estimated to have killed 5 per cent of Iraq’s population. This weekend, protesting innocence over the attacks on New York, Saddam’s deputy, Tariq Aziz said: “Honestly, we do not condone the killing of innocent civilians.” Then there is the tale of Khidir Hamza, a talented Iraqi scientist with a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics from Florida State University. Hamza was teaching at a small college in Georgia in the late 1960s when the Baathists forced him to come home. He wouldn’t want anything to happen to his father back in Iraq, he was told. It wasn’t long before the reason for this “request” became clear. Saddam wanted his help to build a nuclear bomb. At first, Hamza and the other nuclear scientists assigned to the task didn’t take it too seriously. They thought that Saddam would fall before their work ever got anywhere. Gradually they realised that they were wrong. When they didn’t move fast enough, one of their number disappeared into Saddam’s dungeons. He was reportedly hung up by his thumbs and beaten every day for ten years. By the time of the Gulf War, having travelled all over the world on illegal shopping trips for nuclear spare parts, Hamza had helped Saddam to build a crude device. Only the fact that it was too big to attach to a missile prevented Saddam from being able to fire it at Israel. Not long after the war, with Saddam playing cat and mouse with UN inspectors, Hamza left the nuclear programme and fled Iraq. The last part of his story is, in some ways, the scariest. When Hamza first contacted the CIA, they were not interested in talking to him. They were completely unaware of the extent of Saddam’s nuclear programme. They didn’t believe what Hamza told them about the way Saddam was now hiding work on weapons development. And when Hamza went to see the International Atomic Energy Agency, part of the machinery for weapons inspections, he fared even worse. Saddam’s chief bomb-maker was told to go back to Iraq and make peace with his President. Finally, let me tell you about Abdul Rahman Yasin. In September 1992, Yasin, an Iraqi, arrived at his brother’s apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. It was not an innocent visit. From this apartment a plot was hatched to blow up the World Trade Centre in neighbouring New York. On February 26, 1993, the second anniversary of the end of the Gulf War, the plot culminated in the deaths of six people, when a rented van exploded outside the twin towers. Within a week Yasin had been arrested. One of the conspirators had attempted to claim back the deposit on the rental van. Unfortunately, the FBI proved even more naive than Yasin’s partner-in-crime. They interviewed Yasin, thanked him and let him go. The next day he flew to Baghdad. President George W. Bush has named Yasin as one of his 22 “most wanted terrorists”. As the war on terrorism rages, Yasin works quietly for the Iraqi Government. These three stories show that Saddam Hussein is a murderer for whom human life means nothing, that he is determined to build weapons of mass destruction and has come close to doing so, and that he harbours terrorists who conspired to destroy the World Trade Centre. They also show that while Saddam is cunning and driven, we have been pathetically weak and naive in our dealings with him. In other words, they show that I may be deeply concerned about Saddam, but I’m not bonkers. For many people, however, showing that Saddam is a dangerous murderer is not enough. The Foreign Secretary, for instance, has said that he would be prepared to deal with the issue of Iraq if he was presented with hard evidence that Iraq sponsored or assisted the attacks on September 11. This explains why people who agree with me about Iraq are spending a great deal of energy at the moment trying to prove a link between Saddam and bin Laden. It explains, for instance, what the former CIA Director James Woolsey was doing last month tramping round a college in Swansea. Woolsey believes that Iraqi Intelligence organised the 1993 World Trade Centre attack. A man calling himself Ramzi Yousef has been jailed for the crime and Woolsey wants to prove that he is an Iraqi agent. In court, Yousef’s claim that he was Abdul Basit Karim, a Kuwaiti who had studied in Swansea, was accepted by most. No one cared much who he was, as long as he was found guilty. Woolsey, however, cares a great deal. If he can show, for instance by asking around in Swansea, that Yousef is not Karim, and that he stole Karim’s identity, he believes it will demonstrate Iraqi Intelligence involvement. After all, who else could have arranged a fake Kuwaiti identity, complete with doctored files at home, if not the Iraqis during their occupation of Kuwait? The problem for Woolsey is not in proving that Yousef is not Karim. There are four inches and 40lb difference between the two of them. It’s clear that Karim is dead and the identity is a fake. The problem is not even proving Iraqi involvement in the 1993 bombing. The fact that Iraq harbours one of the conspirators proves some involvement. The problem for Woolsey is that any Iraqi involvement in the 1993 bombing is only circumstantial evidence of involvement in the September 11 attack. It is not the sort of hard evidence that the Foreign Secretary is after. The same is true of most of the other evidence linking Saddam to bin Laden and September 11. For obvious reasons, the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) has been hard at work finding and promoting such evidence. It can point to several meetings between bin Laden and Faruq Hidjazi, a former Iraqi Intelligence director who is now Ambassador to Turkey. The INC claims that Hidjazi devised the tactic of using a plane as a guided missile in the mid-1990s. A former Iraqi agent has told the INC that as recently as September 2000, terrorists were seen training on a Boeing 707 parked in Salman Pak, near Baghdad. There is also a disputed story that the September 11 suicide bomber Mohammed Atta had meetings with Iraqi Intelligence when he passed through Prague this summer, and reports that al-Qaeda terrorists visited Baghdad in 1998 to celebrate Saddam’s birthday and to seal an agreement that Iraq would train their men. There is quite enough, then, to convince someone like me that Saddam is linked with bin Laden. For the sceptics, however, it is inadequate. And unless the anthrax turns out to have been supplied directly to bin Laden by Saddam, I doubt whether any evidence will emerge to convince them. There will almost certainly be no “smoking gun”. Saddam is far too sophisticated an operator for that. This is unfortunate. But fortunately it doesn’t matter. The case for deposing Saddam does not rest on the events of September 11. We don’t have to convince sceptical people that we should begin a new war against Iraq. We have to convince them that we must finish the last war with Iraq, that we have not done so and that not doing so is highly dangerous. And this case is far easier to make. Last week, reports began to emerge that Iraq is moving some of its chemical weapons into underground bunkers. Presumably, Saddam is trying to protect them from the US attacks on Iraq that Tariq Aziz said this weekend that he is expecting. Yet these weapons should not exist. Agreeing to destroy them was part of the price for ending the Gulf War. If the weapons still exist, the war is not over. It’s as simple as that. Since Iraq expelled UN weapons inspectors in 1998, we have only a sketchy knowledge of what Saddam has been up to. However, we know that as time has passed, the Iraqi President’s confidence has been increasing. After three years in which he transferred the right to use chemical and biological weapons to his military district commanders, he has once again assumed direct control over them. German Intelligence reports that he is also at work on a new class of chemical weapons, with missiles capable of reaching Europe. German companies have been delivering to Baghdad material necessary for the production of poison gas. The former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler, now a bitter and worried man, believes that it would be extraordinarily easy for Saddam to use these weapons. Even before the events of September 11, he suggested a plausible scenario: “A hit squad from somewhere in the Middle East travels to New York City carrying a one-litre bottle filled with one of the several chemical weapons agents we have long known Saddam to be developing. Using a simple sprayer (like one that a gardener or house-painter might own), they diffuse the contents into the air over Times Square on a Saturday night. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people die agonising deaths as a result. Because of their handling of the substance and the strategic concern to maintain ambiguity over the source of the attack, the terrorists may have to be prepared to die themselves.” Then, Butler says, “the world would erupt in unprecedented horror”, but as Saddam would deny involvement, few would be willing to punish him without hard evidence. Is this beginning to sound familiar? The only defence, argues Butler, is removing Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons or, given the likelihood that we will remain unable to do that, removing Saddam himself. The ability to kill a few hundred people may help Saddam to gain some of the revenge he yearns for, but it will not satisfy him. That is why he has returned to his plans to create a nuclear arsenal. Only this will give him what he really wants — leadership of the Arab world and leverage on the West. Our knowledge of his nuclear plans is as sketchy as our knowledge of his chemical weapons. What we do know is that Saddam has been shopping again. For example, a couple of years ago he bought six lithotripter devices from Siemens, ostensibly to break up kidney stones with high-powered shockwaves. With his six devices he ordered 120 precision electronic switches. The switches can trigger an atomic bomb. Every day, Saddam is moving a step closer to his nuclear goal. On November 3, 1992, more than a year after the end of the Gulf War, the world learnt that Bill Clinton had defeated George Bush for the US presidency. On that day Saddam led a rally in Ramadi, one of his strongholds. Firing his pistol in the air, he declared: “The mother of battles has continued and will continue.” Osama bin Laden declared war on the West many years ago, and it took the terrible events in New York before we realised that he meant it. What does Saddam Hussein have to do before we take him seriously?

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