October 20, 2004 | Scripps Howard News Service

No Diversion: The Case Against the War in Iraq Has Weakened

You can argue that the conflict in Iraq is a distraction from the “War on Terrorism”.  But that argument is weaker than it was a few days ago — before Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of the foreign jihadis in Iraq, formally declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

You can argue that Zarqawi wouldn't be in Iraq now if the U.S. hadn't toppled Saddam Hussein. But that doesn't make sense: Zarqawi moved from Afghanistan to Iraq while Saddam was still in power. From his Iraqi base, Zarqawi orchestrated terrorist operations against Americans and others. 

You can say yes, but perhaps Saddam didn't know what Zarqawi was doing. But Saddam ran a pretty tight police state so that's a stretch.

You can make the case that while Saddam may have been hospitable to Zarqawi and other terrorists, there is no proof he assisted them.

But from the recently released Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer report we learn that at Salman Pak, not far from Baghdad, Saddam's M14 unit trained not just Iraqi but also Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian and Sudanese terrorists in such skills as assassinations and suicide bombings. And – one may infer from the fact that among the facilities at Salman Pak was an airplane fuselage – hijacking, too. 

All Salman Pak graduates may not have gone on to careers with al Qaeda, but it is doubtful they joined any organizations that hold picnics on the 4th of July. 

We now know that Saddam's M14 services also oversaw something called the “Challenge Project.” It involved explosives – beyond that, intelligence analysts have not been able to figure out what its goal was. Are you sorry it was not allowed to fully mature?

You can say that that Saddam was not the only dictator in the world who harbored and trained terrorists and worked on secret projects involving explosives, so why single him out when he was no longer stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMD)?

For one, because he had agreed — in exchange for a 1991 ceasefire in the Gulf War — to fully account for his WMD stockpiles and production facilities, and to destroy them in a verifiable manner. He refused to do that, as the members of the UN Security Council unanimously agreed in Resolution 1441. 

For another, because no one – including opponents of the war – knew that Saddam no longer had WMD stockpiles. 

And Gen. Michael DeLong, former Deputy Commander of the US Central Command, is among those who still do not believe it. “There was WMD in Iraq before and during the war,” he says. “You have multiple-source intelligence.  Also, from other Arab leaders — as Tommy Franks [the general who led the U.S. operation to liberate Iraq] says in his book — King Abdullah said Saddam has WMD. President Mubarek of Egypt said … Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Other leaders who have chosen not to be named said the same thing. We had technical intelligence that saw the same thing.”

What happened to those weapons? General DeLong recalls: “Two days before March 19, 2003, we saw quite a number of vehicles going into Syria. We could not go after them because we said we'd give Saddam 48 hours. A lot of (Iraqi) leaders went into Syria, and a lot of WMD went into Syria. We've gotten indications some went into Lebanon, and probably some went into Iran. …We've done calculations that you could probably bury 16 Eiffel Towers or Empire State Buildings and never find them in the desert.”

He added: “Biological Weapons, you could put almost your whole program in a suitcase. You could probably put your whole chemical weapons industry inside a van. Yes, they did have it.” 

We've learned from the Duelfer report, too, that Saddam's scientists were attempting to bottle sarin – a deadly poison — in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles. Ricin was being prepared “as an aerosol.” Wall Street Journal columnist George Melloan points out what should be obvious when he says that such products were being “designed for use by terrorists.” 

You can say that the fact that Saddam was harboring terrorists and training terrorists and designing WMD for use by terrorists does not necessarily mean he would have actually produced such WMD and given them to those terrorists to use against Americans.

To which one might reply: Are you kidding?

– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.



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