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Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal

The following Op-Ed piece is reprinted from the Indianapolis Star as a "fair use" for educational purposes. We have no authority to grant permission to reprint this article.



Give inspections a chance in Iraq

 August 19, 2002

The various Iraqi offers to discuss the return of United Nations weapons inspectors have been met here in the United States with nearly universal skepticism and caution. Inspectors have been absent from Iraq for nearly four years, and concerns about what Iraq may have done in that time about development of weapons of mass destruction have fueled talk of war with Iraq, and the removal of its president, Saddam Hussein.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has warned that "to wait for provocation (from Hussein) is to invite a very, very large disaster." Most observers view the Iraqi initiative as nothing more than an attempt to stave off an impending American invasion.

The Bush administration claims that allowing inspectors back into Iraq, only to have their work disrupted yet again by Baghdad, would do a disservice to the cause of disarmament. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that disarming is not the Bush administration's top priority in Iraq; according to the White House, the problem cannot be solved until Hussein is removed from power.

However, it will be difficult for the White House to simply push this latest Iraqi initiative aside. Many of the witnesses at the recently concluded hearings on Iraq conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee testified that the United States should make one more concerted effort toward seeking the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq before going down the path of war, an argument many potential allies overseas find appealing.

The Iraqi initiative presents President Bush with a quandary. If the United Nations sends Hans Blix to Iraq, then it is engaging the machinery of international diplomacy that could lead to the return of inspectors. Once inspectors return to work, the door is open for a potential finding of compliance, which would lead to the lifting of economic sanctions and the breaking of the policy of containment that has held Baghdad in check for the past decade.

Once containment is broken, Iraq will be drawn back into the family of nations, with Hussein at the helm. This is an unacceptable outcome for the White House and the many lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, who have invested considerable political capital behind the concept of regime removal in Iraq.

However, if the United States is seen as obstructing the mandate of the Security Council resolution, and continues to insist on the removal of Hussein from power regardless of the status of Iraq's disarmament obligation, it will run the risk not only of alienating an already ruffled international community but also of driving a wedge between the White House, Congress and American public opinion.

The timing of the Iraqi proposal, right at the moment the United States assumes a monthlong rotation as president of the Security Council, further exacerbates the situation for Bush, forcing the United States to walk a diplomatic tightrope between its responsibilities to the Security Council and implementation of the current policy of regime removal.

The Bush administration has made clear its position that inspections can only resume if Iraq accepts, without preconditions, the concept of unfettered access to all sites designated for inspection as called for by Security Council resolution. Unfortunately, the situation is not that simple.

Inspectors were ordered out of Iraq in December 1998 by the United States on the eve of the Desert Fox aerial bombardment of Iraq. The Clinton administration used the inspection process as a trigger for this action, and used intelligence data gathered by weapons inspectors to target Hussein and Iraqi government and security facilities that had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to allow the inspectors back in, citing national security and sovereignty concerns.

If inspectors are to return to Iraq, there will have to be some sort of assurance from the Security Council that inspections will not be manipulated by the United States, or any other nation, for purposes other than disarmament. Inspectors must be seen as being objective implementers of Security Council mandate. A legitimate inspection regime, properly mandated and implemented, offers a real chance of closing the chapter on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration should allow this opportunity to play itself out. If Iraq resumes its cat-and-mouse tactics, or is found to have secreted away prohibited weapons capability, then the White House will have the case for war -- and with it regime change -- that is currently lacking. And if the inspectors succeed, the world, and the United States, will be a safer place for it. Lugar would surely agree with that point.


Ritter is former United Nations weapons inspector and the author of Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem, Once and For All (Simon and Schuster, 1999). He lives in Delmar, N.Y.


  Copyright 2002 The Indianapolis Star .

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