Although the UN inspectors have found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, Washington continues to press for action. The removal of Saddam Hussein from power might be acceptable but how feasible is this option?
 
No Smoking Gun but US keeps up the pressure
By Adel Darwish 

12 January 2003
 

As count down to an American led war in Iraq began, conflicting signals were coming form every
   quarter.
   While the United States kept the pressure on the Iraqi dictator Saddam
   Hussein, with almost daily announcements of more troops going to the Gulf, weapons inspectors
   chief Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy boss Mohammed Elbaradei told the UN on January
   9 they  found no smoking guns in Iraq. But before the anti-war campaigners had the chance to
   rejoice, Blix quickly said the 12,000 page dossier handed by the Iraqis to the inspectors left
   many questions unanswered. Many materials which the old inspectors team UNSCOM listed before
   the left Iraq in 1998, remained an accounted for.
   Although not letting Saddam of the hook, Blix's and Elbaradei's report left the Bush
   Administration without a trigger for war compelling enough overcome global scepticism. 
   Instead  the report triggered a world wide call for giving the inspectors more time, until they
   find and destroy Iraq's WMD, since UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was
   built on disarming Saddam not toppling him.
    
   '' Inspectors should continue and for that reason there are no grounds for military action,''
   said Gunter Pleuger, the UN ambassador of Germany, which will chair the Security Council next
   month [ Feb 2003].
    Now the inspections were under way '' there is no reason to give a
   time-limit,'' Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's ambassador to the UN said.The Russians too
   called for more time. `` This is part of very professional work which should continue, which is
   in very early stages,'' Sergei Lavrov, the Russian envoy told reporters. It should be
   allowed to continue.
    
   Dr Elbaradei promised to demand a fuller list of Iraqi chemical and
   biological scientists and to begin interviewing them within days. The
   inspectors would start using helicopters and high-altitude surveillance planes, according to Dr
   Blix.
    
   Meanwhile US Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the Administration doves who supports the
   UN road and sees war as the latest resort, confirmed that Washington  has already started
   passing ' significant' intelligence this week It was a long standing demand by Mr Blix. However
   Secretary Powell cautioned that the details were '' carefully selected'' and that his nation
   was holding on to its most sensitive information and incriminating details, waiting to see
   whether inspectors '' are able to handle it an exploit it.''
    
   A senior America intelligence source told the MIDEAST News  that Iraqi
   intelligence were eves dropping on the inspectors and could hear every word they say in their
   hotel rooms. He added that most of intelligence file came from Iraqi officials and Iraqi
   technicians, and it could enable Saddam's intelligence to figure out the source and punish the
   technicians who were still in Iraq, or the families of those who have already left.
    
   British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the cabinet that  UN inspectors must be given more space
   and more time. How long is a piece of string?
   Downing Street spokesman had no definite answer during the cat and mouse game of daily briefing
   to lobby reporters, '' we have to be patients,'' he said. It was interpreted by cynical
   reporters as '' to be patients in our wait for the Americans to tell us what to do next.''
   Others mumbled some doubts about the state of readiness of  British forces for deployment, the
   way it was ready in 1990. Especially after the seasoned political editor of the London daily
   Evening Standard, which is not too friendly to New Labour,  drew the spokesman's attention to
   an extraordinary attack on the `` myth of Britain's military strength`` from the German daily
   Die Suddeutsche Zeitung. The paper mocked  Mr Blair's ``pathetic tremolo voice`` when he speaks
   of Britain's forces as among the best in the world.``
   Even without any new triumphs, the myth lives on'' said the German paper.
   But the spokesman, `` happened'' to have his very positive quote from the German rag arguing
   that the paper concluded its lengthy article on a positive note. Do you read the  Suddeutsche
   Zeitung, every morning?
   The spokesman ditched the question.
   Reports in British papers of Mr Blair '' pressing America to delay the  war until the Autumn''
   in order to give the UN inspectors more time.
   Was refuted as '' Totally untrue and misinterpretation of what the Prime Minister said,'' by
   Downing Street Spokesman .
   By another  coincidence Secretary  Powell happened to sing from the same hymn sheet as Mr
   Blair. The latter told the cabinet that January 27th, the date at which Mr Blix and his team
   would present their report to the UN must not be seen as a  deadline or a decision making day.
   Downing Street Spokesman had Secretary Powell's quote -handy `` January 27th is not a D day to
   take a decision on Iraq,'' said  Mr Powell in an interview with the Washington Post, '' the
   report will give us a chance to further judge the situation``.
   Great minds think alike; although Downing Street sources refused to ''
   speculate '' when asked, whether the Prime Minister would remain patient and give the
   inspectors more time if the Americans decided to launch a war soon after January 27th if Hans
   Blix still hadn't found the smoking gun by then?
    
   However, the noise coming from Washington, as always, caused another
   embarrassment to Downing Street leaks about London's pressure on America to delay war. The
   White House insisted that Mr Blix's January 9 interim report had changed nothing.
    
   `` The problem with guns that are hidden is you can't see their smoke,'' said Ari Fleischer,
   the White House Spokesman. `` We know for fact that there are weapons there.''
    
   Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board and a hawk whose views carry
   considerable weight, rejected suggestions from the British ministers and senior Foreign Office
   officials that plans for an early war should be put on hold.
    
   Mr Perle, who is close to Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, said on January 9 he did
   not expect the UN Security Council to reach agreement on the use of force but had little doubt
   that President  Bush would press ahead regardless and lead a coalition to victory.
    
   "It would be a great mistake to become dependent on it [ UN Security
   Council] and take the view that we can't act separately, Mr Perle said.
    
   At the same time the  long, and at times bitter, struggle to enlist
   Baghdad's reluctant neighbours in the American campaign was  already nearing its close.
    
   Ten months after Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, was greeted by an angry barrage of
   resistance as he toured the region trying to rally support for the overthrow of the Iraqi
   regime, one by one the opponents of the war have gradually shifted their positions and by last
   months were, reluctantly though, ready to do Washington's bidding.
    
   ``If hostilities do break out,'' said a seniour western diplomat in the Gulf,`` it is hard to
   imagine any country in the region, including stubborn holdouts such as Syria and Saudi Arabia,
   choosing to stand up to the Americans and risk being seen to side with President Saddam Hussein
   in his final hour.''
    There is even a possibility that when the countdown begins for war, a
   mini-stampede of latecomers will send their troops to join the Americans and the British, he
   concluded.
    
   The considerable US diplomatic victory was achieved quietly, using a mixture of threats and
   inducements that no country, least of all the weakened Arab states, could resist.
    
   Kuwait, after its invasion and brutal occupation by Iraq a decade ago, is probably the most
   strongly in favour of Saddam's removal, along with Iran, which suffered ever greater losses
   during its war with Iraq. Kuwait will be the launch pad for the ground offensive.
    
   Even Saudi Arabia, diplomats say, is likely to  swallow its pride and allow the US military to
   use the key Prince Sultan airbase to run the air campaign, the first phase of the war.
    
   Jordan, which shares a small but strategic border with western Iraq, has made its choice.
   Despite public opposition to the war from native Jordanians and the large Palestinian
   population, King Abdullah II has made clear that he will not stand in the way of any US-led
   operation.
    
   Only Turkey was  still left struggling with how to deal with the Iraqi
   issue, especially when the ruling Islamic party won election on anti war ticket. But the
   powerful Turkish military, the force that really matters in Turkey, has told Washington that
   its support is solid.
    
   In Washington, Mr Perle was critical of the inspectors for  mainly visiting previously known
   sites.
    
   "They are the last place you would expect Saddam to put something," Mr Perle said. "You would
   have to be a complete idiot to do that. The inspectors returning to known sites makes Blix look
   foolish."
    
    
   Mr Perle  doubted that Mr Blair had asked or would ask Mr Bush to delay war until the autumn
   and accused those who sought such a delay of being opposed to ousting Saddam in any event.
    
   The new year started with two British cabinet ministers contradicting each others on Iraq.
   Asked on BBC current affair programme  Today, British Foreign Secretary  Jack Straw  was firm
   in expressing the belief that war was not inevitable and that UN inspectors are likely to
   succeed in disarming Mr Hussein thus averting the war. He gave such scenario a 60:40 success
   chance.
   Confronted by reporters a few hours later, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoone described Mr Straw's
   60:40 statement as `` unhelpful.''
   However the Prime Minister and Downing Street officials insisted that there was no split. Such
   insistence raised observers' suspicion that British government was telling different audiences
   what would they like to hear.
   Over 100 labour MPs echoed the opinion of  grass roots of Mr Blair's labour party in refusing
   to support an American war on Iraq without a fresh mandate from the UN after Mr Blix has given
   his report on January 27th.
    
   Meanwhile different signals were coming from the Middle East. Philippines foreign minister Blas
   Ople confirmed to journalists the whispers they heard in several Middle Eastern capitals of an
   11th hour attempt to avert war.
   There was  mounting Arab diplomatic moves urging Saddam Hussein to resign and go into a
   comfortable exile to avert the war, he told reporters in Manila Early this week.
   As reported in the Middle East in October 2002, Qatari and other Arab
   diplomats have hinted, last summer, to the Iraqi leader that there would be a possibility that
   he could leave the country, but Saddam, then ignored the advice.
    
   American sources said  Saudi Arabia was pressing the Bush administration to allow one last
   attempt at a diplomatic solution if United Nations weapons inspectors find Iraq in violation of
   resolution 1441, and safe exit to Saddam might be arranged.
    
   Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, said recently that if war becomes inevitable
   "we hope that there would be an opportunity given to the Arab countries to mitigate the
   situation."
    
   Arab diplomats in the Gulf said one option was for Saddam to depart, `` He [ Saddam] is not
   thinking about it now,'' one Gulf official told Mideast News, `` but it could be different when
   the Americans are serious about the alternative of war.''
    
   A group of prominent Iraqi and other  Middle Eastern writers and lawyers appealed to the Arabic
   speaking nations to put pressure on the Iraqi leader to step down to avert a war.
   "We call upon public opinion in the Arab world to exercise pressure for the dismissal from
   power of Saddam Hussein and his close aides in order to stop a war that threatens catastrophe
   for the people of the region," said the appeal by about a dozen intellectuals that was
   published this month
    
   According to western diplomats in the Gulf, Prince Saud informed visiting western
   parliamentarians in December that he had been exploring the idea with British and American
   diplomats, whether the Bush Administration can leave a way out for Saddam to leave Iraq.
    
   Prince Saud was vague when asked, during attending the GCC summit in Doha whether Arab leaders
   had urged the Iraqi president  to
   accept political asylum elsewhere. "Communication is continuing on levels announced and
   unannounced," he said.
    
   The idea of asylum for Saddam in return for his resignation has surfaced before. It was put
   forward last year in an open letter from Ghassan Tueini, a former Lebanese statesman and
   publisher of Beirut's influential An-Nahar newspaper. The letter was titled "resignation is
   more honourable."
    
   Dr Mudhar Shawkat, the head of the Iraqi National Movement told the Mideast  news last 
   October  that a number of Iraqi opposition leaders would prefer to see Saddam go and take `` a
   large booty with him'' as a way out to avoid war and end his rule, which has been the bloodiest
   period in Iraq's history.
    
   Quoting Iranian diplomatic sources last December Teheran daily Entekhab reported that the
   German Foreign Minister informed  his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, during a telephone
   exchange  that America  was seeking a bloodless coup in Iraq with the help of Vladimir Putin,
   the Russian President. Predictably, the German Foreign Ministry denied the report.
    
   Western diplomats in Washington believe America  would welcome Saddam's departure but
   acknowledged that it would be hard to guarantee his immunity from any prosecution for
   atrocities. Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman, has said Saddam must either "change
   his ways or change his venue".
    
   However, spokesman Richard Boucher noted that Secretary  Powell and Mr
   Rumsfeld, have spoken in favour of Saddam resigning.
   "If he has the option, he ought to take it ... I'm not aware of any active efforts to promote
   such proposals," he added.
   "If the Iraqi leadership should decide to abandon its aims or abandon the country or if we have
   to force him to abandon the country, one way or the other, Iraq is going to disarm."
    
   Western diplomats said Middle Eastern  countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia - and perhaps
   some  Third World countries - were expected to call for Saddam to go into exile on the eve of
   any war.
    
   A few years ago amid a similar crisis, Egyptian officials publicly suggested giving Saddam
   asylum in Cairo. Egyptian officials, denied that Egypt would offer the Iraqi dictator an asylum
   this time, however they did not denying reports about persuading the Iraqi leader to go to
   exile.
    
   Saddam took refuge in Egypt in 1959 after escaping Iraq following his failed attempt on the
   life of the Iraqi Prime Minister General Abdel Karim Qasim. He lived on handouts from the
   Intelligence of Egypt's autocratic ruler Colonel Gamal Abdel  Nasser.
    
   Russia, Belarus, Libya and Mauritania have all been suggested as possible countries of refuge.
   Other countries have taken in fallen dictators. Ethiopia's former military ruler, Mengistu
   Haile Mariam, is living in exile in Zimbabwe, while Uganda's crazed former dictator, Idi Amin,
   is in Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus did not confirm
   or deny the possibility. "For now, there are no facts to talk about. Let conjecture be
   conjecture."
   The readiness of any country to give refuge to Saddam may depend on the size of the booty he is
   able to offer as a bribe and, crucially, on the secret assurances that will be given by
   America.
    
   Psychology experts say Saddam's volatile personality would make him
   difficult to even approach with such a proposal.
    
   During the Iran Iraq war, when the Late Ayatollah Khomeini announced that he was fighting
   Saddam not the fellow Muslims in Iraq, Saddam asked, during a cabinet meeting, whether he
   should tactically resign to expose the Iranian claim. As all ministers put their heads down,
   his eyes met those of the health minister who smiled and acknowledged  Saddam's nod with a nod
   of his own. Sadadm personally shot him in a room next door.
    
   British officials see important propaganda points to be won if neighbouring countries call for
   Saddam to step down.
   It would increase his isolation, and a refusal to heed the call would be held up as further
   evidence of his obduracy, one British official said. Some London based Arab journalists and
   commentators, believed to be on Saddam's pay-roll keep repeating that Saddam would fight to the
   last drop of blood. And that he would create a mythology of defiance by his ' martyrdom'
    
   However, this writer believes that Saddam, despite his megalomania and
   brutality, is a coward. He is  obsessed with Mafia style gangsters' loyalty. His first  aim is
   to survive on daily basis, followed by his second objective which is to stay in power. But he
   will never make staying in power an objective that overrides his own safety. He might not trust
   any one not to betray him. If he can't arrange a 100% safe exile, that no one would find him,
   he would then disappear quietly and go under ground, leaving myth similar to that surrounding 
   Hitler's death after WW2 according to which die-hard Nazis, for years, kept believing that
   Hitler would return to conquer his enemies with the secret weapon hidden in silo No 13.
    



The raid *.  Iraqi Official Statement   *. The View from Britian    *   American policy on Iraq in disarray    * Sorting out Saddm
*.Saddam, the popular dictator among Arabs.  .


Further information:
ITN News
Iraqi Mission in the UN.
British Ministry of Defence
The pentagon


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