the CIA comes out and says it can't find any convincing evidence that Saddam
Hussein harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi's presence at certain points
in Iraq has long been argued as a proof of his links to terrorism and al-Qaeda
(even though Zarqawi's Monotheism and Jihad is a bitter rival of al-Qaeda rather
than part of it). It was always argued by the Right in the U.S. that Iraq was
a tightly controlled totalitarian state and that Zarqawi couldn't have slipped
in and out unnoticed. But this was always a silly argument. Saddam's state was
ramshackle, and Badr Corps fighters slipped in and out of Iraq all the time
(they are supposedly on our side; has the administration bothered to debrief
them?). The Zarqawi story was so important as a casus belli that the
Bush administration even deliberately avoided attacking the small Ansar al-Islam
base in northern Iraq when it had the chance before the war.
the Iraq Survey Group report finds no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear
weapons or weapons programs in Iraq since the mid-1990s. True, he was having
a tiny amount of rat poison made to drop into the drinks of his enemies. The
most menacing they can paint Saddam is that he would kind of have liked to,
you know, have some weapons of mass destruction, sometime in the future. This
is not a threat, it is a daydream. So why in the world did Saddam not just announce
the fact to avoid being invaded by the U.S.?
Well, of course, he did announce the fact, in the materials submitted to the
UN in fall of 2002. But the paperwork did not explain how exactly all the chemical
weapons were destroyed, and actually fueled the Bush administration attack rather
than forestalling it.
Guardian reports an Iraq Survey Group Report that is based in part
on interviews with Saddam after he was captured. They reveal that Saddam feared
using chemical weapons against coalition troops in 1990-1991 because he was
convinced that this move would cost him the support of all his backers. He said,
"Do you think we are mad? What would the world have thought about us? We would
have completely discredited those who had supported us."
Of course, he may have been lying about his motives. The U.S. had threatened
him with regime change if he used those weapons, whereas he knew he might well
survive if his forces were just tossed out of Kuwait. Also, he had to be at
least a little afraid of U.S. retaliation, and it actually does have nuclear
and biological weapons.
The main reason for which he would not provide proof of the destruction of
chemical weapons stockpiles, he told the group, was that he was worried about
Iran. Apparently he never got over the trauma of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988,
when he came close to being defeated by his much bigger neighbor. (Only the
Reagan administration alliance of convenience with him saved him). And, of course,
his anxiety about Iran was in part a code for fear of a Shi'ite uprising.
Saddam was fighting several Shi'ite revolutions, being mounted by the Sadrists,
the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the al-Da`wa Party, and
the Marsh Arab Hezbollah. He was barely able to keep a lid on them, using secret
police and brutal repression. They were being backed by Iran (or at least all
but the Sadrists were), and he was admitting that he feared that if the Iranians
and the Iraqi Shi'ites thought he would not be able to gas them, he might be
open to another invasion or a popular Shi'ite uprising. The group report says
Saddam used chemical weapons on the Shi'ites to put down the rebellion of spring
1991. (What it does not say is that the United States, which was in a position
to stop this use of WMD on civilians, as well as the use of conventional weapons
to massacre thousands, declined to so much as fire a missile at a helicopter
Ironically, the Sadrists and Marsh Arabs have gone on to pose a dire threat
to order in post-Saddam Iraq, and the U.S. has also treated them harshly as
Saddam also appears to have been convinced that the U.S. would not attack
his regime after Sept. 11, because of its secular character. Saddam is often
caricatured as a madman (and it is true that there is something wrong with the
man), but in this remark he shows himself thinking rationally and expecting
Bush to do the same.