Alexander's Column

Iraq and al-Qa'ida

Mark Alexander · Aug. 16, 2002

The minds inside the Beltway this week were not idle – despite the fact that Congress is out on recess. There is much deliberation about the future of Iraq’s tyrant leader, Saddam Hussein, the next “Axis of Evil” regime in the crosshairs as we knock off state sponsors of Jihadistan. “We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing,” declared National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “We believe the case for regime change is very powerful.”

The evidence of Saddam’s WMD programs continues to mount. Our Pentagon sources indicate that his nuclear program objectives are already complete – Saddam has “the bomb.” Additionally, U.S. reconnaissance satellites photographed a convoy of approximately 60 trucks at a known biological weapons facility (rebuilt from the Gulf War) near Taji, northwest of Baghdad. And our birds and sniffer networks are looking for another bioweapons plant suspected of developing a weaponized Ebola variant.

Iraq’s information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, says President Bush is lying about Iraq’s WMD programs. As for UN WMD inspections mandated in 1991, Al-Sahhaf said those inspections would cease: “They claim something remains. This talk can be responded to and disproved. This is a lie. This is an American stance.” But just 24 hours later Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan declared he was “open for dialogue” on the matter: “We do not believe dialogue … is over. We…say that this dialogue is still standing and necessary.” Taha and company seem to have converted to Winston Churchill’s dictum that “jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

According to British MP George Galloway’s interview with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator intends to stage the Mother of All Battles, Part II, in the cities – not the deserts – of Iraq. To this end, Saddam has issued shoulder-mounted rocket launchers to some 500,000 “volunteers,” strengthened fortifications around Baghdad and moved the Iraqi government – literally – underground. The Chinese philosopher and military theoretician Master Sun Tzu labeled such urban battles as “the lowest form of warfare.”

But Saddam assumes that the U.S. military has learned nothing from the urban conflicts of the 1990’s: Mogadishu, Rwanda, Grozny and (most recently) Kabul. Why would U.S. ground forces choose to become bogged down in a war of attrition in the streets of Baghdad to allow Saddam to meet his ultimate goal of forcing a truce that will allow him to remain in power? What Saddam obviously grasps is that the U.S. does not want to annex any Iraqi real estate – we just want to kill him! To be sure, everyone – from his highest ranking generals to his boot boy – knows that Saddam is the target, not Iraq. To this end, one can safely expect the U.S. military to employ the ancient art of the siege – not a full-scale urban assault – combined with the modern art of special warfare operations. And as for the claim of 500,000 RPGs in the hands of “volunteers,” Saddam knows that RPGs can be turned 180 degrees in a flash – meaning he could be facing the business end of all those launchers – so it is unlikely that such a distribution occurred.

Another consideration: Israel this week announced a policy of retaliation if attacked by Iraq. The Israeli government restrained itself from responding to a rash of Scud missile attacks throughout the Gulf War for the simple reason that the United States asked it to – in order to hold together a shaky coalition dependent on the support of several Arab states. This time, however, there is likely to be no such highly visible coalition to hold together. “Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict,” warns former NSC advisor Brent Scowcroft. “This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East.”

Mr. Scowcroft’s concern notwithstanding, Mr. Bush’s first concern is, rightly, that Saddam is prepared to provide al-Qa'ida with a fission weapon (or weapons) to be detonated in a major U.S. urban center. Our analysts estimate that President Bush now has enough intelligence on both Iraq’s WMD threat to U.S. national interests, and his role in assisting Mohammed Atta’s 9-11 attack, to make his case for ODS2. (That information will be released in conjunction with the first phase of ODS2.) And as SecDef Don Rumsfeld reiterated last week: “[A]re there al-Qa'ida in Iraq, the answer’s yes. There are. It’s a fact.” As for when hostilities will commence – The Federalist Editorial Board thinks September 11th would be a fine date!