President Bush has reportedly authorized the CIA to use all of the means at
its disposal--including U.S. military special operations forces and CIA paramilitary
teams--to eliminate Iraq's Saddam Hussein. According to reports, the CIA is to
view any such plan as "preparatory" for a larger military strike.
Congressional leaders from both parties have greeted these reports with enthusiasm.
In their rush to be seen as embracing the president's hard-line stance on Iraq,
however, almost no one in Congress has questioned why a supposedly covert operation
would be made public, thus undermining the very mission it was intended to accomplish.
It is high time that Congress start questioning the hype and rhetoric emanating
from the White House regarding Baghdad, because the leaked CIA plan is well timed
to undermine the efforts underway in the United Nations to get weapons inspectors
back to work in Iraq. In early July, the U.N. secretary-general will meet with
Iraq's foreign minister for a third round of talks on the return of the weapons
monitors. A major sticking point is Iraqi concern over the use--or abuse--of such
inspections by the U.S. for intelligence collection.
I recall during my time as a chief inspector in Iraq the dozens of extremely
fit "missile experts" and "logistics specialists" who frequented my inspection
teams and others. Drawn from U.S. units such as Delta Force or from CIA paramilitary
teams such as the Special Activities Staff (both of which have an ongoing role
in the conflict in Afghanistan), these specialists had a legitimate part to play
in the difficult cat-and-mouse effort to disarm Iraq. So did the teams of British
radio intercept operators I ran in Iraq from 1996 to 1998--which listened in on
the conversations of Hussein's inner circle--and the various other intelligence
specialists who were part of the inspection effort.
The presence of such personnel on inspection teams was, and is, viewed by the
Iraqi government as an unacceptable risk to its nation's security.
As early as 1992, the Iraqis viewed the teams I led inside Iraq as a threat
to the safety of their president. They were concerned that my inspections were
nothing more than a front for a larger effort to eliminate their leader.
Those concerns were largely baseless while I was in Iraq. Now that Bush has
specifically authorized American covert-operations forces to remove Hussein, however,
the Iraqis will never trust an inspection regime that has already shown itself
susceptible to infiltration and manipulation by intelligence services hostile
to Iraq, regardless of any assurances the U.N. secretary-general might give.
The leaked CIA covert operations plan effectively kills any chance of inspectors
returning to Iraq, and it closes the door on the last opportunity for shedding
light on the true state of affairs regarding any threat in the form of Iraqi weapons
of mass destruction.
Absent any return of weapons inspectors, no one seems willing to challenge
the Bush administration's assertions of an Iraqi threat. If Bush has a factual
case against Iraq concerning weapons of mass destruction, he hasn't made it yet.
Can the Bush administration substantiate any of its claims that Iraq continues
to pursue efforts to reacquire its capability to produce chemical and biological
weapons, which was dismantled and destroyed by U.N. weapons inspectors from 1991
to 1998? The same question applies to nuclear weapons. What facts show that Iraq
continues to pursue nuclear weapons aspirations?
Bush spoke ominously of an Iraqi ballistic missile threat to Europe. What missile
threat is the president talking about? These questions are valid, and if the case
for war is to be made, they must be answered with more than speculative rhetoric.
Congress has seemed unwilling to challenge the Bush administration's pursuit
of war against Iraq. The one roadblock to an all-out U.S. assault would be weapons
inspectors reporting on the facts inside Iraq. Yet without any meaningful discussion
and debate by Congress concerning the nature of the threat posed by Baghdad, war
seems all but inevitable.
The true target of the supposed CIA plan may not be Hussein but rather the
weapons inspection program itself. The real casualty is the last chance to avoid
Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, is author of "Endgame:
Solving the Iraq Problem, Once and for All" (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times