On Point: Remembering Saddam's Slow War

by Austin Bay
March 29, 2006

The latest quip accusation that the United States "rushed towar" with Saddam's Iraq conveniently ignores 12 years of combat, terror andcrime.

Perhaps The Slow War -- Saddam's war against the U.N.-mandatedsanctions and inspections regimen that halted Operation Desert Storm -- hasslipped from public historical memory. It shouldn't, for The Slow War is thelong, violent bridge connecting Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From March 1991 to March 2003, Saddam fought The Slow Warsavvily and savagely, utilizing an array of political, military and economicploys. Moreover, by early 2003, Saddam believed he was winning.

The Iraqi dictator had reasons to make that calculation. Recallthe fall of 2002 -- and the growing realization that the entire post-DesertStorm sanctions regimen had withered. The curious lack of political will onthe part of key Security Council members (France and Russia) to keep Saddamproperly caged was increasingly evident.

What the world didn't know, and wouldn't learn until early 2004when the Iraqi Interim Government began naming names, was how effectivelySaddam had corrupted the Oil for Food program. Oil for Food, a programdesigned to provide food and medicine for the Iraqi people, had in factbecome an insidious economic weapon in The Slow War, used to buy politicalinfluence and corrode the entire sanctions policy.

A recent article in "The Economist" quoted former Saddam cronyTariq Aziz as telling interrogators that Saddam had given France and Russiamillions of dollars in contracts "with the implied understanding that theirpolitical posture ... would be pro-Iraqi." In other words, mass murdererSaddam was bribing his way to a political victory that would have reversedhis battlefield defeat in Desert Storm.

A post-9/11 irony also encouraged Saddam's view that he waswinning The Slow War: Al-Qaida used the presence of U.S. troops in SaudiArabia as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Those troops and supportfacilities played a key role in maintaining the sanctions regimen. TheUnited States was in a strategic political bind. Remain in Saudi Arabia andenforce the U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning Saddam, or givesuperficial credence to al-Qaida's global agit-prop campaign that U.S.troops threatened Mecca.

Slow doesn't mean "not dangerous." Fighting The Slow War wastough duty, requiring fast reactions and quick decisions.

U.S. and British pilots patrolling the northern and southern"no-fly" zones over Iraq called their missions exactly what they were:combat missions. In 1997, I spoke with a pair of U.S. Air Force pilots whohad been flying missions in the northern zone.

"We're painted all the time," one young captain told me. He wasreferring to Iraqi air defense units "painting" his aircraft with radar. Thepilot's preferred response was an immediate volley of missiles and bombs tosuppress Iraqi defenses. However, my chagrined source said the rules ofengagement regarding the location of Iraqi defenses sometimes limited hispreferred response.

Iraqis would position anti-aircraft weapons near a mosque or aschool, and a counter-attack risked damaging those "peaceful" buildings. Anoff-target missile handed Saddam an easy and emotionally effectivepropaganda victory of the ilk, "See, the bad Americans bomb mosques and killchildren."

Of course, the no-fly zone in the north was created to keepSaddam from committing further genocide against the Kurds, but an explosionand a crater make for great television images -- a sensational immediacy --that obscured the terrible facts.

I argued in early 2003 that the Bush administration needed toend The Slow War with a victory. Enforcing the U.N.'s Desert Storm mandatesmattered. Those resolutions demanded that Saddam end his depredationsagainst ethnic and religious groups in Iraq (Kurds and Shias) and requiredhim to end (completely) his weapons of mass destruction programs. He alsohad to destroy WMD delivery systems.

Though no WMDs turned up, Saddam failed to cooperate with theinspection regimen and was in violation of the other requirements. Besides,it was past time to pull the dictators' guns away from the heads of Arabmoderates. Toppling Saddam began the reconfiguration of the Middle East, adangerous, expensive process, but one that is laying the foundation for truestates, where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and whereterrorists are prosecuted, not promoted.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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