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Iraq: Who Are The Winners And Losers In The Latest Crisis?

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, 16 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Following is an RFE/RL interview on the Iraq crisis with Colonel Terrence Taylor of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. Taylor served as one of the commissioners on the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) for disarming Iraq from 1992 to 1995. Until last year he also worked as a chief inspector on biological weapons programs.

Our correspondent asked Colonel Taylor to analyze what the international community and Iraq won and what they lost in their latest standoff over arms inspections.

Q: Colonel Taylor, the immediate crisis in Iraq has ended with all sides declaring victory. U.S. President Bill Clinton says Iraq has "backed down," while Iraqi officials say Baghdad has "proved to the whole world" its views are correct.

But has this crisis served any purpose from which Iraqi President Saddam Hussein immediately benefits? By again disrupting the work of arms inspectors for months has he won time in his efforts to preserve at least some of his weapons capabilities?

A: Well, I think it would be true to say that the delay could have made it possible for the Iraqi leadership to perhaps hide away more of their weapons programs or even to make progress in some of them, so ... that could be viewed as a gain. But there is no doubt that (Saddam and the Iraqi leadership) has a longer-term objective ... and that is to try to get out from under the UN Special Commission, I think they would like to end the inspection regime. They did not achieve that and in the face of a threat of substantial use of force they had to back down on that one.

Q: In the past, Saddam's strategy has been to divide the international community over maintaining sanctions to enforce arms inspections. But from this crisis an unprecedented international consensus seems to have emerged that Saddam must abide by UN resolutions. Is this new consensus a setback that will return to haunt Saddam in any future crisis?

A: Well it seems to me that certainly (in this crisis)it was plain that Baghdad could not rely on its usual supporters in the same way it did over the last major crisis ... when there were strong voices speaking out against the use of force. I was very struck by the declaration by the (the six Arab Gulf nations of the) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Egypt and Syria, who aimed their remarks straight at Baghdad saying that Baghdad must comply with the UN Security Council's requirements and if force resulted then it was Baghdad's fault ... I think Baghdad now will have that very much in mind. Now (Iraqi officials) have promised full cooperation with the UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and I think their traditional supporters will be looking very carefully at their performance. So I think there is a bit of pressure on the Iraqi leadership to be clear that they are cooperating, that they do mean what they say.

Q: There also seems to be a new strategic concept emerging from this crisis, at least in the minds of officials in Washington and London, for enforcing future Iraqi compliance. U.S. President Bill Clinton said Sunday that any new non-cooperation will warrant punitive strikes, in his words, "at any time."

A: It is not so new (a strategy) in the sense that it is perhaps a return to the old style ... I can remember in late 1992, when Iraq denied access to two sites to the UN inspectors, these sites were immediately bombed. And then Iraq backed down on (denying) access. So, perhaps (the new strategy) could be a kind of "back to the future" situation in the sense of linking more directly the use of force to the activities of the inspectors on the ground. This was the case in the immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Storm (in 1991) and in the intervening years it seems to have fallen away as a more politicized process has been engaged, but now I think having got to this situation, and having put a stop to the bombers on their way to their targets, I think that London and Washington are not in a mood to back down easily.

Q: Do you think this marks, then, a departure from the kind of diplomatic approach that UN Chief Kofi Annan explored in February with his "light at the end of the tunnel" promise to Baghdad to reward cooperation?

A: Well, I think it is still there, that this (strategy) is a continuation of that same (diplomatic) process ... I think Washington felt compelled in February this year to say, all right, let's make this an affair between Iraq and the UN and let that play out. And now it has, and I think it is quite clear to the world community and the members of the UN Security Council in particular that Iraq was not living up to its obligations. So it was worth going down that road to make that crystal clear ... and (now) Kofi Annan has acknowledged this, that force has a role to play in this, that it must be force and diplomacy together. There isn't a diplomatic solution on its own.

Q: The American national security advisor, Sandy Berger, said that Washington would not feel a need to go back to the UN Security Council the next time, if there is a crisis, to gain its approval for using force. Do you think that Washington and London now have a kind of carte blanche to use force?

A: Well, of course, they would claim they have had (that) all along. And even in the lead up to this crisis it only was when a letter from (Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister) Tareq Aziz came saying, yes, we will now accept full cooperation, that (Washington and London) went back to the Security Council. But I think that all along Washington and London have felt that they did not have to refer to anybody with this and that their right (to use force) always exists.

Q: Of course, each time Washington and London have to mobilize public support and deploy their troops for punitive strikes against Iraq, these efforts come at a high cost to themselves. There is the risk that the constant repetition of such crises will one day exhaust the American and British publics' support for such efforts. Do you think the international community -- and particularly the United States and Britain -- can keep up their resolve to see Iraq finally has no capability for mass destruction weapons?

A: Well, that's the (key) question ... I mean the whole process has been a test of political stamina and political will. (US and British resolve) has withstood the test pretty well for the last seven years ... I think there is still a great deal of public support in Britain and the United States, if we were to pick those two countries out, for making certain that the weapons programs in Iraq are destroyed and the regime contained. But it does depend on how things go from here. If it's just simply repetition after repetition after every three or four months then I think the publics will get tired. But that (fatigue) will move things in a different direction, perhaps toward a more vigorous action against the regime in Baghdad.