More Pieces in the Puzzle of Pre-War Iraq

Oscar Wilde once claimed that “The past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is with the future that we have to deal.” No observation could be in greater error. The past provides a context to understand the present and the present is our only opportunity to change the future. This is what makes a recent article in the Washington Post about what Iraqi captives are saying about pre-war Iraq so interesting.

Apparently former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz has been spilling his guts to American interrogators now that the US has removed Aziz’s family from Iraq for protection. Of course, whatever Aziz says now must be carefully weighed against independent sources of information. He may still have reasons to not tell the entire truth. Nonetheless, what Aziz has been saying goes a long way toward helping to understand the thinking of the Iraqi regime before the war.

For example, given Bush’s obvious determination to resort, if necessary, to the military option in dealing with Iraq, why was Iraq not more forthcoming with respect to UN inspectors? Given how difficult it has proven to search out weapons of mass destruction after the war, Saddam Hussein could have averted a war by allowing unfettered inspections and by providing complete documentation of WMD programs. What ever happened to the anthrax that the Hussein regime acknowledged that it had?

One reason may be that Hussein did not take the prospect of military action from the US seriously enough. According to Aziz, the French and the Russians, through back channels, had assured the Iraqis that they could stop an US military action through the UN Security Council. At the same time that the French were assuring American Secretary of State Colin Powell they were serious about holding Iraq to its obligations under UN resolutions, the French were undermining both the UN and the US. We can only wonder how different Iraq may have behaved if instead the French and the Russians had consistently warned Hussein that this time he really had to fully comply with the UN resolutions. How differently would have Hussein acted if he realized that his back was truly against the wall? It is also possible that Hussein was so self-delusional that even if the French had provided better advice, he would have ignored it.

Even on the eve of the war, when US military action was imminent, Hussein was assured his regime could survive. According to Aziz, the French were certain that the US would begin the war, like Gulf War 1991, with a prolonged air campaign. If Hussein could just hold out against the air assault, the French and the Russians could broker a cease fire. Indeed, when the land assault began, Hussein was convinced that it was simply a diversionary tactic and did not commit troops from the north to the defense of Baghdad. It seems that both the US and the Iraqis were ill-served by the French.

It is also unclear from Aziz’s interrogations the quantities of WMD Iraq possessed before the war. However, Aziz did suggest that Hussein was less concerned about the chemical WMD stockpiles because he could always recreate them so long as he maintained the infrastructure to do so. This perspective is lent credence by the fact that laboratories suitable for this have been discovered by David Kay and his team of inspectors. Hussein was intent on acquiring what was, from his perspective, more difficult to obtain than WMD. Hussein wanted long range missiles. He was perhaps negotiating with the North Koreans for the appropriate technology. Kay investigators have found considerable evidence of Hussein’s efforts to obtain long range delivery systems.

Slowly the pieces of the Iraq puzzle are coming together. There are still large gaps. Indeed the unknown gaps in the puzzle are probably larger than the areas that have been fully fully assembled. Incrementally, day-by-day we can expect to learn what was going on in Iraq before the war. Learning about pre-war Iraq puts us one step closer to dealing with the Iraq of the present, an Iraq that is not yet freed from its tyrannical past.

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