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Last Updated

19 Dec 2002

Source: Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2002.


Saddam's Burden of Proof

Several weeks of U.N. inspections in Iraq, we keep reading, have yet to produce a "smoking gun." Given the size of the country, and Saddam Hussein's vast experience in gaming the system, why is anyone surprised? And why is the burden of proof on the rest of the world anyway?

The purpose of the inspections process is not to see whether a heavily surveilled U.N. team can ferret out a vial of anthrax . It's to offer Saddam one last chance to come clean about weapons that, in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's words, every country "with an active intelligence program" already knows he has. We trust that will be among the points the Bush Administration makes when it responds today to what Iraq calls its latest "full and complete" declaration concerning its weapons programs.

Reports indicate that the declaration fails to account for what happened to Saddam's chemical and biological weapons programs since inspectors left in 1998, as well as his nuclear program. Issues unresolved as of 1998 include the fate of: 360 tons of chemical weapons (including 1.5 tons of VX nerve agent); 3,000 tons of precursor chemicals (300 tons of which are unique to the production of VX); 30,000 special munitions for delivering chemical and biological weapons; and growth media for the production of biological weapons (enough to make more than three times the 8,500 liters of anthrax spores that Iraq admits to having manufactured).

But just as telling as these omissions has been Iraq's belligerent reaction to the overall inspection process. No sooner had Iraq grudgingly accepted the U.N.'s November 8 resolution than it spent six of the following seven days shooting at U.S. and British planes patrolling the southern and northern no-fly zones. Resolution 1441 specifically states that "Iraq shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed at . . . any Member State taking action to uphold any Council resolution."

Nor have Iraqi statements, starting with U.N. Ambassador Naji Sabri's point-by-point rebuttal of that resolution, evinced a compliant attitude. On December 4, in language reminiscent of the last inspections farce, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan protested the inspectors' visit to a presidential palace, saying "their work is to spy to serve the CIA and Mossad." Last weekend Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz took to American airwaves calling President Bush a "hypocrite" and a "war monger" and raising the specter of terrorist attacks against America should the U.S. invade.

Inspectors generally have had unimpeded access to previously known Iraqi sites. But surely no one expects the incriminating stuff to be left lying around. Last Friday inspectors were forced to wait 24 hours for access to locked rooms at the Communicable Disease Control Center in Baghdad. The secular Iraqi regime used the Muslim holy day as an excuse. For that matter, the 12,000-page declaration would itself seem a delaying tactic, a "full non-disclosure" in the words of one Bush Administration official.

Everyone but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan seems to understand the game here. As Saddam himself told the Egyptian weekly Al-Usbou just before the Security Council resolution, "Time is working for us." He predicted that international opposition to forceful disarmament would only grow. All in all, this is not the picture of a changed regime.

The danger of allowing Saddam to retain even limited chemical and biological capabilities is very real. The Czechs continue to stand by their story that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, and we've seen no reason to rule out either al Qaeda or Iraq as prime suspects in last year's anthrax attacks. Last week the Washington Post reported that Iraq may have transferred VX to al Qaeda agents. And on Monday Paris police arrested four suspects with a protective suit and two containers of yet-unidentified chemicals.

Mr. Bush has single-handedly forced the U.N. to confront Saddam's decade of thumbing his nose at its Iraq resolutions. But the President now risks getting bogged down in the same old inspections game unless he insists that the process is not about finding a smoking gun but about full and complete Iraqi cooperation. That includes allowing U.N. inspectors to contact Iraqi scientists and take them outside the country for interviews and probably asylum. Past experience has shown that this is where the evidence of Saddam's lies will come from, and the cavils offered by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix -- the Iraqis might object (yes, his spokesman really said that) -- cannot be allowed to stand.

The U.N. resolution places the burden of proof on Iraq, not Mr. Bush. If the declaration's omissions and Saddam's overall belligerence don't constitute a "material breach," what does? And if a material breach isn't a reason for disarming Iraq by force, what is?