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Saddam Hussein's Iraq: Not a threat?

Scott Ritter goes once more unto the breach on behalf of Saddam Hussein.

12:00 AM, May 16, 2002 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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COLUMNIST ROBERT NOVAK recently made the case that September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta did not meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague last year. The Czech officials who originally made that allegation, he wrote last Monday, "are divided and confused." If such a meeting did not take place, Novak argues, linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks becomes more difficult, and rallying the world to oust him, nearly impossible. Even for those of us who disagree with his conclusions, Novak, who has long been my role model, makes a compelling case based, as always, on good reporting.

But then he goes further, and this is where he runs into a problem. He attempts to bolster his case--"whether the Iraqis possess biological weapons capability is unknown and debatable"--by relying on analysis from former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter.

Novak wrote: Ritter contends that Iraq's bio-warfare factories and their equipment were destroyed. "Without acquisition of a large amount of new technology," Ritter has said, "I don't see Iraq being able to do high-quality production on a large scale of bio weapons." While Ritter's detractors are many, his allegations have never been contradicted.

Ritter has many detractors for a reason: He lies. What he says today bears little resemblance to--indeed, it directly contradicts--what he said four years ago, when he returned from Iraq. "Once effective inspection regimes have been terminated," he warned in Senate testimony on September 3, 1998, "Iraq will be able to reconstitute the entirety of its former nuclear, chemical, and ballistic missile delivery system capabilities within a period of six months."

And four months later, writing in the New Republic, Ritter was more specific. "Even today, Iraq is not nearly disarmed. Based on highly credible intelligence, UNSCOM [the U.N. weapons inspectors] suspects that Iraq still has biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, and clostridium perfringens in sufficient quantity to fill several dozen bombs and ballistic missile warheads, as well as the means to continue manufacturing these deadly agents. Iraq probably retains several tons of the highly toxic VX substance, as well as sarin nerve gas and mustard gas. This agent is stored in artillery shells, bombs, and ballistic missile warheads. And Iraq retains significant dual-use industrial infrastructure that can be used to rapidly reconstitute large-scale chemical weapons production."

CIA Director George Tenet agrees with the Scott Ritter of 1998, not Scott Ritter, 2002. Tenet recently told the Senate Armed Service Committee that he believes Iraq "maintains an active and capable [bioweapons] program."

Ritter's disavowal of his previous analysis is strange enough. What's even more bizarre is just how far he will go to make his point. Last October, Ritter argued in the Los Angeles Times that "Iraq today presents a threat to no one." He makes the same argument today--on television and radio, in magazines and newspapers, and in speeches. Anywhere he can find an audience, he says what he said on the Fox News Channel last week: "Iraq is not a threat."

He says this despite growing evidence to the contrary. Saddam warns in most of his speeches that the Gulf War isn't over. "The mother of all Battles continues to this day," he declared on January 7. A statement issued by Saddam's Baath party on April 8 is more direct, urging the "striking at U.S. interests in the Arab homeland and the interests of the Zionist entity that have seeped into more than one place in the Arab homeland." The statement aired on state-run (read: Saddam-controlled) Iraqi television.

Whether Iraq was involved in events of September 11 or not--Atta meeting or no Atta meeting, something that cannot be ruled out--those attacks offer a stark reminder that threats come in many forms. The same is true of the suicide bombings in Israel, and Saddam has publicly acknowledged paying $25,000 for every one of those "martyrdom" missions. Each one, of course, not only threatens, but kills and maims innocent civilians.

Does it stretch the imagination to believe that Saddam would be willing to pay for terrorism on U.S. soil, too? Not judging by his speech to Arab nations on April 22, in which the tyrant declared that not just Israel, but Israel and the U.S. together, are the enemy.

"Zionism has the upper hand over the American administrations to use them against us, and it becomes one and the same with us, against our nation, as we have repeatedly said, to facilitate the realization of the Zionists' covetous schemes in our Arab nation. . . . For the American administration will walk as they walk now up to their knees in Arab and Muslim blood."