Bush’s First Strike

Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda

Khidhir Hamza, with Jeff Stein
Scribner, 352 pp., $26.00


George W. Bush described the strikes on Iraq on February 16 as a “routine mission.” They were anything but. They struck targets outside the no-fly zones, and in so doing exceeded the authorizing mandate of UN resolutions, as the French government and many Arab states indignantly pointed out. They were also directed, it now turns out, at a new fiber-optic radar control system, which had been supplied by Milosevic’s Serbian regime. This system was reportedly installed by Chinese technicians, whose very presence is in direct violation of the UN sanctions against military resupply of the Iraqi regime.

Concerned to avoid the debacle of the strike against the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war, the President ordered that the raids be staged on the Chinese technicians’ day off. The ammunition chosen by the US for the raid was far from routine—AGM- 130 guided missiles, the latest generation of precision weapons. Precision, however, is a relative term. The Washington Post reports that many of the weapons fell short. So the US was taking more chances than the word “routine” implies. It was not just sending a message to Saddam; it was also firing a shot across the bow of a rival superpower.

The raids had another purpose as well. The President said, “And we’re going to watch very carefully as to whether or not he [Saddam] develops weapons of mass destruction. And if we catch him doing so, we’ll take the appropriate action.”1 In saying this, the President was sticking to an old script. As a candidate, he told Jim Lehrer: “If we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction in any way, shape or form, I’ll deal with that in a way that he won’t like.”2

Since Iraq’s nuclear weapons program is more than twenty years old and UN inspectors have long since found credible evidence of a developed “chemical and biological capability,” it’s not clear why the President keeps pretending that Saddam does not already possess weapons of mass destruction. Weeks before the February 16 strikes, reports appeared in the British press, based on information supplied by Iraqi defectors, that Saddam has two operational atomic bombs in his arsenal.3 The administration neither confirms nor denies these reports in public, but in recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA director George Tenet conceded that since the Desert Fox air strikes of 1998, Iraq had rebuilt “key portions” of its chemical weapons capability.4 If the CIA is correct, the President is misleading the public: Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction are not just something Bush may “catch them developing.” Some, at least, are already in his arsenal: deadly nerve agents like VX and sarin, biological agents like anthrax and botulin, together with the missiles to deliver them against its neighbors, especially Israel and Iran.5

What makes Saddam dangerous is not that he has the weapons. Other countries do too. What’s dangerous is that he has actually used them. Saddam used mustard gas on…

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