Small World

Jewish World Review / Nov. 5, 1998 /15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Saddam's a ticking time bomb

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

LIKE THE WATCH in the famous ad, Saddam Hussein keeps on ticking! Iraq's Führer has just announced that despite his promise a few months back, he won't allow any more United Nations inspections of Iraq's weapons stores.

What's more, Saddam is again demanding that the international inspectors who've been battling Iraqi obstruction to ferret out Saddam's hidden chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs leave Iraq immediately. That is, unless the UN lifts the economic sanctions placed on Iraq precisely because it remained armed to the teeth and still was threatening its neighbors even after the Gulf War of 1991.

Washington has responded with predictable verbal fury. We've heard that angry song before. Problem is, the last time we threatened military might if Saddam didn't allow inspections, we did nothing. Some threat! Brutish Saddam respects only force. Milquetoast responses merely embolden him.

Saddam also has pals in high places — particularly in Europe and particularly in France and Russia — which just can't wait to lift sanctions so they can make lucrative new deals with Iraq like they did before the Gulf War.

Saddam is convinced that no matter what he does, UN sanctions will be history by the year 2000. Of course, lifting sanctions still won't make it legal for Saddam to rearm Iraq. But that won't stop the Butcher of Baghdad. He has already begun a concerted effort to establish a clandestine procurement network that will enable him to obtain and import military equipment, including raw materials and parts for weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, the week before Saddam announced he was tossing out the UN inspectors, a senior Mideast intelligence source tipped me off that Saddam has chosen his northern neighbor Turkey as the hub for illicit military procurement. The person charged with running the covert project, the source says, is no one less than Iraq's recently appointed ambassador to Turkey, Faruk Hijazi.

Hardly a career diplomat, Hijazi is actually the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful general intelligence apparatus and the director of its brutal but effective Mukhabarat — secret service. The sources say Hijazi was responsible for setting up the highly developed system of brokers and global front companies that already helps Saddam bypass the general embargo.

Saddam's crooked sons, Uday and Qusay, who direct the program and pocket a good chunk of its profits, are among Hijazi's closest friends. He also has another series of interesting ties — to major arms dealers in the former Soviet Union and to Osama Bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi-born Islamic extremist who's financing the rash of anti-American terrorist bombings round the world. According to the sources, Hijazi and Bin Laden have met face to face.

So why has Saddam targeted Turkey? Well for one thing, the clandestine supply route he has used until now, Jordan, has been increasingly closed off, thanks to Jordan's King Hussein. Moreover, Turkey's geographical position makes it a perfect pipeline for overland smuggling of equipment and goods from both East and West.

Even the presence of the Kurds in the region doesn't seem an obstacle. Some are newly realigned with Saddam. And in any case, money talks. At one point, the Iraqis were smuggling oil to Asia with the help of the Iranians — their deadliest enemies.

Hijazi once was named Iraqi ambassador to Canada. Wisely, Ottawa turned him down because of his intelligence links. Let's hope the Turks are as smart. And let's hope that when Bill Clinton threatens Saddam with force, this time he'll mean it.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News.


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