Only One U.S. Option for Iraq – War
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq presents a bewildering array of options to the world. And the world is responding with bewilderment.
Business interests throughout Europe are making money selling goods and things for making goods to Iraq . Obviously, any major change in the status quo would wreck havoc with these business ventures.
The “Oil-for-Food” program is in full operation, supported by the United States . According to the United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme Oil-for-Food (OIP), to date, some $36.6 billion worth of contracts for humanitarian supplies and equipment have been approved. Supplies and equipment worth almost $24.1 billion have been delivered to Iraq , while another $9.8 billion worth of humanitarian supplies and equipment are in the production and delivery pipeline.
In April 1998, the U.N. Security Council approved a recommendation from the Secretary-General that the ceiling of $2 billion in food-for-oil sales be increased to $5.265 billion, providing $3.4 billion for a broader humanitarian program. In the same month, oil industry experts reported on the “lamentable state” of the oil industry and indicated the oil production level authorized by the Security Council was well beyond Iraq ’s capacity at current prices. Resolution 1175 in June 1998 authorized the import of $300 million worth of oil spares and equipment for phase IV. From phase VI onwards this limit has been raised to $600 million per phase. Security Council resolution 1284 (1999) lifted completely the ceiling on the amount of oil Iraq can export under the program.
U.N. Security Council resolution 1409 (2002), adopted on May 14, 2002 , introduced the Goods Review List (GRL) and a new set of procedures for the processing and approval of contracts for civilian supplies and equipment. While previously the majority of contracts for humanitarian supplies were circulated to the Security Council’s 661 Sanctions Committee for approval, under the new procedures only contracts that contain GRL items would be sent to the 661 Committee for consideration.
As of June 30, 2002, OIP had received over $43.7 billion worth of contracts, of which $35.6 billion had been approved and $5.3 billion put on hold by the 661 Sanctions Committee. Humanitarian supplies and oil industry equipment worth more than $23.1 billion dollars had been delivered to Iraq .
The bottom line appears to be that since its inception in 1996, the oil-for-food program has metamorphosed from a humanitarian program designed to feed hungry people and meet their basic medical needs into a convoluted, many-faceted program whose main purpose seems to be reconstructing and modernizing Iraq ‘s oil industry.
Russia currently has a contract with Iraq worth over $8 billion to overhaul much of its Russian-built infrastructure, and if Iraq can rid itself of U.S.-supported U.N. sanctions, it might be able to begin repaying some of its $40 billion debt to Russia . The United States , on the other hand, has assured Russia that any new Iraqi regime will honor both the contract and the debt. This promise seems to have moved Russian President Vladimir Putin away from his recent public stance in support of removing sanctions against Iraq .
Nevertheless, with nearly $40 billion at stake in the business-with-Iraq arena, there is little support from European business for an American strike against Iraq .
Khidir Hamza, who played a leading role in Iraq ‘s nuclear weapon program before defecting in 1994, says that Iraq now has sufficient nuclear material and the necessary know-how to construct several nuclear bombs.
As reported here last December, in 1989 Iraq may already have exploded its first nuclear weapon in a natural cavern below Lake Rezzaza, a popular 1960s tourist area about 90 miles southwest of Baghdad (“A Nuclear Armed Iraq Must be the Next Target”, DefenseWatch 12/12/01).
The fallout from these developments is twofold. First, of course, is the fear that Iraq either has or soon will have the ability to unleash weapons of mass destruction against opposing armies or even against nearby nations. The second is the high-stakes market created by these undertakings.
Nuclear bombs need high-grade steel casings, nuclear raw material, refining equipment and a complex infrastructure that Iraq is ill-equipped to establish and maintain on its own. With the complete lifting of U.N. restrictions on oil production, however, Iraq has plenty of cash to purchase what it needs. European businesses are standing in line to supply the tools for their eventual destruction.
The oil-for-food program cannot officially be turned towards weapons production, of course, but Iraq is large, and one tanker looks much like any other. In the past few weeks, several tankers have been seized independently by U.S. and Iranian forces as they attempted to smuggle millions of dollars worth of illicit oil out of Iraq . One can only guess at the number of tankers that were not discovered.
The incentive for successfully smuggling such oil is great. Currently, the penalty for discovery is confiscation of the oil and tanker, but nothing else. If one assumes that smuggling operations are run on a cost-benefit basis, then the loss of confiscated tankers and their cargo must be counted as part of the cost of doing business – part of the overhead, so to speak.
If a tanker and its load are worth about $20 million, one must assume that this is a small percentage of the projected return, say between one and five percent, which means that the level of illicit oil smuggling out of Iraq is enormous, in the billions of dollars.
The United States has several options.
If we continue the status quo, one thing is certain: Iraq will amass an increasing cash fund with which it can move forward on its path to perfect its nuclear capability and delivery systems, and to produce biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.
We can unilaterally establish a total boycott of any goods and services entering Iraq from the United States , but this would only open the market to our competition, and the net result would be the status quo inside Iraq , and a loss for U.S. business interests.
We can interdict the transport of all incoming and outgoing material, but in order to do this, we either need to change the current U.N. resolutions, or we need to go it alone. Changing the Security Council’s point of view is nearly hopeless.
This leaves us with the option of doing it ourselves. How? The only effective way would be to issue a decree that Iraq ‘s borders are closed, and that the U.S. military will shoot down any aircraft attempting to cross the border, no matter what kind of aircraft it is. And that the United States will destroy any ship moving into or out of Iraqi waters – any ship. And that the U.S. military will destroy any vehicle attempting to cross the border anywhere.
This is a big order, and would certainly anger our allies, especially when we shoot down one of their civilian planes violating the quarantine. We are capable of pulling it off, and might even be able to withstand the resulting heat, but the likelihood of our taking this step is very remote.
The only other viable option is to go to war against Iraq , to rid ourselves of the source of the problem: Hussein and his henchmen. In the process, the total quarantine will happen as a side effect.
Every day that passes, Iraq increases its capability to wage war against us. Iraq is incapable of winning such a war, but each day brings with it the certainty that this war will result in more U.S. casualties. The United States cannot afford to wait much longer – this is why the Bush administration is on the road every day preaching the message of regime change. And this is why it is so vital that U.S. citizens get behind the war effort and make it happen.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor