After surviving the Gulf War and evicting United Nations weapons inspectors, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is surely continuing to develop an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But more than settling scores is needed to justify military action against Iraq by the United States and its allies. The international community will not concur with such action unless evidence is uncovered linking Baghdad to the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings in the United States.
Secretary of State Colin Powell recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there was no hard evidence implicating Saddam. But there are enough indications of contact and cooperation between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's Qaida organization for serious concern about Saddam's intentions and global terrorist connections. Defectors from Iraqi military intelligence have disclosed details about a secret training camp in Iraq where terrorists are taught hijacking techniques, including simulations in the fuselage of a Boeing 707.
There are certainly some links between Iraq and the Qaida cells responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Czech interior minister confirmed that Mohamed Atta, a
ringleader of the attacks, met twice in April with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.
The Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella opposition group, reports that bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman Zawahiri, visited Baghdad in 1998. Last spring, Mr. Zawahiri paid a call on the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, a key Iraqi overseas intelligence operative. Immediately after the rendezvous, the ambassador hurried back to Baghdad to report on the meeting.
President George W. Bush has said that the global campaign would target terrorists, as well as countries that harbor them. Iraq fulfills both criteria. Saddam has used chemical agents to attack his neighbors as well as Iraqi citizens. Since UN weapons inspectors were evicted from Iraq in 1998, there has been growing alarm about Iraq's capabilities to deploy weapons of mass destruction.
Those in the Bush administration who favor action to depose Saddam say that the removal of his regime would eliminate a major threat to world security, help deter future terrorist attacks and demonstrate American resolve to counter rogue regimes.
Key Muslim coalition partners, however, strongly oppose military action against Iraq. They say that there is not enough hard evidence to convince them that such action is justified. Yet there is a widely shared concern among Western and Muslim countries about Saddam's capacity to do harm. There are steps, short of military action, which can and should be taken in the short term against Saddam.
The United Nations should insist that weapons inspectors resume operations, and impose a deadline. Russia should demonstrate its commitment to the coalition by
stopping its obstruction of Security Council efforts to adopt smart sanctions that would hit the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people. And front-line states such as Turkey should more aggressively interdict oil smuggling. The West could support a renegade faction in the Republican Guard, equip an opposition force and recognize a government in exile.
Until Osama bin Laden is killed or captured, international military action against Iraq is unlikely. Many coalition partners would not condone such action without indisputable evidence implicating Iraq in global terrorism. Although Saddam is a threat to international peace and security, getting rid of him is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqi people. Like anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, they need international support.
Iraq and Afghanistan could share a common future in which relief from sanctions, debt reduction and foreign aid would help to consolidate democratic development.
The world's attention is now focused on Afghanistan, but success in the campaign against global terrorism will only be achieved when Saddam is deposed.
The writer, deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.