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Unless Iraq Disarms, U.S. Has No Choice But to Go to War

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s indictment of Iraq at the United Nations last week was compelling, overwhelming and persuasive to the persuadable. And it was also scary.

The United States is weeks away from war with Iraq, which is militarily weak but possesses vast stores of biological and chemical weapons that it could use against U.S. troops, against neighboring countries and, conceivably, against the United States itself. [IMGCAP(1)]

Powell said Iraq probably has between 8,500 and 25,000 liters of anthrax and it has weaponized other biological warfare agents, including botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, ricin and, possibly, smallpox.

In addition, he said, “Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent,” including mustard gas and VX nerve gas, “enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.”

“Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area five times the size of Manhattan.”

Powell said intelligence sources report Iraq has “a few dozen” prohibited long-range Scud missiles. It also has an arsenal of 16,000 short-range missiles capable of carrying chemical and biological weapons.

And, Powell said, “We have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn’t be passing out the orders if he didn’t have the weapons or the intent to use them.”

What concerns military analysts like retired Air Force Gen. Thomas McInerney is that Hussein could move Scuds into southern Iraq and fire them at U.S. troops massing in Kuwait for an invasion.

During hostilities, he might fire longer-range Scuds at Israel, hoping to inflict mass casualties and provoke Israel into joining the fray and setting off a regional Mideast war.

McInerney is hoping that his former Pentagon colleagues already have put the full range of U.S. surveillance capabilities — AWACS and Joint Star aircraft and Predator and Global Hawk drones — into action above Iraq, capable of ordering strikes before missiles can be fired.

It’s also scary that the Iraq-al Qaeda connection identified by Powell, the cell headed by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, specializes in poison and was involved in ricin-producing plots in France and Britain.

That suggests it isn’t out of the question that al Qaeda could use the occasion of war with Iraq to launch terrorist chemical attacks against the United States or allied countries.

Indeed, the government raised its terror alert level to orange, warning that al Qaeda might launch major attacks against the United States as early as mid-February.

And if Iraq and al Qaeda were not worrisome enough, North Korea is provoking a crisis with the United States by restarting its Yongbyon nuclear plant, capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

All this danger emphatically does not imply that the Bush administration should halt its march to war with Iraq. To the contrary, to stand down now would undermine U.S. credibility and encourage all of America’s enemies.

As Powell demonstrated exhaustively, Hussein has shown nothing but contempt for the U.N. Security Council’s offer of a “final opportunity” to disarm.

Powell’s presentation solidified the American public’s resolve to invade Iraq, if necessary, and won support from some previous doubters in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

The Democrats’ serious presidential contenders now are on board with Bush, except for Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.), who protests that war with Iraq will inhibit the war on terrorism, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who objects that Bush plans to fight “unilaterally.”

Bush views war with Iraq as part of the war on terrorism — Powell demonstrated that Iraq could be the terrorists’ arsenal — and, contrary to Dean, the United States is no longer proceeding “unilaterally.”

It got backing two weeks ago from eight European nations, including Spain, Italy and Poland. Last week, 10 more Eastern European nations signed on. Turkey will allow U.S. troops to use its bases. And most of Iraq’s Mideast neighbors are aiding the U.S. effort.

Increasingly, opponents to war, such as France, Germany, Russia and China, don’t represent the majority of nations in the world, even if they do represent world public opinion.

The French position, however, is untenable. It is that more inspectors should be sent to Iraq, when the evidence shows that the present ones are being systematically deceived.

And, if inspectors did discover some weapons cache, would France say this was proof that Hussein was in “material breach” of U.N. orders? No, if Hussein agreed to destroy that particular cache, France would say that “inspections are working” and demand they continue.

Hussein could go on secretly developing his arsenal — including nuclear weapons — while inspectors tried to disarm him, one cache at a time. This won’t work, and France knows it.

Bush has challenged the United Nations to issue a final ultimatum to Iraq that it disarm immediately. Unless Iraq does so, there will be war. It’s a scary time, but failure to act — letting Hussein win this confrontation — is scarier, still.

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