Pulling the tiger's claws

June 19, 1991|By The Los Angeles Times

THE FIRST two days of last January's U.S. air war against Iraq aimed especially at obliterating Saddam Hussein's programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological warfare weapons, the most feared parts of his arsenal. The Pentagon counted this effort a success. But now, unexpectedly, come ominous indications that some nuclear facilities may have escaped detection and attack.

An Iraqi nuclear scientist who recently defected to American forces in northern Iraq says that a number of secret nuclear sites remain, housing among other things about 88 pounds of weapons-quality nuclear material whose existence Iraq has failed report to the United Nations. That's enough material to arm two bombs about the size of the weapon that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Hussein's game is clear: delay, deny, conceal and obfuscate, in the hope that eventually the U.N. special commission and the Security Council will buy Iraq's story that everything that was supposed to have been revealed has been revealed. At worst, this tactic will postpone an easing of the sanctions, prolonging the hardships on Iraqis but probably not jeopardizing the survival of a regime that seems to have reconsolidated its grip on power. At best, it could allow Iraq to go on surreptitiously producing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

This is not a matter in which laxity can be allowed or compromise can be permitted. The evidence is strong that Iraq is cheating on the requirements that the Security Council levied on it, and not just in regard to its nuclear weapons program. The only purpose of that cheating can be to try to rebuild its arsenal of terror weapons so that one day it can again confront and intimidate its neighbors in pursuit of Saddam Hussein's imperial ambitions. One war has already been fought to thwart those ambitions. Once is enough.

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