Containment of Iraq: Status and Challenges

from a review in
The New York Review of Books
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March 29, 2001

"Bush's First Strike"


Director and Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

Book reviewed by M. Ignatieff:
Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda
by Hamza Khidhir and with Jeff Stein
352 pages, $26.00 (hardcover)
published by Scribner
(order book)


[with added links and some information that became available since this paper was published]
Joachim Gruber

State of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Arsenal

Saddam develops weapons of mass destruction. Saddam has actually used WMD.


  1. Containment of Iraq.
  2. Sanctions against Iraq have been redirected by Saddam against his own people (Thomas L. Friedman, "Saddam Has Won the Propaganda War, So Change Tactics," International Herald Tribune, February 7, 2001).
    1. From June to December 2000, for example, Saddam could have spent $7.8 billion he received from UN-approved oil sales on food and medicine for his people. Instead he spent only $4.2 billion [Thomas L. Friedman, "Saddam Has Won the Propaganda War, So Change Tactics," International Herald Tribune, February 7, 2001] (see also: compilation of some facts on the UN Oil-for-Food program, oil sales under UN Oil-for-Food program by phase),
  3. Sanctions regime
    • ignored by several dozen European and Asian companies (2, 3, 4).
    • ... Also associated with these missiles and related developments is the import, which has been taking place during the last few years, of a number of items despite the sanctions, including as late as December 2002. Foremost amongst these is the import of 380 rocket engines which may be used for the Al Samoud 2.

      Iraq also declared the recent import of chemicals used in propellants, test instrumentation and, guidance and control systems. These items may well be for proscribed purposes. That is yet to be determined. What is clear is that they were illegally brought into Iraq, that is, Iraq or some company in Iraq, circumvented the restrictions imposed by various resolutions. (H. Blix, "The Security Council, 27 January 2003: An Update On Inspection)

      More than 4,500 companies took part in the UN oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, the committee investigating the program was to report Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005. The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, according to investigators for the committee. The inquiry was led by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

      In an interview, Volcker said that while he knew the naming of companies and the exposure of international "machinations" would draw attention, he hoped it would not obscure his committee's purpose in keeping the focus of their work on the need for UN reform.
      "In my mind," he said, "this part of our investigation, looking at the manipulation of the program outside the UN, strongly reinforces the case that the UN itself carries a large part of this responsibility and needs reform. "Even though we are looking at it from the outside, it kind of screams out at you, 'Why didn't somebody blow a whistle?' The central point is that it all adds up to the same story. You need some pretty thoroughgoing reforms at the UN."
      (Warren Hoge, New York Times, Thousands implicated in payoffs to Saddam, International Herald Tribune Okt. 27, 2005)]

  4. Replacing "dumb" sanctions that hurt the general population with "smart" ones that affect the elite.
    • Targeted sanctions would be directed at particular officials and their families, in the ruling political, military, scientific, and technological elite.
    • They would
      • prevent such leaders from traveling,
      • impound their overseas assets,
      • stop them from buying sinister technologies abroad.
  5. The techniques for such targeting exist.
    • Banks routinely run sophisticated computer programs that trace and block transactions by named individuals and accounts.
    • A policy of targeted sanctions requires coordination and the sharing of intelligence among state and banking authorities across the world.
    • Apart from the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) in the US Treasury, the central banking systems of Western governments lack the capacity, so far, to administer a targeted system for freezing and seizing Iraqi assets.
  6. Control of export licensing, aimed at preventing Western companies from supplying Iraq with the equipment and material Saddam needs.
    • A scandalous collusion of European and American
      • pharmaceutical companies,
      • precision equipment manufacturers, and
      • weapons suppliers.
    • Dual use exports have been accepted by foreign governments even if the ultimate military use in Iraq is apparent and prepared by the supplier company (example: the German sale of a pesticide production plant, and of heat protected flat-bed trailors by Daimler-Benz ).
    • Export control together with targeted sanctions require
      • intelligence and
      • regulatory
      abilities that America probably has while its allies do not. It would therefore require a degree of alliance cohesion that is fast disappearing (see also the limited number of members of the coalition against Iraq).
  7. The willingness of foreign scientists to work for Saddam.
    • Matthew Meselson of Harvard and Julian Robinson of Sussex University have proposed to make it a criminal offense subject to universal jurisdiction, for any scientist, businessman or technician to render substantial assistance to the development, production, acquisition, or use of those biological or chemical weapons already banned by international treaty.
  8. " No credible "lite" version of UN weapons inspection exist (see e.g. Scott Ritter's documentation).
  9. (Technical and intelligence) problems with precision bombing.
  10. Support of a move from containment to regime change.
  11. Even if America were capable of fomenting a revolution, it is not clear that it could control its consequences.
  12. Many people think the right policy in the short term is to do nothing.
  13. Saddam's WMD are the very foundation of his strategy for defending the country.
  14. Why should we be frightened of him?


  1. The purpose of American policy should not be to overthrow Saddam.
  2. It is not wise or just to attempt to keep Iraq poor and miserable.
  3. American purposes should be confined to
    • protecting Kurdish autonomy in the north of the country, and
    • preventing Iraq from harming, destabilizing, or overthrowing its neighbors, or endangering the flow of oil.
  4. This limited set of goals should be attainable with credible threats and the determination to use targeted and discriminate measures.

Further Reading

(added by JoachimGruber)

Oct. 2, 2006
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