Melanie Phillips

12 September 2002

Let's get real over Iraq

Published in: Daily Mail

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The mourning in Britain for the victims of September 11 has been as heartfelt- if not as anguished -- as it is in America. But unlike the US, many in Britain and Europe do not agree that the next step is war against Iraq.

Yes, we know Saddam Hussein is a monster, goes this argument, and a threat to the world and all that. But we knew that before September 11. There's no evidence he was involved in that atrocity. So what's changed?

What changed was that on that dreadful day, American eyes were suddenly opened both to the implacable reality of the Islamist terrorist threat to the West, and to the equally terrible fact that this had been allowed to develop through astonishing complacency, ignorance and idiocy about that threat - similar to what is now on display in Britain and Europe.

After all, some 800 Americans had been killed by Islamist terrorism in the twenty years up to 2001. On September 11 President George W Bush suddenly grasped that the old order, in which acts of terrorism were merely followed by token reprisals and then business as usual with the terror regimes, was over. Instead for the first time, terror would be faced down.

But, wail the fainthearts, Bush hasn't even finished off Al Q'aeda yet. Well, come on, guys; get real. Did anyone seriously think Al Q'aeda would be destroyed cleanly by getting rid of the Taleban? Since Al Q'aeda has a whole series of Arab terrorist godfathers, this was always going to be a long, difficult process.

War on Saddam is not revenge for September 11. It is rather a recognition that al Q'aeda is part of an axis of terror involving many Arab states, a web of interconnected terrorist groups and their sponsors in which Saddam plays a key role as chief bully.

His agents tried to murder the Emir of Kuwait. He sponsors Palestinian terrorism. He pays Palestinian families blood money to carry out homicide bombings.

And as for Al Q'aeda, western diplomats are reported to believe Saddam murdered the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal in Baghdad this summer after he refused Saddam's demand to train groups of Al-Q'aeda terrorists who had moved to northern Iraq from Afghanistan.

But, cry the nay-sayers, Saddam has no known intention to attack the West. Come again? This is a man whose terrorists tried to kill the first President Bush, and who were involved in the previous plot to blow up the World Trade Centre. A few days ago, an editorial in the Iraqi weekly Al-Iqtisadi, owned by Saddam's eldest son, called for the formation of suicide squads against the US, which it compared to Hitler and Nazism.

The reason we fought the Gulf War was that by invading Kuwait Saddam threatened the West's oil supplies. The reason weapons inspection was made a condition of the cease-fire was precisely because his development of weapons of mass destruction was considered such a grave threat to us.

So why do we now pretend he is not a threat to the West, when for four years he has refused to let us verify that he is indeed destroying those terrible weapons rather than adding to them? Does anyone seriously believe that during that time he has been turning his stocks of nerve gas and chemical agents towards mushroom farming instead?

The former UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler has said there is evidence that Saddam has 'reinvigorated' his nuclear weapons programme in the inspection-free years. You bet he has.

The Institute of Strategic Studies says Saddam could develop a nuclear bomb in months if he buys or steals weapons-grade fissile material.

Defectors say he has been building biological and chemical weapons in eight locations, and will have three to five nuclear weapons by 2005. And who knows what other intelligence there is that cannot be revealed without compromising agents still in place?

People say he would never use these weapons for fear of retaliation. The naivety makes one weep. Why is it his core objective to acquire them if not to use them? Anthrax can be sent anonymously through the post; a biological suitcase bomb can be delivered by proxies. Who would retaliate against a man who leaves no fingerprints?

Saddam has a declared ambition to become the leader of the Arab world, another Saladin. He has already tried to invade Iran and Kuwait, and attacked Saudi Arabia and Israel.

If a nuclear Saddam attacked Kuwait or Saudi Arabia again, the West would be paralysed and he would have his hand on our energy windpipe.

In such a position, he would then become a magnet for Islamists in their jihad against the West. Saddam is a Ba'athist - his political party is secular rather than spiritual. But, as leader of the Arab world, he would inevitably become leader of the Islamist movement - and with the most terrible weapons at its disposal.

Those like the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who say pre-emptive action against Saddam is evil, are effectively saying they are prepared to sit and wait for this monstrous situation to arise. Since when is it moral to deliberately expose millions to the likely threat of nuclear, biological or chemical blackmail or attack?

People say we can't topple Saddam unless we know who to put in his place. This is utterly ridiculous. We need to protect ourselves by removing a threat -- period. It is not for us to dictate to the Arab world how to govern itself.

Any new regime in Iraq must fulfil only one criterion for us: that it will not pose a threat to the rest of the world. And the same goes for the other countries in Bush's axis of terror: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The US hopes that sorting Saddam will deliver to these other states the simple message: unless you desist from terror, you're next.

If these states don't put their houses in order, then the west has a moral duty to act against them too if the world is not to be held to ransom for ever. Those who say war with Iraq threatens the stability of the whole region need a reality check again. The whole point is to upset the stability of the region, because the region has bankrolled, armed and trained terrorists for decades.

People in Britain say Bush wants war because he is opportunistic or stupid, and that Tony Blair is his poodle. But why on earth should either of them want to take such a terrible risk with the lives of their people and with their own political future unless they believed there really was no alternative?

I have opposed Blair over many issues. But in his crisis he has taken his political life in his hands. In facing down his morally and intellectually challenged party, and in attempting to persuade Europe of the necessity of war, he is showing a very high level of courage and statesmanship.

Yes, war with Iraq poses terrible risks for all of us. But doing nothing poses a risk that is far worse.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography


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Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
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Contact Melanie