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Strikes Imminent if Diplomacy Fails

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 11, 1998 – Military strikes against Iraq are imminent if diplomacy fails and Saddam Hussein continues to deny U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access.

From Saudi Arabia, to Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and here in Qatar, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen spread the word: Time is running out. After months of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts, the United States and other allies are preparing to take action.

Nearly 27,000 American and British troops, hundreds of fighter aircraft, two American carrier battle groups and one British aircraft carrier are assembled in the region and more are on the way.

U.S. defense officials deployed the USS Guam, a 2,300-Marine amphibious readiness group and another 42 combat and support aircraft.

Feb. 10, defense officials traveling with Cohen told reporters another 3,000 ground troops would soon be deployed to the region. Soldiers from Fort Stewart, Ga., will draw tanks, tracks and other armored equipment from pre-position sites in Kuwait.

While the strike forces gather, Cohen jumped from one Gulf state to the next aboard an Air Force C-17. Greeted by defense ministers, he then met with heads of state, government officials and local journalists. Throughout the trip, he repeated one primary message: Diplomacy is preferred, but if all else fails, military force is the next option.

The United States and Great Britain contend Saddam Hussein must open his doors to U.N. weapons inspectors, Cohen said. The Iraqi leader must not be allowed to develop or deliver weapons of mass destruction. "We believe he poses a threat to the stability of the region, that he has the capacity to inflict great harm, and has shown no hesitancy to do that in the past," he said.

The United States and Great Britain are not alone, Cohen added. During the week of his travels, first Germany, then Canada and Australia announced their support. "There is a growing recognition that the U.N. resolutions cannot be flouted if they are to maintain their integrity and credibility," Cohen said.

"We hope diplomacy will succeed," he said, "but if it doesn't, then we must compensate and try to reduce his capacity to build and deliver these weapons of mass destruction by military means, if all else fails."

The gulf states, partners in crushing Hussein's ambitions in 1991 and 1994, also prefer diplomacy to military strikes, Cohen said. But they recognize force may be necessary. Cohen said the trip reaffirmed his confidence the gulf nations would continue their strong support.

After meeting with Saudi Arabian King Fahd and Defense Minister Prince Sultan, Cohen said they'd made it very clear Hussein will be responsible if diplomacy fails and military action is taken. "We have strong support from the Saudi government and, as a result of our meeting, we're confident this relationship will continue," Cohen said.

At a press conference here Feb. 10, Cohen said he believes there is solidarity on this issue among all the states, particularly among the gulf states who are the most at risk.

"Of all the people who should be concerned about the development of anthrax or VX or Reisen, or other deadly chemical or biological weapons," Cohen said, "it should be the people of the Gulf region. They have been the victims of his aggression in the past."

Hussein has killed thousands of Iraqi and Iranian citizens using chemical weapons, Cohen said. And he has lied about possessing such weapons.

After the Gulf War, Hussein stated he had no chemical or biological weapons, Cohen said. Inspectors discovered, and Hussein finally admitted that Iraq has as much as 2,100 gallons of anthrax, nearly four tons of VX, and it's growing castor beans to produce Reisen, a deadly poison for which there is no antidote. Iraq was also preparing to deploy missiles bearing these deadly toxins, Cohen pointed out.

Throughout the region, no one disputed the Iraqi threat, but local officials and journalists alike expressed concern for the Iraqi people. "Our quarrel is not with them," Cohen said. "We believe they have suffered for many years under his brutal dictatorship. We have a report coming out on how he has ruled with absolute brutality against those who expressed any opposition to his military objectives."

Evidence of American concern for Iraqi citizens can be found in the oil for food program the United States initiated to help them endure U.N. sanctions. "Saddam Hussein personally obstructed that program for many months," Cohen said. "We have shown greater concern for the Iraqi people than he has. While he has been building monumental palaces, spending billions of dollars, his people have been going hungry."

Cohen said the bottom line is simple. "Saddam holds the key to the solution. He can end the crisis by unlocking his doors to the inspectors. But if diplomacy fails, Saddam Hussein must carry responsibility for the consequences."

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