The Roots of the Iraq War

The whole history of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is one of terror, murder, and expansionist dreams. Saddam Hussein took power in 1979. He did not wait two years before he started a war with his powerful neighbor, Iran. This war lasted eight bloody years. Soon after the conclusion of the war (in 1991), barely a breathing space in the life of a war torn nation, he launched an invasion of Kuwait. His rapid defeat by allied forces hardly decreased his appetite for conflict. He waged a continuous war of nerves with the alliance, and committed violence on his own population, especially the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the southern part of the country.

However, brutal dictators who like confrontation do not generally motivate democracies inclined to peace to go to war. The causus belli of the Iraq war was more profound, and at the time far more frightening. It was feared that Saddam Hussein's government was producing weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological and/or nuclear). The CIA in the United States, along with most other intelligence services in the free world, believed that this was the case. When U.S. troops actually entered Iraq at the beginning of the war, they wore rubber suits fully expecting to be hit by at least chemical weapons, which Saddam had shown a willingness to use against the Kurds.

Sketch of Hans Blix

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for not complying with the terms of the armistice signed at the end of the Gulf War. Although the U.N. made repeated demands, Saddam would not let the inspectors, led by Hans Blix, do their work. Eventually, matters came to a head over this issue. Ironically, after the war no large cache of weapons was found. In this way, Saddam would be the cause of the deaths of many of his countrymen, lose power, and eventually lose his own life, all because he was not willing to allow inspectors to see that he actually did not have the weapons of mass destruction. As Murray and Scales so succinctly put it in their book, The Iraq War, "By providing such grudging and inadequate support for Hans Blix's U.N. weapons inspectors, Saddam signaled that he had something dangerous to hide."

Also going through the minds of many policy-makers from the U.S. as well as in Tony Blair's government in the U.K., was that even if Saddam Hussein did not have a weapons program now, he would acquire one as soon as the U.N. lifted sanctions. Sitting on top of the second biggest reserves of oil known to exist at the time, Saddam would have had plenty of revenue with which to swiftly advance any weapons program that he desired. He also had considerable technological backing from the French who had supported his nuclear program before the Gulf War.

The fact that these weapons would be in the hands of a dictator was bad enough, but most thoughtful people in government believed that once Saddam developed weapons, it would only be a matter of time before he would willingly place them in the hands of terrorists for use against both Israel and the United States. Saddam was known to be a strong supporter of terrorist organizations and had even given rewards to the families of young men who "martyred" themselves as suicide bombers.

Perhaps the final cause for the United States entering the war was the fear within the Bush Administration that the reputation of the United States had suffered under the Clinton Administration, making it difficult for the United States to threaten to use military force. They may have believed that previous administrations had made such threats seem unbelievable by vacillation and the inability to follow through. In order for the United States to exercise its diplomatic muscle, it had to demonstrate its willingness to use military means when necessary. Part of Saddam's bravado in the face of U.N. demands, in fact, was probably because he estimated that the United States would not use its military force. He felt this had been demonstrated more than once, when George Herbert Walker Bush had not followed up the victory in Kuwait to take on the Iraqi army in Iraq during the Gulf War. There had also been an incident in Mogadishu where the U.S. planned to intervene, to bring peace to a war torn area. After taking a few casualties and having these casualties dragged through the streets, President Clinton had withdrawn from the city.

Thus whether he had them or not, Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" brought on the Iraq War.

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