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Anthrax and Iraq – will the U.S. expand the war? war?

By Peter Dale Scott Pacific News Service
Thursday October 25, 2001

Under the mountains of newsprint emerging globally every day about events and issues tied to Sept. 11, one story has been almost buried. News reports from both inside and outside the United States suggest America may be on the brink of an invasion into Iraq – and anthrax may provide the pretext. 

For about a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the press reported tension in Washington between two increasingly intransigent camps. One camp follows the multilateral approach of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and would limit U.S. military response in order to hold together an anti-terrorist coalition that includes Muslim countries. 

The other is centered in the Defense Policy Advisory Board, which is composed of hawk-minded unilateralists such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The immediate objective of the so-called “Wolfowitz cabal” is reportedly to expand the U.S. war by invading and occupying oil fields around Basra, in southeastern Iraq. Doing this, the group knows, would wholly undermine the consensus of the anti-terrorist coalition. It is a price they are willing – perhaps even eager – to accept. 

The conflict between the two camps was first outlined clearly on Oct. 12 by The New York Times. The Times reported that “A tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government is working to mobilize support for a military operation to oust President Saddam Hussein.” It added, “The group has largely excluded the State Department, where Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has adamantly argued that such an attack would destroy the international coalition.” A two-day meeting of the Wolfowitz group was allegedly not even reported to the State Department. 

Two days later the London Observer reported that CIA and defense officials think Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks in the United States, and that Pentagon hard-liners (including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the “Wolfowitz cabal”) were using the anthrax menace “to press for strikes on Saddam.” 

The Iraq-anthrax question has been handled more discreetly by U.S. media. As if to illustrate the truth of the Observer story, CNN featured former CIA Director James Woolsey, a close Wolfowitz ally, on the question of who was behind the anthrax menace. When asked who masterminded the bio-terror attacks, Woolsey replied, “My first nominee would be the government of Iraq, but I think Iran is not impossible either.” 

In several aggressive stories linking Saddam Hussein to bin Laden's al Qaeda network, there was little or no mention of Hussein and anthrax. Instead there was a press debate as to the grade of the powdered anthrax that hit New York and Washington. Was it so finely milled that only a state (such as Iraq) could have supplied it? No clear consensus emerged on this important question. 

In the last week columnists have also woven elaborate stories linking Saddam Hussein to bin Laden through the contacts of intermediaries. For example William Safire wrote in The New York Times of Oct. 11 that Saddam's secret service director, Faruq Hijazi, had visited bin Laden in 1994. Safire did not mention the source of this allegation, which has been attributed elsewhere to the obviously partisan Iraqi Liberation movement. 

Now the Iraq-anthrax story (along with that of the Faruq Hijazi visit) has at last been given prominence in the Oct. 29 issue of US News and World Report. In an article entitled “The Second Front,” Michael Barone writes that the purity of the anthrax spores suggests an Iraq link, since, according to Fort Detrick specialists in biological warfare, this “wasn't a kitchen or garage operation.” 

There are obviously many in the United States, most prominently the pro-Israel lobby, who have wanted to oust Saddam Hussein for years, long before the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. 

Wolfowitz in particular assured Turkey in the first half of this year that whatever America did in the Middle East, the “territorial integrity” of Iraq would be assured. Translation: Turkey need not fear that the Kurds of northern Iraq would be liberated in any post-Hussein era. (This has not deterred Safire, Wolfowitz's ally, from calling on Washington to “unleash the Kurds.”) 

But for an outsider without access to secret intelligence, it is hard to imagine why Iraq would risk U.S. retaliation, and possible obliteration, by launching an amateurish anthrax attack in which, so far, only a handful of people have died. 

In general, the U.S. media appear to understand the need to be discreet in reporting the alleged Iraq-anthrax connection. A U.S. attack on Iraq could well destroy the global anti-terrorist coalition so patiently assembled by Powell. 

The alternatives were spelled out clearly by the Sydney Morning Herald of Oct. 19: “Britain, Russia, China, Europe and, importantly, the Arab states that have given their backing to the war against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden have publicly stated their total opposition to any raids on Baghdad, but the cabal, which is named after the Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, is pressing on.” 


PNS commentator Peter Dale Scott (pdscott@socrates.Berkeley.EDU) is a former Canadian diplomat and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and has authored numerous books on U.S. foreign policy.