Joe Conason's Journal

Baghdad is falling. So why not wait until we have a clear shot at Saddam before dropping more bombs?

Published April 8, 2003 5:32PM (EDT)

Hearts and minds and heads on pikes
The White House can't seem to decide whether killing Saddam is important or not. Last Friday, when asked about a videotape that seemed to indicate the dictator might still be loitering around Baghdad, Ari Fleischer replied airily, "At this stage, all I can tell you is we don't know. I can also tell you in the bigger scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. Because whether it is him, or whether it isn't him, the regime's days are numbered and are coming to an end."

Evidently, Saddam's head on a pike is worth something, however -- namely, the lives and homes of a still unknown number of innocent Iraqis. Although unmentioned in most news stories about the latest potshot at Saddam, those nameless souls had the misfortune to be present in a restaurant and other buildings adjacent to the residence where Saddam and his inner circle, including his son Qusay, were thought to be hiding, according to USA Today (notice how the human beings are cropped out of a photo of the gigantic crater left by the four JDAM bombs). "Iraqi rescue workers looking in the rubble for victims told The Associated Press that three bodies had been recovered and the death toll could be as high as 14." Those rescue workers -- no doubt Baathist agents -- "said that the first three bodies recovered were those of a small boy, a young woman and an elderly man."

Of course, we're killing them for their own good. (Although 21-year-old Seif Hatef, whose friends were among the victims of the Monday bombing, doesn't seem to understand. "Such attacks will make Iraqis more determined to resist," he told the AP. "Iraq will remain and this war will never finish." That dispatch in the New York Times also says that the rescue workers found the corpse of a woman whose "head had been severed from her torso.")

I certainly hope they nailed the bastard this time. If not, since Baghdad is falling as this is written, and Saddam is clearly losing control of the state apparatus, maybe our war planners should wait until they get a clear shot.

Meanwhile, tests are still proceeding on those barrels and missiles alleged to contain sarin, tabun or other chemical agents. MSNBC reports that the latest tests on the liquid in the barrels were negative. Today's Financial Times has an excellent story on the broader issue of biological and chemical weapons:

"US and UK forces now occupy territory in which 19 of Iraq's alleged 40 WMD-related sites listed in CIA and UK intelligence reports are located. However, after 19 days of war the invading forces have found no evidence to support their claims.

"Moreover, without United Nations arms inspectors in the country, evidence provided by US officials under pressure to substantiate claims about WMD will be regarded with scepticism unless verified independently."

For some reason, however, the White House hawks are vowing that those U.N. inspectors will never be allowed anywhere near those sites again. A front-page story in this morning's Wall Street Journal explains that "U.S. officials are struggling to resolve an internal debate over how best to verify for the world any discovery of chemical or biological weapons." Colin Powell and Tony Blair, predictably enough, favor "some role for international inspectors." And just as predictably, "the administration debate appears to be tilting toward top officials at the Pentagon and some in the White House, who are just as fiercely opposed to inviting UN inspectors back to Iraq."

Even hawkish former inspector David Kay is worried by that nutty attitude. He told the Journal that the U.S. has "got to show" the world "independently verified evidence of the presence of these weapons ... We have to communicate this credibly to places like the Middle East, where some people still think we or [the Mossad] staged the attack on the World Trade Center." But those unnamed officials at the Pentagon and the White House believe in victory through armaments, not arguments.

Clip and save
Minnesotans and many other Americans who admired Paul Wellstone now have a clipping to post on their bulletin boards and refrigerators -- something to remind them every day between now and 2008 why Norm Coleman should be sent back to St. Paul. Behind those bright capped teeth there is obviously no brain, and (despite all those pious references to God) quite possibly no soul.
[10:48 a.m. PDT, April 8, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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