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Fact Sheets: The Threat from Iraq

(Updated February 2003)

Iraq is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions calling for Saddam Hussein to disarm. The Council placed the burden on Iraq to comply, and not on inspectors to find that which Iraq has spent more than four years trying to hide.

In his presentation to the UN Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell documented how Iraq has concealed its weapons, deceived inspectors, and continued to pursue a program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq does not yet have nuclear weapons, but it does possess chemical and biological weapons, and has continued work on the development of nuclear weapons.

Iraq is a country the size of California, expecting inspectors to find hidden weapons would be like trying to find buried treasure without a map. More important, as Powell noted, this is not their job.

War is the option of last resort, but it may become necessary to disarm Saddam. A war will undoubtedly lead to the tragic loss of life, but it may also bring an end to a dictatorial regime that has brutally repressed its citizens, killed tens of thousands of people, and destabilized the region. If necessary, it is hoped that a war will also help stimulate a democratization movement across the Arab world.

It is important to consider the consequences of war. Some may be unintended and detrimental to U.S. interests. For example, it is conceivable that U.S. military action will provoke greater terrorist attacks against American targets. The Bush Administration hopes that changing the regime in Baghdad may stimulate the democratization of the region. It is possible, however, that the opposite could happen, and that other leaders will increase the level of repression to hold onto power, or that Arab publics may rise up to oust their autocratic leaders and the result may be greater instability and the replacement of pro-American dictators with anti-American ones.

It is equally important to think about the impact of not going to war, especially after making a case for the necessity of doing so. If the United States fails to act, even if Iraq fails to meet the conditions set by the United Nations, then this will send a message that the United States is not serious about its policy and can be forced by international pressure to retreat from pursuing its national interest. Failing to disarm Hussein may, for example, may embolden terrorists to believe that they can act with impunity in some cases because public opinion or international pressure may inhibit American action. Other rogue nations, such as North Korea, Syria, and Iran, may conclude that they can continue their nefarious policies without fear of sanction or retribution.

The principal U.S. interest in the Middle East is to secure the supply of oil; nevertheless, oil supplies are not directly at risk at the moment. A war against Iraq would not be to protect oil, as it was in 1991, it will be to remove the threat posed by Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Some people argue that Iraq can be contained. One problem with this argument is there is no way to prevent him from continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction and to pass them onto terrorists, or to use them himself in the future.

Another argument is that Saddam will be more likely to use every weapon he has if he is attacked. This assumes he will not use them unprovoked. This is a man who gassed his own people, launched a war against Iran, and invaded Kuwait.

If the U.S. is afraid to fight Iraq because of its weapons, deterrence is turned on its head and it is the rogue nations that acquire weapons of mass destruction that will become the superpowers. Every small nation will have an incentive to acquire these weapons with the confidence that we won’t attack them out of fear they may use their arsenal against us. This is a recipe for proliferation, chaos, and an exponentially greater terrorist threat.

Although Iraq was forced to destroy many of its Scud missiles, it is believed a large number may remain hidden. These could pose a danger to Israel, though Israeli defense officials feel confident they are prepared for any threat, and that the likelihood of Israel being hit this time is low.

Part of Israel’s preparation has involved the deployment of Patriot missiles with U.S. forces. Israel has also developed (with the U.S.) the world’s most sophisticated antitactical missile system, the Arrow, which is designed to shoot down incoming Scuds, and has recently undergone a series of successful tests.

Despite Iraq's agreement to comply with UN Resolution 687, which prohibits it from allowing any terrorist organizations to operate on its territory, Baghdad still maintains contact with, and provides sanctuary to several groups and individuals involved in terrorism, including a faction of the PLO Iraq created. More recently, Hussein has publicly promised to pay $25,000 to the families of Palestinian terrorists, creating a financial incentive for Palestinians to attack Israelis.

Though some people question the connection between Iraq and al-Qaida, there is no doubt that Saddam and Osama bin Laden share a desire to undermine Western interests and to destroy Israel. Long before September 11, Iraq was on the State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

Israel was never expected to play a major role in hostilities in the Gulf in 1991. American officials knew the Arabs would not allow Israel to help defend them. Israel's posture reflected a deliberate political decision in response to American requests. Nevertheless, it did aid the United States' successful campaign to roll back Iraq's aggression through the contribution of intelligence and a variety of weapons systems, such as, mobile bridges, night-vision goggles, mine plows, and gas masks.

Should the U.S. again lead a coalition against Iraq, Israel will not participate directly, but it has already provided vital intelligence, and Israeli-made weapon systems will undoubtedly play a key role in the U.S. campaign.

Saddam has made no secret of his desire to destroy Israe. Prime Minister Sharon has indicated Israel will respond this time if it is targeted.

Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 significantly slowed Saddam Hussein’s development of nuclear weapons and may have spared U.S. troops the danger of facing a nuclear-armed Iraq in 1991.

The cost to Israel of the war in 1991 was enormous. The war required the defense budget to be increased by more than $500 million. Another $100 million boost was needed for civil defense.

The damage caused by the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles that landed in Tel Aviv and Haifa was extensive. Beyond the direct costs of military preparedness and damage to property, the Israeli economy was also hurt by the inability of many Israelis to work under the emergency conditions. The economy functioned at no more than 75 percent of normal capacity during the war, resulting in a net loss to the country of $3.2 billion. The biggest cost was in human lives. A total of 74 people died as a consequence of Scud attacks.

Even if Israel is not attacked in a new round of fighting in the Gulf, it is already facing similar costs because of the need to prepare for the worst-case, the decline in tourism, and the overall worsening of global economic conditions because of war fears.

Arab citizens of Israel are being given the same protection and as Jewish citizens. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Palestinians made no secret of their support for Iraq in 1991 — many were seen on their rooftops cheering as Scuds rained on Israeli population centers — and that those in the territories were not believed to be in danger, Israeli courts ordered the military to distribute gas masks to all the residents of the territories. Israel has already said it will provide gas masks to Palestinians in areas under its control this time, but the PA will be responsible for taking care of people under its authority.

Today, Palestinians are again marching in the streets in support of Saddam Hussein and calling for him to attack Israel.