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Don't downplay importance of destroying Iraqi arms

Now we are being told in TV and print stories and commentary that the United States will not be able to knock out Saddam Hussein's biological warfare bombs and that the Iraqis would never use them because they could blow back in their faces.

We are told that biological weapons are scary to think about but they are ineffective, so why worry. Anyway, they are no worse than nuclear weapons, and Sad-dam has few of them left. So bombing Iraqi weapon sites is useless. Next we will be told Saddam's biological weapons are good for us.Some of all this is ignorance, some of it deliberately leaves out important information and history. For instance: The reason Saddam has few nuclear weapons in his stockpile is that the U.N. inspection system he is destroying spotted, tracked and destroyed them.

Saddam knows that the complete inspection system he accepted as the price of the gulf war cease-fire prevented him from accumulating so many weapons of mass destruction that they would terrify the entire Mideast and bring it under his control.

So as the inspectors came closer and closer to the chemical weapons and biological warfare capacity he built secretly for 20 years, in peace, war and cease-fire, he invited attack by the United States rather than give up trying to destroy the inspection system.

Bombing has two goals: Destroy weapons from the air as inspectors would have on the ground, and force Saddam to accept full inspection.

The information U.N. inspectors have collected over seven years convinces them that they know where Saddam is hiding most of his biological weapons and plans. And they believe Iraqis know how to use biological weapons without having death blow back into their faces.

They know Iraqi warheads could reach not only Israel, which has the nuclear weapon as deterrence, but Arab states that do not.

The inspectors know something else of importance: The chemical and biological sites are guarded by the same Republican Guard divisions that protect Saddam's regime. Hurt them, hurt Saddam.

For a clear summary of what U.N. inspectors have accomplished and what remains to be done, see the paper presented to Parliament by the British government on the Internet: (www.britain-info.org).

I know no one who thinks that bombing the sites will permanently destroy Saddam's lust to acquire mass-death weapons or his determination to end the inspection halter around his throat. Most of our allies and beneficiaries and the perpetually terror-stricken Arab nations will help him, just so it pays off in trade or protects them from his fury.

The Clinton administration shows no sign so far of preparing for what it knows is the only solution: the overthrow of Saddam. But meantime the least America should do is hit hard at his weapon plants, destroy his programs and put inspection back around his neck until the last hidden weapons are found.

To get rid of Saddam altogether the president would have to prepare Americans for the combat use of ground troops. It is getting more difficult to believe that Clinton will do that unless the chance of his forced resignation is eliminated.

So making the decision on ground troops may have to wait until our next presidency, whenever it arrives. Delay will be America's penalty for the sex scandal.

But one thing Clinton can do at once. He can end the years of American double-crossing of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam. That cost them a chance to overthrow him from within. The betrayal, born of arrogantly bad judgment by the CIA, the State and Defense departments, national security advisers and the White House, is an ugly fault line through the Bush and Clinton administrations.

On Saturday, Peter Jennings on ABC presented an updated version of his brilliant, searing dissection of the betrayal of the Iraqis and of the lost chance. It was shown first in June and proves that a really important piece of journalism lasts, gaining significance, not losing it. Please call 212-456-2488 for transcripts or tapes.

I hope Clinton sits down before that tape. It should show him that whatever else he does or decides, he has the opportunity and duty now to give the betrayed Iraqi opposition the arms, recognition - and constancy - they need to return to the battle against Saddam Hussein.

New York Times News Service