WASHINGTON -- "We're looking for links" between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist group and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, said Colin Powell yesterday. So far, our secretary of state can see "no clear link" between bin Laden's forces in Afghanistan and the America-hater publicly laughing at our grief in Baghdad.
Powell does not want to acknowledge any evidence of sponsorship of bin Laden by Iraq because that would demand a crushing blow at an Arab state. It might limit the diplomatic convoy of consensus he is assembling, which will travel at the rate of its most grudging member.
The clear link between the terrorist in hiding and the terrorist in power can be found in Kurdistan, that northern portion of Iraq protected by U.S. and British aircraft from Saddam's savagery.
Kurdish sources tell me (and anyone else who will listen) that the Iraqi dictator has armed and financed a fifth column of Al Qaeda mullahs and terrorists that calls itself the Jund al Islam ("Soldiers of Islam"). Its purposes are to assassinate the leaders of free Kurdistan, to sabotage the relief efforts of the U.N. and to whip up religious fervor in that free Muslim region. That is how Saddam plans to reconquer the no-flight zone that has been a thorn in his side for a decade.
According to a key member of the Kurdish resistance reached by cellphone in Suleymaniyah, some 400 "Arab Afghan" mercenaries armed with Katyusha rockets transported by Toyota
This current, direct threat by Muslim fanatics doing Saddam's bidding is uniting the two squabbling democratic parties in the free zone. Some 75,000 Kurdish warriors, protected from air attack by our fighter patrols, are headed by longtime rivals Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. These Kurds are not Arabs or anti- Turkish terrorists. Nor are they pseudo-religious extremists humiliating women and moderates; on the contrary, the Muslim faith practiced in northern Iraq has long been marked by tolerance.
As Kurds get reports from compatriots in Baghdad that Saddam's security services are hastily moving out of their offices, anticipating an allied strike, Barzani and Talabani are identifying and isolating Saddam's fifth columnists. The Kurds await word from Washington about when to move on Afghan terrorists in their midst, and eagerly look forward to joining an allied assault on Baghdad.
That brings us to the strategic decision now being debated in President Bush's war council.
Do we respond to our initial, catastrophic defeat in a wholly multilateral way? That would mean seeking intelligence crumbs from Saudi and Egyptian potentates, negotiating cautious U.N. resolutions, hunkering down to limit the damage of suicide bombers, and beginning a phased air and ground assault on bin Laden's "base" in Afghanistan to be followed up with joint police work for years around the world. It would fight yesterday's terrorist war.
Or do we recognize now the greater danger of germ warfare or nuclear attack from a proven terrorist nation, and couple expected retribution for this month's attack with a strategy of pre-emptive retaliation? Such use of our superpower need not require our "going it alone"; civilized nations unafraid of internal revolt will understand the threat to their citizens and stand with us.
Suicidal fanatics have proved they can kill by the thousands, and in time our commandos and bombers perhaps joined by a Muslim brigade including Afghans, Turks and Kurds will penetrate their cells and obliterate their camps and firebomb their caves. But Iraqi scientists today working feverishly in hidden biological laboratories and underground nuclear facilities would, if undisturbed, enable the hate-driven, power-crazed Saddam to kill millions. That capability would transform him from a boxed-in bully into a rampant world power.
It's troubling when Powell says that President Bush "has not worked out what he might do in later stages." Now is the time to work out how to strike down terrorism's boss of all bosses. "Later" may be a stage too late.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company