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Iraq, under the control of Saddam Hussein and his sinister, Mafia-like tribe, remains a clear and present danger to his citizens, neighbors and the world. He not only possesses weapons of mass destruction — WMD — he’s used them in the past.

At the end of Desert Storm, when Stormin’ Norman had a steel grip around the Bully of Baghdad’s neck, the man couldn’t wait to sign the peace accord. But since then, Saddam has continually broken his word and intrigued against those who defeated him — that’s when he’s not too busy committing genocide upon his own people or shooting at our aircraft.

President George W. Bush made the right move last week when he fired a few shots through Saddam’s tent. They delivered a clear message: The USA’s got a new high sheriff, and the Beast of Baghdad best stop the nonsense and abide by his promises or suffer the consequences.

Since Desert Storm wound down in 1991, U.S. policy toward Iraq has been weak-willed, confined to a low flame on the back burner. When Saddam fired heat-seeking missiles with explosive warheads at our fighter planes, Clinton had our pilots respond with nonexplosive concrete “bombs.” Since Jan. 1 alone, Saddam’s made at least 65 attempts to shoot down our aircraft.

While we’ve been caught up in this no-win, lethal game of tit for tat, Saddam has rebuilt his military into a formidable force, refused to allow U.N. inspectors to eyeball what he’s up to in his reopened WMD death factories and sponsored new international terrorist initiatives.

But last week, Bush went back to gunpowder and steel and sent the right kind of long-overdue signal. Bullies understand that fiery stuff far better than a little hardened sand and cement.

The 24 strike fighter-bombers that closed down Saddam’s main Command and Control radar sites and other military structures took out every assigned target with military precision before returning unscathed to their bases. And now that Saddam is partially blinded, we should continue to keep him in the dark by attacking every air-defense facility that “paints” American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s trip to the Persian Gulf is designed to stitch together a badly frayed coalition that used to be a mighty force when Powell ran the ’91 war against Iraq. But since then, Saddam’s been doing a brisk business with most of the states who fought against him during Desert Storm. His machinations and manipulations have made a joke of the Gulf War sanctions: He sells oil on the sly by the tankerful, and planes are flying in and out of Baghdad as if it were JFK. Under Clinton, slowly, with care and cunning, Saddam has morphed into the true winner of Desert Storm.

But the Brits and the United States can’t play tit for tat forever. The air patrols over Iraq are wearing out our flying machines and taking their toll on our aircrews’ morale.

If Powell’s diplomacy fails and Saddam neither allows the U.N. inspections, as per the peace accord, nor honors his other agreements, then we should stop pussyfooting around while Iraq daily becomes stronger, and employ the full military hammer.

If we have to go for mini-Desert Storm II, we must first carry on with the airstrikes. We’ll need to completely take out the mustached one’s command and control nodes and his air-defense system, recently modernized by the Russians — whom, incidentally, we’re supporting with Yankee dollars and food stamps. As with Desert Storm I, if Saddam can’t talk and see, there’ll be fewer casualties all around when the hammer strikes.

Next we should move the U.S Army’s V Corps with its tank-heavy divisions from Germany to Iraq’s northern border and III Corps with its armored divisions from the States to Kuwait. Once air power has done its job and all’s in place, the two mighty corps can jump off in a giant iron pincer and meet in Baghdad.

History shows that the Hitlers and Saddams must be treated like serial killers and shot on sight. It’s more than time for us to do unto Hussein as we did unto Adolf.

It’s only fitting that Dubya should order Dick Cheney and Colin Powell to finish the ugly business that began on their and Poppy’s watch.

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