No facts on Iraq

America accuses Iraq of building weapons of mass destruction, but is either unable or unwilling to produce any evidence.

Tom Reed

Topics Politics

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Whenever I think about Iraq, the Middle East or South Asia nowadays, I get nostalgic for MAD.

Along the Line of Control between Pakistani- and Indian-occupied Kashmir, it is still possible to see the warped beauty of a certain Cold War policy: Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD as it came to be known.

This was an end-of-the-world philosophy with a fittingly simple premise: America won’t make the first nuclear strike, but if it’s attacked, by God it will wipe Russia off the face of the Earth.

With MAD, you knew where you stood. Nixon’s supposed ‘MADness’ kept Brezhnev in check; Khrushchev’s mad rantings did the same for Eisenhower and Kennedy. But today, MAD seems too pink and precious for President Bush and his posse. They aren’t prepared to hang about waiting for ‘the evil ones’ to wreak havoc. ‘Pre-emption’ is their new doctrine.

In a speech at the West Point Military Academy in June 2002, Bush said: ‘In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action, and this nation will act.’ Richard Perle, a key defence adviser, claims that a pre-emptive land invasion of Iraq will take place either this winter or next spring. Real Americans don’t take chances.

Of course, the notion of self-defence has always contained an element of preventative action. But Iraq is a ruin of a country, its people half-starved and dazed by war, sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. To justify invading such a country, the USA would need some pretty convincing evidence of wrongdoing.

America accuses Saddam of countless heinous crimes, including building weapons of mass destruction. But if the US authorities have evidence for such weapon-building, they either cannot or will not produce it – not in the way that the Kennedy administration did during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USA pre-emptively constructed a naval blockade of Cuba.

Back then, President Kennedy sent his UN ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, to New York to present evidence that the Soviets had constructed nuclear missile silos on Cuba. Stevenson used maps and aerial photographs and demanded an answer from the Soviets – who said nothing. Within days, Khrushchev retreated.

So where is the justification for America’s coyly proposed ‘regime change’ in Iraq? According to Dr Gary Samore, a former director at the US National Security Council: ‘The regime’s ability to produce chemical or biological weapons may actually have improved during the embargo years. You only need very basic resources to produce anthrax, botulism, or, God forbid, smallpox. You could use anything from breweries to hospitals.’

Denis Halliday, a former United Nations assistant secretary general, disagrees: ‘Rubbish…. I testified to the Canadian government in Ottawa with Scott Ritter. He is one of the most aggressive of the military inspectors who was in Iraq. The UNSCOM inspections were held up at one point because Saddam objected specifically to his presence.

‘Ritter is former military intelligence, he worked closely with Mossad – Israeli intelligence where Iraq is concerned is second to none. He says there’s no capacity to manufacture nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. There’s no delivery system nor is there anything that could remotely be connected with chemical or biological weapons – food production, milk powder, food storage, pharmaceutical production, animal vaccines, it’s all been destroyed.’

Iraq has been forbidden to trade directly with the outside world since 1991 – instead, humanitarian aid is given in exchange for its equivalent value of oil: $4 billion of oil a year for $4 billion worth of food and medical supplies. As relief coordinator in charge of the oil-for-food programme, Halliday wrangled significant concessions out of the UN Security Council, persuading it to up the oil export allowance from $4billion to $10billion a year. But like many other senior UN figures who fell foul of the White House, Halliday soon came under pressure to leave his job as assistant secretary general.

The sanctions over which Halliday sacrificed his career have proved disastrous for Iraqi civilians. Illnesses like anaemia and cancer are now rife, and infant mortality rates have rocketed. The USA and the UK have blocked over $5 billion worth of aid contracts. Many items, like the compressors from baby incubators, are not released from the UN warehouses. Under the terms of the treaty, they are classified as having a ‘dual purpose’ – meaning they could also be used in weapons production. Unfortunately, deprived of that vital component the incubator cannot work either.

Of course Baghdad bends the rules. There is a thriving black market in oil between Iraq and its neighbours Jordan, Turkey and Libya. Reluctant to compensate those countries, like Turkey, which complained bitterly about losing around $30billion in trade with Iraq since the sanctions were imposed, America appears to have given them its tacit permission to buy oil illegally from Iraq – making a mockery of claims that all Saddam has to do to end sanctions is let the weapons inspectors back into the country.

‘Iraq and Iran pose the only serious threat to US hegemony in the Middle East, so the Americans don’t want UNMOVIC [UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] to give the country a clean bill of health’, claims Halliday.

‘The inspectors are not allowed to set targets. They’re not allowed to tell the Iraqis that they want to see half a pound of enriched uranium, or seven medium range missiles or whatever. How can Iraq ever satisfy the Security Council? They don’t know what to produce for the inspectors. How can they prove what they don’t have?’

As Dr Gary Samore concludes: ‘The views of the hawks are quite complicated post 9-11, but they certainly wouldn’t consider Iraq’s current weakness as any reason for toning down their stance.’

In other words, hiding behind its vulnerability won’t save Iraq.

Tom Reed writes for Westminster Watch.

Read on:

When in doubt, attack Iraq, by Mick Hume

Bush’s Gulf War syndrome, by Brendan O’Neill

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Topics Politics


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