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More Reasons Against War with Iraq

May 10, 2002

Disarray in Washington

President Bush’s war plans are in disarray. The conflict in Palestine has pushed back the timetable, probably to 2003, though hawks in the Administration are still pushing for an earlier start to hostilities. The Pentagon is deeply divided over how to overthrow Saddam Hussein – a plan was supposed to have been agreed by 15 April. Tony Blair is under increasing pressure from his own Cabinet and from Labour backbenchers – he is report to have been forced to promise dissenters `that Britain will not back US military action against Iraq unless it wins the backing of the United Nations Security Council.’ (Independent, 10 May 2002, p. 1)

An Unpopular War

Crucially, a majority of people in Britain already oppose going to war with Iraq: 51 per cent disapproved according to an ICM poll. (Guardian, 19 Mar., p. 1) Two weeks later Time magazine reported an even stronger MORI poll finding. 56 per cent of British people polled said it was `wrong’ to `join the Americans in stepping up military action in Iraq, the country run by Saddam Hussein’. (1 Apr., p. 35)

War is unpopular in the region. Crown Prince Abdullah, effective ruler of Saudi Arabia: `I do not believe it is in the United States’ interests, or the interests of the region, or the world’s interest’. (Financial Times, 16 Mar.) Even Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed says, `ultimately, who rules that country [Iraq] should be a decision taken only by the Iraqi people.’ (Financial Times, 9 Apr., p. 6)

No Justification for War – No Link to 11 September

The Bush Administration has finally given up trying to link Iraq to 11 September. The strongest alleged link was the supposed meeting of Mohammed Atta, the 11 September ringleader, and an Iraqi diplomat later expelled from the Czech Republic for spying. The Administration has finally accepted that this `meeting’ in Prague never happened. (Washington Post, 1 May 2002, p. A09) The reluctant US admission came over four months after `Jiri Kolar, the [Czech] police chief, said there were no documents showing that Atta visited Prague at any time this year [2001]’. (Daily Telegraph, 18 Dec. 2001, p. 10)

An anonymous former CIA officer has remarked that, `The reality is that Osama bin Laden doesn’t like Saddam Hussein. Saddam is a secularist who has killed more Islamic clergy than he has Americans. They have almost nothing in common except a hatred of the US. Saddam is the ultimate control freak, and for him terrorists are the ultimate loose cannon.’ (Daily Telegraph, 20 Sept. 2001, p. 10)

The latest wheeze is an attempt to prove that a fundamentalist group operating in Iraqi Kurdistan is linked to both al-Qaeda and Baghdad. (New Yorker, 25 Mar.)

No Justification for War – Weapons of Mass Destruction

What about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. We have heard lots of claims and assertions, but seen precious little evidence.

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has said that, `it was possible as early as 1997 to determine that, from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq had been disarmed. Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent, if it possessed any at all, and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring. The same was true of Iraq’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.’ (Arms Control Today, June 2000)

According to Ritter, a former US Marine, `manufacturing CW [chemical weapons] would require the assembling of production equipment into a single integrated facility, creating an infrastructure readily detectable by the strategic intelligence capabilities of the United States. The CIA has clearly stated on several occasions since the termination of inspections in December 1998 that no such activity has been detected.’ Similarly biological weapons, according to Ritter.

The Prime Minister promised to publish a dossier of evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction by early April. It still hasn’t appeared. It was to be based on a `Joint Intelligence Committee’ report: `there is little new information worth sharing or publishing, according to insiders’ who had seen the report. (Sunday Times, 10 Mar., p. 2) According to intelligence sources, the dossier `contained no evidence that the threat from Iraq had increased significantly since the end of the Gulf war in 1991.’ (Sunday Times, 31 Mar., p. 15)

US `Won’t Take Yes For An Answer’

No conclusions can be drawn regarding Iraqi weapons programmes without in-country monitoring, but the best way to secure that monitoring is to move to a less confrontational inspection programme, and show willingness to lift, and not merely suspend, sanctions – so says Ritter.

US policy is heading in the other direction. `Key figures in the White House believe that demands on Saddam to re-admit United Nations weapons inspectors should be set so high that he would fail to meet them unless he provided officials with total freedom.’ (Times, 16 Feb. 2002, p. 19) A US intelligence official said the White House `will not take yes for an answer’. (Guardian, 14 Feb. 2002, p. 1)

According to a former US official, `The hawks’ nightmare is that inspectors will be admitted, will not be terribly vigorous and not find anything. Economic sanctions would be eased, and the US will be unable to act and the closer it comes to the 2004 elections, the more difficult it will be to take the military route.’ (Washington Post, 15 Apr,. A01)

`”The White House’s biggest fear is that UN weapons inspectors will be allowed to go in,” says a top Senate foreign policy aide.’ (Time magazine, 13 May, p. 38) Inspectors are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem, as far as the Bush Administration is concerned. Preventing the development of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is secondary to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Inspectors hinder the war effort, and they must be undermined.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has made it clear that the US is intent on war, whatever happens with the inspectors: `US policy is that, regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq and the people of the region would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad. The United States reserves its option to do whatever it believes might be appropriate to see if there can be a regime change.’ (Guardian, 6 May) The issue of the inspectors is a `separate and distinct and different’ matter from the US position on Saddam Hussein’s leadership, said Powell. (Associated Press, 5 May, 12.27pm ET)

The `Afghan Test’

A fundamental problem is that military planners have yet to come up with a convincing plan: `so far, officials have yet to come up with a plan that meets “the Afghan test”: a low-cost, speedy assault that has a high probability of toppling President Saddam Hussein.’ (FT, 1 Feb. 2002, supplement p. III)

Washington hawks favour the Afghan route, relying on local opposition forces supported by US airpower. Pentagon generals prefer invasion with a force of 70,000 to 250,000 US troops. A smaller force of 50,000 could be assembled on US aircraft carriers and in Kuwait, without having to force unwilling allies in the region to provide bases. It could also build up faster, lessening the opportunities for international opposition to develop. (Sunday Times, 17 Feb. 2002, p. 28)

`Leadership Change’ Not `Regime Change’

US leaders, and now Tony Blair, have spoken in terms of seeking `regime change’. But since 1991 the US has shied away from real change in Iraq, seeking instead `an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein’, according to Thomas Friedman, Diplomatic Correspondent of the New York Times (7 July 1991): sanctions were there to provoke a military coup to create `the best of all worlds’, a return to the days when Saddam’s `iron fist… held Iraq together, much to the satisfaction of the American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.’ In March 1991 this prospect was described by Ahmed Chalabi (now leader of the Iraqi opposition group the Iraqi National Congress) as `the worst of all possible worlds’ for the Iraqi people. (Cited Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New, 1994, p. 9)

When Kurds and Shias rose against the regime in Mar. 1991, the US granted permission to Baghdad to use helicopter gunships against the rebels, refused to release captured arms to rebels, and refused to intervene to defend the rebels. Richard Haass, director for Near East affairs for the US National Security Council, explained, `Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime.’ (Andrew and Patrick Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, HarperCollins 1999, p. 37)

`Washington’s calculation is that a break-up of Iraq would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Middle East, especially if it led to the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Turkey, a steadfast US ally with a large Kurd minority, would be destabilised. Iran could exploit the vacuum.’ (FT, 1 Feb. 2002, supplement p. III)

Sparing the Republican Guard

An officer involved in US planning asks, `do you take the Republican Guard [the military unit most loyal to Saddam] and disarm it? Or is it preferable to turn it from having a capability to protect Saddam to a capability to protect Iraq?’ (New Yorker, 24 Dec. 2001, p. 63) To protect Iraq from democracy and fragmentation.

In Feb. 1991, President Bush Sr. called a ceasefire just as US forces were about to destroy the most important elements of the Republican Guard. Now his son seems set to follow in his footsteps, preserving the regime, and trying simply to replace a handful of leaders at the centre. The Republican Guard is noticeably absent from the target lists published in newspaper reports.

The Illegality of the US War

`The US does not, to date, have a legal mandate for serious military intervention.’ (Economist, 26 Jan. 2002, p. 59) Lord Healey, former Labour Defence Secretary, said of Operation Desert Fox in Dec. 1998, `It is illegal to attack with bombs targets in a sovereign country without direct authorisation from the Security Council.’ (Daily Telegraph, 21 Dec. 1998) War on Iraq would be illegal today.

The Human Consequences

Another round of bombardment could have a devastating effect on the long-suffering people of Iraq. Even the destruction of a single power plant – by accident or design – could trigger off the shut-down of the entire Iraqi National Grid. This could have consequences that `could potentially dwarf all other difficulties endured by the Iraqi people’, according to Kofi Annan. (Report of the Secretary-General, 1 Feb. 1998) The stakes for the Iraqi people are very high.
Milan Rai is author of War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against the War on Iraq

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