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International Socialist Review Issue 26, NovemberDecember 2002
Q&A: The truth behind their war
ERIC RUDER, a regular contributor to Socialist Worker newspaper, answers all the most important questions surrounding the planned U.S. assault on Iraq
THE BUSH administration wants war with Iraq, and it has launched a full-scale public relations campaign to build support. If you listened only to the U.S. media, you might think that the case for a military assault to bring about a regime change is airtight. Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction in order to threaten the U.S. and its neighbors. Saddam Hussein is an evil madman who has shown his willingness to use these weapons in wars with other nations and against his own people. And Iraq has defied United Nations (UN) weapons inspectors for a decade. But at every step in this argument, U.S. officials rely on exaggeration, half-truths, rank hypocrisy, or outright liesand the media eats it up. Lets look at each point in turn.
DOES IRAQ have weapons of mass destruction?
After enduring decimation in the first Gulf War and more than a decade of UN sanctions, its highly unlikely that Iraq has a threatening arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, George W. Bush has repeatedly warned that Saddam Hussein somehow continues to develop vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons and that Saddam has also begun a nuclear weapons program. Citing satellite photos, Bush asserts that Iraq has reconstructed buildings at a site formerly alleged to be part of Iraqs nuclear program, and Bush says that Iraq tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for constructing gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. Author and activist Robert Jensen points out the absurdity of this claim: Thats the equivalent of saying, ŽIf Iraq had a nuclear weapon, it would have a nuclear weapon. Creating the other components of a nuclear bomb would be relatively easy; the fissile material is the issue.
Many other well-respected experts also contradict Bushs conclusions. Bush seems to be getting ahead of the facts, said David Albright, a former nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. These tubes are not central to centrifuge, theyre just not. Albright even spoke with gas centrifuge experts at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and they disagree with how this intelligence is being used, but they have been ordered to keep quiet by the Bush administration. And Gary Milhollin, another respected nuclear expert who heads Iraq Watch in Washington, D.C., says that the aerial photos dont prove much of anything. We cant tell whats in those buildings, said Milhollin. There isnt proof that theres biological or chemical weapons being made there. Those buildings could be used for civilian industrial uses.
The CIA also seems to dispute Bushs assertions. A recent CIA report says it will take at least five years for Iraq to develop the uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon. And the report admits that the aluminum centrifuge tubes are often used for conventional weapons not prohibited by UN resolutions. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies makes the same point. Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons, and it would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile production facilities. The fact that the Bush administration is exaggerating or lying about evidence of Iraqs weapons programs is even beginning to rankle the intelligence community. Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements, and theres a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA, said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIAs former head of counter-intelligence.
As far as Iraqs chemical and biological weapons programs are concerned, Scott Ritterwho led the UN weapons inspections in Iraq during the 1990ssays that he personally oversaw and documented the destruction of 90 to 95 percent of such weapons in Iraqs arsenal. Ritter also thinks that its possible that all of Iraqs chemical and biological weapons were destroyed, given that his team wasnt able to document how many weapons Iraq destroyed on its own. Ritter is hardly an antiwar crusader. He voted for Bush in 2000 and says he would support a war if Iraq does possess weapons of mass destruction. But now hes disgusted with the Bush administration. Unfortunately, as far as the Bush administration is concerned, it seems that when it comes to Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, truth is more often than not the first casualty, Ritter wrote earlier this year.
DOES IRAQ pose a significant threat to its neighbors or the U.S.?
The Bush administration portrays a war against Iraq as necessary for protecting the Middle East from Saddam Hussein, but Iraqs neighbors oppose a U.S. war. And that includes Kuwait, the nation that Iraq invaded in 1991.
The idea that Iraq has the capacity to or the interest in launching missiles against the U.S. isnt even taken seriously by the CIA. In March 2001, the CIA admitted that [m]ost agencies believe that Iraq is unlikely to test before 2015 any [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that would threaten the United States, even if UN prohibitions were eliminated or significantly reduced in the next few years.
Bush has warned that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas and that were concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these [unmanned aerial vehicles] for missions targeting the United States. This is extremely far-fetched, according to military experts. Iraqi airspace is closely watched by U.S. radar systems. A slow-moving unmanned plane would be shot down the moment it left Iraqi airspace and would never reach the U.S.at least 5,500 miles away. As a guesstimate, Iraqs present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain U.S. freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraqs neighbors, said Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In an attempt to tie the war on Iraq to the U.S. war on terror, Bush has repeatedly raised the specter of ties between Iraq and Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda network. Again, this is not only far-fetched but unsubstantiated. Iraq is a secular regime hostile to Islamic fundamentalist opposition, while al-Qaeda has been a critic of Iraqs secularism. But beyond the fact that Iraq and al-Qaeda are natural enemies rather than allies, no evidence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda has been turned up even though the FBI and CIA have vigorously sought it out. Im unaware of any evidence of Saddam pursuing terrorism against the United States, said Bob Baer, a former CIA agent who studied the rise of the al-Qaeda network.
In fact, the CIA warns that its precisely a U.S. attack that could provoke Iraq into considering the use of terrorism. Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [chemical or biological weapons] against the United States, wrote CIA Director George Tenet in a recent letter to Congress. Should Hussein conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.
WHY WONT Iraq allow UN weapons inspectors into the country?
In truth, Saddam Hussein agreed in early September to allow weapons inspections to re-enter the country. But U.S. officials feared that Iraq might actually pass such a test. So Secretary of State Colin Powell personally pressed chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix not to enter Iraq until a new, tougher resolution authorizing inspections was passed by the UN Security Council. The truth is that the U.S. has no intention of allowing Iraq to pass the test of weapons inspections. The U.S. wants to use Iraqs supposed lack of cooperation with inspections as its rationale for war to accomplish its main goalregime change. Consider the words of Victor Mizin, a former Russian diplomat who worked in Iraq as an inspector during the 1990s. If there is a stalemate on inspections, it could be that the inspectors will have to stage some kind of provocation, Mizin told the New York Times in October. The alternative is wait and hope that the Iraqis commit some kind of mistake and create an incident themselves.
But the U.S. has still managed to succeed in portraying Iraq as unwilling to allow inspectors into the country. In December 1998, the U.S. ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq ahead of Operation Desert Foxone of the heaviest bombing campaigns against Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. But today, the official version of eventsrepeated again and again in the mainstream mediais that the bombing was in response to Saddam Husseins expulsion of weapons inspectors from Iraq.
Just a few weeks later, the Boston Globe reported in January 1999, that Iraqs long-standing accusations that the U.S. was using the UN weapons inspection teams to spy on Iraq were true. U.S. intelligence agencies, working under the cover of the UN, carried out an ambitious spying operation designed to penetrate Iraqs intelligence apparatus and track the movement of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, wrote the Globe. This intelligence, it turns out, was used to select targets during Desert Fox.
If Iraq wasnt always the most cooperative with weapons inspectors, this revelation explains why. But today, the U.S. is back with its same bag of tricks. The U.S. is demanding the right to have U.S. officials and military personnel on new UN inspection teams. And the U.S. is demanding that inspectors have complete and unfettered access to any and all sites it specifies, including Saddam Husseins presidential compounds. But according to the New York Times, no one expects to find weapons at the palaces.÷ Rather the hope is that they will find documents and computer discs indicating where weapons are being produced. In other words, with the U.S. threatening daily to wage war against Iraq and impose regime change, U.S. officials demand that Saddam Hussein allow weapons inspections teamsin the past used to spy against Iraqto comb through any and all documents and computer files. Moreover, press reports of Iraqs refusal to allow any inspections of the palaces are misleadingthe previous inspection regime actually allowed for inspections of the palaces, provided the inspectors were accompanied by an Iraqi official.
To top it all off with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, the U.S. has refused to allow international inspectors into its own chemical and biological weapons facilities, citing proprietary commercial interests. And in 1997, the Senate passed the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, but included a loophole in the form of a National Security Exemption that states that the president may deny a request to inspect any facility in the United States in cases where the president determines that the inspection may pose a threat to the national security interests of the United States. It comes as no surprise that the UN Security Council is not considering military action against the U.S. on these grounds.
BUT DIDNT Saddam Hussein gas his own people?
This is the most cynical reason given for war against Iraq. Thats because the U.S. was good friends with Saddam Hussein when the Iraqi military used poison gas to suppress the Kurdish opposition in 1988, killing up to 5,000 people in the village of Halabja. Whats more, the U.S. had supplied Iraq with the precursors necessary to build biochemical weaponsanthrax, botulism, and a slew of other toxic stuff. After the Halabja incident, the U.S. downplayed the attack, issuing nothing more than a rote criticism of the attack.
But the hypocrisy runs much deeper still. The U.S. supplied Iraq with all sorts of chemical and biological weaponry long after it knew that Saddam was using these weapons in its war against Iran. The U.S. Secretary of State acknowledged that he was aware of reports of Iraqi use of chemical weapons from 1983, and a United Nations team confirmed Iraqi use in a report of 16 March 1984, according to Labour Against War, a British antiwar organization that produced its own dossier to refute the Blair dossier.
Nevertheless, the U.S. administration provided crop-spraying helicopters to Iraq (subsequently used in chemical attacks on the Kurds in 1988), gave Iraq access to intelligence information that allowed Iraq to calibrate its mustard attacks on Iranian troops (1984), seconded its air force officers to work with their Iraqi counterparts (from 1986), approved technological exports to Iraqs missile procurement agency to extend the missiles range (1988), and blocked bills condemning Iraq in the House of Representatives (1985) and Senate (1988).
Only now, when the U.S. is making a case for war against Iraq, does it want to call attention to Iraqs use of chemical and biological weapons. But no one should take the U.S. governments newfound concern for the people of Iraq seriously. On the short list of candidates to replace Saddam after the regime change is none other than General Nizar Al-Khazraji, the field commander in charge of the attack on Halabja! But according David Mack, a senior State Department official, the general has a good military reputation and the right ingredients to lead Iraq in the future. Brigadier-General Najib Al-Salihi is also on the U.S. short list to lead a post-Saddam Iraq. Al-Salihi played an important military role in Iraqs invasion of Kuwait and also helped organize the repression of the anti-Saddam uprisings at the end of the first Gulf War, forcing 1.5 million people to flee their homes. In 1995, he oversaw the crushing of another rebellion by an opposition group and then defected to the U.S., where he now lives.
Perhaps the most important lesson here is for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In late October, Putins special forces used a chemical gas based on the opiate-based drug fentanyl to end a standoff with Chechen rebels holding 800 hostages in a Moscow theater. At least 118 hostages were killed by the gas. But Putin shouldnt be too worried that his gassing of his own people will place him in the crosshairs of the U.S. militaryas long as Russia continues its policy of accommodation with Washington. The U.S. could also be expected to be lenient if Russia shares information with U.S. chemical weapons scientists about the concentration of fentanyl used and the method of delivery employed by Russian forces. After all, according to a late October article in the Guardian,
respected scientists on both sides of the Atlantic warned [that] the Pentagon, with the help of the British military, is also working on non-lethal weapons similar to the narcotic gas used by Russian forces to end [the Moscow siege].÷ They also point to the paradox of the U.S. developing such weapons at a time when it is proposing military action against Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is breaking international treaties.
SO IF its not about weapons of mass destruction, why is the U.S. pursuing war against Iraq?
Every once in a while, the real war aims of the U.S. do sneak into the mainstream press. A September 10 article in the Boston Globe explains how the most hawkish players in Washington think tanks and military circlesonce relegated to the marginsare on the verge of making their grand designs into official policy. Its worth quoting at length:
Iraq, the hawks argue, is just the first piece of the puzzle. After an ouster of Hussein, they say, the United States will have more leverage to act against Syria and Iran, will be in a better position to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be able to rely less on Saudi oil.÷ The goal is not just a new regime in Iraq. The goal is a new Middle East, said Raad Alkadiri, an Iraq analyst with PFC, a Washington-based energy consulting organization. The goal has been and remains one of the main driving factors of preemptive action against Iraq. A friendly Iraqhome to the worlds second-largest oil reserveswould provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia for basing U.S. troops. Its oil reserves would make Saudi Arabia, the worlds largest oil exporter, less important in setting prices, he said. In general, others contend, a U.S.-allied Iraq could work to diminish the influence of OPEC, long dominated by Saudi Arabia, over oil supplies and prices.
This kind of honest talk is kept to a minimum, however. The administration doesnt want oil to be part of the war discussion because it undercuts the reasoning that the rush to war is because of an imminent [Iraqi] military threat, Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, told the San Francisco Chronicle. If the real motives were made clearthat this is a grab for oil and an attempt to break the back of OPECit would make our motives look more predatory than exemplary.
Iraqs oil reserves are vastabout 11 percent of the worlds proven oil reserves or 112 billion barrels. The whole world knows about the importance of Iraqs oil reservesthe question is who will control its flow. Both Russia and France have negotiated large contracts with Iraq. Russian oil giant Lukoil signed a $20 billion contract in 1997 to drill the West Qurna oilfield, and another huge Russian firm, Zarubezhneft, more recently won a contract potentially worth $90 billion. But if Saddams regime is changed, those contracts might also disappear. In all, Iraq may have contracts with foreign oil companies amounting to $1.1 trillion, according to the International Energy Agencys World Energy Outlook 2001.
A cut of the oil in a post-Saddam Iraq is the carrot being used to soften opposition within the UN to the war plans of the U.S. Its pretty straightforward, said former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, a leading advocate of regime change. France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, well do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. But note that Woolsey doesnt talk of honoring these contracts, just doing our best to get American companies to work with others.
Iraqs oil is certainly a worthy enough prize on its ownespecially if you happen to own a major oil corporation. But Washingtons war planners are looking at the big picture. Theyre aiming at an even bigger prize. War against Iraq would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity for global domination, even if it means becoming the ŽAmerican imperialists that our enemies always claimed we were, wrote Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in late September. This goal, in fact, explains why the U.S. doesnt hesitate to issue the UN ultimatums or worry much about what happens after Saddam is toppled. The point is to show that the U.S. can and will pursue its military and economic interests anywhere in the world without regard to any other nation.
The National Security Strategy document released this fallknown generally as the Bush Doctrineformulated this vision of the U.S. as the worlds unchallenged superpower. It defended the preemptive use of U.S. military power, including regime change and the use of nuclear weapons; the refusal of Washington to be bound by any international treaty or organization; the prevention of the emergence of any strategic rival; and the explicit linkage of U.S. economic and military policy.
Though the Bush doctrine is remarkable for its unapologetic embrace of unilateralism, the Clinton administration also pushed for a more aggressive foreign policy. To paraphrase former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Clinton administration believed that the U.S. should act multilaterally when it can and unilaterally when it must. And in 1995, a secret study of the Strategic Commandreleased through a Freedom of Information Act requestextolled the virtues of ruthlessness for getting other countries to see things from the point of view of the U.S. The study argued that the U.S. should exploit its nuclear arsenal to portray itself as irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked. That should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries. It hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed, the report continued. The fact that some elements [of the U.S. government] may appear to be potentially Žout of control can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversarys decision makers.
In the short run, theres another reason that the U.S. is pushing for war against Iraq at this moment. Israels war on the Palestinians has had the effect of making the U.S. hold on the Middle East more tenuous by alienating Arab regimes that the U.S. once counted as allies. This has accelerated the Bush administrations timetable for bringing a friendly regime to power in Iraq so that it can continue to maintain military bases in the region. It can also no longer be hidden that the U.S. is on notice that agreements to their military presence in the Middle East are no longer to be taken for granted, wrote Hans von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, in late September. This in turn has added an element of extreme urgency in introducing changes in the U.S. Iraq policy.
DOES IT still make sense to oppose the war if the U.S. gets the backing of the UN or a significant number of European countries?
War against Iraqwhether under the auspices of the UN or the U.S. and its allieswill take a tremendous human toll. The first Gulf War killed as many as 200,000 Iraqis in a matter of weeks. And since then, UN sanctions have taken the lives of at least 1 million moreaccording to the UNs own figuresand turned the lives of ordinary Iraqis into a living hell. At the beginning of the 1990s, Iraq was a relatively developed Middle Eastern country with a highly developed infrastructure, a decent health care system, and one of the highest literacy rates in the region. But the UN has overseen the economic and social devastation of Iraq. The U.S. claims that it has no gripe with the people of Iraq and yet has insisted that UN sanctions prohibit the import to Iraq of so-called dual use goodsgoods that can potentially be used for military purposes. This includes staples of a modern economy such as chlorine, which is essential to water purification. Indeed, many of Iraqs children die from diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water. Between 1990 and 2000, Iraqs infant mortality rate increased by an astonishing 160 percentthe next worst increase was in Kenya at 24 percent. The UN claims to operate a humanitarian oil-for-food program to alleviate the suffering in Iraq. Under the program, Iraq can export oil to pay for food, but this program only generates $172 per personhardly enough to sustain the nutritional, let alone medical, needs of the population.
The participation of European countries in a war against Iraq wont make the war any more humane or any less about oil and geopolitical influence. In fact, much of the opposition to the U.S. from other countries is about how the war will be fought, not whether it is fought. Take France, for example. French officials fear that France could be cut out of the spoils if it did not support the war and show a significant military presence, according to an October 6 report in the British Observer. If it comes to war, France is determined to be allotted a more prestigious role in the fighting than in the 1991 Gulf War, when its main role was to occupy lightly defended ground.
It is ironic that the U.S. says its pursuing war against Iraq because of chemical weapons. After all, its the U.S. that used chemical weapons on a mass scale against Iraqnot the reverse. Whilst we in Britain are debating the possible hazard of Iraq acquiring biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, writes Joanne Baker of the Pandora Depleted Uranium Research Project, the Iraqi people need be in no doubt at all that the formidable array of munitions now being ranged against them by the U.S. and allies will contain substantial amounts of radioactive material, which like all other weapons of mass destruction, will continue to kill for generations after the attack is over. In 1991, the U.S. used hundreds of tons of weapons tipped with armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU). In those areas most affected by DU weaponry, theres been a 384 percent rise in malignant cancers as well as increases in congenital diseases and birth defects. Many of the birth defects, especially those in southern Iraq, are multi-malformational, reminiscent of children born after Hiroshima and Nagasaki or after the nuclear testing in the Pacific. Babies are born without limbs, eyes, genitalia, internal organs, or with additional abnormal organs and many with extraordinary tumors, according to Bakers September 20 article at www.CommonDreams.org. And yet because of sanctions, Money for healthcare amounts to less than $1 a month per personthis in a country which prior to 1990 had the best modern health service in the region. Despite the fact that the U.S. military knew of the horrific effects of using DU weaponry, it did so anyway. And no U.S. officials have given any indication that they wont use DU weaponry this time too.
Finally, whether the war is given the blessing of a UN Security Council resolution or not, the aims of the warU.S. domination of Iraq and the Middle Eastwill remain unchanged.
WHY SHOULD war in Iraq concern people in the U.S.?
First of all, the effects of DU arent limited to Iraqis; they affect a large number of European and U.S. Gulf War veterans. More than 50 percent of [veterans] tested were expelling depleted uranium in their urine more than nine years after the end of the Gulf War, according to Baker. An autopsy of a Canadian veteran who died showed depleted uranium in the lung and bone. These same people are suffering from a range of health problems which include chronic fatigue, rare bowel and kidney disorders, respiratory problems, neurological problems, depression and mood swings, skin disorders, loss of hair and teeth, painful joints, and cancer. Baker also quotes the chilling words of Gulf War veteran Carol Picau: Take us in our basic training, firing our weapons, climbing mountains, rappelling, doing all these wonderful things the army teaches you to do, and then show us now, with our crippled bones, our incontinence. Take all of us in our wheelchairs, missing arms and legs, and dying of cancers and brain tumors. Take our graves and put that on a commercial.
War on Iraq not only endangers the health and welfare of soldiers, but of ordinary Americans as well. Even White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindseyformer director of Enrons boardadmits that war against Iraq could cost $100 to $200 billion. But Lindseylike the rest of the administrationis bullish on war and suggests that this sum is easily absorbed. After all, argues Lindsey, this is a relatively small amount compared to the size of the overall U.S. economy. James Galbraith, economics professor at the University of Texas, is even more optimistic than Lindsey. Galbraith says the military costs could be quite low. What we are acquiring here is an enormous gas station, reassured Galbraith. But Lindsey and Galbraith are assuming that war against Iraq proceeds exactly as U.S. military planners hopequickly. If the war drags on, the price could go up astronomically. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for example, thinks that the Bush administrations figures already understate the true cost of war. A war lasting two months followed by a five-year occupationmore or less what the Bush administration is hoping forwould cost as much as $278 billion. Every extra month of war would cost an additional $9 billion, and every month of occupation would cost $4 billion. If the war results in a wider Middle East conflagration, then all bets are offeven the CBOs figures would dramatically underestimate the price tag.
But, it should be remembered that all of these figures are in addition to annual U.S. military spending of more than $400 billion. To put this in perspective, in 1996, the cost to renovate and repair the nations schools was estimated at $112 billion by the Government Accounting Office. In 2000, 11.6 million children didnt have health insurance, according to the Childrens Defense Fund. All uninsured children in families with incomes below 300 percent of the poverty lineabout $50,000 for a family of fourcould have health insurance for a mere $2.36 billion. Thats slightly more than the cost of one B-2 bomber. The U.S. has more than 20 in its arsenal. The Bush administration proposes a $48 billion increase in overall military spending in 2003. Not even counting expenditure on war against Iraq, one months military spending would lift nearly every American child from poverty for a year. Just half of the proposed defense spending increase for one year would pay for child care or health care for every eligible child for a year.
In short, it is their war, fought for their reasons, but it is ordinary people who will pay the price. As the American socialist Eugene Debs put it during the First World War, The working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both.