GLEN RANGWALA and RAYMOND WHITAKER
July 13, 2003
Falsehoods ranging from exaggeration to plain untruth were used to make the case for war. More lies are being used in the aftermath.
A supposed meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, leader of the 11 September hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence official was the main basis for this claim, but Czech intelligence later conceded that the Iraqi's contact could not have been Atta. This did not stop the constant stream of assertions that Iraq was involved in 9/11, which was so successful that at one stage opinion polls showed that two-thirds of Americans believed the hand of Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. Almost as many believed Iraqi hijackers were aboard the crashed airliners; in fact there were none.
Persistent claims by US and British leaders that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were in league with each other were contradicted by a leaked British Defence Intelligence Staff report, which said there were no current links between them. Mr Bin Laden's "aims are in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq", it added.
Another strand to the claims was that al-Qa'ida members were being sheltered in Iraq, and had set up a poisons training camp. When US troops reached the camp, they found no chemical or biological traces.
The head of the CIA has now admitted that documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to import uranium from Niger in west Africa were forged, and that the claim should never have been in President Bush's State of the Union address. Britain sticks by the claim, insisting it has "separate intelligence". The Foreign Office conceded last week that this information is now "under review".
The US persistently alleged that Baghdad tried to buy high-strength aluminum tubes whose only use could be in gas centrifuges, needed to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Equally persistently, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the tubes were being used for artillery rockets. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, told the UN Security Council in January that the tubes were not even suitable for centrifuges.
Iraq possessed enough dangerous substances to kill the whole world, it was alleged more than once. It had pilotless aircraft which could be smuggled into the US and used to spray chemical and biological toxins. Experts pointed out that apart from mustard gas, Iraq never had the technology to produce materials with a shelf-life of 12 years, the time between the two wars. All such agents would have deteriorated to the point of uselessness years ago.
Apart from the fact that there has been no sign of these missiles since the invasion, Britain downplayed the risk of there being any such weapons in Iraq once the fighting began. It was also revealed that chemical protection equipment was removed from British bases in Cyprus last year, indicating that the Government did not take its own claims seriously.
This allegation was made by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his address to the UN Security Council in February. The following month the UN said there was nothing to support it.
According to Jack Straw, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix "pointed out" that Iraq had 10,000 litres of anthrax. Tony Blair said Iraq's chemical, biological and "indeed the nuclear weapons programme" had been well documented by the UN. Mr Blix's reply? "This is not the same as saying there are weapons of mass destruction," he said last September. "If I had solid evidence that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction or were constructing such weapons, I would take it to the Security Council." In May this year he added: "I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were not."
Tony Blair told this newspaper in March that the UN had "tried unsuccessfully for 12 years to get Saddam to disarm peacefully". But in 1999 a Security Council panel concluded: "Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated." Mr Blair also claimed UN inspectors "found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme" until his son-in-law defected. In fact the UN got the regime to admit to its biological weapons programme more than a month before the defection.
Britain's February "dodgy dossier" claimed inspectors' escorts were "trained to start long arguments" with other Iraqi officials while evidence was being hidden, and inspectors' journeys were monitored and notified ahead to remove surprise. Dr Blix said in February that the UN had conducted more than 400 inspections, all without notice, covering more than 300 sites. "We note that access to sites has so far been without problems," he said. : "In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew that the inspectors were coming."
This now-notorious claim was based on a single source, said to be a serving Iraqi military officer. This individual has not been produced since the war, but in any case Tony Blair contradicted the claim in April. He said Iraq had begun to conceal its weapons in May 2002, which meant that they could not have been used within 45 minutes.
Mr Blair told the Commons in February, when the dossier was issued : "We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports." It soon emerged that most of it was cribbed without attribution from three articles on the internet. Last month Alastair Campbell took responsibility for the plagiarism committed by his staff, but stood by the dossier's accuracy, even though it confused two Iraqi intelligence organisations, and said one moved to new headquarters in 1990, two years before it was created.
Public fears of war in the US and Britain were assuaged by assurances that oppressed Iraqis would welcome the invading forces; that "demolishing Saddam Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk", in the words of Kenneth Adelman, a senior Pentagon official in two previous Republican administrations. Resistance was patchy, but stiffer than expected, mainly from irregular forces fighting in civilian clothes. "This wasn't the enemy we war-gamed against," one general complained.
The fall of Iraq's southernmost city and only port was announced several times before Anglo-American forces gained full control - by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, and by Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of Britain's defence staff. "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the US Marines and is now in coalition hands," the Admiral announced, somewhat prematurely.
Claims that the Shia Muslim population of Basra, Iraq's second city, had risen against their oppressors were repeated for days, long after it became clear to those there that this was little more than wishful thinking. The defeat of a supposed breakout by Iraqi armour was also announced by military spokesman in no position to know the truth.
Private Jessica Lynch's "rescue" from a hospital in Nasiriya by American special forces was presented as the major "feel-good" story of the war. She was said to have fired back at Iraqi troops until her ammunition ran out, and was taken to hospital suffering bullet and stab wounds. It has since emerged that all her injuries were sustained in a vehicle crash, which left her incapable of firing any shot. Local medical staff had tried to return her to the Americans after Iraqi forces pulled out of the hospital, but the doctors had to turn back when US troops opened fire on them. The special forces encountered no resistance, but made sure the whole episode was filmed.
As US forces approached Baghdad, there was a rash of reports that they would cross a "red line", within which Republican Guard units were authorised to use chemical weapons. But Lieutenant General James Conway, the leading US marine general in Iraq, conceded afterwards that intelligence reports that chemical weapons had been deployed around Baghdad before the war were wrong.
"It was a surprise to me ... that we have not uncovered weapons ... in some of the forward dispersal sites," he said. "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there. We were simply wrong. Whether or not we're wrong at the national level, I think still very much remains to be seen."
"I have got absolutely no doubt that those weapons are there ... once we have the co-operation of the scientists and the experts, I have got no doubt that we will find them," Tony Blair said in April. Numerous similar assurances were issued by other leading figures, who said interrogations would provide the WMD discoveries that searches had failed to supply. But almost all Iraq's leading scientists are in custody, and claims that lingering fears of Saddam Hussein are stilling their tongues are beginning to wear thin.
Tony Blair complained in Parliament that "people falsely claim that we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues, adding that they should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN. Britain should seek a Security Council resolution that would affirm "the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people".
Instead Britain co-sponsored a Security Council resolution that gave the US and UK control over Iraq's oil revenues. There is no UN-administered trust fund.
Far from "all oil revenues" being used for the Iraqi people, the resolution continues to make deductions from Iraq's oil earnings to pay in compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
After repeated false sightings, both Tony Blair and George Bush proclaimed on 30 May that two trailers found in Iraq were mobile biological laboratories. "We have already found two trailers, both of which we believe were used for the production of biological weapons," said Mr Blair. Mr Bush went further : "Those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons - they're wrong. We found them." It is now almost certain that the vehicles were for the production of hydrogen for weather balloons, just as the Iraqis claimed - and that they were exported by Britain.
September 10, 2003
In a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldn’t be justified under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials responsible for spreading false rationales wouldn’t be allowed to slide away from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of slippery excuses.
But the United States is not a healthy democracy at this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of ballots in one key state.
A healthy democracy wouldn’t put up with this trifling of the people’s will. But in today’s United States, there appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the consequences are as severe as those of wartime.
This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still believe that Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no evidence of a connection.
As the Post notes, this widely held public misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli – trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction – has collapsed. [For more details on the poll, see the Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]
The search for Iraq's WMD apparently has become such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday.
He slipped into the past tense in saying the former regime "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction," without attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq's alleged use of chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S. intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.
While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush continued to work the subliminal connection between the Sept. 11th murders and Iraq.
Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose references to the Sept. 11th murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and Iraq, it shouldn’t be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the wrong idea. It’s pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong idea.
In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create public confusion over these connections. Though no Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks two years ago – and though Osama bin Laden and most of the attackers were Saudis – Bush and his top aides routinely have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda as the connection.
That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq continued into Bush’s speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn,” Bush said. “We have carried the fight to the enemy.”
Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An average American, who wasn’t steeped in the facts of the Middle East, would be left with the impression that Saddam Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were allies.
The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the atrocities committed by Hussein’s government were done to suppress Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraq’s large Shia population. Bin Laden despised Hussein as an “infidel” who was repressing bin Laden's supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.
Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush, was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
The younger Bush also doesn’t mention that the CIA and its allies in Pakistani intelligence – not Iraqis – were involved in training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Bush also trusts that the American people will have forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair, when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret policy of shipping missiles to Iran’s government. At the time, Iran's Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the U.S. government.
Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S. government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S. hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers. Out of this mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden, a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.
If Americans knew more about this convoluted history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who need a taste of Bush’s Western-style justice, the American people might conclude that Bush’s father and other top U.S. officials were at least as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.
Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the CIA collaborate with Hussein’s Baathist Party as a bulwark against communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S. advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.
In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries – Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 – Hussein may well have believed he had received “green lights” from the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Missing U.S.-Iraq History
U.S. intelligence also understood the implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released acknowledging this reality. The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s Misleading the Nation to War
In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now, however, the Bush administration has done all it can to “lose” this history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their “patriotism” – and keeping their high-paying jobs – than telling the full story. The American people have been fed a steady diet of false impressions and misleading arguments.
New Half Truths
Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops with rose petals, the administration’s misleading rhetoric has switched from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s government to exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.
New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the earlier bogus rationales. In Bush’s speech Sunday night, he highlighted two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.
One of the new reasons is that the resistance to the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups – die-hard Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq. “Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows,” Bush said. “Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations.”
But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed the overthrow of the brutal dictator.
Some of these nationalists may have served in Iraq’s army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.
This likelihood of widespread resistance was known by Bush and his advisers before the war. “U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation, according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the reports,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.
But this information shared the fate of other facts that didn't support Bush's propaganda themes. It disappeared. The American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only a mixture of Saddam “dead-enders” and “foreign terrorists.”
The second new myth is that by killing “terrorists” in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. “The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans,” Bush said Sunday night. “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”
While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and America’s hunger for revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq won’t incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency -- that blunt force is no more likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving political justice and economic improvements.
History also teaches that there are limits of national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
In Bush's televised speech, however, he presented the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past diplomacy. “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Bush said.
Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.
For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day since Bush donned his flight suit and declared “mission accomplished,” the White House released a report entitled “Results in Iraq : 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom.” The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10 categories to support the thesis, declared “substantial progress is being made on all fronts.”
The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under “signs of cultural rebirth” used a quote from a member of Baghdad’s city council declaring that “if you want to civilize society, you must care about education.” The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages later as another example in another category.
But more significantly, the report repeats much of the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.
“Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world,” the report asserts. “The old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.”
There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S. troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S. invasion or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority on the U.N. Security Council.
The White House report also continues to use selective information to support the administration’s case, while leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.
For instance, the report states that “a senior al-Qaeda terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD assistance from Iraq.” The report leaves out the fact that nothing resulted from this overture.
The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.
Similarly, the report notes that “a safe haven in Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam – a terrorist group closely associated with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda – was destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.
But the report, like Bush’s Sunday speech, is just another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the evidence – often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too many questions – so the American people can be herded like sheep into Bush’s desired direction.
As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy – or even meaningful – democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process to manufacture consent.
Bush’s contempt for an informed electorate on the issue of war in the Middle East also doesn’t stand alone. In December 2000, his respect for democracy didn’t even extend to the basic principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of losing. Instead, he ran to his father’s powerful friends on the U.S. Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's So Bush Did Steal the White House.
But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation's stumble into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.
As in any democracy – even a troubled one – it remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them. That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.
Alan Simpson, MP - Chair of Labour Against the War and
Dr.Glen Rangwala - Lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, UK.
September 20, 2002
There is no case for a war on Iraq. It has not threatened to attack the US or Europe. It is not connected to al-Qa'ida. There is no evidence that it has new weapons of mass destruction, or that it possesses the means of delivering them.
This pamphlet separates the evidence for what we know about Iraq from the wild suppositions used as the pretext for a war.
For there to be a threat to the wider world from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, there need to be two distinct components : the capability (the presence of weapons of mass destruction or their precursor elements, together with a delivery system) and the intention to use weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the discussion on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction from British and American governmental sources has focused on Iraq's capabilities. However, a more fundamental question is why the Iraqi regime would ever use weapons of mass destruction. There are three aspects to this :
a. External military use
The US administration has repeatedly stated that Iraq is a "clear and present danger" to the safety and security of ordinary Americans. Yet the Iraqi leadership have never used weapons of mass destruction against the US or Europe, nor threatened to. Plans or proposals for the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq against these countries have never been discovered, and in their absence can only be presumed to be non-existent.
Iraq would face with massive reprisals if its leadership ever ordered the use of weapons of mass destruction on the US or Europe. It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which the Iraqi regime would use these weapons directly against any western country. The only conceivable exception would be if the Iraqi leaders felt they had nothing left to lose : that is, if they were convinced of their own imminent demise as a result of an invasion. Weapons of mass destruction were not used by Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, despite having both a much more developed capacity than it holds at present (see below) and the routing of its army. The best way to avoid prompting Iraqi leaders to use any non-conventional capacity would be to refrain from invading Iraq or attempting to assassinate or depose its rulers.
The only occasion on which the Iraqi government used weapons of mass destruction against another country was against Iran from 1981/82 to 1988. The use of mustard agents had a devastating impact on Iranian troops in the first years of the war and the civilian death toll from the use of sarin and tabun numbers in the thousands. However, it should be noted that the use of chemical weapons was undertaken with the compliance of the rest of the world. The US 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. Nevertheless, the US 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 Iraq's missile procurement agency to extend the missiles' range (1988), and blocked bills condemning Iraq in the House of Representatives (1985) and Senate (1988).
Most crucially, the US and UK blocked condemnation of Iraq's known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq's use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. The only criticism of Iraq from the Security Council came in the form of non-binding Presidential statements (over which no country has a veto). The 21 March 1986 statement recognised that "chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces"; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).
In summary, Iraq has never used chemical weapons against an external enemy without the acquiescence of the most powerful states. It has done so only in the knowledge that it would be protected from condemnation and countermeasures by a superpower. There is no reason to suspect that the Iraqi leadership now places any military gains it might achieve through the use of chemical weapons above its desire to form international alliances with major powers.
b. Arming terrorists
One prospect raised by President Bush in his State of the Union address of 29 January was that hostile countries such as Iraq could supply non-state organisations with weapons of mass destruction, to use against the US :
"By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States."
The State Department's annual report on terrorism, released on 30 April 2001, stated that the Iraqi regime "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack" since 1993. The small paramilitary groups that Iraq supports, such as the Arab Liberation Front (in Palestine) and the Mujahidin e-Khalq (for Iran), have no access to Iraq's more advanced weaponry, let along weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, these groups have never carried out attacks on the US or Europe, and have little if any supporting infrastructure in those countries. The Iraqi regime has no credible links to al-Qa'ida, either in the perpetration of the 11 September attack, or in the presence in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan (controlled by the US-backed Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not the Iraqi government, since 1991) of Ansar al-Islam. This group is an off-shoot of the US-backed Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan which has taken funds and arms from Iran and (reportedly) from al-Qa'ida.
The Iraqi regime has not been shown to have any intention of attacking the Western world, and it knows that it would be subject to massive reprisals if it did so. In summary, Iraq has shown no indication that it would be willing to use terrorists to threaten the outside world with weapons of mass destruction.
Further reading : "Did Mohamed Atta Meet an Iraqi Spy in Prague?"
c. Internal repression by the Iraqi military
As part of the Anfal campaign against the Kurds (February to September 1988), the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons extensively against its own civilian population. Between 50,000 and 186,000 Kurds were killed in these attacks, over 1,200 Kurdish villages were destroyed, and 300,000 Kurds were displaced . The most infamous chemical assault was on the town of Halabja in March 1988, which killed 5,000 people. Human Rights Watch regards the Anfal campaign as an act of genocide.
The Anfal campaign was carried out with the acquiescence of the West.
Rather than condemn the massacres of Kurds, the US escalated its support for Iraq. It joined in Iraq's attacks on Iranian facilities, blowing up two Iranian oil rigs and destroying an Iranian frigate a month after the Halabja attack. Within two months , senior US officials were encouraging corporate coordination through an Iraqi state-sponsored forum. The US administration opposed, and eventually blocked, a US Senate bill that cut off loans to Iraq. The US approved exports to Iraq of items with dual civilian and military use at double the rate in the aftermath of Halabja as it did before 1988. Iraqi written guarantees about civilian use were accepted by the US commerce department, which did not request licenses and reviews (as it did for many other countries). The Bush Administration approved $695,000 worth of advanced data transmission devices the day before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
As for the UK, ten days after the Foreign Office verbally condemned the Halabja massacre, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry rewarded Iraq by extending £400 million worth of credits to trade with Iraq.
The Iraqi regime has never used chemical weapons in the face of formal international opposition. The most effective way of preventing any future use against Iraqi civilians is to put this at the top of the human rights agenda between Iraq and the UN. The Iraqi regime's intentions to use chemical weapons against the Kurds will not be terminated by provoking a further conflict between the Iraqi state and its Kurdish population in which the Kurds are recruited as proxy forces. The original repression of the Kurds escalated into genocide in response to Iran's procurement of the support of the two main Kurdish parties for its military efforts from 1986. This is essentially the same role that the US sees for the Kurds in its current war preparations.
Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction are a false focus if the concern is with regional security. Chemical weapons were not used for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A peaceful Gulf region can be achieved only through building political links between Iraq and its neighbours. This is why the Arab states of the Middle East have started to reintegrate Iraq into regional networks and purposeful dialogue. Their interests are ill-served by attempts to turn the countries of the Gulf against each other once again.
Further reading : Dilip Hiro, "When US turned a blind eye to poison gas"
In 1998, when the US ordered UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq, it was widely accepted the Iraq's nuclear capacity had been wholly dismantled. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with monitoring Iraq's nuclear facilities after the Gulf War, reported to the Security Council from 8 October 1997 that Iraq had compiled a "full, final and complete" account of its previous nuclear projects, and there was no indication of any prohibited activity. The IAEA's fact sheet from 25 April 2002, entitled "Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Programme" , recorded that "There were no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance."
In recent months, however, the UK government has put primary emphasis on Iraq's alleged nuclear programme. UK ministers have made three major claims :
a. That Iraq was within three years of developing a nuclear bomb in 1991.
This could be true. Uranium was imported from Portugal, France, Italy and other countries; uranium enrichment facilities operated at Tuwaitha, Tarmiya, and Rashidiya, and centrifuge enrichment facilities were being built at al-Furat, largely with German assistance. Theoretical studies were underway into the design of reactors to produce plutonium, and laboratory trials were carried out at Tuwaitha. The main centre for the development of nuclear weapons was al-Atheer, where experiments with high explosives were carried out. However, IAEA experts maintain that Iraq has never had the capacity to enrich uranium sufficiently for a bomb and was extremely dependent on imports to create centrifuge facilities (report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 28 June 2002). If this is so, Iraq may have only been close to developing a bomb if US and European assistance had continued to the same extent as before.
In the Gulf War, all Iraq's facilities capable of producing material for a nuclear programme and for enriching uranium were destroyed. The IAEA inspected and completed the destruction of these facilities, with the compliance of the Iraqi government. From 1991, the IAEA removed all known weapon usable materials from Iraq, including 22.4kg of highly enriched uranium. The IAEA left 1.8 tonnes of low-grade uranium in heavyweight sealed barrels at the Tuwaitha facilities. This uranium has remained untouched by the Iraqis, and is inspected annually by experts from the IAEA, who have confirmed that the seals had never been tampered with. The remaining facilities at Tuwaitha and buildings at al-Atheer were destroyed by the IAEA by 1992.
b. That Iraq could make a nuclear device "within three years" without foreign assistance
This claim, repeated by a UK Foreign Office minister, derives from a statement from the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in February 2001 that Iraq could enrich its own uranium and construct its own nuclear device in three to six years. This claim was backed up by a statement from the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control that Iraq's only uranium extraction facility at al-Qaim has been rebuilt (it had been destroyed in 1991). If Iraq was again extracting uranium, then it could reasonably be presumed that it was intending to enrich and weaponise it. The allegation about Iraq's extraction of uranium, however, seems to be wrong.
Since the emergence of these claims, a number of journalists have visited al-Qaim and have found it in a state of disrepair. Paul McGeough, the much-respected Middle East correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote on 4 September 2002 that the site appeared to be a "near-vacant lot ... as the result of a clean-up supervised by the [IAEA]". Reuters reporters have confirmed the same impression. If Iraq was hiding its nuclear extraction facilities every time a journalist visits, this would beg the question of when any extraction could actually take place.
If Iraq has no operating facilities to extract uranium, and if it continues to refrain from accessing the low-grade uranium sealed at Tuwaitha, then there is no way it could produce a nuclear device without foreign assistance.
Furthermore, enriching uranium requires substantial infrastructure and a power supply that could be easily spotted by US satellites. No such information has been provided. Over the past year, US and UK sources have made much of the fact that Iraq has attempted to import specialized steel and aluminium tubes that could be used in gas centrifuges that enrich uranium. According to the Washington Post (10 September 2002), such tubes are also used in making conventional artillery rockets, which Iraq is not prohibited from developing or possessing under UN resolutions. As David Albright, former IAEA inspector in Iraq and director of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the Washington Post, "This is actually a weak indicator for suggesting centrifuges -- it just doesn't build a case. I don't yet see evidence that says Iraq is close."
c.That Iraq could have a nuclear bomb "within months" if fissile material is acquired from abroad
Even the US Department of Defense recognises that claims about Iraq's imminent production of a nuclear bomb are not credible: "Iraq would need five or more years and key foreign assistance to rebuild the infrastructure to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon" (January 2001 intelligence estimate). However, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) managed to hit the headlines in September 2002 by claiming that Iraq "could assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained." This claim is no more than a tautology.
If Iraq could import the core material for a bomb, then it would have a bomb. Obtaining the fissile material is the most difficult part of constructing any nuclear device, and there are no signs that Iraq has attempted to obtain any such material from abroad. According to the Nuclear Control Institute (nci.org/heu.htm), "With bomb-grade, high-enriched uranium (HEU), a student could make a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city". Unless we are to stop any students of physics from entering Iraq, the best control on the circulation of fissile material would be to invest resources into safeguarding Russia's nuclear material. We would then need to complete a fissile-material cut-off treaty as agreed by the UN General Assembly in 1993.
On 7 September 2002, Tony Blair and George Bush proclaimed that commercial satellite photographs showing new buildings near a facility that had been part of Iraq's nuclear programme before 1991 were "proof" of Iraqi intentions. By contrast, a spokesperson from the IAEA - which had provided the pictures months earlier - said : "We have no idea whether it means anything. Construction of a building is one thing. Restarting a nuclear program is another."
Further reading :
Garry Dillon (IAEA Action Team in Iraq : Director of Operations from January 1994, head from June 1997), "The IAEA Iraq Action Team Record: Activities and Findings ", in Iraq: A New Approach (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 2002) [PDF format]
Allegations about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons fall into three categories :
* that Iraq has retained weapons that were produced before 1991.
* that Iraq has kept or rebuilt facilities since 1998, which are allegedly producing or able to produce new chemical or biological agents that can subsequently be weaponised
* that Iraq could threaten other countries by delivering these agents, by missile or through other means.
(a) Retained stocks? Up to 1998, a substantial part of the work of the weapons inspectors in Iraq was to track down chemical and biological agents that Iraq produced before their entry in 1991, and to check the documentation that showed how much of each agent Iraq had manufactured. However, the amount Iraq is thought to have produced in the 1980s was found to be greater than the quantity that Iraq or the inspectors verified as having destroyed. The discrepancy between the two levels is the amount that remains - in the inspectors' language - "unaccounted for".
The levels of agents that are unaccounted for in this way is large: 600 metric tonnes of chemical agents, such as mustard gas, VX and sarin; and extensive amounts of biological agents, including thousands of litres of anthrax as well as quantities of botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, and gas gangrene, all of which had been weaponised before 1991. But the fact that these quantities are unaccounted for does not mean that they still exist. Iraq has never provided a full declaration of its use of chemical and biological weapons against Iran in the 1980-88 war, and destroyed large quantities of its own stocks of these weapons in 1991 without keeping sufficient proof of its actions.
In some cases, it is quite clear that the stocks no longer exist in usable form. Most chemical and biological agents are subject to processes of deterioration. A working paper by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (Unscom) from January 1998 noted that : "Taking into consideration the conditions and the quality of CW-agents and munitions produced by Iraq at that time, there is no possibility of weapons remaining from the mid-1980's" (quoted in Ritter, Arms Control Today, June 2000). Many other chemical or biological warfare agents have a shorter shelf life. The sarin produced by Iraq in the 1980s was found to have up to 40% impurities, entailing that it would deteriorate within two years. With regard to biological weapons, the assessment by Professor Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies should be taken seriously: "The shelf-life and lethality of Iraq's weapons is unknown, but it seems likely that the shelf-life was limited. In balance, it seems probable that any agents Iraq retained after the Gulf War now have very limited lethality, if any" (Iraq's Past and Future Biological Weapons Capabilities, 1998, p.13).
There are two potential exceptions for materials that would not be expected to have deteriorated if produced before 1991. Mustard gas has been found to persist over time, as shown when Unscom discovered four intact mustard-filled artillery shells that would still have constituted a viable weapon. Unscom oversaw the destruction of 12,747 of Iraq's 13,500 mustard shells. The Iraqi regime claimed that the remaining shells had been destroyed by US/UK bombardment. This claim has not been verified or disproved. However, as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter notes, "A few hundred 155 mm mustard shells have little military value on the modern battlefield. A meaningful CW attack using artillery requires thousands of rounds. Retention of such a limited number of shells makes no sense and cannot be viewed as a serious threat."
The other potential exception is VX nerve agent. It became clear to Unscom during the 1990s that Iraq had succeeded before 1991 in producing stabilised VX in its laboratories - that is, VX agents that would not deteriorate over time. However, to produce significant stocks of VX requires advanced technology that Iraq did not have. Iraq did have some elements of the production equipment for developing VX on a large scale. Unscom tested this equipment before destroying it in 1996, and found that it had never been used. This would indicate that Iraq, despite its attempts before 1991, had never succeeded in producing VX on a significant scale.
(b) Re-built facilities? If the stocks that Iraq had produced before 1991 are no longer a credible threat, then what of the facilities that Iraq may still have to produce more weapons of mass destruction? The major facilities that Iraq had prior to 1991 have all been destroyed. The Muthanna State Establishment, Iraq's main plant for the production of chemical warfare agents, was destroyed partially through aerial bombardment and partly under Unscom supervision. Al-Hakam, Iraq’s main biological weapons facility that was designed to make up to 50,000 litres of anthrax, botulinum toxin and other agents a year, was destroyed in May-June 1996.
However, US and UK officials have claimed that new plants have been built since 1998. Among the allegations are that two chemical plants that were used to produce weapons before 1991 have been rebuilt at Fallujah; further chemical and biological weapons sites have been partially constructed at Daura and Taji; and that "mobile biological production laboratories" have been deployed that would be able to circumvent any inspectors who are re-admitted into Iraq. It has also been claimed that other existing civilian facilities have been partially converted so as to be able to produce agents for weapons of mass destruction.
These allegations are difficult to assess. Even the IISS study of September 2002 - edited by Gary Samore who had been a senior member of President Clinton's staff and thus involved two years before in the making of the allegations - concluded that the claims about mobile laboratories were "hard to confirm". Much of the information comes from individuals who claim to have been scientists employed by the Iraqi government but who have now "defected" to Europe or the US. The US has offered financial rewards to scientists who defect, as well as guarantees of asylum. As a result, many of the claims may be exaggerated, highly speculative or simply concocted . US State Department officials have often mentioned that they do not take verbal information obtained from defectors seriously; it may be more plausible to assume that their information is publicised more as part of attempts to win support for a war than to make a realistic assessment of Iraqi weapons development.
The Iraqi government has invited journalists to visit some of the sites that the UK and US have mentioned. For example, journalists who visited the Taji warehouse in mid-August - which the US claimed days before was a major biological weapons facility - found only "boxes of powdered milk from Yemen, Vietnam, Tunisia and Indonesia and sacks of sugar imported from Egypt and India", according to the Reuters correspondent. The visiting journalists are not weapons inspectors, and do not have the resources to monitor facilities for chemical agents or radiation; but they are able to ascertain if major new production facilities have been constructed. Now that the Iraqi Foreign Minister has made an unconditional offer to the UN to readmit weapons inspectors (on 16 September), allegations about the production of new facilities can be checked. However, the British Foreign Secretary and the White House have both disparaged the Iraqi offer, even though it could lead to the verified disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
(c) Delivering an attack? Possession of chemical or biological agents is not enough to threaten another country, even if the Iraqi regime desired to. British and American claims about possession have therefore been linked to allegations that Iraq could fire these agents on missiles, which could even reach Europe.
The first problem with this claim is the very low number of longer range missiles that Iraq might have. According to Unscom, by 1997, 817 out of Iraq's known 819 ballistic missiles had been certifiably destroyed. On the worst-case assumption that Iraq has salvaged some of the parts for these missiles and has reconstructed them since 1998, even Charles Duelfer - former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State , deputy head of Unscom and strong proponent of an invasion of Iraq - has provided an estimate of only 12 to 14 missiles held by Iraq. Even under this scenario, it is difficult to see Iraq posing a threat to the rest of the world through its missiles. Furthermore, biological weapons cannot be effectively disbursed through ballistic missiles. According to the IISS, much of the biological agent would be destroyed on impact and the area of dispersal would be small. For example, if anthrax is filled into missile warheads, up to 95% of the content is not dispersed according to the Director of Intelligence of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff [PDF format].
British ministers have made much of the claim that Iraq has experimented with using small Czech-built L-29 training jets as remote-controlled drones, which could deliver chemical and biological weapons. Such drones were apparently spotted at Iraq's Talil airbase in 1998. A British defence official invoked the possibility that if these drones were flown at low altitudes under the right conditions, a single drone could unleash a toxic cloud engulfing several city blocks. He labelled them "drones of death". The hyperbole is misleading: even if Iraq has designed such planes, they would not serve their purpose, as drones are easy to shoot down. A simple air defence system would be enough to prevent the drones from causing damage to neighbouring countries. The L-29 has a total range of less than 400 miles : it would be all but impossible to use it in an attack on Israel. The only possibility for their use against western targets would be their potential deployment against invading troops.
Many of the assessments of Iraq's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons are based largely on a hypothetical analysis of what could be done by the Iraqi regime if it was determined to produce these weapons. Using worst-case scenarios, they present Iraq's potential activities - such as importing fissile material or producing anthrax spores - as an immediate threat. Whilst such assessments may be valuable in order to understand the range of possibilities, they do not provide any evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or the Iraqi regime's intention to use them. As Hans Blix, executive chairman of Unmovic - the new UN weapons inspection body - said on 10 September, there is much that is unknown about Iraq's programmes, "but this is not the same as saying there are weapons of mass destruction. If I had solid evidence that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction or were constructing such weapons I would take it to the Security Council."
You cannot launch a war on the basis of unconfirmed suspicions of both weapons and intentions. It would be better to take up Iraq's unconditional offer of 16 September to allow inspectors to return, and to reject the plans for an invasion to achieve "regime change".
The US and UK policy has been to provide disincentives to Iraqi compliance rather than incentives. The UK has refused to rule out its support for "regime change" even if a full weapons inspections system is in place : Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has only said that the possibility of an invasion "recedes" in such circumstances. Senior members of the present US administration have been more forthright: Vice-President Cheney labelled the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq as counterproductive in his Nashville speech of 26 August. Inspections would be counterproductive to US war plans, but would also serve to discover - and if necessary, constrain - Iraq's weapons programmes.
If the Iraqi regime is led to believe that the US has made an invasion inevitable, it will have no reason to cooperate with weapons inspectors. As Hans Blix said on 18 August, "If the Iraqis conclude that an invasion by someone is inevitable then they might conclude that it's not very meaningful to have inspections."
The Iraqi regime also has a clear disincentive if it believes that the weapons inspectors will - like their predecessors in Unscom - collect information that the US government would use to plot its overthrow. That Unscom was engaged in such actions is now beyond doubt. Its executive director from 1991 to 1997, Rolf Ekéus, said on 28 July that the US tried to gather information about Iraq's security services, its conventional military capacity and even the location of Saddam Hussein through the supposedly impartial weapons inspections programme. It is not hard to guess why the US wanted such information.
Iraq has repeatedly asked for a clear timetable for the lifting of economic sanctions to be coupled with the weapons inspections system. This is not an unreasonable demand: in fact, it was the agreement made in the ceasefire that ended the Gulf War, and which the US in particular has done so much since 1991 to obscure. The ceasefire agreement - Security Council Resolution 687 - lays out the elements of a political solution : an independent weapons inspectorate, an end to the threat of war, a clear timetable to lifting economic sanctions, and the creation of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East (entailing the need for the end of Israel's nuclear arsenal).
On each of these four points, the US in particular stands in clear violation of the terms of the agreement.
The consequences of that violation have been apparent in the deterioration of the weapons inspections system. Garry B. Dillon, the Director of Operations of the IAEA Action Team in Iraq from January 1994, and its head from June 1997, characterised Iraq's compliance with the nuclear inspectorate from late 1991 to mid-1998 as "essentially adequate" (in the paper cited above). Dillon concludes that "Iraq’s motivation to cooperate was shattered by the statement [by the then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright] that, regardless of Iraq’s compliance, the embargo and the sanctions would not be lifted as long as President Saddam Hussein remained in power". Backing a "carrot and stick" approach to Iraq, Dillon argues that "the carrot should represent a tangible benefit, not merely the withholding of the stick. Indeed, during 1998, Iraq repeatedly claimed that 'the light at the end of the tunnel had gone out.'"
If the US and UK re-engage with the political process that was laid out in the ceasefire resolution, Iraq will once again be provided with reasons to cooperate with the weapons inspectorate. That possibility, which will remove the need for instigating a humanitarian crisis inside Iraq and instability in the region, should not be dismissed lightly.
Important Link : Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq - a must see website that has lead the campaign against sanctions in the UK. CASI aims to raise awareness of the effects of sanctions on Iraq, and campaigns on humanitarian grounds for the lifting of non-military sanctions. The site includes an excellent lising of links to campaign groups.
Congressman Ron Paul (R - TX (14th district))
September 10, 2002
Soon we hope to have hearings on the pending war with Iraq. I am concerned there are some questions that won’t be asked- and maybe will not even be allowed to be asked. Here are some questions I would like answered by those who are urging us to start this war.