Home > Entertainment > Book
  print button email button

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003


Facts are first casualty in U.S. march to war

Staff writer
WAR PLAN IRAQ: Ten Reasons Against War on Iraq, by Milan Rai. Verso, 2002, 240 pp., $15 (paper)

When Richard Butler, head of the first U.N. weapons inspections team in Iraq, said in 1997 that "Truth in some cultures is kind of what you can get away with saying," he was referring to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. However, as Milan Rai shows in "War Plan Iraq," Butler could equally have been describing the West.

News photo

While the United States, supported by Britain, founds its case for invading Iraq on the need to disarm Hussein, Rai argues in this book that ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction has never been the priority. Rather, U.S. and British foreign policy has focused on ousting Hussein, a goal that fatally undermined the first round of weapons inspections between 1991-98, hampers disarmament efforts to this day, and has unnecessarily prolonged economic sanctions exacting a terrible toll on Iraq's people.

Rai, author of a book on the politics of U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky and cofounder of the British antiwar group Arrow, has been hailed as "one of the wisest war resisters of our time," and his commitment to informed dissent shines through in the pages of this thoroughly researched account. Based on reports Rai first produced for Arrow, the book places the planned attack on Iraq within the wider context of the Bush administration's so-called war on terror, and includes comments from the relatives of Sept. 11 victims and a thought-provoking essay by Chomsky.

Rai outlines how, in their bid to unseat Hussein, the U.S. and Britain progressively distorted a key section of the original 1991 U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq surrender its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was told, under Paragraph 22 of Resolution 687, that sanctions on its export of oil (first imposed after Hussein's invasion of Kuwait) would be lifted once it surrendered banned weapons and accepted a long-term monitoring program. But by 1994, the U.S. was insisting that export sanctions remain until Iraq also complied with demands not mentioned in Paragraph 22. In March 1997, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shifted the compliance goal posts even further when she stated that even if Iraq disarmed, economic sanctions would not be lifted while Hussein remained in power.

The U.S., writes Rai, further compromised the integrity of the inspections process by secretly using the United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM (the body charged with overseeing Iraq's disarmament) to spy on Hussein and facilitate at least one coup attempt. He also makes a convincing case that it was U.S. manipulation of UNSCOM, not Iraqi intransigence, that finally killed off the inspections regime in December 1998.

By the beginning of that year, UNSCOM had, despite continued obstruction and deception by the Iraqi government, destroyed Iraq's long-range missile program, dismantled its nuclear program, and eliminated large quantities of chemical and biological weapons, along with the infrastructure to produce them. Although questions still remained, particularly in the chemical and biological areas, "there was an impression that the inspectors were in the last lap" of their mission.

Disarmament efforts were abruptly aborted on Dec. 15, however, when Butler withdrew UNSCOM inspectors after receiving a strong hint from the U.S. that air strikes were imminent. The next day the U.S. and Britain launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombardment of Iraq, without authorization from the Security Council (which was, ironically, considering Butler's final report when the bombing began).

Butler cited Iraqi noncooperation as the reason he withdrew the inspectors, but Rai notes that the great majority of inspections carried out in the last month of UNSCOM's existence were conducted without impediment. "The planned air strikes," Rai writes, "were supposed to be provoked by the collapse of the inspection process. It was therefore necessary to withdraw the inspectors to build the political case for military action. So UNSCOM was ejected from Iraq to facilitate a . . . bombing campaign. . . . Baghdad didn't destroy UNSCOM, Washington did."

That almost half of Desert Fox targets "focused on the regime rather than weapons of mass destruction sites" suggests to Rai that, once again, disarming Iraq was not the real priority. Inspections had proved vastly more effective than air strikes in eliminating banned weapons programs, but not only did Washington carry out an illegal attack on Iraq that it knew would scupper UNSCOM for good (and which killed many innocent civilians), it also showed little interest in trying to get inspectors back into Iraq. Diplomatic initiatives focused instead on shoring up the increasingly discredited sanctions regime.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. attempted to build an international consensus for war by linking Iraq to the World Trade Center attacks. When it became obvious there was no evidence for such a link, and that the world would not support an attack on Iraq without U.N. backing, the U.S. was forced to return to the path of inspections. According to Rai, however, it has no real interest in supporting disarmament, and is attempting to manipulate the inspections process to provide a pretext for war.

Updates to "War Plan Iraq" are posted regularly on the Arrow Web site ( www.justiceno tvengeance.org ), and in a December update, Rai comments: "The presence of weapons inspectors in Iraq could delay and perhaps derail the U.S. drive to war, therefore they are part of the problem, not part of the solution, so far as the U.S. is concerned. Inspections are a 'side-show' to the real task of bringing down Saddam Hussein. Thus the pressure on U.N. weapons inspectors to instigate a confrontation that can be used to justify war, perhaps over the U.S. demand that inspectors take weapons scientists and their families out of Iraq for questioning." (It is worth recalling that UNSCOM relied heavily on intelligence information from the U.S. and other countries to carry out its work effectively; if it was possible to supply such information in the past without compromising sources, why is it so difficult now?)

Bush administration officials have recently referred to the need to "liberate" Iraq and install a democratic regime, possibly because inspectors have yet to turn up any "smoking missile." No one denies that Hussein is a brutal dictator presiding over a "republic of fear," but is subjecting Iraq to another brutal military assault the best way to help its people? And is there any good reason to believe that the U.S. and Britain's professed concern for democracy is anything other than a cynical attempt to win support for a deeply unpopular war?

Rai thinks not. In March 1991 U.S. National Security Council member Richard Haas stated that "Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime," and Rai argues that this is the goal the U.S. has pursued ever since. It deliberately spared the Republican Guard during the Persian Gulf War, he writes, and allowed subsequent popular uprisings to be crushed. Its overriding concern over the last 10 years has not been to support the democratic Iraqi opposition, but to install a more pliant "Saddam clone" from among the country's Sunni military elite, in an attempt to create (as the New York Times' Thomas Friedman wrote in 1991) "the best of all worlds," "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein" that would hold the country together.

Underlying this policy has been the desire to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdistan (which could destabilize Turkey), block Iran from gaining influence among Iraq's Shiite majority and re-establish Western control over Iraqi oil reserves. Even if Washington does not intend to install an overtly oppressive regime, Rai notes that it is important to distinguish between "a serious attempt to foster genuine democracy, and the institution of shallow democratic forms." Would the West continue to support a democratically elected government in Iraq if it established closer ties with Iran, for example, or decided that profits from the country's oil wealth should be used to enrich the Iraqi people, not foreign oil companies?

Rai believes the way forward "must involve solving both the humanitarian crisis and the inspection crisis -- without making the former dependent on the latter." He proposes that sanctions, which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (mainly children) and devastated the country's economy, should be lifted (which would, as other commentators have pointed out, give the Iraqi people back their life and put them in a much better position to remove Hussein themselves, as in the popular ousting of Indonesia's former President Suharto). An ongoing monitoring program in Iraq would neutralize any threat Hussein still poses, and should be linked, Rai stresses, with efforts to disarm the Middle East as a whole (an important but frequently ignored goal of Resolution 687), in order to eliminate the main motivation for acquiring banned weapons in the first place.

There are plenty of other reasons for not supporting an attack on Iraq -- the danger of sparking waves of anti-Western terrorism, for example, or triggering a global recession -- and Rai covers these too. His most important contribution, however, is to remind us that Hussein is by no means the only person responsible for the Iraqi crisis, and that official justifications for war should be treated with the skepticism they deserve.

Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.