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Streets Of London: The War Against Whatever

The War Against Whatever

By Malcolm Aitken * in London

If the US attacks Iraq again events should be carefully observed by human rights groups, the new International Criminal Court, diplomats, legislators and journalists, really anyone concerned about human rights and international humanitarian law.

The merits of an attack should be thoroughly, openly and honestly debated, but there’s every sign the US government is going to strike regardless. Let’s face the awful truth: very soon, it’s likely, we’ll all be watching another of those ominous broadcasts from the White House.

George Bush II will tell the American People that In The Name Of Freedom And Democracy And As Part Of The Ongoing War Against Terrorism And Our Stated Mission To Secure Peace In The Middle East Region, The USS Whatever [insert name of craft] Based In The Persian Gulf Launched X Number Of Cruise Missiles Against Iraqi Targets At X Hundred Hours…

…you know the script. It gets more frightening each time. So let’s put aside whether Saddam Hussein’s potential for creating weapons of mass destruction necessitates bombing Iraq. And for simplicity’s sake let’s ignore the dangers associated with being unaware of what you’re bombing, more specifically what happens when a conventional bomb is dropped on a pile of chemical weapons, or nukes!

Hussein’s behaviour does require monitoring. His thuggish grip on power and insistence on portraying himself as a noble, warrior king is sickening. In addition to his responsibility for murdering and persecuting Kurds, Shi’ite Muslims, marsh Arabs, and any potential domestic opposition, his bombing of Israel during the Gulf War shows how dangerous, erratic and deluded he is.

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More topically, although sanctions have supposedly stopped materials that can be used to make weapons getting into Iraq, this writer wouldn’t be surprised if the gear required for constructing pernicious weapons of mass destruction had ‘mysteriously’ found its way in. Pity for the Iraqis it wasn’t more food or medicines.

Anyway, even a glance at relatively recent US military operations in Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan proves the world should be wary of how any form of ‘justice’ may be meted out.

Some very serious allegations are still outstanding against the American military machine, and George Bush I particularly, regarding activities in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

The world can’t simply rely on assurances from the likes of that great comic action hero made flesh, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, that the US was constantly the well behaved goodie, while Hussein was evil personified. Considerable evidence exists of serious foul play on ‘our’ side.

The most serious accusations about American tactics during the Gulf War centre on depleted uranium (DU) and the alleged illegal poisoning of thousands of Iraqi military personnel and civilians. For Scoop readers who don’t know about depleted uranium, U238 is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process. It’s expensive to store, but with a little ingenuity there’s a buck or two to be made.

Turn it into bullets, saving on more pricey ammo, and you’ve got an extremely dense, strong metal substance, which will pierce enemy armory easily.

The British Medical Journal and the Guardian put the figure at something like a million rounds used by the US in the Gulf War. Yes, unsurprisingly some hard-left ranters and apologists for Hussein have taken up the DU gauntlet.

Many reliable scientists, politicians and journalists, though, have also campaigned for an investigation.

A conference in London three years ago convened by the Scottish left-wing Labour MP George Galloway explored the issue. Medical professionals attended en masse; oncologists and renal experts who literally gasped at the slide slow presented by Galloway and his supporters, including top-level UK scientists.

The images showed young Iraqi children with terribly deformed skulls and limbs: these birth defects were caused by their parents’ exposure to DU (supposedly, it pays to be aware of potential propaganda traps).

This related primarily to the battle of Basra, a tank battle near Iraq’s big southern city at the end of the war. Some of the children had painfully bloated stomachs, caused by severe renal disorders.

These birth defects and kidney problems, and a huge rise in the incidence of various types of cancer among Iraqis and UK and US soldiers suggested DU is highly radioactive and chemically toxic, despite contrary statements from western military officials.

The Pentagon top brass was also quite blasé about the fact that DU was deployed in Serbia/Kosovo. United Nations scientific teams uncovered little evidence of substantive danger connected with du-bombed areas and equipment.

However, the tests were conducted following local clean up operations and the reports are ambiguous about the risk to troops in combat and civilians immediately after the battle. For more information on depleted uranium Scoop readers should visit the CBC-Canadian Broadcasting Corporation- website at For an anti-DU activist’s perspective there’s and for the British MOD’s position:, (search under depleted uranium for the first two and go to ‘defence issues’ for the latter)

The big questions: will it be used again and, if so, what will be done about it? The UN must act and the ICC surely should at minimum look into the facts. Then there’s Blair.

Tony Blair is increasingly sent up these days as the poodle of George W Bush. Speaking out if the US does act inhumanely could score him political points with many in the Labour Party and regain the confidence of a large segment of the British public.

Support for an attack is middling at best: many Brits across the political spectrum see Bush as gung-ho and dangerously unilateralist.

Moreover, as much as Tony Blair tries to portray himself and Bush as working together against terrorism, to many voters it’s so clearly a dominant-submissive relationship, with George’s hand firmly on the choker collar. The British public ain’t that stupid.

Most importantly, how refreshing and positive it would be for a high-ranking serving politician to openly oppose cruelty and flagrant violations of international law, even when it’s his mate doing the violating.

It’s also commonly accepted that US warplanes bombed retreating Iraq troops and civilians in 1991, the so-called highways of death incident. One US pilot reportedly remarked it was ‘like shooting fish in a barrel’.

The US elites’ arrogance regarding Iraq is ultimately summed up by former state secretary Madeleine Albright’s admission during a CBS Sixty Minutes interview in May 1996.

She was asked: ‘We have heard that a half million children have died [as a result of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?’ Albright replied: ‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we feel that the price was worth it.’

Then there are those missiles you see US military people preparing for shooting that have things such as ‘Take that Bin Laden’ and worse scrawled onto them.

These attitudes must not prevail if Iraq is attacked again…and Tony Blair could learn a lesson from his more multilateralist German counterpart, for instance, and insist that Britain will not be involved with US actions that are disproportionate, inhumane or disallowed under international law.

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He can be contacted at

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