Iraq: US War Drive `Built On A Bed Of Lies'
Iraq: US War Drive `Built On A Bed Of Lies'
BY NORM DIXON
Green Left Weekly - Australia's Radical Newspaper
The Australian government has the dubious distinction of being one of only three governments -- along with Britain and Israel -- to have unconditionally endorsed the United States' impending invasion of Iraq. Washington is finalising battle plans to attack Iraq with up to 250,000 troops.
Speaking on August 2, Prime Minister John Howard carefully followed the script provided by US President George Bush: Iraq's dictator President Saddam Hussein has ``weapons of mass destruction'' and is developing more; attempts to convince Iraq to admit weapons inspectors will probably fail; even if Iraq does allow inspections, these weapons are too well hidden; only the demise of Hussein will make the world safe again. War with Iraq ``is more probable than not'', he declared.
Howard signalled that his government will back an act of imperial savagery that will cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and perhaps thousands of US military personnel. Almost certainly, Howard will eagerly agree to send young Australians to be sacrificed in the deserts of Iraq and the back alleys of Baghdad.
Since September 11, the US and British governments have steadily increased the volume of accusations that Iraq possesses chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and/or continues to develop them. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have declared that preventing these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists constitutes the ``second phase'' of the ``war on terrorism'' that began in Afghanistan.
However, Bush and Blair have refused to present any proof that Iraq retains or has developed such weapons. This has not stopped Washington, London, Canberra and the compliant Western capitalist mass media with their production line of bow-tied ``experts'', think-tank ``commentators'' and fresh-faced ``analysts'' from asserting ad nauseam that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is developing even more.
The most recent opportunity for the capitalist media to again plaster these allegations across front pages and news broadcasts was provided by the July 31-August 1 hearings of the US Senate foreign relations committee.
``A series of Iraq analysts generally agreed that Iraq must be stopped from developing biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons'', Associated Press on August 1 reported, summing up the hearings. The August 1 New York Times added: ``The experts also agreed that they consider Mr Hussein a major threat to world peace because of his aggressive efforts to obtain biological and nuclear weapons.'' The August 1 Boston Globe agreed: ``The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard military and weapons specialist describe an active and growing Iraqi program to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.'' These reports were based on a series of submissions that were little more than speculation, hear-say and guesses.
Richard Butler, the head of the UN weapons inspection agency UNSCOM from 1997 to 1999 who knowingly allowed the US to use his inspectors as cover for spying operations in Iraq, declared: ``Saddam has reinvigorated his nuclear weapons program in the inspection-free [after 1998] years. Over two years ago, the [International] Atomic Energy Agency estimate was that if he started working again Saddam could build a nuclear weapon in about two years.'' (Emphasis added ND.)
Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear physicist who defected to the discredited pro-US Iraqi National Congress in 1994, told the committee that in 2001 a German intelligence agency estimated that Iraq possessed enough uranium to ``generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005''.
Anthony Cordesman, a former US defence department official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, bluntly admitted to the senators that there is no proof: ``It is far from clear that anyone will ever be able to answer your questions [about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction] or know when or where these kinds of weapons will be used. If we do this, it will be our first pre-emptive war. We will not have a clear smoking gun.''
Of course, government advocates of invasion argue that there is no need for proof before launching an attack. In their minds, the absence of evidence simply confirms that the nefarious Saddam has cleverly hidden weapons of mass destruction in caves and on the backs of trucks (as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld continually claims). This attitude is summed up in Rumsfeld's ludicrous statement: ``The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.'' As Caspar Weinberger, defence secretary in the Reagan administration, told the committee: ``If people are looking for an excuse for inaction, they can say, ‘We must have positive proof that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons or even nuclear weapons'. But the only real proof that we can really expect under this terminology is if we are attacked.''
The Senate committee members -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- are not opposed to the White House's goal of overthrowing Hussein, or going to war to achieve it. Their hearings were meant to convince the Bush administration to enlist Congress to help it sell a war to the US people. Many in Congress are urging Bush not to attack without first seeking a congressional endorsement.
The Congress members' key concern -- shared by many US mainstream press commentators and editorialists -- is that the Bush administration's cavalier refusal to present a convincing case for a bloody war in Iraq will backfire. Remembering the collapse of public support for the US war against Vietnam, elements of the ruling elite fear that the American public's initial support for military action against Hussein will rapidly dissolve if it turns out to be bloodier, longer and more expensive than Washington has let on.
Democrat Senator Tom Daschle warned that ``it would be a big mistake for the administration to act without Congress and without its involvement''. Democrat Joseph Biden, who chairs the committee, told the August 1 Boston Globe that the purpose of the hearings was to educate lawmakers and the American people about the consequences and stakes of a US war on Iraq.
``This is not an action that can be sprung on the American people'', Republican Senator Richard Lugar said in his opening statement on July 31. ``Public debate over policy is important to the construction of strong public support for actions that will require great sacrifices from the American people.'' The Senate committee pointedly refused to hear submissions from outright opponents of the impending war against Iraq or those who could shed light on the truth about Iraq's military capability.
‘Bed of lies'
One key expert who was excluded from the hearings was Scott Ritter, who as senior UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998 personally led the inspections, investigations and destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs. As such, he is uniquely placed to assess how much of a danger the Hussein regime remains.
Ritter addressed a meeting in Boston on July 23 in which he bluntly stated that the Bush administration ``has built a foundation for war that is built on a bed of lies. There is no case for war and without a case for war there should be no war''.
Ritter stressed that he was no friend of Saddam Hussein. ``I'm not a pacifist. I'm not someone who is afraid of war. I've been to war [in 1991]. I'm a veteran of the US Marine Corps and I'd go to war again if required to defend my country. I'm a card-carrying Republican, of conservative/moderate leanings, who voted for George W. Bush for president.'' The Bush administration's charges that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction are ``little more than rhetorically laced speculation'', Ritter said. ``There has been nothing in the way of substantive fact presented that makes the case that Iraq possesses these weapons, has links to international terror or poses a threat to the USA worthy of war.'' Ritter explained that in the late 1980s (with the assistance of the US) and in the early 1990s, Iraq had indeed developed basic chemical weapons like mustard and cyanide gas, and was attempting to perfect more sophisticated chemical weapons, as well as biological and nuclear weapons.
``I spent seven years in Iraq hunting down these weapons programs. Iraq used to have factories that produced biological weapons, chemical weapons of several varieties, nuclear weapons programs and long-range ballistic missiles.
``Furthermore, when [the Iraqi government] was required to declare the totality of its weapons of mass destruction holdings, it lied. It failed to declare a biological weapons program. It failed to declare a nuclear weapons program. It declared less than 50% of its chemical weapons program and less than 50% of its ballistic missile program. They created a systematic mechanism of concealment to keep these hidden capabilities away from the weapons inspectors.
``But the UN weapons inspectors mandate was to seek and hunt down these weapons. We did so over the course of many years and we were successful'', Ritter insisted. ``Weapons inspections enjoyed tremendous success in Iraq. By 1995-96, we could ascertain a 90-95% level of disarmament. Not because we took at face value what the Iraqis said. I and other weapons inspectors never believed a word the Iraqis told us after their first lie. No, we achieved this level of verification based upon our own hard work.
``When Iraq said they didn't have a particular piece of equipment we did not believe them. We went to Europe and we scoured the countries that sold technology to Iraq until we found the company that had an invoice signed by an Iraqi official that showed that Iraq bought five of these pieces of equipment. We would present these documents to the Iraqis and they would say, ‘Oh, that equipment'.
``They'd take us to a location where either the equipment was intact and we blew it up, or they took us to a location where the equipment had been destroyed. We did a serial number [check] and confirmed that it indeed was the piece of equipment. That's why I can say that Iraq was 90-95% disarmed, because we tracked each piece down and destroyed it.''
Ritter pointed out that 100% disarmament was not possible. ``With time things get lost, get misplaced, memories get clouded. Even if Iraq were fully cooperative, 100% would be difficult. But remember, Iraq was a nation that went through a pretty horrific war in which government buildings were blown up, documents were scattered, people were killed -- that had an impact. Economic sanctions cause tremendous problems for the way a government governs and again, that created issues.'' Ritter explained that when Iraqi officials realised that they could not hide their programs from UNSCOM inspectors they began to destroy what was left themselves, then pretended it never existed. While officials finally admitted trying to destroy the remaining chemical and biological weapons stocks, related equipment and missiles and the inspectors verified this, inevitably some remains unaccounted for.
Ritter used one example: ``We can verify 96 of 98 of Iraq's [long-range] missiles [were destroyed], but two missiles are missing. Now, we have a whole pile of junk over here, bits and scraps of metal that we think are the final two missiles. But because Iraq lied to us we can't accept at face value that these are the missiles. So we don't give Iraq credit for two missiles, they are still two missiles short.'' Even if Iraq had succeeded in hiding stocks of sarin and tabun nerve agents, Ritter reported, these chemicals have ``a shelf life of five years. After that it deteriorates and becomes useless gunk.'' And even though Iraq lied about its research into producing viable long-lasting VX nerve agents, Ritter emphatically dismissed the possibility that Iraq has retained a capacity to produce the chemical weapon.
``The research and development factory is destroyed. The product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons that they loaded up have been destroyed. And, more importantly, the equipment that Iraq procured from Europe to be used for a large scale VX nerve agent factory was identified still packed in its crates in 1997 and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life.'' Ritter does not deny that Iraq could have begun to reconstitute its weapons programs after UNSCOM inspectors were withdrawn in 1998.
``But they would have to start from scratch because they don't have [the factories] any more, we destroyed them. They don't have production equipment, we destroyed it. They would have to go out and reconfigure existing industrial infrastructure to produce this chemical agent. If they did that, it is readily detectable. The technologies are available and I'm here to tell you that if Iraq were producing chemical weapons today on any meaningful scale we would have definitive proof, plain and simple.''
Ritter also dismissed US claims that Iraq has resumed a nuclear weapons program. ``[Before 1998], every one of Iraq's nuclear enrichment programs were destroyed, eliminated from the face of the Earth. The production equipment is gone; the facilities have been levelled. Iraq's means to produce [nuclear] components have likewise been eliminated. The International Atomic Energy Agency did a very good job of monitoring Iraq's industrial infrastructure to ensure that these things cannot be reconstituted.
``If Iraq is on verge of building nuclear weapon, it would be a miracle… For Iraq to produce a nuclear bomb today, they would have to resurrect their enrichment program. This would require the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars and the construction of facilities that are readily detectable by a variety of intelligence means. Nobody has detected this…
``They would have to acquire fissile material from abroad… There isn't a whole bunch of highly enriched plutonium floating out there ready for someone to buy… But let's say Iraq got their hands on 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. They still have to process it further -- melt it down to get the impurities out, cast it again and mill it -- to make it useable in an Iraqi designed bomb. You don't do that in a cave or in a basement. It requires technology, a facility and special handling equipment. It emits gamma rays that are detectable -- and we have not detected it. So I would not lose any sleep over Iraq's nuclear weapons program.''
On August 2, Iraq invited Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (which is UNSCOM's successor body), to come to Baghdad for talks ``to establish a solid basis for the next stage of monitoring and inspection activities and to move forward toward that stage''. US and British officials immediately rejected the offer, describing it as a ``stalling tactic''.
John Bolton, US under-secretary for arms control, on August 3 let slip in an interview on British radio that Washington would move to overthrow Hussein regardless of whether Iraq allowed UN inspectors to return.
Since September 11, the US and Britain have demanded that Iraq allow UN weapons inspectors unrestricted access to the country or face military action. But it has become increasingly obvious that Washington has no intention of abandoning its planned military attack. The return of weapons inspectors would get in the way of US plans to overthrow of Hussein.
Walter Pincus and Colum Lynch, writing in the April 15 Washington Post, noted: ``Senior Pentagon civilians such as [deputy defence secretary Paul] Wolfowitz and their allies … fear that a go-ahead by the Iraqi leader [for the return of weapons inspectors] could delay and possibly fatally undermine their overall goal to launch a military campaign against Iraq… `The hawks' nightmare is that inspectors will be admitted, will not be terribly vigorous and not find anything', said a former US official. `Economic sanctions would be eased, and the US will be unable to act.'''
The US has cynically worked to ensure that the UN Security Council's conditions attached to the return of UN inspectors are so outrageous and so contravene accepted norms of national sovereignty in the hope that it will be impossible for Hussein to agree to them. Their scope is summed up in the phrase oft-repeated by US and British officials: ``Any time, any place anywhere.''
The Bush gang's strategy was revealed to the April 14 British Guardian: ``A US State Department official said he thought it very unlikely that the Iraqi regime would be prepared to accept the stringent program of inspections the US will demand. As [a US intelligence source] put it, the White House `will not take yes for an answer'.''
Speaking on ABC TV's Lateline program on August 2, Scott Ritter pointed out that Iraq's offer to discuss the return of UN weapons inspectors ``exposes the inner contradictions of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq''.
``On the one hand, the administration says it wants weapons inspections back [and] demands that Iraq be disarmed in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, President Bush said his policy is regime change. Well, which one is it?…
``If inspectors go back in and there is a finding of compliance, then [the UN Security Council has] to lift economic sanctions. If sanctions are lifted, you break `containment' and Iraq is back in the fold of the international community with Saddam at the helm. That's the last thing George Bush wants right now.''
- From Green Left Weekly, August 14, 2002. Visit the Green Left Weekly home page http://www.greenleft.org.au.