Deadly cost of a degrading act

by Robert Fisk

Amnesty International Urgent Action update, December 18, 1998


We are now in the endgame, the final bankruptcy of Western policy towards Iraq, the very last throw of the dice. We fire 200 cruise missiles into Iraq and what do we expect? Is a chastened Saddam Hussein going to emerge from his bunker to explain to us how sorry he is? Will he tell us how much he wants those nice UN inspectors to return to Baghdad to find his "weapons of mass destruction"? Is that what we think? Is that what the Anglo-American bombardment is all about? And if so, what happens afterwards? What happens when the missile attacks end - just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, because, of course, we really are very sensitive about Iraqi religious feelings - and Saddam Hussein tells us that the UN inspectors will never be allowed to return?

As the cruise missiles were launched, President Clinton announced that Saddam had "disarmed the [UN] inspectors", and Tony Blair - agonising about the lives of the "British forces" involved (all 14 pilots) - told us that "we act because we must". In so infantile a manner did we go to war on Wednesday night. No policies. No perspective. Not the slightest hint as to what happens after the bombardment ends. With no UN inspectors back in Iraq, what are we going to do? Declare eternal war against Iraq?

We are "punishing" Saddam - or so Mr Blair would have us believe. And all the old cliches are being trundled out. In 1985, just before he bombed them, Ronald Reagan told the Libyans that the United States had "no quarrel with the Libyan people". In 1991, just before he bombed them, George Bush told the Iraqis that he had "no quarrel with the Iraqi people". And now we have Tony Blair - as he bombs them - telling Iraqis that, yes, he has "no quarrel with the Iraqi people".

Is there a computer that churns out this stuff? Is there a cliche department at Downing Street which also provides Robin Cook with the tired phrase of the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, about how Saddam used gas "against his own people"?

For little did we care when he did use that gas against the Kurds of Halabja - because, at the time, those Kurds were allied to Iran and we, the West, were supporting Saddam's invasion of Iran.

The lack of any sane long-term policy towards Iraq is the giveaway. Our patience - according to Clinton and Blair - is exhausted. Saddam cannot be trusted to keep his word (they've just realised). And so Saddam's ability to "threaten his neighbours" - neighbours who don't in fact want us to bomb Iraq - has to be "degraded". That word "degraded" is a military term, first used by General Schwarzkopf and his boys in the 1991 Gulf war, and it is now part of the vocabulary of the weak. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction have to be "degraded". Our own dear Mr Cook was at it again yesterday, informing us of the need to "degrade" Saddam's military capability.

How? The UN weapons inspectors - led for most of the time by Scott Ritter (the man who has admitted he kept flying to Israel to liaise with Israeli military intelligence), could not find out where Saddam's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons were hidden. They had been harassed by Iraq's intelligence thugs, and prevented from doing their work. Now we are bombing the weapons facilities which the inspectors could not find. Or are we? For there is a very serious question that is not being asked: if the inspectors couldn't find the weapons, how come we know where to fire the cruise missiles?

And all the while, we continue to impose genocidal sanctions on Iraq, sanctions that are killing innocent Iraqis and - by the admission of Mr Cook and Mrs Albright - not harming Saddam at all. Mrs Albright rages at Saddam's ability to go on building palaces, and Mr Cook is obsessed with a report of the regime's purchase of liposuction equipment which, if true, merely proves that sanctions are a total failure.

Mr Cook prattles on about how Iraq can sell more than $10bn (£6bn) of oil a year to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. But since more than 30 per cent of these oil revenues are diverted to the UN compensation fund and UN expenses in Iraq, his statement is totally untrue.

Dennis Halliday, the man who ran the UN oil-for-food programme in Baghdad, until he realised that thousands of Iraqi children were dying every month because of sanctions, resigned his post with the declaration that "we are in the process of destroying an entire society. it is illegal and immoral." So either Mr Halliday is a pathological liar - which I do not believe - or Mr Cook has a serious problem with the truth - which I do believe.

Now we are bombing the people who are suffering under our sanctions. Not to mention the small matter of the explosion of child cancer in southern Iraq, most probably as a result of the Allied use of depleted uranium shells during the 1991 war. Gulf war veterans may be afflicted with the same sickness, although the British Government refuses to contemplate the possibility. And what, in this latest strike, are some of our warheads made of? Depleted uranium, of course.

Maybe there really is a plan afoot for a coup d'etat, though hopefully more ambitious than our call to the Iraqi people to rise up against their dictator in 1991, when they were abandoned by the Allies they thought would speed to their rescue. Mr Clinton says he wants a democracy in Iraq - as fanciful a suggestion as any made recently. He is demanding an Iraqi government that "represents its people" and "respects" its citizens. Not a single Arab regime - especially not Washington's friends in Saudi Arabia - offers such luxuries to its people. We are supposed to believe, it seems, that Washington and London are terribly keen to favour the Iraqi people with a fully fledged democracy. In reality, what we want in Iraq is another bullying dictator - but one who will do as he is told, invade the countries we wish to see invaded (Iran), and respect the integrity of those countries we do not wish to see invaded (Kuwait).

Yet no questions are being asked, no lies uncovered. Ritter, the Marine Corps inspector who worked with Israeli intelligence, claimed that Richard Butler - the man whose report triggered this week's new war - was aware of his visits to Israel. Is that true? Has anyone asked Mr Butler? He may well have avoided such contacts - but it would be nice to have an answer.

So what to do with Saddam? Well, first, we could abandon the wicked sanctions regime against Iraq. We have taken enough innocent lives. We have killed enough children. Then we could back the real supporters of democracy in Iraq - not the ghouls and spooks who make up the so-called Iraqi National Congress, but the genuine dissidents who gathered in Beirut in 1991 to demand freedom for their country, but were swiftly ignored by the Americans once it became clear that they didn't want a pro-Western strongman to lead them.

And we could stop believing in Washington. Vice-President Al Gore told Americans yesterday that it was a time for "national resolve and unity". You might have thought that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor, or that General MacArthur had just abandoned Bataan. When President Clinton faced the worst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he bombed Afghanistan and Sudan. Faced with impeachment, he now bombs Iraq. How far can a coincidence go?

This week, two Christian armies - America's and Britain's - went to war with a Muslim nation, Iraq. With no goals, but with an army of platitudes, they have abandoned the UN's weapons control system, closed the door on arms inspections, and opened the door to an unlimited military offensive against Iraq. And nobody has asked the obvious question: what happens next?

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