- Created: Wednesday, 20 May 2009 15:48
- Written by Trevor Rayne
HANDS OFF IRAQ
The war on Iraq has long been in preparation. The British RAF and the US Air Force have continued to bomb Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War. Britain and the USA have devised United Nations Security Council resolutions impossible for Iraq to comply with. Whatever Iraq offered to do to get UN sanctions lifted, Britain and the USA moved the goalposts to keep sanctions in place. Neither the US government nor the British Labour government has any intention of letting the UN get in the way of war. Trevor Rayne reports.
The British government played a key role in getting Bush to take his case to the UN General Assembly on 12 September. With a sickening show of sentiment Bush announced, ‘Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and great strategic goal’. He listed the USA’s conditions for not attacking Iraq: the Iraqi regime must destroy all its weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, it must account for prisoners of war, stop supporting terrorism, abide by the economic sanctions against it, return property stolen from Kuwait and stop oppressing the Iraqi people. All these conditions refer to UN resolutions drafted by the USA and Britain and all unachievable if the originators so wish it.
The US ruling class has placed the UN and its member governments in a double-bind: give us the resolution we want, authorise our war and you retain some credibility on our terms; oppose us and we will launch war anyway and you will be humiliated. British Foreign Secretary Straw said that he believed Iraq’s breach of existing resolutions meant that no new resolutions were necessary to authorise war.
Acting through the UN gives some cover for those governments facing opposition to the proposed war and serves to disguise their obedience to the USA. How quickly talk of British Labour cabinet unease at the war stilled once the flag of the UN was hoisted. Saudi Arabia, previously opposed to US bases on its territory being used in an assault on Iraq, changed position and announced that the bases could be used with UN approval. The Iraqi government responded on 17 September by offering UN weapons inspectors unconditional access. The US and British governments dismissed the offer as a trick.
British and US diplomats are drafting the resolution to be put to the UN Security Council. It will be impossible for Iraq to meet its conditions. There are precedents for this manoeuvre: prior to the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia, Britain and the USA demanded that NATO troops be given unlimited access to Yugoslavia and immunity from Yugoslav laws. This time Foreign Secretary Straw favours ‘intrusive inspections’: inspectors no doubt accompanied by armed soldiers with the authority to wage war if they are impeded – invasion by invitation. The final shape of the resolution will reflect how successfully the US and British diplomats have been able to bully and bribe their way through the UN Security Council.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the US government has shown its contempt for the UN and its governments. It bought votes for the 1991 Gulf War. Together with Britain and France it imposed ‘no fly zones’ over Iraq without reference to any UN resolution. The USA gained UN Security Council approval to invade Somalia in 1992-93 and when it faced a Russian and Chinese veto in the Security Council over plans to attack former Yugoslavia it simply chose to act as NATO instead. For over 30 years Israel and the USA have ignored UN Security Council Resolution 242 demanding Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip with no ill consequences for the Israeli state whatsoever. Earlier this year Israel prevented a UN delegation from entering Jenin to investigate a massacre there and most recently rejected the UN Security Council’s appeal to lift the siege on Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. Israel has weapons of mass destruction and has said it is ready to use nuclear bombs. No UN war on Israel though!
For the US ruling class the US-led overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime would be a supreme demonstration of its power; failure to overthrow it, a blow to US credibility. The nucleus around President Bush is enthusiastic about war. To quote Bush: ‘There is no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland’. In the 1991 Gulf War the allies suffered 157 dead to Iraq’s 200,000. Similar killing ratios for the aggressors of less than one to a 1,000 obtained in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
The US military-industrial complex is attempting to make combat as risk-free as possible. The more risk-free the easier it is to wage war and the more frequently it can be waged. In the words of one US general, ‘You don’t think we are going to spend all this money on the military and keep it parked in the garage, do you?’ The demonstration of overwhelming US force can reduce the need to exercise it by achieving the political and economic subservience of potential rivals and discontents. In this context the USA has announced its new global military strategy of ‘pre-emptive’ wars. The Nazi blitzkrieg multiplied a thousand times in velocity. This is the ruling class that demonstrated to the world the nuclear bomb.
Iraq: a case of premeditated murder
While Blair displays his dossier of Iraqi horrors he hides the damage done to the 20 million Iraqi people by the British and US governments. The Ba’ath Party came to power after its members, including Saddam Hussein, massacred communists in 1963. It did so with the help of the US CIA that provided lists of communists’ names. The largest communist party in the Arab world was crushed. Saddam Hussein took power in 1979 and received weapons and intelligence from the USA and Britain for the war against Iran. The Scott Inquiry showed that after the gassing of Kurds by the Iraqi army in Halabja in 1988, killing some 5,000 people, the British government took the decision to increase weapons supplies to Iraq. The US government approved the export of virus cultures and the construction of a petro-chemical plant the Iraqi government intended to use to produce mustard gas. Thus encouraged as an ally of imperialism the Iraqi government invaded Kuwait and then the allies became enemies.
On 17 January 1991, in one day the US-led forces unleashed a bombardment one and a half times more powerful than Hiroshima and twice that which flattened Dresden in World War Two. The bombing was sustained over 43 days, killing approximately 200,000 Iraqis. Among the weapons used were depleted uranium shells. UN statistics published in the British Medical Journal 1999 showed a sevenfold increase in cancer in southern Iraq between 1989 and 1994. UN sanctions imposed in 1991 prevented the import of radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics. UNICEF says that sanctions are the principal cause of death of at least 180 Iraqi children every day, over half a million since 1991.
Since 1997 the Labour government has spent approximately £1 billion bombing Iraq. The Iraqi government claims over 1,500 people have been killed by bombing raids since the end of the Gulf War; half the casualties are civilians. In 1998 the UN weapons inspectors were ordered out of Iraq by the UN after they were revealed to have been spying on Saddam Hussein’s movements and targeting sites for bombing. The US and British governments, Bush and Blair, lie and say that Iraq threw them out. After the inspectors’ departure there followed four days during which the RAF and US Air Force fired 400 cruise missiles and dropped 600 bombs on Iraq. This is, as we said in FRFI 100 April/May 1991, ‘The premeditated murder of a nation’.
Preparations to escalate the war on Iraq extend at least as far back as November 2001 when the US government ordered an increase in the US strategic petroleum reserve. US Special Forces and over 5,000 Turkish troops moved into northern Iraq in March 2002 with US and Turkish engineers to build airstrips for military use. In the month from 5 August, US and British planes made 15 attacks on Iraq, targeting communication and command centres. In mid-September the US Central Command relocated its headquarters from Florida to the Gulf state of Qatar. The Royal Navy’s flag ship Ark Royal is on exercises in the Mediterranean – a potential command centre for British forces. Whatever Blair and his ministers say about not wanting military conflict, the British government has been waging a low-grade war on Iraq since 1991 and is now increasing that war incrementally.
The Ba’athist regime in Iraq is oppressive but it is for the Iraqi people to deal with it. The opposition to Saddam Hussein, many of whom are former members of his regime, has no basis of support among the Iraqi masses. It has lined up with Britain and the USA. The Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, Barzani and Talabani, are a comprador bourgeoisie tied to imperialism.
Appeasement and democracy
Bush and his gang are fond of likening themselves to Winston Churchill in his stand against Nazi Germany. The Labour government has kindly sent Bush a metal statue of the Tory statesman, no doubt to encourage this identification and all things Anglo-American. Who, we should ask, will not appease the US government?
Germany’s former Justice Minister made the reasonable observation that Bush was acting like Hitler in using overseas policies to deflect from problems at home with an election looming. US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld reacted by saying that US-German relations had been ‘poisoned’. Chancellor Schröder and the SDP’s Green Party partners were re-elected to government in September on a platform of opposition to any US/British war on Iraq. Immediately after his election Schröder flew to Downing Street to meet Blair. The French government has said that it requires a new UN resolution on arms inspections before deciding on participating in a war. After the Blair-Schröder meeting Blair was careful to say that the purpose of any new resolution was removing weapons of mass destruction not ‘regime change’. The British government cannot dismiss Germany’s economic power in Europe where British capital intends to be a major player – especially with the European Union scheduled to expand by ten countries.
The British Labour government is desperate not to have to choose between the USA and the EU. There are real tensions between the two with the World Trade Organisation recently ruling that the EU can impose $4 billion of tariffs on US exports for unfair US subsidies to exporters. This occurs at a time of deepening economic crisis when the battle for markets becomes ever fiercer and trade war threatens. The German electorate has made life more difficult for Blair and the trans-Atlantic partnership. However, Labour will perform its duty and attempt to prevent Germany being a nuisance to the war effort and particularly prevent it from influencing France in the Security Council.
Russia has also said it does not see the need to attack Iraq; Russia has $8 billion of debt owed by the Iraqi government and investments in the country to consider. As far as the USA is concerned these are little more than bargaining chips in the bidding to get an acceptable price for Russia to withdraw its veto in the Security Council. The other Security Council member with the power of veto is China. Britain and the USA calculate that if China is alone it will not veto any vote for war: it will abstain rather than be isolated.
Walter Bagehot, author of The English Constitution, remarked that, ‘Democracy is the way to give the people the greatest illusion of power while allowing them the smallest amount in reality’. More recently George Soros, commenting on the prospects of the Workers’ Party candidate being elected president in Brazil said, ‘In the Roman empire, only the Romans voted. In modern global capitalism, only the Americans vote. Not the Brazilians’. The point is that under capitalism all the important decisions are taken in private meetings. Democracy has its place firmly circumscribed and its representatives must know their place. That is why we have the insult of the British parliamentary debate on the coming war. Foreign Secretary Straw has said that MPs will be given an opportunity to record their views in the House of Commons with a vote. In 1991 the vote was allowed after the war had been started.
This Labour government is what every other Labour government has been: racist, militarist, imperialist. Prime Minister Blair is an international criminal and all those who are in the Labour Party are complicit in his crimes. There is no excuse for anyone of democratic and humanitarian views remaining in the Labour Party. It must be fought and defeated if we are to make any headway in turning back the march from war to war.
FRFI 169 October / November 2002