Deadly cost of a degrading act
by Robert Fisk
Amnesty International Urgent Action update, December
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?