Issue 225 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
The central justification Bill Clinton and his domestic pet Tony Blair gave for their military buildup against Iraq in the middle of November was Saddam Hussein's failure to allow unfettered access to the United Nations weapons inspectorate, Unscom. They spooled out the same propaganda about ridding the world of 'weapons of mass destruction' that they had tried in previous crises.
But it remains stubbornly true that the US itself holds over 3,500 strategic nuclear weapons; enough to destroy the world many times over. It also has the world's biggest stockpile of chemical weapons and has refused international inspectors access to military and industrial sites - the very crime of which it accuses the Iraqi government.
The US tolerates countries possessing weapons of mass destruction so long as they are allies. So Israel, which defence experts believe to have 200 nuclear warheads pointed at Arab cities, receives generous aid from the US, not threats to flatten Tel Aviv. Israel also has an advanced chemical weapons programme. The intelligence magazine, Foreign Report, has uncovered a string of accidents at Israel's chemical weapons research plant which have claimed four lives in the last few months.
The US - along with Britain, France and Germany - supplied Saddam with the raw materials and equipment to make chemical and biological weapons throughout the 1980s because he was a key ally. They turned a blind eye while he gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians in 1983, 1987 and 1988.
The whole process of weapons inspection in Iraq is shrouded in the same hypocrisy as the US's policy on chemical weapons. Western leaders react in mock horror at the suggestion that the Unscom inspectors are spies, but that is exactly what they are. Most of the inspectors are drawn from the armed forces of western powers. They pass information about Iraq's military and industrial capacity to their respective governments. The US uses this information in planning targets in Iraq. US defence officials told the Observer it is 'inevitable that information supplied by the monitors plays a part in the careful selection of targets'. US defence secretary William Cohen says, 'I see no conflict in getting information from wherever I can get information from.' The nature of the Unscom weapons inspectorate is summed up by Scott Ritter, the man who led its on the ground teams from 1991 to August of this year.
Ritter was a US Marine corps lieutenant and a militaristic nut. As a child he was fond of the phrase, 'Kill a Commie for Mommy.' His father, an air force officer, was so concerned about his son's behaviour that he preferred his son to take up a civilian career rather than follow him into the military. But Scott Ritter signed up for the Marine Corps and declared on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, 'War is a good thing.'
After the war he became a top Unscom inspector. In a recent interview in the New Yorker he recalls, 'Basically we were a tool of the US.' He described the speech he would give to his associates before each 'inspection' of an Iraqi site. 'You work for me, so every one of you are alpha dogs. When we go to the site, they're gonna know we are there, we're gonna raise our tails and we're gonna spray urine all over their walls...when we leave a site they will know they've been inspected.'
If he suspected a government minister was hiding something he would say, 'I'm going up to the minister's office and I'm going to basically rape his office.' Bill Clinton and Tony Blair relied on the judgement of this man when planning air strikes in February of this year. He retained their confidence until US officials discovered he had been passing on their government's secrets to Israeli military intelligence. Ritter resigned in August and admitted he had had several meetings with Israeli spies.
But Ritter's boss Richard Butler, the Australian head of Unscom, remained in place. He oversaw Ritter's behaviour and is so close to the US military that he has given briefings to the press from the Pentagon. Powerful voices in the US establishment acknowledge that the Unscom inspections regime is a cover for extending US power in the Middle East. They are even prepared to ditch inspections in favour of military action against Iraq and tightening the noose of sanctions against its civilian population. In the meantime, Unscom's main role is to provide a comprehensive list of targets for B52 bombers and cruise missiles.
The US and its allies have managed to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis over the last seven years without firing a single shot. Their weapon has been the systematic denial of food and medicine to civilians. Estimates of the number killed through economic sanctions vary - most independent agencies and United Nations researchers put the figure somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million.
The UN has enforced sanctions since 1991, ostensibly because of Saddam Hussein's continued possession of chemical and biological weapons. But in March of last year US secretary of state Madeline Albright declared that sanctions were to stay in place for so long as Saddam remained in power. In other words, no matter how far Iraq cooperated with the UN weapons inspectors, food and medicine would still be embargoed. Bill Clinton made the same threat in the middle of November this year
The impact of sanctions on Iraqi civilians has been so great that the assistant secretary general of the UN, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest this summer. Halliday had 34 years' experience at the UN, and from the end of 1996 ran its oil for food programme under which Iraq was allowed to export a small fraction of its oil capacity in return for food. He spoke to the magazine Middle East International about why he resigned:
'The cost of the sanctions was completely unacceptable - killing 6,000 to 7,000 children a month. Sustaining a level of malnutrition of about 30 percent for children under five leads to physical and mental problems. It's incompatible with the UN Charter, with the Convention on Human Rights of the Child and probably with many other international agreements.'
He went on to describe the catastrophic state of Iraq's civilian infrastructure which was blown to pieces during the Gulf War. There is 'not remotely enough money for water, sanitation, agriculture, electric power and so on. Albright says that she cares more for Iraqi people than Saddam. I don't buy that. The Iraqi government is running an extraordinarily effective programme...through some 50,000 agencies to a country of about 18 million people. Our observers watch that process from the border to the warehouse. We have no significant evidence of leakage of foodstuffs. This system works because the Iraqis make it work.'
Spreading disease throughout a country and then denying its population medicine has a name - it is called biological warfare.