U.S. On the Verge of War in Iraq

1) What about the U.S. claim that omissions in Iraq’s arms declaration constitute a “material breach”?

Several thousand pages of the declaration, including about 400 of the new material, are in Arabic; even the U.S. hasn’t had time to translate them. Other countries on the Security Council had the declaration much shorter times — the ten “non-permanent” members of the Council got their partial copies only a couple of days before the U.S. made its claim of material breach.

According to the UN inspection resolution 1441, two things are required for a finding of material breach — omissions or lies in the declaration, AND Iraqi non-cooperation with inspectors on the ground. Everyone agrees Iraq has fully cooperated, so that requirement is missing.

Also according to the resolution, only the Council itself has the authority to determine a material breach. So whatever the U.S. says, it’s up to the Council to decide.

The inspectors are very clear that they are at a very preliminary stage, and their findings (including the inadequacies they pointed out to the Council) are incomplete. The UN inspectors did not make a finding of material breach.

2) Doesn’t the U.S. have evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)?

The inspectors on the ground have found no evidence of existing WMDs in Iraq. The U.S. claims it has such evidence, from satellite or secret intelligence sources. But so far it has not provided any such evidence to the inspectors to confirm. If Washington’s “evidence” did indeed indicate something dangerous, we can be sure they would immediately turn it over to UN inspectors inside Iraq so they could confirm the claim, and destroy whatever was so dangerous. The U.S. failure to turn over evidence makes it very possible they don’t really have any serious evidence of real WMD programs. The only example we know of so far was a claim that U.S. satellites had documented the repair of the roof of an abandoned facility that had years ago had been used in Iraq’s nuclear program. Inspectors did go there, and found an abandoned facility with a new roof.

3) How did the U.S. get the declaration so early, and what is the consequence?

Without official Security Council approval, the U.S. pressured individual Council members, especially Colombia, to turn over the full unedited version of Iraq’s declaration to Washington before any other governments had a chance to see it. Non–permanent members of the Council received only 3,000 pages out of the original 12,000 + page document, establishing a bad “two-tier” division between permanent and non-permanent Council members. Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the UN, called it “wrong” and “unfortunate” that the U.S. had seized control.

“The full extent of Washington’s complete control over who sees what in the crucial Iraqi dossier calls into question the allegations made by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that omissions in the document constituted a material breach of the latest UN resolution on Iraq.” — London’s Sunday Herald, December 22, 2002.

4) What was in the original declaration that was removed before other countries got access to it?

The sections deleted from the version given to non-permanent members were not only “how-to” references on building weapons. The missing material also included all references to U.S. and other corporations, as well as U.S. government agencies, that provided material, training and otherwise aided Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs throughout the 1970s and 80s, in some cases going into the 1990s. The 24 U.S. corporations involved include Honeywell, Rockwell, Hewlett Packard, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Bechtel, and more. U.S. government Departments of Energy, Commerce, Defense and Agriculture, as well as federal laboratories at Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, were also involved.

5) Should we support the United Nations inspections process?

The UN process keeps the international community, and the UN, at the center of the Iraq disarmament crisis, rather than the U.S. alone operating in an unchallenged way. It slows down the pace towards war. Since they invested in that process, it is now harder for the U.S. to simply abandon it and go to war alone, and still expect to get international or domestic support.

But — the U.S. has enormous power to pressure, bribe, threaten and punish countries to insure they vote the way Washington wants. It is possible that the Bush administration will succeed at forcing official Council support for war in Iraq. There are precedents: in 1990 the U.S. bribed China to prevent its veto and other Council members to gain support for Desert Storm. After Yemen voted ‘no’ on authorizing war, the U.S. publicly announced its intention to punish Yemen by cutting its entire aid allotment. This time around, the ambassador of Mauritius was recalled by his government and told that he must support the U.S.-backed resolution. The reason was that U.S. aid to impoverished Mauritius comes through the Africa Growth & Opportunity Act, which prohibits any recipient country from “activities that undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” We can expect more of the same.
If such a coerced resolution is passed, a war against Iraq will still be a violation of the UN Charter’s commitment to peaceful solutions, and we will have to defend the legitimacy of the UN against such U.S. domination and attack. Even while we continue to oppose the war itself, we will condemn it as a U.S. war despite any official UN endorsement.

6) What’s going on the “no-fly” zones?

The U.S. is escalating the frequency and intensity of its patrols and attacks in both the northern and southern “no-fly” zones; Iraq shot down a pilotless Predator drone on December 23, the third this year.

The “no-fly” zones are illegal and the U.S. and British war planes have no legal right to be there. They were imposed unilaterally by the U.S. and Britain (and originally France, but France pulled out) after the war in 1991 and 92, and are patrolled by both. Only the U.S. carries out the bombings there. The U.S. claims they are enforcing UN resolutions, specifically resolution 688, but NO resolutions until the current inspections resolution 1441 ever even mentioned “no-fly” zones, let alone authorizing the military enforcement of them. The U.S. does not have the right to unilaterally choose military means to enforce selected UN resolutions.

In 1999, the UN tracked civilian deaths in the “no-fly” zones; there were 144. On December 22, 2002 the Washington Post ran a front-page story about civilian deaths in the southern “no-fly” zone, called “Casualties of an ‘Undeclared War’ – Civilians Killed and Injured as U.S. Airstrikes Escalate in Southern Iraq.” It documented attacks on oil company vehicles, and said that “while the [no-fly] zones were established to shield Iraqis from their leader, they have served to embitter at least some of the people.”

7) What will be the humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq?

For the past twelve years Iraqis have suffered the effects of massive U.S. bombing, a brutal ground war, left-over depleted uranium poisoning, and murderous economic sanctions. They also continue to suffer bombing campaigns in the “no-fly” zones, and global isolation. A new war will bring new suffering to an already devastated people.

U.S. military strategy in Iraq will likely begin with massive bombardment of Baghdad, based on the claim that the capital is studded with anti-aircraft batteries and surrounded by crack troops of the Republican Guards. Whether or not that is true, what is certainly true is that Baghdad is home to 5 – 6 million ordinary Iraqis, who will likely be among the first victims.

New U.S. “smart” weapons are certainly somewhat more precise than those used in earlier wars. But they depend on accurate intelligence, often missing, and are unlikely to be able to distinguish military from civilian targets in crowded urban areas.

The newest weapons, such as the microwave bomb, capable of knocking out Baghdad’s electricity supplies without damaging a single building will devastate civilian as well as military targets, even if they do not directly kill people. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “the latest ‘directed energy weapon’ would involve bathing areas of Baghdad in waves of high-frequency electromagnetic pulses, crippling computers and power supplies linking the Iraqi capital to the country’s air defenses. However, Rob Hewson, Editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, said, ‘…Basically, a microwave weapon would fry the electrics, but it would be indiscriminate, not just turning off electricity for Iraq’s radar stations, but also affecting power to hospitals and schools. Will the Americans risk using such a weapon?’

The continuing victims of economic sanctions will not disappear when war starts. There will still be thousands of children each month dying of treatable diseases, insufficient medicine, inadequate hospital equipment, etc.

8) What is the war really about?

U.S. threats to go to war against Iraq are largely bound up with U.S. control of the global oil market, and the expansion of U.S. power military power in the strategic Middle East. But these interests largely benefit oil companies and the military — so they are not popular points around which to mobilize public support for war. Instead, the Bush administration relies on fear of terrorism, despite the lack of any connection between Iraq and the September 11 attacks, as well as counting on Americans’ genuine concern about human rights to bolster its case.

9) What stage is the war build-up now?

The U.S. has more than 60,000 troops in the Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and elsewhere in the region surrounding Iraq, as well as three aircraft carrier groups and a fourth on its way. U.S. special forces troops are already reported inside northern Iraq, along with 5,000 Turkish troops. New call-ups have been announced for about 25,000 troops.

On January 9 the UN inspection teams are scheduled to provide another provisional report to the Security Council assessing the Iraqi arms declaration. The next significant date will be January 27, when the inspection teams are scheduled to provide their first comprehensive report to the Council on what their inspectors have found or not found on the ground inside Iraq. Bush’s State of the Union address is scheduled for the following day, January 28, and there is speculation that an announcement about going to war — or an announcement about returning to the UN Security Council for a war endorsement — could take place near that time. U.S. military planners still appear to favor early February as their target date of choice.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.