Iraq Crisis in 1998

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  • by Anup Shah
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When asked on US television if she [Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State] thought that the death of half a million Iraqi children [from sanctions in Iraq] was a price worth paying, Albright replied: "This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it."

John Pilger, Squeezed to Death, Guardian, March 4, 2000

The day before "Judgement Day" for former President Clinton regarding impeachment, he managed to create what some described as another scandalous headline by bombing Iraq towards the end of 1998, while even justifying it based on what some commentators have described as telling lies as justification. The bombing had also just started a few days before the Islamic holy festival of Ramadan which was also controversial. Also, just as the President was impeached, he announced an end to the military campaign in Iraq.

On this page:

  1. A Small Question, again, of Legality:
  2. Media Coverage and Portrayal.
  3. Military Targets Only

A Small Question, again, of Legality:

With no consultation with the other permanent members of the Security Council (apart from UK, of course, which was also outside the auspices of the U.N.) this action once again, was unilateral, rather than multilateral, illegal and again violated and undermined the United Nations charter.

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Media Coverage and Portrayal.

The media coverage in the US and UK, for example, of the Iraqi crisis at the beginning of 1998 was quite one-sided, without much anti-war coverage just as it apparently was before the Gulf War in 1991. During that war, many Iraqis were killed. Mostly mentioned in the media was only the allies' side and how the number of casualties was ever so small. There was almost nothing about the large number of Iraqi casulaties -- military and civilian -- which resulted from the Allied bombing. As many as 200,000 people. And even when there was a mention in mainstream media, it was very distorted.

The same happened again for the December 1998 saga. The US mainstream media hardly touched the issue of legality and the involvement of the rest of the UN Security Council, but instead constantly asked questions about the timing (in view of the impeachment hearing which was to be the next day) while many polls in the US showed that about 70% of those polled, favored the strikes. (The attack wasn't just illegal for violating the UN Charter, but it also violated the US Constitution as the attacks were ordered without the authority of Congress.)

The bombing commenced at the precise moment that the UN Security Council was in an emergency session discussing the very same Iraq crisis. This was had the effect of undermining and by-passing the UN. That could have been considered "scandalous timing" which US mainstream media did not report on, or even discuss.

This link, an interview with Noam Chomsky mentions the above, and a whole lot more about why the attacks were illegal and what the political motives, other than oil, were -- namely a show of might to undermine, once more, the United Nations.

And, in the build up, despite what the US mainstream media said about strong support for the attacks, it seems that most European countries criticized it, especially the lack of consultation by London with other European leaders. By not consulting the UN or the UN Security Council, it has caused some potentially serious rifts between some of the most powerful nations on the planet.

At the beginning of 1998 as well, when there was increasing talk of possible military actions, there was much less backing from Arab nations than in 1991 as well as other regions such as Asia.

While there are occassionally some good articles in the mainstream media (such as this one from the Washington Post -- actually, an opinion piece by someone from the reputable Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), more, readily accessible views like this are not being debated in public.

As an example of media manipulation, here is a quote from an article on journalism and reporting on peace and conflict:

"[The typical] "justification" tactics [used] by proponents of military intervention ... brought us the entirely false reports, in 1990, that Iraqi soldiers were killing babies in Kuwait City by switching off hospital incubators - brought to us by Washington PR firm Hill and Knowlton. Maggie O'Kane [whose investigation into media manipulations leading up to and during the Gulf War of 1991 won the Cameron award when published in the Guardian and was broadcast on UK's Channel Four] recounted her meeting with nurses at the hospital who were utterly mystified by these stories.

The source turned out to be the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington, who was presented to the US Congress as a nurse but, in fact, had not been to Kuwait in years. As O'Kane says: "There's always a dead babies story." The effect is to demonise the enemy and create a sense of urgency which admits no time for diplomacy."

The Peace Journalist Option,, August 1997

One of the concerns with this is what efforts officials and governments may go through to emotionally reach out to their citizens for support.

This does not in any way say that the Iraqi regime is completely innocent of all accusations. It just puts into perspective the unaccountability of some western reports and the process of propaganda that western media is also a part of. (And its an example of the media's influence itself, that one has to defend the need to disprove a fact presented about the "enemy". The automatic conclusion from the mainstream has been that one who critiques them must therefore be "one of them". That is a narrow view that does not allow diversification of the discourse. Dom Hélder Câmara's famous quote captures this quite well: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.")

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Military Targets Only

A UN report, as reported by Time Magazine, (January 6, 1999) says that many schools and hospitals were hit. A water supply affecting over 300,000 people was also knocked out.

It was also reported by various media outlets that some UNSCOM weapons inspectors were acting on behalf of U.S. intelligence. This eventually contributed to their withdrawal from Iraq.

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  • by Anup Shah
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