Iraq and weapons of mass destruction

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

This page is about hypocrisy. Many nations are accused of killing others, or supporting such killing. Many nations have weapons of mass destruction and have threatened to use them. For example, the United States has the world's largest collection of weapons, and has often bombed or invaded other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya1, Grenada, etc.) Also, the United States and its allies have allegedly caused over a million deaths in Iraq alone, through these bombings and the economic sanctions that follow. Also, Iraq is accused of building weapons of mass destruction, threatening its neighbors, and killing several thousand innocent people. This is where the hypocrisy comes in. The strongest allegations are against America, but here we are told all the reasons why it is not really America's fault. The weakest allegations are against Iraq, but here we are told that Iraq is obviously an evil country that must be stopped, even if it means war.

It may be that Iraq is guilty of everything it is accused of. It may be the west's reaction is the right one. What is the evidence?

Is this page an apology for Saddam Hussein? No. It is simply a plea for consistency and reason. Perhaps the west is better than Iraq now? If so, that has not always been the case. In the nineteenth century, for example, America exterminated a large portion of it native peoples and drove the rest from their homes. Britain invaded numerous third world countries, killing thousands or millios along the way. Has Saddam Hussein done anything worse? When we look back at our own history, we try to be understanding. If we are consistent, we should also be understanding about other countries today. Please, let us have no double standards.

On this page:

  1. Gassing the Kurds
  2. Sanctions against Iraq
  3. Footnotes

Gassing the Kurds

The ultimate proof that Iraq (or its leader, Sadam Hussein) is monstrously evil that he gassed his own people (or rather, the Kurds who lived in the north of Iraq). But did this happen? This is from a 1990 Pentagon report, published just prior to the invasion of Kuwait, by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania:

"In September 1988, however -- a month after the war had ended -- the State Department abruptly, and in what many viewed as a sensational manner, condemned Iraq for allegedly using chemicals against its Kurdish population. The incident cannot be understood without some background of Iraq's relations with the Kurds. It is beyond the scope of this study to go deeply into this matter; suffice it to say that throughout the war Iraq effectively faced two enemies -- Iran and the elements of its own Kurdish minority. Significant numbers of the Kurds had launched a revolt against Baghdad and in the process teamed up with Tehran. As soon as the war with Iran ended, Iraq announced its determination to crush the Kurdish insurrection. It sent Republican Guards to the Kurdish area, and in the course of this operation - according to the U.S. State Department -- gas was used, with the result that numerous Kurdish civilians were killed. The Iraqi government denied that any such gassing had occurred. Nonetheless, Secretary of State Schultz stood by U.S. accusations, and the U.S. Congress, acting on its own, sought to impose economic sanctions on Baghdad as a violator of the Kurds' human rights.

"Having looked at all of the evidence that was available to us, we find it impossible to confirm the State Department's claim that gas was used in this instance. To begin with there were never any victims produced. International relief organizations who examined the Kurds -- in Turkey where they had gone for asylum -- failed to discover any. Nor were there ever any found inside Iraq. The claim rests solely on testimony of the Kurds who had crossed the border into Turkey, where they were interviewed by staffers of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"We would have expected, in a matter as serious as this, that the Congress would have exercised some care. However, passage of the sanctions measure through the Congress was unusually swift -- at least in the Senate where a unanimous vote was secured within 24 hours. Further, the proposed sanctions were quite draconian (and will be discussed in detail below). Fortunately for the future of Iraqi-U.S. ties, the sanctions measure failed to pass on a bureaucratic technicality (it was attached as a rider to a bill that died before adjournment).

"It appears that in seeking to punish Iraq, the Congress was influenced by another incident that occurred five months earlier in another Iraqi-Kurdish city, Halabjah. In March 1988, the Kurds at Halabjah were bombarded with chemical weapons, producing a great many deaths. Photographs of them Kurdish victims were widely disseminated in the international media. Iraq was blamed for the Halabjah attack, even though it was subsequently brought out that Iran too had used chemicals in this operation, and it seemed likely that it was the Iranian bombardment that had actually killed the Kurds.

"Thus, in our view, the Congress acted more on the basis of emotionalism than factual information, and without sufficient thought for the adverse diplomatic effects of its action. As a result of the outcome of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq is now the most powerful state in the Persian Gulf, an area in which we have vital interests. To maintain an uninterrupted flow of oil from the Gulf to the West, we need to develop good working relations with all of the Gulf states, and particularly with Iraq, the strongest."(1)

I am no trying to apologise for Iraq. Perhaps the report was wrong. Perhaps Iraq did gas its own people. I just say that Iraq should be given the benefit of the doubt. We expect them to be understanding about our actions - which may have resulted in far more deaths (see below). Understanding should be a two way street.

Finally, it has been pointed out that America has also used gas against its own people.

"Didn't our government also do that at WACO? The C2 gas used by the FBI killed children who couldn't fit into gas masks and then created an explosive mixture which triggered fire and immolation, (see super documentary, WACO, nominated for an Academy Award)." (2)

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Sanctions against Iraq

After the Gulf War (a separate issue which is not discussed on this page), the west had two approaches. One was for UN weapons inspectors to find out what was going on. The other was for economic sanctions to reduce Iraq's ability to do very much of anything. The sanctions are intended to only stop military materials, but most of what is needed for war - basic roads, chemicals, machinery - is also needed for day to day life. When these"dual use" supplies are stopped, everyone suffers. In addition, the innocent material that should get through is often blocked, mainly by the United States:

"The UN's humanitarian programme in Iraq has been hampered by a record $5.3bn (£3.7bn) worth of blocked supplies, mainly by the US, it was revealed yesterday. The contracts include some $4.6bn worth of humanitarian supplies and $703m for oil industry equipment, the UN office of the Iraq programme said in its weekly report."(3)

The western officials who have to enforce this regime sometimes find it intolerable. Some resign. Here are two senior examples.

Scott Ritter was a senior weapons inspector of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). He attempting for several years to perform his task, initially with some success. However, his ability to act for the UN was compromised when the CIA tried to make him gather information for them. The UN is supposed to be independent, and this lost him the respect ad credibility he needed to do his job. He also realized that the sanctions against Iraq were not achieving their desired ends. Ritter concluded that the west had to make a choice:

1. Either use diplomacy (founded on trust and law) to gain greater access, or

2. Or, alternatively, send in massive amounts of ground troops to illegally conquer the nation.

As US policy prevented either option, he was unable to continue his job. He resigned. Eventually, in 1988, all the weapons inspectors left because they simply could not function.

Dennis Halliday was a UN humanitarian relief coordinator. He was responsible for making sure that the sanctions did not harm the poorest and most vulnerable people in Iraq. He found that it was impossible to prevent this. The sanctions automatically hit the poorest people hardest. (The rich can always find ways around these things.) The sanctions were causing the deaths of at least five thousand people each month. As a more recent comparison, the west has delivered a "September 11th" to Iraq every two weeks, year after year. Halliday resigned in protest.

Both men agree: the sanctions are not working. Ritter says we need either diplomacy or all-out war. Halliday says we ned diplomacy. (As a side issue, it is interesting to note that Ritter, who was sympathetic to war, received far more western media coverage than Halliday, who only wanted peace.)(4)

In effect, the US had chosen to prevent any serious weapons inspections, in order to punish Iraq in a slow, painful, and utterly pointless way. After 1998 the people of Iraq still suffered, but Saddam was free to develop his weapons. The whole situation angered Ritter and Halliday so much that they gave various interviews (they are entirely unconnected and have different approaches), hoping to wake up public opinion to what is happening.(5)

As a final comment, it should be noted that food is a biological material. Denying food results ina slow and painful death, just as does applying toxic gas. According to Ritter, Halliday and others, our sanctions have been causing those kinds of deaths. As one commentator noted:

"This is serious stuff, because the U.N. tells us that 1.4 million Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the sanctions, which is 3,000 times more than the number of Kurds who supposedly died of gassing at the hands of Saddam."(6)

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Please note: HTML links were created between January-March 2002. Some of these links may have expired when you read this.

1. "United Nations: No Proof Saddam Gassed the Kurds2" memo to Jess Helms from InfoTimes. The excerpt is from "Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East" chapter 5, by Stephen C. Pelletiere, Douglas V. Johnson II and Leif R. Rosenberger, of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

2. "The Seven Big Lies About Iraq3" by Jon Basil Utley, reproduced at FreeRepublic and elsewhere.

3. "Washington blocks $5bn supplies to Iraq4" - Reuters, as reported in The Guardian, February 21, 2002. The UN reports the figure as $5 billion. Iraq includes other material that is not blocked but just delayed, and so reports a figure of $8 billion.

4. For a simple comparison of media coverage - a comparison anyone can do for themselves - see "The Media's Coverage of Iraq: Scott Ritter vs. Dennis Halliday5" by Ali Abunimah

5. The Ritter material is mainly from Iraq Watch, PolicyWatch No. 377. However, there are several different interviews in various places. For more detail, search the Web for "Scott Ritter" or "Dennis Halliday."

6. From the InfoTimes report, referred to above.

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