Media, Propaganda and Iraq

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during World War II, April 18, 1946. (This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact, while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the book, Nuremburg Diary.)

Since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, there have been additional conflicts and confrontations with Iraq, such as the bombing campaign of 1998, and the recent events amidst the so-called "war on terror".

The United States and Britain primarily have been highlighting that Iraq poses an immediate and grave threat to the world.

A large segment of the public in numerous countries has remained skeptical about the claims, or not supportive of an all out war. The challenge, for these two countries therefore, has been to wage and win a propaganda war to convince citizens that action is needed urgently.

On this page:

  1. Media Spin and Official Propaganda During Gulf War in 1991
  2. Bush Claimed Iraq was "six months away from developing a weapon" Citing Non-existent Report
  3. Saddam Hussein was an Ally when he used Chemical Weapons on his own People
  4. CIA and Bush Administration Appear At Odds on Level of Threat
    1. Trying To Find a Link With Terrorism
    2. CIA Plays Down Some Bush Hype
    3. CIA and Bush Differences are Significant
  5. Resolution 1441, the United Nations and the 'Diplomacy'
    1. The Will of the United Nations, or Will of the U.S Through the U.N.?
    2. Will or no will, there will be war
    3. Heavy Pressure on Nations to Support the U.S. After 1441
    4. U.S. Evesdropping on Other Council Members
    5. UN Security Council is Undemocratic; General Assembly Harder to Buy Out
  6. The State of Iraq's Weapons Programs?
    1. Inspection Process So Far Reveals No Reason For War
    2. No Nuclear Weapons Program
    3. Iraq Declaration
      1. Both Sides Not Cooperating
      2. U.S. Intercepted Report Giving Edited Copies to the Rest of U.N. Security Council
      3. Iraq Document Detailed Nations and Companies That Helped To Arm It
    4. Nuclear Documents at Scientists Home
    5. Discovery of Empty "Chemical Warheads" No Big Deal Says Blix
    6. Short Shelf Life of Some Chemical Weapons
    7. Getting Information from Defectors
      1. Key Defector Often Cited by Powell and Others Said Opposite to the Claims. WMDs Were Destroyed
    8. Bush and Blair Not Cooperating On Sharing Information
    9. Unmanned Drones
    10. Iraq Missiles
    11. Some Intelligence is Not Very Intelligent
    12. Is it Worth a War?
  7. Some Examples of Propaganda
    1. The Blair Dossier: Proof or Propaganda to build the case against Iraq?
    2. Weapons Inspectors Were Not Kicked Out in 1998, but Withdrawn
    3. Tony Blair Faces a Skeptical TV Audience
    4. Subtle Propaganda
      1. Focusing on Leaders' Thoughts Without Challenging Claims
      2. Narrow Source of Views and Experts
      3. Subtle Use of Fear
      4. Highlighting Tactics Over Political Analysis
      5. Good Journalism: When Interviewing Iraq Minister, and Thoroughly Questioning Him
    5. Bush's State of the Union Speech on Iraq
    6. Colin Powell Presentation of Evidence Before U.N. Security Council
      1. Vague Sources
      2. Blix Dismisses Some Claims of Powell
      3. Recent Sounding Intelligence was Plagiarized From Early 1990s
      4. No Indication Of Imminent Threat
    7. Playing the Morality Card
      1. Blair Blames Anti-War Protestors For Future Iraq Problems
      2. Blair Claims Ridding the World of Saddam Hussein will be a Humanitarian Act
      3. Democracy Domino Theory
  8. Mixed Reactions from "International Community"
    1. U.S. Says Some 50 Willing Nations For War. Some Didn't Know They Were
  9. Large Anti-war Protests
  10. Proposed Second U.N. Resolution By Bush and Blair
    1. Draft Resolution Designed to Fail and Therefore Allow War
    2. Bush/Blair Dropped Second War Resolution due to International Opposition
    3. Not International 'Deadlock' But Opposition to US/UK
    4. Blaming France
    5. Members All Knew That Serious Consequences in 1441 Meant War, Even Though US and UK Themselves Said it did Not
    6. Is War Legal or Illegal
    7. War Is Not the Only Option; Resolution 377
    8. War Is Not Only Option; Lack Of Patience Is Not Enough of a Reason for War
    9. Major Resignations
  11. Considering the Option of Using Nuclear Weapons against Iraq
  12. Learning from Past Lessons of Propaganda

Media Spin and Official Propaganda During Gulf War in 1991

During the Gulf War of 1991, the United States had imposed military control1 on the information, which meant that the media portrayal would not have given a complete picture.

There was a lot of bad intelligence or outright disinformation2, as Christian Science Monitor highlights, that contributed to supporting a war against Iraq in 1991. In addition, a lot of PR and spin3 was used, and is currently being used in the more recent crisis.

One often-presented fact was that there were remarkably almost no casualties. This led to claims of a new type of war that could be successfully fought. It was often not clarified how many Iraqis had been killed. Estimates vary, but most suggest around 50,000 to 100,000 Iraqi troops4. In terms of civilian deaths, estimates are difficult, some estimates suggesting "13,000 civilians were killed directly by American and allied forces, and about 70,000 civilians died subsequently from war-related damage to medical facilities and supplies, the electric power grid, and the water system" as reported by Business Week (February 6, 20035). Side NoteThe Business Week article quoted discusses a researcher, Beth Osborne, who's actual report you can see at this link6. It was also interesting to note that when asked by the New York Times, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who was the highest ranking military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Gulf War, said "It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in". (New York Times, March 23, 1991) The original NY Times article couldn't be located on line, but a Google Search7 verifies this from many sources. Subsequent U.N. Sanctions have caused a further million deaths, half of which were children. Yet, when 30 to 50 people are killed together by the "enemy" or other nations, then that is often described as a massacre by the same media institutions.

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 Option8,, 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.")

The following example, from the above-mentioned article by Christian Science Monitor is worth quoting because of the ramifications that unaccountable propaganda can have:

Shortly before US strikes began in the Gulf War, for example, the St. Petersburg Times asked two experts to examine the satellite images of the Kuwait and Saudi Arabia border area taken in mid-September 1990, a month and a half after the Iraqi invasion. The experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare, pointed out the US build-up - jet fighters standing wing-tip to wing-tip at Saudi bases - but were surprised to see almost no sign of the Iraqis.

"That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn't exist," Ms. Heller says. Three times Heller contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (now vice president) for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis - offering to hold the story if proven wrong.

The official response: "Trust us." To this day, the Pentagon's photographs of the Iraqi troop buildup remain classified.


John MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine and author of "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War," says that considering the number of senior officials shared by both Bush administrations, the American public should bear in mind the lessons of Gulf War propaganda.

Scott Peterson, In war, some facts less factual9, Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2002. (Emphasis Added)

People's support was gained due to propaganda. One has to wonder if without propaganda the war, to the extent that it was then carried out, could have still been justified and supported by the masses. For a long time, there has been concern at a buildup specifically for war. This requires propaganda to build support and justification. Yet, it seems that whether successful or not, it has been perhaps more challenging to justify war on Iraq this time, than for previous conflicts.

Back to top

Bush Claimed Iraq was "six months away from developing a weapon" Citing Non-existent Report

George Bush has made some false claims as part of the campaign to get support for war on Iraq. For example, at Camp David on September 7, 2002 he cited a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) saying that "a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA -- that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."

Yet, as the Washington Post reports (October 22, 200210 or alternative location11), "The IAEA did issue a report in 1998, around the time weapons inspectors were denied access to Iraq for the final time, but the report made no such assertion. It declared: 'Based on all credible information to date, the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.' The report said Iraq had been six to 24 months away from nuclear capability before the 1991 Gulf War."

The Washington Post does continue on to point out that, "The White House said that Bush 'was imprecise on this' and that the source was U.S. intelligence, not the IAEA." Hence it might be that Bush did indeed have a slip of the tongue and gave credit to the wrong agency and that if it was U.S. intelligence that perhaps it is still true that he is some 6 months away (from Sept 2002) of "developing a weapon."

However, another paper, the Washington Times, also highlighting that the IAEA denies the above, points out (September 27, 200212) that the White House said Bush was referring to a 1991 report (which also seems to contradict the above claim of being a U.S. intelligence source), "'He's referring to 1991 there', said Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. 'In '91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away.' Mr. Gwozdecky [the IAEA's chief spokesman] said no such report was ever issued by the IAEA in 1991."

In addition, Yes Magazine highlights that,

Most observers believe that the threat is less than it was in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The former head of the UN inspection team, Scott Ritter, states that 90 to 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were confirmed destroyed and that there is no evidence that Iraq retained any of its weapons or capacity for producing them. Because there have been no inspections since 1998, no one knows for sure just what Iraq has. Since 1991, Iraq has not used weapons of mass destruction nor engaged in war with any other country. Due to 12 years of UN sanctions, Iraq is now an impoverished country, making a large-scale weapons program far less feasible, Ritter said.

10 Questions Americans Are Asking as the US Prepares for War13, Yes Magazine, 10 October 2002

And as John Pilger adds back in April 2002:

"Few countries have had 93 per cent of their major weapons capability destroyed. This was reported by Rolf Ekeus, the chairman of the United Nations body authorised to inspect and destroy Iraq's arsenal following the Gulf War in 1991. UN inspectors certified that 817 out of the 819 Iraqi long-range missiles were destroyed. In 1999, a special panel of the Security Council recorded that Iraq's main biological weapons facilities (supplied originally by the US and Britain) 'have been destroyed and rendered harmless.'

As for Saddam Hussein's "nuclear threat," the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme had been eliminated "efficiently and effectively". The IAEA inspectors still travel to Iraq and in January [2002] reported full Iraqi compliance. Blair and Bush never mention this when they demand that "the weapons inspectors are allowed back". Nor do they remind us that the UN inspectors were never expelled by the Iraqis, but withdrawn only after it was revealed they had been infiltrated by US intelligence."

John Pilger, How dare George Bush preach peace to Israel when he's meeting Blair to plan war on Iraq14, April 5 2002

As part of the United Nations weapons inspections process, on January 27, 2003, Mohammed El Baradei reported back to the U.N. Security Council that there was nothing to suggest a clandestine nuclear weapons programme in Iraq. (More about this and the U.N. weapons inspections process under resolution 1441 is discussed below.)

Back to top

Saddam Hussein was an Ally when he used Chemical Weapons on his own People

Given the above from Yes Magazine, it seems unlikely that in four years since 1998, with some 90-95 percent destruction of weapons of mass destruction capability that Saddam Hussein could get back to pre-Gulf War levels or even a sufficient level of threat. One must also consider that the Gulf War left much of the military and civilian infrastructure destroyed. The subsequent sanctions and various bombings since have also been effective in this aspect. Prior to the Gulf War, when Hussein was at his strongest militarily, the development and use of such weapons required a lot of investment and support. Much of this actually came from countries such as Germany, U.S., U.K. and others. This included shipments of biological weapons from the U.S. to Iraq15 to use against Iran in the 1980s, up to 1993 when Clinton was in office, almost 2 years after the Gulf War had ended. (This is also discussed further below.)

Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons on his own people, which we are always reminded of, occurred during the time that Hussein was an ally of the United States, and was armed by the U.S. (which we are hardly reminded of).

The New York Times reported (August 18, 200216) that the Reagan administration had provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance in waging decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. While this story was also re-reported by international media, as William Blum points out17, this revelation on the whole doesn't reveal anything new, and indeed omitted anything about "the furnishing of chemical and biological materials by the United States to Iraq which markedly enhanced Iraq's CBW [Chemical and Biological Weapons] capability."

Furthermore, as Dilip Hiro points out in The Observer (September 1, 200218), if concerns about chemical weapon usage was real, why was there no concern, or even condemnation at the time it actually happened, when it was a well-known incident? (Instead, at that time, Hiro points out that the response was to arm and support Hussein even more. Iraq was supported by the U.S. after its previous ally in the region, Iran, had a revolution where one authoritarian regime -- the U.S. puppet, the Shah -- was overthrown by another authoritarian regime, the Ayatollah and his religious variant, threatening a loss of some influence in the region, and when Iran went one step further and took American hostages.)

Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill also revealed the extent to which Saddam Hussein was supported. The Institute for Public Accuracy, mentioning Scahill points out19 that, " In August [2002], Scahill broke the story of Donald Rumsfeld's meeting with Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials in Baghdad in 1983 and again in 1984. Scahill said today: 'Just as Iraq was beginning its use of chemical weapons, Rumsfeld was not trying to stop it, but was restoring diplomatic relations. Now, Iraq's use of these weapons is being used as a pretext for massive invasion.'" Scahill, in a report, observes that

In 1988, Saddam's forces attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. U.S. intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they "believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs."

In response to the gassing, sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The measure was killed by the White House.

Jeremy Scahill, The Saddam in Rumsfeld's Closet20, News Center, August 2, 2002

As if to answer Dilip Hiro's question above, the Scahill report also adds that "in an article about Rumsfeld's aspirations to run for the 1988 Republican Presidential nomination, the Chicago Tribune Magazine listed among Rumsfeld's achievements helping to "reopen U.S. relations with Iraq." The Tribune failed to mention that this help came at a time when, according to the US State Department, Iraq was actively using chemical weapons."

While the mainstream media has often been criticized for failing to mention this often and without sufficient context, occassionally it has done so. The Washington Post for example, at the end of 2002 provides some detail and also points out that "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup21". And the Post adds:

The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait -- which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological precursors -- is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy. It is a world in which deals can be struck with dictators, human rights violations sometimes overlooked, and accommodations made with arms proliferators, all on the principle that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Throughout the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq was the sworn enemy of Iran, then still in the throes of an Islamic revolution. U.S. officials saw Baghdad as a bulwark against militant Shiite extremism and the fall of pro-American states such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and even Jordan -- a Middle East version of the "domino theory" in Southeast Asia. That was enough to turn Hussein into a strategic partner and for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad to routinely refer to Iraqi forces as "the good guys," in contrast to the Iranians, who were depicted as "the bad guys."

A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.

Michael Dobbs, U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup22, Washington Post, December 30, 2002; Page A01

Back to top

CIA and Bush Administration Appear At Odds on Level of Threat

The above-mentioned Washington Post article also highlights other inaccuracies, such as claims by Bush of Iraq having unmanned aircraft that could be used "for missions targeting the United States". However, the Post also points out that the CIA itself had said that this was more an experiment or attempt, and that if there was any threat, it was to neighbors, and international military forces in the region, not mentioning sufficient range to reach the United States.

Trying To Find a Link With Terrorism

The Australian paper, The Age noted (September 11, 200224) that the CIA failed to find a link between Iraq and terrorism.

  • In addition, "European anti-terrorist officials warned that an invasion of Iraq will worsen the threat of Islamic terrorism", as reported by the Los Angeles Times (January 30, 200325).
  • The Bush Administration has constantly tried to highlight a link, in an attempt to muster support and play on the concerns of citizens regarding terrorists. As a propaganda ploy, connecting Iraq with Al Qaeda would be ideal.
  • The Age article also points out that the Bush Administration will still try to develop a case to link terrorism and Iraq. Yet, Daniel Benjamin, who previously served on the U.S. National Security Council (1994 to 1999) says in a New York Times op-ed that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda Are Not Allies26.
  • An audio recording, allegedly by Osama Bin Laden, in February 2003, was used as further evidence by the U.S. of links.

CIA Plays Down Some Bush Hype

In addition, as the BBC reports (October 10, 200230), the CIA has played down some of the hype that the Bush Administration has raised about Iraq using weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the CIA has said that if Iraq does posses any such weapons, it might use some of them if attacked. (Side NoteIt is interesting to note that the above-mentioned BBC report was titled "CIA undermines propaganda war", thus acknowledging that there is propaganda also from the west and the U.S. in this particular case. Yet, the media in general, including the British media, and the BBC itself has been strongly criticized by Media Lens and other media watchdogs for things like perpetuating propaganda, not questioning propaganda but treating it as news or undisputed fact, and so on. (See for example, the Media Lens alert31, November 8 2002, with severe criticism about BBC being subservient to, and hence a mouthpiece of, the British government.))

And the Los Angeles Times reports (October 11, 200232) that "Senior Bush administration officials are pressuring CIA analysts to tailor their assessments of the Iraqi threat to help build a case against Saddam Hussein". (And in his State of the Union Speech, President Bush claimed that there is a link to terrorism, citing intelligence sources. This is discussed further below.)

In addition, as if reiterating The Age's report one month earlier, the LA Times continues: "Evidence of the differences between the agency and the White House surfaced publicly this week when CIA Director George J. Tenet sent a letter to lawmakers saying the Iraqi president is unlikely to strike the United States unless provoked." (Emphasis Added)

In other words then, it was just before 1991, at a time when Iraq was a U.S. ally, that Iraq was militarily a greater threat than at present. In addition, Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against his own people was also at the time of receiving such support.

CIA and Bush Differences are Significant

Given that the Bush Administration relied a lot on intelligence sources prior to weapons inspectors going into Iraq for a number of the claims made, and given that the CIA is one of the most prominent intelligence agencies in the world, this difference would appear to be quite significant.

  • If the CIA is correct that Saddam Hussein may strike if provoked, then not only is the basis for provocation different to the concerns mentioned by Bush to the public, but in addition, the path taken by the Bush Administration possibly risks the lives of ordinary American citizens as well as Iraqis, not to mention the other geopolitical fallouts war would likely lead to.
  • One of the arguments put forward by proponents of war is that something must be done, for if not, then Iraq will do something and we will all regret it.
    • Yet, the CIA highlights that not only will Iraq be unlikely to use chemical weapons but that if attacked, then it might use such weapons in retaliation.
    • In addition, reaction from extremist factions from the Middle East and elsewhere on an unpopular bombing campaign could itself also risk lives of people around the world.
  • Furthermore, notions of regime change (which sets a dangerous precedent, both imperialist in its undertones, and giving other nations an excuse to potentially do similar things) has been put forth quite seriously in the United States by the Bush Administration. This could increase antagonisms further.
  • Ultimately then, a war on Iraq then might be a self-fulfilling prophecy, risking the lives of citizens in Iraq and also the West.

Back to top

Resolution 1441, the United Nations and the 'Diplomacy'

For weeks, amongst various United Nations Security Council members, there was disagreement about how to deal with the Iraq issue.

  • There were disagreements between various permanent members on how any resolutions should be formulated and the objectives of them.
  • The U.S. and U.K. were taking an openly hostile stance, while the other three (France, Russia and China) wanted a more measured approach, not convinced of the claims made by the other two, and not convinced of the need for military action, either. (It should also be noted that Russia, and France also have their own interests in Iraq, related to oil.)

The Will of the United Nations, or Will of the U.S Through the U.N.?

On 8 November 2002, the controversial resolution, 1441 was adopted unanimously. Surprising for a lot of people was that even Syria, the Arab member on the Council also accepted the resolution. But 1441 was the result of a lot of political maneuvering (i.e. diplomacy).

  • The U.S. was initially threatening to take unilateral action (with one or two allies), which would have been illegal according to international law under the United Nations. In order to ensure that the U.S. still took that path of the U.N., other members of the Council dropped various concerns and stances they had in terms of the resolution wording. Side NoteAs foreign policy expert and author, Phyllis Bennis puts it33, for most of the U.N. Security Council members, vote to support the resolution "was not about constraining Iraq, it was about constraining the U.S. The message was: if the U.S. desires to launch a massive attack, it will have to return to the U.N. and win its approval. If the president makes war without U.N. backing, it will be violating the United Nations charter and international law."
  • The final resolution then is seen as a successful diplomatic effort by the U.S. and U.K. interests.
    • One of the key concerns raised by most states was that the resolution should not automatically mean war and that it should require further U.N. Security Council authorization. This aspect made it into the resolution, but with some controversy.
    • When the Resolution was adopted, the various member nations all gave speeches. Almost all stressed at that time, (and was broadcast on major television news stations) that there is no hidden trigger in the resolution for means automatic war.
    • It was mainly because of this clause that all nations agreed to the resolution. The "will of the United Nations" hardly represents one voiceSo when we are reminded by the likes of Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Colin Powell and others of the "will of the United Nations" being expressed through this resolution, and that member states should therefore live up to their responsibilities and demand war, we should bear in mind that the resolution did not represent a common will, but a number of negotiated differences, and if anything, much of the "will" of the Security Council was to not have automatic war.
    • The U.N. Security council would have to agree once weapons inspections are complete and they report a material breach.
    • Even though later toward justifying war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said a second resolution was not needed, on the day that 1441 was passed, he himself pointed out that it was:

      To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the resolution makes it clear that is not the case.

      Tony Blair, Tony Blair's statement in response to the unanimous passing of UN resolution 1441, November 8, 2002. (You can see the full text34 at the Guardian newspaper web site, for example.)
    • Even the U.S. representative, John Negroponte, and the U.K. representative, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, confirmed this:

      Negroponte (U.S.): As we have said on numerous occasions to Council members, this resolution contains no "hidden triggers" and no "automaticity" with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA or a Member State, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12.

      Greenstock (U.K.): We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about "automaticity" and "hidden triggers" - the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no "automaticity" in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.

      Security Council 4644th meeting35, Speeches delivered after adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, United Nations document S/PV.4644, November 8, 2002 (Emphasis Added)

    • Yet, well after those speeches, Bush, Blair and others in their governments have stated that 1441 doesn't require another U.N. resolution for war, even though almost all other U.N. ambassadors and ministers, including their own, say the opposite. Side NoteThis perhaps lends credence to those who argue that either the U.S. and U.K. were just going through the motions to attempt to get support on paper, and/or they did this to allow time to deploy their huge military machine in the Gulf, and that they intended to go to war anyway. The media rarely questions or challenges Bush or Blair when they make such assertions then. This allows propaganda to go unchallenged, thereby strengthening it.
    • While the resolution does not automatically authorize war, it requires weapons inspections combined with very strict conditions for compliance.
    • Yet many point out that the resolution leaves enough vagueness making it open to a lot of interpretation. Due to its strict nature, for example, it is very easy to find fault in compliance on the most minor of details, if needed.
  • For an example of a detailed, almost paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the resolution, see the Institute for Public Accuracy's analysis38. (Amongst many other things, it also highlights that the Resolution does not authorize automatic war, even though Bush and Blair claim it does so, because, the final article of the Resolution says that the U.N. Security Council "Decides to remain seized of the matter", meaning that it retains jurisdiction, and has not given anyone else the power to act.)

The U.N. resolution, its vagueness, and the 'diplomatic' goings on surrounding it, also highlights concerns that the U.S. and U.K. are pushing for their own geopolitical agendas, but now under the auspices of the United Nations.

Furthermore, the credibility and authority of the U.N. in the area of international law and relations is seriously being questioned, and potentially undermined by two of the countries that helped create it in the first place.

As Karen DeYoung, of the Washington Post also highlights (January 19, 200339), the U.N. resolution "was a model of what its authors called "constructive ambiguity," allowing those favoring military action to say further U.N. agreement was not required, and those against action to say the opposite." Hence the various members were agreed to a resolution, but based on different expectations. Yet, such ambiguity amongst various nations surely threatens to pose a serious issue.

In short, the leverage of aid, military assistance and the like helped win backing. As ordinary citizens, we might find it shocking to read such things, but in the world of geopolitics and "diplomacy", there appears to be little democracy in these processes. Power and influence wins out. So, just to get the U.S. on board, the resolution has been made to have "dangerous ambiguity."

Will or no will, there will be war

Leading up to the resolution, the U.S. and British leaders had often implied that if the U.N. does not act, then they will. In the international arena, this is seen as quite threatening. An article40 from The Nation magazine described the Bush Administration tactics as "attempting to use UN resolutions improperly to justify an illegal pre-emptive war against Iraq". As the title of that article suggested, this was an attempt at "Subverting the UN".

Even well after that resolution had been passed, Tony Blair and others had pointed out on national television that they were prepared for action if the U.N. did not authorize war. (See further below for more on Tony Blair appearing in a television debate on this and many other issues.) Politicians such as Britain's Jack Straw and Tony Blair have repeatedly highlighted the U.N. resolution as representing the will of the international community to disarm Iraq, not as perhaps as others have seen it, as a last resort to try to get the U.S. in line with international law. Side NoteFor example, on Britain's BBC, February 12, 2003, there was a debate program that included a number of key politicians, including Jack Straw. In that program he said that Security Council members had all agreed on the importance of disarming Iraq (by supporting resolution 1441), and that they all knew that it would result in the use of force if Iraq did not comply. Yet, this went unchallenged, because as various interviews on television at the time of the resolution showed, a number of ambassadors and senior officials from various countries had indicated that they supported the resolution precisely because there wasn't an automatic clause for war, and that the ambiguous term "serious consequences" though it could definitely be interpreted to mean war, didn't necessarily mean so. Furthermore, as Asia Times highlights,

Above and beyond the prospect of a potentially massive war, the larger issue at stake is the status of UN authority. The recent diplomatic skirmishes are, in part, a fight over whether the US is willing to recognize the centrality and legal sovereignty of the Security Council to handle not just Iraqi disarmament but international peace and security issues generally. In the present resolution, the US clearly does not recognize this authority, instead maintaining a fully instrumentalist view of the international body.

For the US, this position is quite clear: the UN is to be respected only in so far as it overlaps with plans set in Washington. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated the matter plainly: "If Iraq violates this resolution and fails to comply, then the council has to take into immediate consideration what should be done about that, while the United States and other like-minded nations might take a judgment about what we might do about it if the council chooses not to act." In other words, the US will subjugate itself to the UN - that is, force will subordinate to law - only when it is useful.

Ian Urbina, UN resolution: Dangerous ambiguity41, Asia Times, November 12, 2002

In the above passage, the note of instrumentality is crucial.

  • For most nations, the U.N.'s existence is not questionable.
  • Yet, for the U.S., it is to be used as and when needed, as has been seen for decades on all sorts of international issues.
  • Hence, the U.N. resolution can also be seen as yet another failure, not success, by other states to hold their ground against U.S. and British political and "diplomatic" pressures. (See the above article for more details on how "diplomacy" has been used by the powers to get the votes of the other members in the past as well as present. See also this short article42 by media critic, Normon Solomon)

But as well as indicating that if the U.N. does not act, the U.S. and U.K. will, some had long suggested that the U.S. and U.K. would act regardless. Even Bush's top security adviser, Dr Richard Perle43, has admitted44 so back in November 2002. UK's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had also stated such things, as reported by the Guardian (October 19, 200245).

And possibly complicating matters is that in October 2002, the U.S. Congress had authorized Bush to invade Iraq without U.N Security Council authorization. Yet, this is illegal in international law. As professor of politics, Stephen Zunes highlights, President Bush is violating or disrespecting the U.S. Constitution as well:

In October, the U.S. Congress, with support of both the Republican and Democratic leadership, granted President Bush the authority to invade Iraq without UN Security Council authorization. This war resolution was illegal, however, since such an invasion would violate the United Nations Charter, which was signed and ratified by the United States; Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares such international treaties as "supreme law."

Stephen Zunes, A U.S. Invasion of Iraq Can Be Stopped46, Foreign Policy In Focus, January 16, 2003

As the above highlights, the illegality is important. As media critic David Edwards also adds:

According to international law, military conflict should be the very last resort after all other political and diplomatic options have been exhausted. But, in this case, Western politicians and journalists are happy to agree that if a "smoking gun" is found - that is any hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - the US/UK will be entitled to attack. No one explains why this is so, why there are no other options, why it has to be this way - that's just how it is. According to international law, conflict should be conducted with the agreement of the United Nations, but Bush and Blair are clear that they will bypass the UN if they have to. This despite the fact that the main argument for yet another attack on Iraq is that a "material breach" (that mysterious, technical-sounding phrase) of UN Resolution 1441 would contravene international law. In the case of Iraq such a contravention requires a massive military assault killing tens or hundreds of thousands of people; in the case of the US/UK it requires a shrugging of the shoulders.

David Edwards, The Bitter Ironies Of Propaganda47, Media Lens, January 14, 2003

Furthermore, Tony Blair has constantly mentioned, in front of television cameras as well, that if he feels that a Security Council decision not to go to war is unreasonable, then in that situation he may feel obligated to go to war anyway. Not only does this have no basis in international law, but it raises questions on why he should be able to determine if something is reasonable or not, when a large part of the Security Council may have decided the other way. Why is his judgement better than theirs? What would it mean for future situations? Why even bother with the United Nations if its charter is to be validated anyway! (Under international law, a nation may only go to war on two accounts: 1) if it is under attack, 2) if the U.N. Security Council gives authorization.)

Heavy Pressure on Nations to Support the U.S. After 1441

On February 15, 2003, during the day of global protest, discussed further below, where millions took to the streets, in London, the London Mayor, Ken Livingston highlighted in a speech how the U.N. diplomacy process to get the 1441 resolution was fraught with political maneuvering, and described it as "corruption" and "bribery" of the U.N. by the U.S. and U.K. in the way they arm-twisted other Security Council members to get in line. He then warned listeners to beware of similar processes in any other subsequent calls for a U.N. resolution.

It is interesting to note that as well as pressure for support on the U.N. Security Council the U.S. had continued to using its diplomatic abilities to gain support of key nations in the area as well.

  • Reuters reported (February 15, 200348) that, "The United States was offering Turkey an expanded aid package that includes about $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees to secure Ankara's support in a possible invasion of Iraq" and that "The Bush administration is finalizing separate multibillion-dollar aid packages for Israel and Jordan."
  • The Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) highlights49 (February 14, 2003) that the U.S. had offered three other members of the Council some incentives to side with the U.S. position and "approved an extra $4.1 million for the resettlement of returnees to Angola. It has given an extra $2.1 million for the care of Liberian refugees, much of which will go to Guinea. And it has promised 'more leeway' on immigration restrictions on Pakistani nationals."

Some of these sums may sound like little money, but for poor countries these can be crucial. The CIIR highlights the example of Yemen:

The US use of development aid as a political tool is reminiscent of 1990, when the US slashed aid to the Republic of Yemen as punishment for voting against Security Council resolution 678 that allowed the US to launch the first Gulf War. According to the New York Times of 29 January 1991, a senior US official is reported to have told the Yemeni ambassador to the UN, "That was the most expensive vote you ever cast."

The US cut aid to Yemen overnight to US$3 million from $42 million. Pro-US Saudi Arabia expelled one million migrant and resident Yemenis and confiscated their properties. Many were beaten and robbed as they left. More than a quarter of a million people were homeless, forming tent cities on the outskirts of Hodeidah, Yemen's coastal port.

Over ten years later, Yemen is still suffering the consequences of its opposition to the Gulf War, with economic depression and large-scale poverty.

CIIR concerned by US pressure on smaller Security Council members to vote for war50, Catholic Institute for International Relations, February 14, 2003

Of course, we expect all nations to be involved in this form of diplomacy, and indeed, nations such as France and Germany also tried to talk to the U.S. and U.K., and the other way round. Yet what is worth highlighting is that how this was (and is) spun by officials can perhaps be misleading as to the true nature of those diplomatic processes. The New York Times posted the above-mentioned Reuters article, but the previous link is to a reposted version at because it included an interesting editor's comment, that rather than the U.S. creating a coalition of the willing, it was more like a "coalition of the bought and paid for." When thought of with that perspective, the claims of Bush and Blair of genuine support seem a bit more questionable.

The Washington D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies is even more blunt, asking, as the title of a report, asking, is this a Coalition of the Willing or Coalition of the Coerced?51

As they highlight, they find that:

  • Although the Bush Administration claims that the anonymous "Coalition of the Willing" is the basis of genuine multilateralism, the report shows that most were recruited through coercion, bullying, and bribery.
  • The pursuit of access to U.S. export markets is a powerful lever for influence over many countries, including Chile and Costa Rica, both of which are close to concluding free trade deals with the United States; African nations that want to maintain U.S. trade preferences; and Mexico, which depends on the U.S. market for about 80 percent of its export sales.
  • The populations of the countries in the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" make up only about 10 percent of the world's population. Opponents of the U.S. position currently include the leading economies of four continents (Germany, Brazil, China, and South Africa).
  • President Bush could make or break the chances of Eastern European members of the "Coalition of the Willing" that are eager to become members of NATO. In order for these nations to join the military alliance, Bush must ask the Senate for approval.

The following summarized from links provided below, are some of the areas that were targeted to try and persuade undecided or opposed countries in the Security Council by the U.S., U.K., Spain etc using their "diplomatic" abilities:

  • Guniea: More money and fewer human rights
    The United States is top of the list in terms of aid to this, one of the 15 poorest countries in the world, with 50 million dollars. There are 300,000 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and recently, Washington had promised increased aid to help deal with this. In addition, human rights in Guniea is not great. These could all be overlooked for a favorable vote.
  • Angola: Oil Contracts
    Emerging from a 27 year civil war, with millions of refugees, this nation depends a lot on America, economically. It is also one of the most corrupt countries. Exxon recently concluded a 3 billion dollar oil contract. Angola is the sixth largest supplier of oil to the U.S. (ahead of Kuwait), selling some 5 billion dollars each year to the U.S.
  • Mexico: Immigration Agreement Suspension
    As detailed further below, Mexico has been subtly threatened or pressured that if it doesn't side with the Americans it could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the U.S. In addition, some 80% of Mexican exports go to the U.S. Mexico was also hoping the U.S. would follow up on its earlier promise of amnesty for the large number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S.
  • Chile: Free-Trade Agreement
    One of Chile's main economic concerns is to join the American Free Trade Agreement (FTA). However, while it is close to being a done deal, they are waiting on the U.S. Congress to ratify that agreement. This can therefore be used as a lever against Chile.
  • Cameroon: Bartered Commercial Assistance
    Cameroon sells some 2.3 billion dollars of oil to Italy, France and Spain in that order. Italy and Spain are strong supporters of war. Its depleting oil reserves means that it will depend on an oil pipeline from Chad. This is being built by Exxon and Texaco Chevron.
  • Pakistan: Kashmir in the Balance
    Despite what militants in Pakistan might think (and a large majority of the ordinary citizens), the government needs U.S. support. The risk of going against the U.S. could even mean the Americans get even more friendly with India, in an already tense situation with Kashmir and other issues.
  • For more details about the above, see for example, the following:
    • Security Council minnows under pressure in UN vote scramble52, an interview with Martin Walker of UPI, by Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), March 10, 2003
    • Concerns About The Undecided Six to be Seduced53, by Pascal Riche, La Liberation, March 6, 2003. (Link is to translated version of the French original54.)

Consider one of the ways in which the U.S. tried to pressure its neighbor Mexico, which also has a seat on the U.N. Security Council:

Last week The Economist quoted an American diplomat who warned that if Mexico didn't vote for a U.S. resolution it could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation to that of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered whether Mexico "wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war."

Incredible stuff, but easy to dismiss as long as the diplomat was unidentified. Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service. He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government" - emphasizing the word "government." He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French . . . a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people."

And Mr. Bush then said that if Mexico or other countries oppose the United States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."

These remarks went virtually unreported by the ever-protective U.S. media, but they created a political firestorm in Mexico. The White House has been frantically backpedaling, claiming that when Mr. Bush talked of "discipline" he wasn't making a threat. But in the context of the rest of the interview, it's clear that he was.

Paul Krugman, Let Them Hate as Long as They Fear55, New York Times, March 7, 2003

Chile, another nation on the Security Council also found pressure being applied to it to side for war. Inter Press Service (IPS) reported (March 10, 200356) that Chile senator Carlos Ominami said that "Chile, like the other non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, are subjected to all sorts of pressures from Washington to vote in favour of the resolution against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein."

The pressure applied does not always mean though that the U.S. would automatically or easily get its way.

  • The BBC had reported that while the Turkish government were interested in a large deal, the population was as much as 94% opposed to a war57 with Iraq, making Turkey's position difficult.
  • In addition, Turkey had said it wanted to enter part of Northern Iraq, to "secure its interests" to which the Kurds there, already controling northern parts of Iraq, feeling threatened, were very strongly opposed, warning of clashes58 if that happens. The Kurds and Turkey have long had violent disputes in that area.
  • Three African nations on the U.N. Security Council, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola, were part of a 52-nation African summit held by France, where they indicated support for France's stance59.

But the media described the processes more benignly, presenting it as a challenge for Bush and Blair who would be under intense pressure to use more "diplomacy".

The U.S. had used its diplomatic muscle and abilities to try and obtain support, while claiming it as "willing" support. Some nations though, appeared to have a chance to have a go at their own diplomacy and try and use this situation to their own advantage, sensing opportunities they rarely get. Channel 4 News in UK for example, pointed out (February 26, 2003) how Mexico tried to highlight George Bush's promise of amnesty for millions of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. but never gave it. This was therefore seen as an opportunity to push for it. (In the end, nothing came of it.) Turkey, while on the whole being pressured with incentives was trying to play the game as well, with its own demands. But this does not negate that the U.S. strongly pressured for international community support, highlighting both that international opinion was against war, and that the U.S., U.K. and other supporters of war are less than honest when describing a supposed coalition as "willing".

U.S. Evesdropping on Other Council Members

It was revealed in a leaked memo60, obtained by the British paper, The Observer (March 2 200361) that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had targetted other Council member nations for surveillance by tapping phones and intercepting emails, etc, in a bid to find ways to pressure those countries to back the U.S. plans for war against Iraq.

The Observer described this as "dirty tricks" adding that, "The disclosure comes at a time when diplomats from the countries have been complaining about the outright 'hostility' of US tactics in recent days to persuade then to fall in line, including threats to economic and aid packages."

In addition, the above-mentioned IPS highlights that this is not new, and continues that, "Former [Chilean] foreign minister and Christian-democrat senator Gabriel Valdés, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the government should present a formal protest before the UN about the U.S. espionage operations. 'I served 10 years at the United Nations. I was under-secretary general, and there were continuous complaints from countries that the U.S. government was tapping their telephones,' said the senator, father of Juan Gabriel Valdés, Chile's current ambassador to the UN and directly affected by the spying."

This has been serious enough an issue for the United Nations to start an inquiry into the American spying65.

UN Security Council is Undemocratic; General Assembly Harder to Buy Out

This also once again highlights the undemocratic nature of the United Nations Security Council.

  • For years, many have pointed out that the idea of five permanent members forms a non-democratic "nuclear club" which reflects old power structures.
  • Veto66 powers by those five also add to the non-democratic nature.
  • Finally, in situations such as this Iraq crisis, the more inclusive U.N. General Assembly, which is where all members get a voice (but not a vote), would be harder to buy out.

Back to top

The State of Iraq's Weapons Programs?

Inspection Process So Far Reveals No Reason For War

In March 1999, UNSCOM, reported on the state of the weapons inspections program to date and revealed the following:

The IAEA has been able, in the course of its eight years of extensive inspection activities, to develop a technically coherent picture of Iraq's clandestine nuclear programme covering the stages from the production and procurement of natural uranium compounds, through Iraq's development of enrichment processes, to the design and experimental work for the eventual weaponization of highly enriched uranium. Iraq's programme had been very well funded and was aimed at the development and production of a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, but there were no indications that Iraq had achieved its programme's objective. Most of the IAEA activities involving the destruction, removal and rendering harmless of the components of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme which to date have been revealed and destroyed were completed by the end of 1992. In February 1994, the IAEA completed the removal from Iraq of all weapon-usable nuclear material essentially research reactor fuel. On the basis of its findings, the Agency is able to state that there is no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material. [Emphasis Added]

... With regard to ... verification of the material balance of proscribed missiles and related operational assets, UNSCOM was able to destroy or otherwise account for: (a) 817 out of 819 imported operational missiles of proscribed range; (b) all declared mobile launchers for proscribed Al Hussein class missiles, including 14 operational launchers; the disposition of 9 of the 10 imported trailers used for the indigenous production of mobile launchers; and the destruction of 56 fixed missile launch sites; (c) 73 to 75 chemical and biological warheads of the declared 75 operational special warheads for Al Hussein class missiles; 83 of the 107 imported and some 80 of the 103 indigenously produced conventional warheads declared by Iraq to be in its possession at the time of the adoption of resolution 687.

... UNSCOM has supervised or been able to certify the destruction,, removal or rendering harmless of large quantities of chemical weapons (CW), their components and major chemical weapons production equipment as follows: (a) over 88,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions; (b) over 600 tonnes of weaponized and bulk CW agents; (c) some 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; (d) some 980 pieces of key production equipment; (e) some 300 pieces of analytical instruments. The prime CW development and production complex in Iraq was dismantled and closed under UNSCOM supervision and other identified facilities have been put under monitoring. It was pointed out that UNSCOM has been able to establish material balances of major weapon-related elements of Iraq's CW programme only on the basis of parameters as declared by Iraq but not fully verified by UNSCOM.

UNSCOM has been able to make considerable progress in the verification of other CW-related activities in Iraq, among them the uncovering of Iraq's VX project, CW research and development projects, Iraq's procurement network and efforts for its CW programme. On the basis of all these findings, UNSCOM obtained a good understanding of the major parameters of Iraq's CW programme.

... UNSCOM uncovered the proscribed biological weapons programme of Iraq, whose complete existence had been concealed by Iraq until 1995. This and subsequent work has permitted it to obtain significant insights into Iraq's biological warfare capabilities, including a broad understanding of the main delivery systems. UNSCOM has also gained a detailed, albeit incomplete, picture of Iraq's procurement activities for its biological warfare programme.

UNSCOM ordered and supervised the destruction of Iraq's main declared BW production and development facility, Al Hakam. Some 60 pieces of equipment from three other facilities involved in proscribed BW activities as well as some 22 tonnes of growth media for BW production collected from four other facilities were also destroyed. As a result, the declared facilities of Iraq's BW programme have been destroyed and rendered harmless.

... in spite of well-known difficult circumstances, UNSCOM and IAEA have been effective in uncovering and destroying many elements of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes in accordance with the mandate provided by the Security Council. It is the panel's understanding that IAEA has been able to devise a technically coherent picture of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. UNSCOM has achieved considerable progress in establishing material balances of Iraq's proscribed weapons. Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated. In this connection, reference was made to a possible "point of impasse" in the further investigation of these issues under the current procedures which might correspond to an apparent diminishing return In recent years.

Amorim Report; Report Concerning Disarmament and Current and Future Ongoing Monitoring and Verification Issues67, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), S/1999/356, March 27, 1999

The above indicates that a great deal of Iraq's capabilities had already been destroyed. The report no doubt highlights that not everything was destroyed, but does suggest that the inspection process had been effective in contributing to the containment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

As detailed further below, a key defector, often cited by Colin Powell and others, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corporation had stated categorically in 1995 when he defected to Jordan that "All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed."

Even by the beginning of 2003, Hans Blix reported at the United Nations (January 9, 2003) that they had so far found no "smoking gun". Since then, with continued inspections, to date there had been no compelling reason to justify war. Blix has highlighted on many occassions that there were still some questions outstanding and that although Iraq has been cooperating, they need to provide more substance and need to be more forthcoming and urgent68 about it.

January 27, 2003 Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, and Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a report to the U.N. Security Council on the inspection process so far.

  • On the one hand they pointed out that Iraq has largely cooperated with arms experts69.
  • In addition, according to El Baradei, there was nothing to suggest a clandestine nuclear weapons programme in Iraq, though indicating that Iraq should be more "pro-active" in helping nuclear experts do their work.
  • Yet, Hans Blix also highlighted concerns about unaccounted-for chemical weapons, and processes such as interviewing scientists, as only a small number had been interviewed so far.
  • They both urged for more time to complete the inspection process, which they highlighted as being quite successful in the past at eliminating most of Iraq's large weapons, and should therefore be given more time to continue72.
  • Their report was also seen by American and British officials as more proof that Iraq was defying the United Nations while other nations seemed less hard-lined.
  • However, as the Sydney Morning Herald also reports, (February 1, 2003), Hans Blix has said that the "US is misquoting my Iraq report73" Summarizing from their article:
    • "Dr Blix took issue with what he said were US Secretary of State Colin Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents."
    • Blix also said that "he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to other countries to prevent them from being interviewed."
    • And continuing on from the above, the article continues that "Nor had he any reason to believe, as President George Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists, or that his inspection agency had been penetrated by Iraqi agents and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad." (Side Note Perhaps an additional irony of Bush's claim is that in 1998 it wasn't Baghdad intelligence penetrating the inspection agency, but western intelligence agents, as mentioned further up.)
    The New York Times posted the same article but titled it as Blix Says He Saw Nothing to Prompt a War74

Pressure by a number of members of the U.N. Security Council allowed for another report by Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei on February 14, 2003, which would be a key report, giving strong indications of whether or not war might occur. However, just two days after their January report, George Bush, in his State of the Union Speech made claims that were counter to the findings of Blix and El Baradei. (Bush's State of the Union Speech is discussed further below.)

The Washington Post also reports (February 12, 200375) that on February 11, 2003, just a few days before this key presentation by Blix, the U.S. National Security adviser, Condoleezza Rice had an unannounced meeting with Hans Blix, "to press chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to acknowledge in a Security Council briefing Friday that Iraq has failed to voluntarily scrap its prohibited chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, according to U.S. and U.N. diplomats." However this is controversial.

  • This tactic "underscored the Bush administration's concern that the Swedish diplomat's report to the council on Friday, while critical of Iraq, may not be decisive enough to persuade wavering Security Council members to support an immediate move to war", as the Post continues.
  • This unfair pressure to get Blix to tailor the report to suit the objectives of the Bush Administration, is described76 by editors of, a media watchdog, as "at its core, ruthless and unacceptable" and that this is a "reason that the US is today, widely viewed around the world as dictatorial."

Like the January report, the February 14, 2003 report by Blix and El Baradei again confirmed no "smoking gun" which could justify war, and no nuclear weapons program.

  • Blix politely criticized some of the claims Colin Powell had made (as "evidence") in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council a few days earlier (this is also discussed further below).
  • All in all, it would seem that there has not been enough to justify a war, though both inspectors highlighted the need for continued pressure on Iraq.
  • They further highlighted the need for continued inspection process (implying not military action), and also suggested that these processes were working.
  • This of course did not go down well with the American and British positions.
  • The report did not trigger a move by the U.S. and U.K. of a second U.N. Security Council resolution, this time to authorize war.
  • Tony Blair had stressed in a televised interview (detailed further below) that if the U.N. Security Council would not authorize war, then under some conditions, the U.S. and U.K. may take action anyway.
  • While this has been criticized as arrogant and a violation of international law, that had not deterred Blair from taking that stance, though, as noted below in more detail, the February 15 report has been so damning to the U.S. and U.K. position, and not highlighted any imminent threat, that his propaganda tactic has now appeared to change course.
  • The following day, in the largest protest against war to date (at time of writing), some 10 million people turned out in various cities around the world, even in countries already against war. This further angered officials such as Tony Blair (also discussed further below).

Another major report by Blix and El Baradei on March 7, 2003 revealed that

  • The inspection process is having a positive impact, but it would not take weeks, which the Anglo-American position demands, but it would not take years that opposers also demand. Instead, it would be a matter of months.
  • That Iraq was showing signs of buckling from international pressure into accelerating cooperation with weapons inspections and conceeding a "substantial measure of disarmament".
  • El Baradei mentioned that again there was no evidence of a revival of a nuclear weapons program. He had stressed this many times on previous occassions, but the American and British position is that regardless of what El Baradei has said, they believe otherwise.
  • There was enough in this report to fuel both war mongering and anti war positions. For example, Colin Powell said that Blix and El Baradei's reports highlighted "a catalogue of non co-operation" whereas the French foreign minister, while French/German and others highlighted that the same report showed that instead the inspection process was actually working.
  • Blix did highlight that while there was cooperation, there was not the "immediate" cooperation that the U.N. resolution 1441 demanded. (Whether this would be enough to justify war, which Colin Powell hinted, is another issue, which the rest of this page attempts to shed some light on.)
  • In addition, interviewing scientists was still proving difficult, because even though there were no Iraqi minders, the scientists were being bugged.
  • But significantly, the reports dismissed some major claims by the U.S.:
    • Blix said there was no evidence to that Iraq was hiding biological and chemical weapons in mobile laboratories and underground shelters, a claim made by Colin Powell earlier in February. (Side NoteThis would also negate the need to use small nuclear weapons by the U.S., as they said they would, which is also discussed further below.)
    • Also highlighted was that that claims about Iraq trying to purchase Uranium from Africa were based on documents that were "not authentic". Obtaining Uranium from Africa was something raised, for example, by Tony Blair in his dossier earlier in 2002, also discussed below, yet Blix here is suggested that the intelligence was fake, having been forged and fabricated, as the Washington Post describes it (March 8, 200377).
    • The IAEA also mentioned that there was no evidence of resumed nuclear activities in buildings rebuilt since 1988, and no evidence that Iraq had attempted to import uranium since 1990.
    • In addition, detailed examination of imported aluminium tubes revealed that they were not destined for use in enriching uranium, which has been another claim by the U.S. and U.K.

In sum then, it would seem that some of the main claims to justify war seems to have proven hollow.

The weapons programs took decades to develop with a lot of outside assistance, which is now all lacking. Continued inspections, repeatedly stressed by the current weapons inspection teams and some nations, therefore has some merit to it as an alternative to war. War being a last resort, as we are also reminded by Bush and Blair themselves, would mean that ideally weapons inspections should perhaps be given a further chance. Peaceful disarmament is the phrase used by many, including war mongers, as the preferred way.

No Nuclear Weapons Program

As detailed elsewhere on this section, months of intrusive inspections by the IAEA has revealed no nuclear program in Iraq. In addition, as mentioned by Blix and El Baradei in their report to the U.N. Security Council in March, 2003 that

  • There was no evidence to that Iraq was hiding biological and chemical weapons in mobile laboratories and underground shelters, a claim made by Colin Powell earlier in February.
  • Claims about Iraq trying to purchase Uranium from Africa were based on documents that were "not authentic".
  • There was no evidence of resumed nuclear activities in buildings rebuilt since 1988.
  • There was no evidence that Iraq had attempted to import uranium since 1990.
  • Detailed examination of imported aluminium tubes revealed that they were not destined for use in enriching uranium.

These were all claims that the U.S. and U.K. had made in various "intelligence" briefings.

Iraq Declaration

During the U.N. investigations in Iraq in December 2002, Iraq had to produce a declaration of its weapons programs and list its position and detail what it had, what it was using etc. Iraq produced a 12,000 page declaration.

Both Sides Not Cooperating

On December 19, Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons inspection team pointed out that much of what was in that declaration was not anything new, and even the Iraqi information ministry accepted that, saying that most of the report listed details from previous years to 1998, which the UN already knew about. However, a number of controversies occured during this period:

  • Hans Blix pointed out or implied on public television, when interviewed, that while Iraq had to date been complying and cooperating with the inspection process, the declaration left many questions unanswered by Iraq.
  • However, Blix also implied that nations like the U.S. and U.K. were not cooperating because they were withholding intelligence they have claimed to have about Iraq's various weapons of mass destruction. Though at around that time the U.S. eventually announced that it would share intelligence data78.
  • Yet, all the way into February, 2003, The Independent reports (February 14, 200379) that senior Democrats in the U.S., including Senators, have accused that the CIA of "sabotaging weapons inspections in Iraq by refusing to co-operate fully with the UN and withholding crucial information about Saddam Hussein's arsenal." In addition, "Led by Senator Carl Levin, the Democrats accused the CIA of making an assessment that the inspections were unlikely to be a success and then ensuring they would not be. They have accused the CIA director of lying about what information on the suspected location of weapons of mass destruction had been passed on."
  • In March 2003, as mentioned further up, when Blix reported back to the U.N. Security Council, he pointed out that some intelligence was "not authentic" such as the intelligence of Iraq supposedly trying to get Uranium from Africa.
  • Against accusations of not providing sufficient information, the CIA rejects those charges. The LA Times reports (March 8, 200380) that "In a letter to key lawmakers released Thursday night, CIA Director George J. Tenet said the agency has 'provided detailed information on all of the high-value and moderate sites' to the United Nations."
  • However, the same LA Times article continues, "A U.S. intelligence official said some of the information the CIA has compiled is of such low value that it would not be useful to inspectors."
  • This suggests that perhaps there is not compelling intelligence against Iraq in the way it is claimed, or that the U.S. and U.K. are not cooperating, as they are determined to go to war anyway, and showing the inspection process to be limited may be to their advantage.

U.S. Intercepted Report Giving Edited Copies to the Rest of U.N. Security Council

Another controversy was over the way the whole Iraqi declaration was dealt with:

  • The United States took the declaration, wanting to copy it itself, rather than let the U.N. do it.
  • Copies were made and given to the other permanent members of the Security Council.
  • However, they gave an edited version of the document to the rest of the UN Security Council members.
  • There is no basis or right for a nation to intercept such documentation and this caused a lot of uproar in many circles.
  • The edited version was cut down to about 3,000 or 4,000 pages.
  • Apparently one concern was Iraq's details of where its weapons and facilities were procured and by whom. They had listed a large number of nations and this could potentially be embarrassing to say the least.

Iraq Document Detailed Nations and Companies That Helped To Arm It

But another concern to the U.S. about the Iraq document was that it would reveal that the U.S. and other nations had helped to arm Saddam Hussein in the past:

When Iraq handed UNMOVIC its 12,200-page report on weapons research and procurement, it knew fully well that the U.S. would seize the document from the U.N. and proceed to censor it. Why the censorship? Weapons proliferation, we are told. While that is partially true, Iraq hinted early on that its massive document would list each and every government, private and public firm and/or institution that helped Iraq in its 30-year weapons program.

The U.S. had to remove the document from the hands of the international community because it contained vital information that could undermine the current administration. The other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council did not object much to this U.S. move because they knew that their names and their firms also helped arm Iraq.

Firas Al-Atraqchi, The U.S. will not release vital evidence against Iraq82,, January 21, 2003

Andreas Zumach, a journalist at the Berlin (Germany) newspaper, the Die Tageszeitung managed to get hold of key parts of the 12,000 page report which are believed not to have been received by the non-permanent members of the Council.

  • In his articles for the paper, he lists the various countries and their companies that gave Iraq assistance in various ways to develop weapons of mass destruction, such as biological weapons, chemical and other abilities.
  • The U.S. radio program Democracy Now! translated the news reports, and quoting from there, Zumach points out, amongst other things that,

    The report gives us a complete overview of these supplies for the first time. In particular it names the 24 US companies and when and to whom in Iraq the supplies were delivered. And it makes clear how strongly the Reagan and the first Bush administrations supported the arming of Iraq, from 1980 up to the Gulf conflict of 1990/91. Substantial construction units for the Iraqi nuclear weapon and rocket programs were supplied with permission of the government in Washington. The poison Anthrax for the arming of Iraq with biological weapons stemmed from US laboratories. Iraqi military and armament experts were trained in the US and there received know-how having to do with their domestic arms programs.

    Andreas Zumach, USA censors Iraq Report 83, Die Tageszeitung, December 18, 2002. [Link is to informaal translations from Democracy Now!]
  • A list of the various nations and companies involved can be seen at this link84 from the Die Tageszeitung web site. (Note the article is in German.)
  • In an interview85 with Zumach, by Democracy Now!, "Zumach also said the U.S. Departments of Energy, Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture quietly helped arm Iraq. U.S. government nuclear weapons laboratories Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia trained traveling Iraqi nuclear scientists and gave non-fissile material for construction of a nuclear bomb." (Emphasis Added).
  • There were also more than 80 German companies contributed to chemical weapons and missile development.

The issue raised of omissions in the Iraq report for data after 1998 is of concern of course. Iraq maintains that there is no omission because there has been no weapons of mass destruction development since 1998 hence there is nothing to report. Yet, Blix and others have legitimate questions about what the status of certain items now is and where the documentary proof is.

In addition, at the United Nations press conferences, as Inter Press Service (IPS) reports, (December 19, 200286) the U.S. was the only country to accuse Iraq of being in "material breach" of its obligations. That IPS article also mentions an interview with Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law who points out that "it is for the Security Council to determine whether or not there has been a material breach of these resolutions" not the United States or any other individual nation. Furthermore, Boyle adds that the Bush Administration "has no right to deputise itself as the judge, jury and lord high executioner of international law".

Hans Blix did indicate in his interview to the press at the United Nations (19 December, 2002) that his report to the Security Council was not the final report and more analysis will still be done. Yet, whether these concerns can justify a war or not is perhaps highlighted by the following:

"Iraq doesn't account for hundreds of artillery shells filled with mustard gas that inspectors know it had. Iraq said in the past it had lost them!"

No need to question if these missing artillery shells are being proposed in all seriousness as a reason for launching a massive war. No need to question if use of these awesome weapons - described by arms inspectors as battlefield weaponry of minimal importance - might be deterred by the US's 6,144 nuclear warheads. No need to question why, if these weapons are such a dread threat, weapons inspectors have been allowed to come and go as they please in Iraq.

David Edwards, Message From America, Media Lens, December 19, 2002

Nuclear Documents at Scientists Home

In addition, around the beginning of 2003 new documents discovered at the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist raised more concerns, due to fears of possibly relating to the development of nuclear weapons. The scientist has been adamant87 that these were old personal documents, and mostly concerned research into technology that proved infeasible. UN officials acknowledged to the press (e.g. BBC, January 19, 2003) that much of what was in these documents were known. A concern has been that some of these documents would be found in a home of a private citizen, and so what else could be in such places.

Discovery of Empty "Chemical Warheads" No Big Deal Says Blix

On 16th January 2003, the UN inspections teams discovered empty warheads that could potentially be used to deliver chemical and biological weapons.

  • As reported by AFP (January 18, 200388), the White House found the discovery to be "troubling and serious".
  • At that same time, in contrast, "inspections chief Hans Blix downplayed the find as 'not a big deal'" as the AFP also reported.
  • And just some two weeks later, Hans Blix confirmed his initial reaction. As the New York Times reported on an interview with Blix,

    Mr. Blix said that his examination of a liquid-filled warhead that inspectors had discovered in a bunker on Jan. 16 found no signs of any chemical weapons agent. The other 11 warheads found in the bunker were empty, he said, adding that scores of samples his team had taken across Iraq in the past two months had turned up "no trace" of either chemical or biological agents.

    Judith Miller and Julia Preston, Blix Says He Saw Nothing to Prompt a War89, New York Times, January 31, 2003
  • Side note
    It is also interesting to note some points90 made by William Rivers Pitt, author of the book 'War on Iraq', which has been a best seller on a number of newspaper lists, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others. He points out that the a lot of the mainstream have been referring to the discovered weapons as "chemical warheads" when in fact they are artillery munitions, and that even using the term warhead is misleading. In addition, Iraq is allowed to have certain weapons, including the ones found. The implication then, is that the use of the term "chemical warhead" is subtle propaganda.

(Further below, in the part that looks at George Bush's 2003 State of the Union Speech, there is more information about unaccounted for chemical and biological weapons.)

Short Shelf Life of Some Chemical Weapons

Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in 1998 has pointed out91 that a number of chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein may have hidden from inspectors in 1998 would now be useless as some of them only have a 3-year shelf life. Given that such a large quantity was already destroyed by 1998, and more may have become useless, to rebuild all that (this time without support from key powers), would appear to be rather difficult.

In addition, Professor Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University in Britain provides detailed analysis of the state of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Amongst many things he notes that

If the allegations that Iraq possessed a stockpile of illicit weapons were to be true, then the UK and US would need to present credible evidence that Iraq had managed to stabilise its chemical and biological agents to a greater extent than it is previously thought to have done. The UK dossier does not make this claim, except as an unsubstantiated assertion that Iraq had "the knowledge and capability to add stabiliser to nerve agent and other chemical warfare agents which would prevent such decomposition." The fact that this assertion falls short of the claim that Iraq actually achieved the stabilisation of its chemical agents can be taken as an acknowledgement that no evidence has been discovered - after over 7 years of intrusive inspections and 11 years of intelligence gathering - to demonstrate Iraq's retention of stabilised chemical or biological agents.

Furthermore, the claims about Iraq possessing a stockpile of biological weapons created before 1991 may suffer from the same problems as discussed for the notion of a stockpile of chemical weapons, above.

Glen Rangwala, Claims and evaluations of Iraq's proscribed weapons92, February 6, 2003

Getting Information from Defectors

While there have been occasional mention by officials and mainstream reports that defectors from Iraq show that Saddam Hussein is indeed developing nuclear weapons, it seems that less reported in the mainstream is that some other defectors actually argue that point. Imad Khadduri, for example, a former nuclear scientist in Iraq worked at the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission from 1968 until 1998, when he left Iraq. He admits he was involved in various programs including nuclear weapons research as well as meeting U.N. weapons inspectors. However, in an article93 for he finds that "present allegations about Iraq's nuclear capability, as continuously advanced by the Americans and the British, to be ridiculous." He argues that the whole state apparatus was redirected to rebuild other destroyed industries and in addition, the nuclear scientists and others working on these programs have been reduced to poverty and lack of updated skills.

As the Bush administration looks toward, and encourages more defectors that support their view, the defector's own agendas must also be considered. Khidhir Hamza, for example, author of Saddam's Bombmaker, has written that Saddam may have up to three nuclear weapons and so must be removed from power. However, Khadduri, mentioned above, has written claiming Hamza to be lying94. Khadduri claims that Hamza was not a high level nuclear scientist in the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, as he claimed, but a low-level official, as Khadduri knew him quite well.

Responding to Colin Powell's presentation on February 5, 2003 to the United Nations Security Council of supposed evidence, the Washington Post (February 6, 200395), noted that Jonathan Tucker, a former weapons inspector and currently a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace said that "the sources apparently were defectors, who have not always been reliable or credible" and as the article title had highlighted, "despite defectors' accounts, evidence remains anecdotal."

Key Defector Often Cited by Powell and Others Said Opposite to the Claims. WMDs Were Destroyed

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations (and one of the most silent in the mainstream media) has been how perhaps the most key defector, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corporation had stated categorically in 1995 that "All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." He said this in an interview to UNSCOM and IAEA after he defected to Jordan in in August 1995. When he had returned to Iraq in 1996 he was assassinated. He was no friend of the Iraq regime, for in that interview, he said "I can state publicly I will work against the regime." Yet on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, he is clear that Iraq destroyed these weapons after the Gulf War.

This revelation is key because, even if some defectors have been unreliable, this particular person, at such a high level, has been cited by George Bush, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and many others as one of their most reliable intelligence sources on Iraqs weapons, and as proof that Iraq has not disarmed and that inspections cannot disarm it.

Professor Glen Rangwala of Cambridge University, reposted the interview transcript96 and provided analysis97 of it, saying, the "quotes from President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Powell refer to material produced by Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War. The administration has cited various quantities of chemical and biological weapons on many other occasions -- weapons that Iraq produced but which remain unaccounted for. All of these claims refer to weapons produced before 1991. According to Kamel's transcript, Iraq destroyed all of these weapons in 1991.

And as Rangwala additionally notes, "If Kamel is to be taken as seriously as the UK and US administrations have previously held him to be, then his claim that "[a]ll weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed" should be taken seriously."

While the key article on this appeared in Newsweek, (March 3 200398, the media in general has not taken this issue up, given the importance of it. As media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) also point out99, "Kamel's testimony is not, of course, proof that Iraq does not have hidden stocks of chemical or biological weapons, but it does suggest a need for much more media skepticism about U.S. allegations than has previously been shown."

And as the magazine In These Times went to press it said, "this story has been largely ignored by the [American] national media. It is particularly odd that the New York Times has overlooked it, since Kamel has been cited four times on the Times op-ed page by supporters of war as providing proof that Iraq poses a clear and present danger, when in fact he did exactly the opposite."

Bush and Blair Not Cooperating On Sharing Information

One of the main themes of the whole crisis has been about how key officials such as Bush and Blair have evidence of Iraq building weapons of mass destruction, but are unable to share it with anyone.

  • Yet, so many around the world have been asking where the proof is.
  • However, the promised intelligence from U.K. and the U.S. has (at time of writing) been very limited, with even Tony Blair and Colin Powell indicating that they are only giving a small amount of information at this time. The U.S. and U.K. fear of compromising their intelligence sources, so have said they will give more information as it becomes more evident that they can do so safely.
  • At the same time, France for example has urged all governments to share data. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a conference in Moscow on January 7, 2003 that "all countries with specific information must convey it", implying U.K. and U.S. should urgently share more of their intelligence (Associated Press, January 8, 2003100).
  • President Bush indicated in his 2003 State of the Union Speech at the end of January that on February 5, Colin Powell would meet the U.N. Security Council and share intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups.
  • While a number of nations welcomed this, many were asking various questions that if important information had been known for so long on illegal weapons programs, why had it not been shared with the weapons inspection team? And, in addition, if at the same time Bush and Blair are talking in terms of weeks for action, how would this information be used by the inspection teams? Would the various governments who see this information be given enough time to analyze and verify it for themselves? From some perspectives then, this whole process was been described as hampering the U.N. inspection team's ability to do their work most effectively.
  • It turned out that Powell's evidence was not very good (see below for more details on this).
  • Against accusations of not providing sufficient information, the CIA rejects those charges. The LA Times reports (March 8, 2003101) that "In a letter to key lawmakers released Thursday night, CIA Director George J. Tenet said the agency has 'provided detailed information on all of the high-value and moderate sites' to the United Nations."
  • However, the same LA Times article continues, "A U.S. intelligence official said some of the information the CIA has compiled is of such low value that it would not be useful to inspectors."
  • The UN Security Council Resolution 1441, clause 10 "Requests all Member States to give full support to UNMOVIC and the IAEA in the discharge of their mandates, including by providing any information related to prohibited programmes."
  • On the one hand as detailed below, Powell gives a lot of information. However, this is all the way on February 5, 2003 and furthermore, the information he gives is questionable. If the U.S., U.K. and other nations have information, they are not providing it.
  • In his March 7, 2003 report to the United Nations Security Council, amongst many other things (discussed above), Hans Blix also highlighted the it would be preferable to have better information on sites than double the number of inspectors.

Unmanned Drones

In March 2003, Tony Blair and others had raised concerns about unmanned drones, as part of the various things to quantify in a draft second resolution. Yet, this issue was already dismissed in October 2002. The Washington Post highlighted (October 22, 2002102) amongst other inaccuracies, such as claims by Bush of Iraq having unmanned aircraft that could be used "for missions targeting the United States". However, the Post pointed out that the CIA itself had said that this was more an experiment or attempt, and that if there was any threat, it was to neighbors, and international military forces in the region, not mentioning sufficient range to reach the United States. One would also think that they would be no match for the U.S./U.K. air forces, especially with the no-fly zones enforced since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Iraq Missiles

In February, just days before Blix's February 14, 2003 report to the United Nations Security Council, there were fresh allegations of material breach after discover of a missile, part of the Al Samoud 2 rocket program, that could possibly travel beyond the limits imposed at the end of the Gulf War. Britain and U.S., in particular have been quick to jump onto this allegation to imply a "serious" material breach, and point to Iraqi deceptions, etc. Yet,

  • It was Iraq that actually disclosed this information, fueling the argument that the inspection process may have some merit.
  • As the BBC highlighted (February 13, 2003103), "a panel of experts summoned by UN weapons inspectors said the missile could travel up to 180km (112 miles), just over the 150km limit imposed by the UN after the Gulf War." (Emphasis Added). That is, it was not confirmed for sure that it did go these distances, and even if it could, it would only amount to some 30km (less than 19 miles) over the limit. Iraq also claims that when weighed down by a guidance system, the range is within the limits. This has still to be confirmed though at time of writing.
  • Contrasting Washington's claim of seriousness, the Washington Post reported (February 13, 2003104) that "U.N. diplomats and missile experts maintain that the current ranges of Iraq's missiles do not significantly alter the military balance in the region."
  • In addition, another BBC report, (February 20, 2003105), reveals that the weapons inspectors are being pressured, presumably by the U.S. for a favorable report. "[Russian] Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the inspectors were being pushed to leave Iraq or to write reports that said Iraq was not complying with UN demands."

But Iraq was initially hesitant to let go of this weapon system amidst threats of war. Stephen Shalom adds that

while an Iraqi refusal to give up the al-Samoud is wrong, it is hardly surprising. U.S. officials have been working for months to discourage Iraqi cooperation with the weapons inspectors. They have essentially been saying to Saddam Hussein: give us access to all your military facilities, give us the right to discover the location of all your weapons factories, military bases, and the like, give us the right to fly spy planes over your territory unimpeded, and when this is all done, regardless of what the Security Council says, the United States will still be committed to "regime change." Such a message is hardly designed to inspire Baghdad's compliance. And now Washington is further insisting that Iraq destroy its most modern missiles.

Any Iraqi refusal to eliminate the al-Samoud comes in the face of U.S. actions that have been in clear violation of the UN Charter. The Charter explicitly prohibits not just the use of force without either Security Council authorization or in self-defense, but even the threat of force (Article II, Section 4). Yet no one can doubt that Washington has been threatening force against Iraq. There has been no Security Council authorization for any such threat, nor has there been any armed attack by Iraq against the United States, and hence these threats are patently illegal.

Stephen Shalom, Warmongers' Last Hope106, ZNet, February 22, 2003

In early March, Iraq agreed, reluctantly, to destroy these weapons.

As some have asked then, is this really worth going to war over?

Some Intelligence is Not Very Intelligent

As discussed further below in more detail, a number of key pieces of evidence that Colin Powell presented in February 2003, was dismissed by Hans Blix himself, such as evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories, and Iraq foiling inspection processes by moving equipment before teams would arrive. In general, Powell's sources appeared vague. A key intelligence document turned out to be plagarized from a report describing the situation in the early 1990s.

As mentioned above, intelligence from the U.S. and U.K. has been either limited or, as one U.S. intelligence officer revealed "of such low value that it woudl not be useful to inspectors."

In other cases, major threats have been exaggerated or falsified, such as the imminent threat and a nuclear weapons program.

CBS News reports Inspectors Call U.S. Tips 'Garbage':

The U.S. claim that Iraq is developing missiles that could hit its neighbors - or U.S. troops in the region, or even Israel - is just one of the claims coming from Washington that inspectors here are finding increasingly unbelievable. The inspectors have become so frustrated trying to chase down unspecific or ambiguous U.S. leads that they've begun to express that anger privately in no uncertain terms.

U.N. sources have told CBS News that American tips have lead to one dead end after another.

... So frustrated have the inspectors become that one source has referred to the U.S. intelligence they've been getting as "garbage after garbage after garbage." In fact, [CBS News Correspondent Mark] Phillips says the source used another cruder word.

Inspectors Call U.S. Tips 'Garbage'107, CBS News, February 20, 2003

(CBS also points out, "The inspectors do acknowledge, however, that they would not be here at all if not for the threat of U.S. military action.)

In Australia, another key nation that backs the U.S./U.K. stance, a senior Australian intelligence officer quit in protest108 over Australia's support for a possible war against Iraq. The senior analyst, Andrew Wilkie, at the intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments (ONA), said the Australian Government's policy on Iraq was "dumb" and "not worth the risk". He raised similar concerns that the CIA have raised (mentioned further up) that, "Going to war against Iraq, invading Iraq is exactly the course of action that is most likely to cause Saddam to do the things that we are trying to prevent." (Side NoteThe Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in an attempt to discredit Wilkie109, questioned his seniority, but Australian opposition leader Simon Crean says that Wilkie "was going to be put on the Iraq taskforce if Australia went to war. Now don't tell me that's not senior, don't tell me that's not connected." It was interesting to note a subtle propaganda technique here of discrediting, and a reverse psychology of sorts, whereby the foreign minister said in respect to all his dealings with the ONA that "In Mr Wilkie's case he is, I'm not sure how senior to be honest, I'm not sure he's terribly senior in the media, he will be increasingly senior over the next few days as is the way, but in any case I may have met him - I don't remember meeting him but I could be wrong there.")

As some have asked then, is this really worth going to war over when the international community is unable to verify or see this intelligence, or disagrees with the general concern about Iraq's threat?

Is it Worth a War?

David Edwards, was quoted further above, relating to the find on possible chemical warheads (to which Hans Blix had said it was "not a big deal", also mentioned above) that to a lot of media and politicians, it seemed there was "No need to question if use of these awesome weapons - described by arms inspectors as battlefield weaponry of minimal importance - might be deterred by the US's 6,144 nuclear warheads." Combining that with the latest Iraq missile disclosure, such questions of whether it is still worth killing people over, is perhaps still valid.

In addition, the following, also from back in December 2002, perhaps also raises this question:

George W. Bush holds incontrovertible proof that Iraq is in possession, and is furthermore busily developing, weapons of mass destruction.


You are not allowed see that proof. Neither can the international community see that proof. Neither can the press. Neither can the weapons inspectors, whose job it is to locate and destroy these items, if they exist, in the first place. One would think such data would best be served by placing it into the hands of the individuals tasked to ferret these weapons out.

No sale. The UN cannot see this blockbuster evidence. Nor can the media. Nor can the inspectors. Nor can you. This is fine, you see. We trust George W. Bush to such an amazing degree that we are willing and able to be led into war without ever knowing the reason why, because we love him so very much.

You don't believe me? Ask Jed Babbin, former Undersecretary of Defense in the first Bush administration. He usually appears on Fox News to speak the Bush administration party line, but December 9th found him speaking the aforementioned party line on the Chris Mathews MSNBC talk show, 'Hardball.' Feast:

MATTHEWS: Shouldn't he have to show evidence? You're acting like it's a question mark. Isn't it necessary morally and politically and historically for this president to show his own people and the world he has evidence of weapons of mass destruction before going in?

BABBIN: He has no obligations like that, Chris. This is not a trial. This is not a legal proceeding. This is a matter of national survival and national security.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do the American people know that there's weapons of mass destruction in that country if the president can't show them there are?

BABBIN: Because they trust their president. When he gets up, as he will soon, I believe, and tells them that they do have all the evidence that they need to proceed on Saddam's weapons.

MATTHEWS: OK, so it's on his say-so. We're going to war on the president's say-so.

BABBIN: That's the way it always is.

William Rivers Pitt, The Pure Essence of Stupid110,, December 12, 2002

To many people then, the reasons for war do not seem justified. This has therefore made the reasons given seem to be propaganda attempts, many of which have proven to be lies, misinformation or overstating the significance of an issue.

Back to top

Some Examples of Propaganda

As the media propaganda111 part of this web site has highlighted, propaganda occurs on both sides. Iraq propaganda is well reported and it would seem needless to reiterate the poor level of media, the dictatorial propaganda and so forth. What is perhaps highlighting here though, is propaganda that comes from our side as well. Throughout this section, claims of the links to terrorism, of certain types of WMDs, of imminent threat, and exaggerating other claims are all examples of propaganda, too. However, the following are just a few examples of other types of propaganda.

The Blair Dossier: Proof or Propaganda to build the case against Iraq?

The Blair government in UK has been supporting Bush's position quite vocally. Yet there has been a lot of skepticism around the world about whether or not Iraq really does pose the threat that Bush and Blair describe (especially after 10 years of crippling sanctions). As a result, a lot of people around England (including many member's of Blair's own government) have constantly been demanding more concrete proof if they are to support sending people into another war (and one that requires regime change may imply more troops on the ground, something a lot of Americans and British are wary about).

Under public pressure, Tony Blair promised a dossier which he said contained the information people were demanding, though he delayed its release (with no explanation why) until less than a day before Parliament was recalled to debate the issue (which meant politicians had less time to analyze the details in the dossier or verify the points and facts). This was all around September 2002.

A number of British media outlets contained articles that pointed out the dossier was not as ground breaking as might have been perceived, though at the same time, many commentators were also not expecting too much from this. Prior to Tony Blair's release of the dossier, some of his own Labour Party members produced what they described as a "Counter Dossier112" with many issues that refuted Blair's official line.

For some additional and more detailed analysis of the Blair dossier, see the following for example:

  • Notes further to the Counter dossier113 by one of the authors of the counter dossier that was produced in response to Blair's dossier.
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction114, by Zaid Al-Ali that looks at a number of claims made by Blair and shows them to be false.

Indeed, as Robert Fisk highlights, for example, there were so many "ifs and buts" that this dossier did not provide much concrete information, mostly speculation115. A number of other nations such as Russia, France, Germany and others had also reacted negatively in various ways to this dossier suggesting that it should be left to independent investigators to come out with this information (such as under the U.N.), and that Blair's dossier amounted to propaganda116.

As an aside, while the media have not commented much on the decade or so of sanctions, they have had a devastating effect on the people of Iraq, to the extent that key U.N. officials have resigned117 over these sanction policies (blaming them for the misery in Iraq, more than blaming Saddam Hussein, incidentally). When commenting on the deaths of children caused by sanctions, in 1998 Madeline Albright, then Secretary of State in the U.S. had said that the price was worth it:

"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 Death118, Guardian, March 4, 2000

Yet, as Fisk highlights another concern about Blair's dossier, if the dossier is correct, then the brutal sanctions and resulting deaths amounted to "nothing":

"Now we know - if Mr Blair is telling us the truth - that the price was not worth it. The price was paid in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. But it wasn't worth a dime. The Blair "dossier" tells us that, despite sanctions, Saddam was able to go on building weapons of mass destruction. All that nonsense about dual-use technology, the ban on children's pencils - because lead could have a military use - and our refusal to allow Iraq to import equipment to restore the water-treatment plants that we bombed in the Gulf War, was a sham. ... If these pages of trickery are based on "probably" and "if", we have no business going to war. If they are all true, we murdered half a million Iraqi children."

Robert Fisk, The dishonesty of this so-called dossier119, The Independent, 25 September 2002

Weapons Inspectors Were Not Kicked Out in 1998, but Withdrawn

As another common example also reported often by the mainstream media, Iraq supposedly kicked out the U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998.

  • The inspectors were not kicked out, but withdrawn120 by the U.S. in order for the bombing to commence.
  • It was also claimed that Iraq was not cooperating and that this was another reason for withdrawing.
  • However, there were many reports from U.S. newspapers that CIA engineers were working amongst the UN inspection team121.
  • Iraq therefore felt it had some legitimate reasons not to cooperate any more.

Media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) highlights122 the difference in reporting by contrasting various reports from December 1998 and now, showing that it was fully reported then that inspectors were withdrawn, not kicked out.

Media Lens, in a similar way to FAIR mentioned above, contrast the reporting of 1998/1999, with 2002, by the British media, and note a similar parallel to FAIR, whereby in 1998/1999 it was reported that inspectors were withdrawn, though now it has become a claim that they were kicked out. In summing up, they are quite blunt about the media and its role in supporting, or not critiquing, statements from officials:

The fact that inspectors had been fundamentally successful in disarming Iraq, and were withdrawn after the spying scandal erupted, and after deliberate attempts to provoke the Iraqis, adds unwanted colour to the black and white picture of events that the US/UK governments are seeking to impose on the public. Only a stark 'good versus evil' clash has the power to generate the required public support for military action - nuance is a liability.

What A Difference 3 Years Makes: UK News Coverage of Why the Inspectors Left Iraq123, Media Lens, October 29, 2002

In addition, another subtle change in media reporting more recently has been how the mention of CIA spying is dealt with:

  • Back in 1998 when it was first reported, it became widely acknowledged and accepted that this indeed happened.
  • However, the more recent coverage describes it as Iraqi claims.
  • As FAIR describes in the title of an article of theirs, the media has moved from fact to allegation124. "Suddenly," they add, "facts that [Washington Post's] own correspondents confirmed three years ago in interviews with top U.S. officials are being recycled as mere allegations coming from Saddam Hussein's regime."

As well as the media describing the withdrawal of inspectors as them being kicked out, David Edwards highlights quite scathingly how Bush and Blair have described it, in contrast to what actually happened:

George W. Bush said of Iraq in his State of the Union Address:

"This is a regime that agreed to international inspections - then kicked out the inspectors." (George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002)

Tony Blair, naturally, has followed the Bush line:

"Before he [Saddam Hussein] kicked out the UN weapons inspectors three years ago, they had discovered and destroyed thousands of chemical and biological weapons.... As they got closer, they were told to get out of Iraq." (Blair, leader, 'The West's Tough Strategy On Iraq Is In Everyone's Interests,' The Express, March 6, 2002)

Note the deceptiveness of the phrase, "As they got closer". In fact inspectors were not getting uncomfortably close to hidden horrors, as Blair implies; they were 5% short of 100% disarmament. We spend our time well when we recall [former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott] Ritter's version, and then reflect on the brazen mendacity of our 'elected' leaders.

David Edwards, Iraq and Arms Inspectors - The Big Lie, Part 1125, MedialLens, October 28, 2002

The age-old propaganda technique of demonizing the enemy lends well to these accusations, which have often been repeated constantly by top level officials, almost to the extent that the lie becomes a truth in some circles. This subtle propaganda technique can serve to discredit or minimize the issue (because one can claim that the vile Iraqi regime said it, so there cannot be any credibility to it whatsoever).

Tony Blair Faces a Skeptical TV Audience

At what could initially be thought of as a somewhat courageous decision, given the huge skepticism and lack of support for war in Britain, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, decided to sit in a televised interview where a small audience of ordinary citizens would question his policies, on February 6, 2003. This was on the BBC's Newsnight program.

However, while this might appear as part of a democratic process, where leaders are to be held accountable, this was seen by some as a charade by the BBC. That is, when real experts could have instead faced Tony Blair, we instead had ordinary citizens, who no doubt posed good questions to Blair, but would perhaps be unable to counter all of Blair's points immediately. David Edwards, with more criticism of this media and government process highlights this and is worth quoting again:

Given that these half a million lives are at stake, it is surely reasonable to expect that our prime minister should have to defend his views against informed sceptical opinion.

So let's have Blair debate the 1991-98 arms inspections regime with Scott Ritter, a UN arms inspector throughout this period. Let's have him debate the sanctions regime with Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who implemented it and then resigned in protest. Let's have him debate US/UK foreign policy with Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Mark Curtis. Let's have him debate the likely impacts of war on the region, and on the terrorist threat facing the West, with John Pilger and Robert Fisk. Well why not? When evaluating the safety of a new drug or airplane design, many experts are assembled to make informed judgments - why not in a democratic evaluation of the merits of a war that could cost half a million lives?

Instead, according to our media, democracy involves inviting the public to take on the prime minister. At first sight, this seems reasonable enough. After all, aren't politicians supposed to be accountable to the public? But the reality is that this is the same public that is systematically denied access to meaningful information on foreign affairs by the same media ...

The result is that Blair is able to bamboozle and deceive without serious challenge.

... True democracy would involve the general population being sufficiently well-informed to challenge policy makers or, as a lesser alternative, choosing their best-informed representatives to challenge the political elite on their behalf. But of course the media stand between us and these outcomes....

Where Iraq is concerned, Blair is the Bush administration's key ally - he is playing a central role in making war possible. Lack of British public support might just stop him and so might just stop Bush. The BBC's interview, therefore, was of critical importance. One might think that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people facing death by incineration in the next few weeks at least deserve an incisive and vigorous attempt at challenging Blair. One might think that they at least deserve that the basic facts, the readily accessible evidence and the most obvious counter-arguments be presented.

David Edwards, Blair's Betrayal Part 1 - The Newsnight Debate - Dismantling The Case For War126, Media Lens, February 10, 2003

In addition, one of Tony Blair's own Labour Party Members of Parliament, Dianne implied in a BBC political program following up on this interview on the same day that Blair's "inner circle" was very close minded. She also noted that this circle believed a lot in "Blair Myth". Basically she was implying that there is something similar to group think going on, which makes it harder for them to relate to the enormous skepticism in the country and amongst even the Labour Party's own Parliament members. She also added that he was "very Thatcherite".

There have been a number of televised debates with experts and politicians defending the need for war and action, while skeptical audiences pose tough questions. Yet, often (not always), experts that oppose war and could really challenge points made by politicians supporting war, are rarely present or given the chance to take up all the points. This may be unintentional in cases where the agenda of the debate seems to be driven by the television time allowed, but the effect is that this can allow subtle propaganda to go unchallenged.

Subtle Propaganda

Focusing on Leaders' Thoughts Without Challenging Claims

In the Elements of Propaganda section127 on this web site, it was noted how concentrating on the dilemmas of individuals such as political leaders could also be a form of propaganda.

  • We see this with George Bush and Tony Blair attempting to build up for war.
  • It was noticeable, especially in the last few months of 2002, how much of the mainstream media reporting (at least on TV in particular) in their respective countries had been concentrating on the tough challenges that each leader faced.
  • It was almost presented as a personal battle, an epic struggle to reach the minds of the masses, while the actual details of the issues or their claims were subject to less scrutiny (or often not analyzed at all in the same reports).

As a rather vivid example, UK's Channel 4, on its daily evening news program, on 14 November 2002 had a special look at what it called the Propaganda War.

  • In the title alone, it acknowledged that there was propaganda on all sides, including the Tony Blair government.
  • The program showed how polls could be manipulated to gain the desired response, or to change the response of participants as well as indicate to leaders and opinion makers how to address issues and win an information war.
  • Yet, remarkably, the program used this in a panel discussion to discuss what Tony Blair should do to convince people, and what challenges he faced.
  • This program had the potential to provide an important understanding of propaganda and warning citizens of a democracy to ensure leaders are accountable. Instead, this program appeared to concentrate on the dilemmas of Tony Blair's position; what he should or could do to win the British people's support for a possible war on Iraq.
  • The major issues discussed here (and elsewhere) were not subject to question on this program, perhaps because it was not the scope of the program.
  • Yet, the underlying theme, of Blair's precarious situation, and how to convince British people (not whether the issues presented by Blair are to be scrutinized or not, but to convince the British people of Blair's perspective) appeared to be the main thrust.

Channel 4's news programs are usually highly regarded for their quality, yet this time it appeared to contribute to a subtle form of propaganda, unwittingly maybe, which is highlighted well be Media Lens and worth quoting again on their description of this element of propaganda:

Focusing on leaders' thoughts is often a kind of propaganda. It involves repeating the government line without comment, thereby allowing journalists to claim neutrality as simple conduits supplying information. But it is not neutral to repeat the government line while ignoring critics of that line, as often happens. It is also not neutral to include milder criticism simply because it is voiced by a different section of the establishment, while ignoring more radical, but perhaps equally rational, critiques from beyond the state-corporate pale. A big lesson of history is that it is wrong to assume that power, or 'respectability', confers rationality. Media analyst Sharon Beder describes the reality of much mainstream reporting:

"Balance means ensuring that statements by those challenging the establishment are balanced with statements by those whom they are criticising, though not necessarily the other way round."

Talk of leaders' 'hopes' teaches us to empathise with their wishes by personalising issues: "Blair desperately hopes to build bridges in the Middle East." This is also a kind of propaganda based on false assumptions. It assumes that the reality of politicians' 'hopes' - their intentions, motivations and goals - is identical to the appearance. Machiavelli was kind enough to explain what every politician knows, and what almost all corporate media journalists feign not to know:

"It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above [mercy, good faith, integrity, humanity, and religion] but it is most essential that he should +seem+ to have them; I will even venture to affirm that if he has and invariably practises them all, they are hurtful."

David Edwards, Turning Towards Iraq128, Media Lens, November 27, 2001

Narrow Source of Views and Experts

Media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting released a study129 criticizing the types of sources used by major American media outlets.

  • Using the four major U.S. networks' main news programs, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the study showed that they had concentrated their sources heavily on current and former U.S. officials and largely excluding Americans skeptical of or opposed to an invasion of Iraq.
  • Their study concentrated on the first two weeks of February 2003, a cruial time in building the case for war.
  • Of the 393 sources, only 17 were skeptics.
  • In a radio interview130 with Democracy Now!, Steve Rendell, a senior analyst at FAIR defined skeptics as being different to those who opposed war, in that skeptics questioned the timing, costs, and so forth, whereas anti-war views were those opposed to the idea of war for various reasons.
  • Rendell also said there were only 3 anti-war views.

This countered another media organization, Media Research Center, who had released a study accusing ABC Nightly News of championing France and the United Nations over the US, treating Iraqi propaganda with less skepticism than Bush administration pronouncements, and: "sanitizing radical protesters."

Earlier in March 2003, there was criticism of MSNBC firing a host Phil Donahue for presenting guests critical of Bush and reasons for war. In response, MSNBC owners (GE and Microsoft) said it was committed to diverse views. However, as FAIR charged, this

rings hollow in the wake of MSNBC's firing of host Phil Donahue. (FAIR's founder, Jeff Cohen, worked as a senior producer for Donahue.) His show was cancelled despite having the best ratings on the network; this occurred, according to published reports, after a study commissioned by NBC described Donahue as "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace" who would be a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war" (All Your TV, 2/25/03). "He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives," the report noted, warning that the Donahue show could be "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

MSNBC's Double Standard on Free Speech; "Turd World" is OK-- "anti-war, anti-Bush" is not131, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, March 7, 2003 (Emphasis Added)

Note the emphasized phrase at the end of the above quote, highlighting that MSNBC recognized that other networks had taken a pro-war stance.

Subtle Use of Fear

Various claims have often been made about alleged Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, or of Iraq attempting to obtain nuclear material, which, as Brian Whitaker highlights in a Guardian news report, (December 16, 2002) are often false claims, but all contribute to softening up public attitudes to war with Iraq132. Amongst various examples he cites, there is one interesting part on how choice of words can impact perceptions. He uses Reuters' example of the phrase 'doomsday' weapons:

Last Wednesday, for example, a Reuters report stated: "The United States threatened possible nuclear retaliation against Iraq if its forces or allies were attacked with doomsday weapons." Let's see how that looks the other way round: "The United States threatened retaliation with doomsday weapons against Iraq if its forces or allies were attacked with chemicals."

Brian Whitaker, The Papers the Cried Wolf133, The Guardian, December 16, 2002

As mentioned earlier, the discovery of "empty warheads" has understandably raised a lot of concern. But, it is also interesting to note some points134 made by William Rivers Pitt, author of the book 'War on Iraq', which has been a best seller on a number of newspaper lists, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others. For example, he points out that

  • The mainstream have been referring to the discovered weapons as "chemical warheads" when in fact they are artillery munitions, and that even using the term warhead is misleading.
  • In addition, Iraq is allowed to have certain weapons, including the ones found.

Head of the UN inspection team, Hans Blix himself had said that the discovery of these weapons were "not a big deal" as mentioned earlier as well.

The implication then, is that the use of the term "chemical warhead" contributes to subtle propaganda. Perhaps if considered in isolation, this point being made here is very insignificant (weapons are weapons). Yet in terms of building the case for war, the choice of words obviously have their effect, and using more demeaning terms, and attempting to raise fears and concerns can add up.

Highlighting Tactics Over Political Analysis

Sensationalism is a known problem in media coverage on many issues. Perhaps less discussed though is the focus of media reporting. Even before the invasion on Iraq had actually commenced, media reporting was primarily over a small range of issues, such as tactics, rather than deeper analysis that might give context to the crisis. Without the deeper history and context, it is easier for political leaders to make claims that do not get analyzed and scrutinized, and for ordinary citizens to therefore believe it. The organization, Essential Information captures this very well, in an article signed by some 35 political and media experts, where, amongst other things they highlight the following:

The Horserace Syndrome: Highlighting Tactics Over Political Analysis
In the period before and during war, newspapers and the electronic media tend to cover the diplomacy and military engagements as if they were covering a horserace. In the questions about a possible war, the media too frequently limit themselves to details of tactics, weapons and military maneuvers, abandoning the critical balance that is journalism at its finest. The government has exploited this tendency, providing graphic material and features that limit reporting to battlefield tactics.

This tendency is already discernible in current media coverage of the [Iraq] crisis over warmaking decisions, particularly among the electronic media. Endlessly repeated news features with titles like "Showdown with Saddam" present a grave matter as though it were a high-stakes sports contest. The result has been to obliterate broader concerns of consequences over security within the United States and globally.

... We understand, of course, that some outlets have done some digging in these areas. For every issue we highlight in this letter, there are exceptions. But, in general, we believe it is safe to say -- and Lexis searches confirm -- that there has been, relatively, very little reporting and analysis in these areas.

Journalists Criticize Iraq/War Media Coverage135, Essential Information, March 4, 2003

(Since the war has started, it has been observable how there is even less political analysis, and more on how the military actions are taking place and analysis of military maneuvers.)

Good Journalism: When Interviewing Iraq Minister, and Thoroughly Questioning Him

It is worth noting a contrast, and highlighting some good journalism: that is, how critical and analytical journalists are, appropriately, of leaders and politicians from other parts of the world. As an example, on November 17, 2002, a lunch time Sunday political program on the U.K's mainstream ITV channel had an interview with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. The interview was conducted by Jonathan Dimbleby, well known in UK, who went to Baghdad.

  • It was noticeable how well Dimbleby interviewed Aziz, being both polite and disrespectful of authority at the same time!
  • He questioned many of Aziz's assertions and followed up many points made by Aziz.
  • We would surely expect this quality from journalists all the time. Yet, conversely, we rarely see such challenging efforts on our own political leaders.
    • Indeed, as the interview ended, there was a follow up discussion with an American politician who also heard the interview.
    • The politician made claims which were questionable to say the least (given the discussions above), or at least not hard fact as made out to be.
    • While he has the right to make such criticisms, journalists should be responsible for holding those claims accountable and not accepting them at face value, just as the way Dimbleby challenged Aziz with such vigour.
    • The politician also expressed criticisms and doubts about some of Aziz's claims, yet the interviewer hardly displayed the same polite yet authoritative questioning on this politician.

As David Edwards has implied above, this amounts to not holding our own leaders accountable, which is critical for a functioning democracy where people are to be truly informed citizens. (Side NoteIt is also noticeable how predictable this pattern has been for years in mainstream media reporting and journalism. For example, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their book, Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon Books, New York, 1988) highlight how during the Cold War, there were many occasions where the mainstream were very critical and analytical of claims made by enemies, and other nations, when it came to geopolitical issues. However, when it came to politicians from their own country, they seemed to be less critical and analytical, and were instead more supportive of the authorities. This aspect is also discussed in more detail on this site's section that looks at the media in the U.S.136)

The media's role is also questionable. On the one hand they attempt to be "objective" by reporting what leaders are saying. But, concentrating on such angles without appropriate time for other views from other segments of society itself repeats the official line, and hence promotes a line of propaganda. David Cromwell, co-editor of Media Lens captures this well in his critique of the BBC:

When confronted with its systematic failure to help the British licence payer make sense of the real world, BBC news managers reply gravely that "it is absolutely the BBC's role to be the objective and calm voice, reporting what we know to be fact and exploring the various viewpoints involved." (email from Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news to a Media Lens reader, 10 January, 2003) and that the BBC will "air a full range of views" (email from Sambrook to Media Lens, 23 January, 2003). The BBC's relentless mirroring of government statements about the supposed threat of Iraq is, presumably, "reporting what we know to be fact." The very few dissident words broadcast by Tony Benn, George Galloway or the occasional peace activist, are all but drowned out in the vast amounts of air-time devoted to the warmongering deceptions of Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld or Jack Straw. This gross imbalance constitutes "air[ing] a full range of views." Broadcasting a tiny handful of 'debates', or news 'analysis' programmes such as Panorama, represents "exploring the various viewpoints involved."

David Cromwell, Naked Power: How 'benign' Western Politicians And 'objective' Media Lead Whole Nations Into War137, ZMagazine, January 31, 2003

But as well as subtle propaganda, there have been opportunities and occassions to push forth what many have described as blatant propaganda. Oftentimes, experts who support war come on television and make claims that are rarely challenged in depth. Other times, debate shows make it look like active debate, but rarely are their experts that are against war. Instead, the skeptical audience gets to challenge the expert panel, often supporting war, who make various claims that is hard to challenge unless expert and detailed knowledge is available. A partial reason for this is a sort of dumbing down of the media in past years, and less attention to international issues, as also discussed on this web site's media section138. In addition, mainstream media are sometimes afraid to question power and authority too much:

The issue is not that TV reporting is merely dumbed down, it has had almost all meaning processed out of it. There is often no attempt to explore the key issues behind key problems. Politicians, for example, can claim that the threat of force is required to persuade Saddam to disarm only because the public is largely unaware of what was achieved by Unscom inspectors between 1991-98. Politicians can claim that Saddam might pass on his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to terrorists only because people don't know how quickly any hidden WMD would have become useless sludge. Politicians can claim that an attack on Iraq is about liberating its people, rather than its oil, because the public is unaware of what the US/UK did to Iraq's neighbour, Iran, and why, from 1953 onwards (even though government records are now freely available, and very clear).

The widespread establishment sympathies of the media mean that while there is a willingness to gently challenge power, there is a deep reluctance to publicly embarrass power. Politicians subtly indicate when journalists are straying out of bounds by suggesting that a certain line of argument is 'silly', 'nonsense', or 'a conspiracy theory'. Thus, all discussion of oil as a motive for war on Iraq is met with a sigh and, 'I'm sorry but this is just ridiculous'. The clear warning is that journalists who pursue this line of thinking are being unprofessional and risk losing credibility. Because the leading political parties have the same interest in avoiding the same issues, they all reinforce this same smearing of journalistic integrity in the same way.

When Consumers Become Citizens, MediaLens139, March 12, 2003

But there are also occassions where blatant propaganda can go unchallenged. Such examples, below, include the President Bush State of the Union Speech, and U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell's address to the U.N. Security Council. These were examples where prominent leaders were able to make various claims in front of a large, captive audience, where the chance to challenge assertions and claims at that time were impossible. While analysis later on may show controversies etc, in some of the claims, part of the effect of such speeches and claims may have been achieved, as it would seem likely that everyone would always get to see all the analysis afterwards as they are typically not as prominent as a key speech by a key politican.

Bush's State of the Union Speech on Iraq

Just two days after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and IAEA director general, Mohamed El Baradei reported to the U.N. Security Council on the inspection process, George Bush delivered his State of the Union Speech in the U.S. While he covered many other issues, such as the state of the U.S. economy, environment, terrorism (though, interestingly as some observers pointed out, he didn't mention Osama Bin Laden's name once!), Iraq was an important part of that speech. In it he reiterated the objectives for a war on Iraq:

  • to eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD);
  • to diminish the threat of international terrorism;
  • to promote democracy in Iraq and surrounding areas

But, as expected by most, the speech was an opportunity for George Bush to make claims and push forth an agenda where so many people would be listening. The risk of unaccountable propaganda therefore was high.

  • For example, George Bush highlighted in that speech that Saddam Hussein had been attempting to procure aluminum for use in enriching uranium, for nuclear weapons development. Yet, just two days earlier, El Baradei had reported to the U.N. Security Council that this was not the case and that they were for conventional rocket systems. Under the U.N. sanctions, Iraq is permitted some conventional weaponry.
  • As mentioned above, a Sydney Morning Herald article (February 1, 2003) had pointed out that in an interview, Hans Blix had said that the U.S. was misquoting his Iraq report. Amongst other things, in Bush's speech, he had claimed that that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists, or that Blix's inspection agency had been penetrated by Iraqi agents and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad. Hans Blix said he does not have reason to believe this.
  • Bush also stated that "All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks, and we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so" then adding that, "Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others."
    • This can be interpreted to imply that the U.S. is willing to go it alone when the international community would disagree.
    • Yet, this also violates international law, all the more significant when it comes to war.
    • The charges by many of irony or hypocrisy here is that on the one hand Saddam Hussein must follow U.N. resolutions and international law, and even be bombed for failing to comply, yet, the U.S. "does not depend on the decision of others" as if it is above the rest.
  • A number of claims were made about unaccounted for biological and chemical weapons with the use of chilling numbers on how serious the concerns were. So too were various details on how Iraq was not cooperating. Yet, most of these points made were questionable, as highlighted by the following annotation of the speech, by the Institute for Public Accuracy (the annotations are indented and preceded by the analysts name). It is a detailed annotation, and is quoted here at length:

    The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons materials sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax; --

    Glen Rangwala , a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University in Britain: "No, they didn't. The UNSCOM January 1999 report states that there is insufficient evidence that Iraq didn't produce this volume of anthrax spores. In short, if Iraq had used its fermentors at maximal capacity from the start of the industrial production of anthrax in September 1990 until the outbreak of war, it could have produced this amount of anthrax. The production log for 1990 at Iraq's bio-weapons factory, al-Hakam, indicates that Iraq did not operate its fermentors at maximal capacity. UNSCOM was not wholly confident of the accuracy of the production log, though it never explained why. However, there is no indication -- either in UNSCOM reports or in UNMOVIC statements -- that they actually believe Iraq produced this volume of anthrax. There is, again, a very large difference between what Iraq had the potential to produce in 1990, and what it is likely that it did actually produce."

    enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

    [Glen] Rangwala: "This is just plain wrong. Anthrax spores produced in 1990 were in liquid slurry form. They would have deteriorated markedly by the mid-1990s. The assessment by Professor Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is as follows: 'Anthrax spores are extremely hardy and can achieve 65 percent to 80 percent lethality against untreated patients for years. Fortunately, Iraq does not seem to have produced dry, storable agents and only seems to have deployed wet Anthrax agents, which have a relatively limited life." ["Iraq's Past and Future Biological Weapons Capabilities" (1998), p.13]

    The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum [??] toxin; enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

    Rangwala: "This is plain inaccurate. The only assessment of UNSCOM in this regard was in the January 1999 report, which stated that it could not account for 460kg of casein, the growth media for botulinum toxin. That would be enough to produce 1200 litres of the toxin. The US has independently claimed that Iraq had more casein, but that is not - and has never been - the UN's assessment."

    Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

    Zunes: "This figure is far higher than most independent estimates. The former chief weapons inspector for UNSCOM stated that at least 95% of Iraq's chemical weapons had been accounted for and destroyed by 1998. With the embargo preventing the import of new materials, satellites eyeing possible sites for new production, and the return of UN inspectors, it is highly dubious that Iraq could develop an offensive chemical weapons arsenal, particularly since virtually all of their ballistic missiles capable of carrying such weapons have also been accounted for and destroyed. In addition, if Saddam Hussein's possession of chemical weapons is really such a major concern for the U.S. government, why did the United States send Iraq tons of toxic chemicals during the 1980s, even when it became apparent that they were being used for weapons?"

    U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them, despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

    From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs.

    Rangwala: "The only defector who has gone public with this claim is Adnan Saeed al-Haideri. It's interesting to note that in his first press conference, he didn't make this claim at all. It was only after he was "debriefed" by an official from the Iraqi National Congress - the group supported politically and financially by the Pentagon - that he started making these claims."

    These are designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.

    Zunes: "True. What the president failed to mention is that in 1998 the International Atomic Energy Agency also reported that Iraq's nuclear capability had been completely dismantled. More recently, IAEA director El-Baradei, in his January 27 report to the UN Security Council, reported there was no evidence to suggest that Iraq had resumed its nuclear program."

    The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

    Rangwala: "Iraq in 1981-82 tried unsuccessfully to import yellowcake (unrefined uranium) from Niger. The UK government has given no signs that it was not referring to this episode. The IAEA have repeatedly asked the US and UK for information about this, without success. Either the UK is refusing to comply with the UN weapons inspectors, or its claims are irrelevant."


    Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses. Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations.

    Mahajan: "Iraq is not 'blocking' U-2 flights - it simply cannot guarantee their safety. The reason it can't guarantee their safety is that U.S. and U.K. planes constantly overfly Iraqi airspace, in violation of international law, and Iraq maintains its sovereign right to defend its airspace. If the United States was serious about inspections, it would suspend or end the no-fly zones so that the U-2's can collect information."

    Responses to Bush's 2003 "State of the Union" Address143, Institute for Public Accuracy, January 30, 2003
  • Bush also stated that "Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate or attack."
    • What Bush has omitted is how much of that ability to build such weapons came with direct support from the U.S. in the 80s when looking to destabilize Iran, as mentioned earlier.
    • In addition, as mention on this web site's sections on Arms Control144 and the Arms Trade145, many nations have felt the need to bolster their militaries due to perception of external threats from larger powers or because neighbors have been purchasing weapons systems of various kinds. Hence, the risk of an arms race is often there. Side NoteAnd, as Stephen Zunes comments in the above-mentioned annotation, "This is hardly the 'only possible explanation.' The most likely reason for a country in a heavily armed region within missile range of two nuclear powers to pursue weapons of mass destruction is for deterrence. Even the CIA has reported that there is little chance that Iraq would use WMDs for offensive purposes in the foreseeable future. By contrast, so says this CIA analysis, there is a far greater risk that Saddam Hussein would use whatever WMDs he may possess in the event of a U.S. invasion, when deterrence has clearly failed and he no longer has anything to lose."
  • Bush often referred to various reports by his intelligence agencies on links to terrorism, use of weapons of mass destruction, etc, yet as highlighted further up, the CIA has often said it has not found such links.
  • Bush also highlighted the gross human rights abuses that Iraq has long been known for and concluded, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning."
    • Yet, most of the claims here were not false as such, but the propaganda technique used here was to omit other details, such as the U.S. support at the time of a lot of these violations.
    • The response from Stephen Zunes in the above-mentioned annotation is worth highlighting: "The use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi armed forces against Kurdish villages took place in the 1980s when the U.S. was backing Saddam Hussein's government. The U.S. even covered up for the Halabja massacres and similar atrocities by falsely claiming it was the Iranians -- then the preferred enemy -- who were responsible. Human rights organizations have indeed reported torture and other human rights abuses by the Iraqi regime and did so back in the 1980s when the U.S. was supporting it. As a result, one can only assume that this professed concern about human rights abuses is insincere, particularly since the Bush Administration is currently sending military and police aid to repressive regimes such as Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Egypt and others that are guilty of similar human rights abuses. If President Bush really thinks that this constitutes evil, why does he support governments that engage in such crimes?"
  • Towards the end, he added that "We seek peace."

Colin Powell Presentation of Evidence Before U.N. Security Council

On February 5, 2003, U.S. Secretary of State, General Colin Powell presented the case for a strike on Iraq. In what was regarded in many mainstream media circles as a "performance" he presented a plethora of information using a variety of media, from satellite photos, tapes of alleged intercepts of conversations between Iraqi military officers, information from defectors, slides and charts, etc. Though there was a lot of information provided, there were roughly three aims of the presentation:

  • To show that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction
  • Links with terrorists such as Al Qaeda
  • Deception by Iraq of the U.N. weapons inspectors, and hiding weapons

As detailed further above, all three of these themes have been questioned, and top officials have often said that for example, there is no evidence of nuclear weapons development (though there are some questions about chemical and biological weapons but much has been destroyed in prior years), that the links with terrorism is dubious.

Leading up to the presentation, a number of media outlets were pointing out that Powell himself said that he would provide no "smoking gun"146 but would nonetheless provide a compelling case.

Danny Schechter highlights some of the media strategies and other issues used in the build up to the presentation:

[Powell] admitted that he was not disclosing all "my government" knows nor did he explain why the U.S. waited so long to provide information to the inspectors. He says they are cooperating now.

In most courtrooms, prosecutors have to share exhibits with defense attorneys so they are prepared to respond and refute allegations. The Security Council was used as a ONE-SIDED court of public opinion.

Iraq's denials will sound empty coming after all of this. This is not to say that Iraq may not be guilty as charged -- but that the U.S. role in all of this is hardly above scrutiny either. It took eight weeks for the UN process to get underway. Six weeks had been spent by Washington agencies debating how to use the process to best effect.

An Administration that has openly adopted "shock and awe" as a military tactic has field-tested the same idea in the halls of diplomacy. Overkill on the East River may foreshadow the over-killed on the Euphrates. Before the real guns start smoking, Secretary of Warmaking Rumsfeld is putting down journalists who demand a "smoking gun" less skeptics remain. Meanwhile if you didn't get Powell's message by day, Condoleeza Rice will join CNN's Larry King tonight at nine to drive home the message by night. It is a full court press via the press.

This has been orchestrated as a media show more than a diplomatic performance because the Bush Administration knows that until now -- try as the President has -- he has so far failed to create a consensus, much less an effective coalition.

Danny Schechter, The Gunfight at the UN Corral -- Pressing the Press on Iraq147, Globalvision News Network, February 6, 2003

But, even after the speech was made, there has been some criticism of the way the media has handled it. For example, as media watchdog FAIR has highlighted, there has been a lack of scrutiny148 of some of Powell's claims by some mainstream media outlets, giving the effect, intentional or not, of journalists treating allegations as fact.

Vague Sources

My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, At the United Nations Security Council, February 5, 2003

The following introduction to a Democracy Now! radio broadcast analyzing Powell's speech, highlights the issue of the sources Powell had used:

[M]uch of Powell's presentation is impossible to verify. Powell's speech was peppered with assertions like: "Our sources tell us," or "we know that...." Defectors and detainees were not named. An article on the front page of The New York Times reads: "Powell's Trademark: Overwhelm Them," referring to the infamous Powell doctrine of using overwhelming force. Britain's Financial Times dubs Powell's presentation on Iraq an "effective performance".

Powell also resorted to drama at times. At one point, he held up a vial filled with white power and said less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax shut down the US Senate in the fall of 2001. He referenced the 2001 anthrax attacks [in the U.S.] despite the fact there is no evidence Iraq anything to do with it.

France and Russia said the evidence only strengthened the case for further inspections. France and Germany proposed doubling or tripling the UN presence in the country. Iraq rejected the presentation as a fraud.

Amy Goodman, Powell Address The UN Security Council To Argue For First Strike On Iraq; Most Of His Claims Can't Be Verified149, Democracy Now!, February 6, 2003

The Washington Post added (February 6, 2003150), that "despite defectors' accounts, evidence remains anecdotal."

Blix Dismisses Some Claims of Powell

Powell had shown satellite photos of alleged movement of mobile biological weapons laboratories and highlighted concerns about Iraqi officers moving equipment before UN inspectors got to the sites. However, as the Guardian reported (February 5, 2003151), "Hans Blix said there was no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories or of Iraq trying to foil inspectors by moving equipment before his teams arrived."

Recent Sounding Intelligence was Plagiarized From Early 1990s

I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, At the United Nations Security Council, February 5, 2003

One revealing incident of the presentation was how Colin Powell cited a British intelligence report released just days before Powell's speech. This was first revealed by Britain's mainstream news program, Channel 4 News. (Seen also an on line article152 from Channel 4, for some details.)

Perhaps Powell did not know, and maybe even Tony Blair who helped release the document did not know, the intelligence report was plagiarized. The report, "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment Deception and Intimidation" included so much plagiarized material from 1990, even typographical errors.

William Rivers Pitt highlights some concerns from this:

A disturbing series of questions is raised by this matter. Mr. Powell relied heavily upon "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," often from foreign intelligence services such as the British. His presentation was meant not only to establish the fact that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons, but also that Iraq enjoys ties to terrorist groups like al Qaeda. In light of this data, the factual basis for these claims is in doubt. Britain's report was touted as an up-to-the-minute intelligence review of the situation in Iraq. In fact, much of it is based upon the work of a graduate student who published his essay five months ago.

Furthermore, if the [original] al-Marashi essay was worthy of plagiarizing, why did the British feel it necessary to alter certain key phrases so as to make it seem that Iraq is spying on foreign embassies and aiding terrorist groups? The manipulation of the original data appears, on the surface, to have been done in bad faith.

An analysis of the footnotes for the al-Marashi essay clearly demonstrate that his work was meant to describe Iraq's intelligence apparatus and military situation in the 1990s. The British dossier was presented as an up-to-date report on the status of Iraq's weapons and terrorist ties. There are 106 reference footnotes in the essay. 103 of these footnotes reference reports and articles from 1988 to 2000. Only three are from this century, and all of them reference reports from 2001. This is not current data in any context.

Clearly, Mr. Powell cannot be held responsible for the veracity of data given to him by the British government. The fact remains, however, that the British intelligence data, which comes from the most steadfast ally of the Bush administration, has been severely undermined by this report. This calls into question the veracity of virtually every aspect of Powell's presentation to the United Nations.

If the American Secretary of State was given such shoddily-assembled data from its most loyal ally, how can the rest of the data be considered dependable? ... [looking at how these and other sources were compiled] it seems all too clear that Powell's entire presentation was based upon information that is questionable to say the least.

Finally, and most significantly, is the question of intent. The United States will have soon placed approximately 150,000 troops in the region surrounding Iraq with the full intention of going to war. Such a conflict is almost certain to cause destabilizing upheavals in the Middle East which could threaten the global community. More ominously, the CIA and FBI have reported that a war in Iraq will definitely lead to terrorist attacks in America and a number of European nations, including Britain.

William Rivers Pitt, Blair-Powell UN Report Written by Student153,, February 7, 2003

The same Channel 4 News had also revealed in their evening broadcast (February 7, 2003) that

some of those working on this report were not the Iraqi experts at the U.K. Foreign office or MI6 but Downing street staffers, including those that work in Alastair Campbell's department of communications in no.12 Downing street.

Among the four names credited with working on the document is Alastair Campbell's own personal assistant Alison Blackshaw, a junior no.10 press officer Murtarza Khan, one other no.10 official and a foreign office official.

Gary Gibbon, No 10 admits dossier blunder154, Channel 4 News, February 7, 2003

Given that political officials were involved, the department of communications does begin to bear more resemblance of a department of propaganda, as many have since charged. All that a spokesman for Tony Blair could say was that "we all have lessons to learn from this." What was not clear was if this was to mean that such propaganda should be avoided or that they will ensure next time such blatant use of propaganda is more careful.

No Indication Of Imminent Threat

Perhaps the following is a good summary of how Powell addressed the issue of an imminent threat:

[M]issing from the entire presentation was any serious talk about a threat posed by Iraq, either to the United States or even to any country in the region. Mere possession of WMD, even if established, is not exactly evidence of aggressive intent. And in fact Iraq has been the recipient of aggression frequently since the Gulf War (bombings by the U.S. and U.K., periodic invasions in the north by Turkey, virtual Kuwaiti annexation of Iraqi land in the south), but has not itself seriously threatened any.

The evidence about Iraq's intent to attack seems to run something like this - Saddam "gassed his own people" in 1988, therefore there is an imminent threat that he will attack us in 2003. The imminent threat is not, however, so severe as to keep us from having a full year of warmongering and bellicose rhetoric before we actually attack.

This conveniently ignores the central fact about Hussein's record of aggression. Without exception, his worse crimes were committed with full U.S. support, both material and diplomatic. The war on Iran, the massacre of Kurds in the Anfal campaign of the late 1980's, even the bloody suppression in 1991 of the "Iraqi intifada" all involved explicit measures of support from the United States - providing military intelligence, approving export of chemical and biological agents, providing "agricultural" credits, disarming rebels, and much more. The invasion of Kuwait was done in the deliberately fostered belief that the United States would not mind. Without U.S. support, Hussein knows well that he can only be a threat to his internal political enemies.

Powell did not deal with these facts, but essentially admitted the lack of any evidence of a real Iraqi threat when he fell back on the "pre-emption" argument - "should we take the risk that he will not someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond?" Of course, in the absence of concrete evidence, any country can make this argument against any other, which is why "pre-emption" is clearly not consistent with international law.

Rahul Mahajan, Responding to Colin Powell155, ZNet, February 7, 2003

A number of nations were not convinced by Powell's speech.

Scott Ritter, key member of U.N. weapons inspections during the 1998 crisis has been an ardent critic of the current attempts by the U.S. and U.K. to go to war. He commented on Powell's speech that

Everything in here is circumstantial, everything in here mirrors the kind of allegations the US has made in the past in regard to Iraq's weapons program... He [Powell] just hits you, hits you, hits you with circumstantial evidence, and he confuses people - and he lied, he lied to people, he misled people.

Ritter dismisses Powell report, Kyodo News, http://www.japantoday.com156, February 7, 2003, (quoted from Blair's Betrayal Part 1 - The Newsnight Debate - Dismantling The Case For War157, Media Lens, February 10, 2003)

For some additional analysis on Powell's statement, see for example the following:

  • A First Response to Sec. Colin Powell's Presentation Concerning Iraq158 by Professor Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in Politics at Cambridge University. He addresses many points that Powell makes. (Note that Rangawala also has a detailed analysis159 of the claims concerning Iraq's proscribed weapons capabilities.)
  • Responding to Colin Powell160 by Rahul Mahajan, February 7, 2003

Playing the Morality Card

Presumably stung by the lack of a "smoking gun" at the February 14, 2003 reports by the chief U.N. inspectors to the U.N. Security Council, and with the onset of mass demonstrations around the world the following day, Tony Blair appeared to concede that he would take the U.N. route. (He had previously stressed on a televised interview that he would in circumstances where he disagreed with the U.N. Security Council decision, act anyway.) But more than that, his speech on the morning of the February 15 to his Labor Party revealed a change in concern over Iraq. No longer was there an "imminent threat" (which ironically, had been a repeated claim for many months), or proof of nuclear weapons, or weapons of mass destruction, or possible links to terrorism. So instead, the justification of war seems to have shifted to the morality and justness of deposing of Saddam Hussein.

Blair Blames Anti-War Protestors For Future Iraq Problems

At a Labour Party spring conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Tony Blair made a speech on the morning of February 15, 2003, warning that there would be "consequences paid in blood" by the Iraqi people if Saddam Hussein were to remain in power. Knowing that massive protests were to be held later that day in London and around the world, (which resulted in some 750,000 to 2 million people in London alone, as part of some 10 million world-wide that same day) that statement was implying that protestors are in effect supporting Saddam Hussein to stay in power. Yet, this is not only over-simplistic, ignoring history, but is offensive to the countless number of citizens who took part in the various protest and peace movements, for at least two reasons:

  • It was the U.S. and U.K., as well as other powerful nations that helped Saddam Hussein come into power and give him weapons of mass destruction in the first place (as detailed further above). It was at that time, when he was an ally that he was the biggest threat to other regions, and gassed so many people.
  • Criticism of U.S., British and other countries' policies on this have occurred for years, even during the time that the U.S. and U.K. were actively supporting the dictator, yet, their voices were not listened to (they were ignored). International Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and others, throughout the 1980s and 1990s have reported on gross human rights violations of the Iraqi regime. Such concerns have only come to the fore when Saddam Hussein has become the "bad guy" and no longer the ally he initially was (when he committed some of his worst crimes and used weapons of mass destruction).

Those same voices have continued, though of course has now grown to massive proportions on some issues, such as the current Iraq crisis, as detailed by the demonstrations discussed below. Furthermore, as mentioned in the Iraq sanctions page161 on this site:

  • The United Nations, for many years, has repeatedly pointed out that the sanctions regime is killing thousands of people, especially children every month (to which even then U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, had said that the price was "worth it162".)
  • Tony Blair for example, has repeatedly said that the fault of this lies squarely at the feet of Saddam Hussein, and the way he has chosen to implement those sanctions. However, as also highlighted on the sanctions page,
    • It has been the U.S. and U.K., primarily, through the U.N. who have obstructed essentials including things like Chlorine for disinfecting water, ambulances and other necessities on the grounds that they could be used for military purposes as well.
    • The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has said that the Iraq food distribution system has been of high quality
    • Top U.N. officials have resigned in 1998 after 34 years from the U.N. based on what has been done in Iraq.
      • Denis Halliday was Humanitarian Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. He resigned because he said that the economic sanctions policy was "totally bankrupt" and that it was "destroying an entire society." When interviewed by award-winning journalist John Pilger, he said:

        When I first met Halliday, I was struck by the care with which he chose uncompromising words. "I had been instructed," he said, "to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults. We all know that the regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for economic sanctions; on the contrary, he has been strengthened by them. It is the little people who are losing their children or their parents for lack of untreated water. What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will slaughter those responsible."

        John Pilger, Squeezed to Death163, The Guardian, March 4, 2000
      • Hans von Sponeck succeeded Halliday as Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. He resigned in February 2000, asking "How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?"
      • Just a couple of days after that, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, resigned, saying privately that she too could not tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people.
    • The John Pilger article above also highlights how Kofi Annan in October 1999 had also criticized the political goings-on at the U.N. by some powerful nations, when, as John Pilger highlights, "he accused the U.S. 'using its muscle on the Sanctions Committee to put indefinite 'holds' on more than $700 million worth of humanitarian goods that Iraq would like to buy.'"
  • It has been primarily the United States and United Kingdom that have opposed the lifting of sanctions which the United Nations has implied as being the major cause of the deaths of so many Iraqis.
  • As Jan Oberg, of the Swedish organization, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research adds:

    March 27, 2003 - At today's press conference at Camp David Tony Blair argued that 450,000 children have died the last five years from preventable diseases and malnutrition due to the character of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Donald Rumsfeld said about the same yesterday. Unfortunately, not one UN report supports this argument.

    If Blair believes what he is saying, he must have extraordinarily incompetent advisers. Alternatively, he acts in collusion with mendacious spin doctors. See the facts about the sanctions here164. And be prepared for repeated blaming of Saddam for all the political and military mistakes the so-called coalition makes.

    No journalist asked what Mr. Blair based his statement on.

    Jan Oberg, Blaming Saddam for our mistakes #1 - He, not sanctions, caused suffering165, Operation Think Freely About Iraq, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, March 27, 2003

It could therefore be argued that sanctions have failed, and even strengthened Saddam's grip, so therefore bombing seems like the only alternative, and that opposing this means anti-war protestors are in effect supporting Saddam. However:

  • Various protestors and critics of such foreign policies, especially by the British and Americans, have opposed these countries supporting and arming Saddam Hussein in the first place.
  • Such people and citizens have then also opposed the harsh impacts of the sanctions regime which have killed thousands of innocent Iraqis, and strengthened Saddam Hussein.
  • In addition, there are now protests at potential war, which threatens to kill countless more civilians, and also risks an increase in hatred and terrorism around the world, not least directed to Britain and America.
  • Alternatives proposed by other Arab nations, and even South Africa, have been welcomed by the U.N. and/or Iraq. Yet, it has been easy for U.K. and U.S. to dismiss these as either being a propaganda victory for Hussein, or just further excuses for him to delay. It is difficult to therefore say there are no alternatives, given that some alternatives have not been considered, or allowed to take their course.

In that context, for the British Prime Minister (and others) to blame the ordinary citizens who have been right to be sceptical of his and other's claims that have turned out to be false, and to imply that they are the ones that will make the situation worse, could be considered scandalous. Yet, it seems this is almost met with deafening silence in mainstream media "analysis".

In that same speech, Blair said that there was "no righteous anger" at Saddam Hussein's use of torture, killing thousands of people and so forth. He also said "if there are 500,000 on that march [in London later that day], that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for. ... If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started."

But yet again, not mentioning how Saddam had the ability to kill those people (i.e. with support from U.K., America and others), these passionate claims are easy to make and inspire people. (And comparing how many are in a march versus how many have died does not seem like a sensible comparison anyway.)

In addition, contrasting Blair's statement implications that protestors do not care about the number of Iraqis that will die, the following, arguing against war to avoid the deaths of many more Iraqis, would imply the opposite:

The UN is preparing for half a million Iraqi casualties (see the leaked internal UN document at Medact, the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War -- winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 -- estimates a possible half million deaths (assuming no nuclear weapons are used; see "Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq - Report," And despite claims that the attackers will be careful to avoid "collateral damage," the British Defense Ministry "admitted the electricity system that powers water and sanitation for the Iraqi people could be a military target, despite warnings that its destruction would cause a humanitarian tragedy." (Independent, Feb. 2, 2003)

Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom, Antiwar Questions and Answers168, ZNet, February 12, 2003

Perhaps such statements by Blair and others also highlight how disconnected some people in the position of power are to a variety of views, for while they perhaps acknowledge the large numbers and crowds, they have ignored all the details and analysis of critics for years, and even the United Nations protests at the Iraq policies by these nations.

  • And again, the media "analysis" has done little to comment on the particulars of Blair's claims, though noting the overall change in strategy. For example, Nick Assinder, in looking at the new moral cause of Tony Blair, ends by saying169 "Tony Blair has found a cause. And he is displaying the sort of single mindedness in pursuing it that few have previously witnessed."
  • But if there remains a lack (as seems to be the case so far) of analysis of specific issues and claims made by leaders such as Blair in the mainstream reporting, then this risks allowed some aspects of propaganda to go unchallenged.
  • Not only then, does Tony Blair supply propaganda (which is to be expected), but the media's general unchallenging position on the claims, has the effect of strengthening that propaganda.

Blair Claims Ridding the World of Saddam Hussein will be a Humanitarian Act

In the same speech as mentioned above, Tony Blair also claimed "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane." This implies regime change, which the BBC noted (News 24 broadcast, February 15, 2003) was not official British policy.

But the claim of deposing Saddam Hussein can hardly be a humanitarian act:

  • The main U.S. and U.K. position all along has been that Iraq poses imminent danger to the west for reasons related to weapons of mass destruction.
  • After threatening to take military action, the U.K. convinced the U.S. to come to the U.N. and they put forth a hard resolution, 1441. This revealed no reason for war.
  • Still looking for a reason for military action, and appearing (at least for now) to have exhausted the "imminent threat" or weapons of mass destruction type of argument, Blair seems only now to be playing the humanitarian argument.
  • Given that this appears to be a shift in propaganda strategy, then the act can hardly be considered humanitarian, even if the effect were to be so (which itself is hard to know, given the past history of supporting other dictatorial regimes and puppets, as mentioned above).
  • When the U.S. and U.K. and others helped him acquire weapons of mass destruction, and supported him to wage a war against Iran where some 1 million people were killed, it would seem that in comparison, there was hardly any moral concern that it was "inhumane". Even if one were to argue that Blair was not in power then (ignoring for a moment a systemic level policy of successive U.S. powers and some of their allies), Blair does not acknowledge at all those past acts of supporting and arming a killer.
  • This then makes it easier to imply that Saddam Hussein is a brutal person which will only be stopped if we now do something to save those people, and that protestors are not helping. It makes it easier to side-step that people criticized the U.S. support for Sadam Hussein in the first place as well.

And the issue of foreign-imposed regime change that this implies, is also dangerous:

  • It sends a dangerous message to other nations that if they don't agree with a leader of another country, they can depose of them.
  • History suggests that deposing a foreign leader, by the powers of the time, has been accompanied with the installation of a puppet regime, and has not improved the state of the people of that nation, and in many cases made things much worse. In Latin America, democracy has been stifled to due support of dictators by America. In the Middle East, support of authoritarian regimes has contributed to anger, hatred, resentment, and fueling the fires of extremism, providing easy recruits to terrorist causes. (See this site's pages on the Middle East170 in general, for more on this.)

Blair also said he felt he had a "moral conviction" on his Iraq stance, suggesting an almost religious-like quality for himself sounds dangerously imperialistic. (It was interesting to note, for example, that even someone like Tim Robbins, a Hollywood actor, who appeared at the mass demonstrations in London on that same day, in an interview with the BBC on television, suggested that the cries for an unjustified war sounded more like cries for empire.)

A number of critics of Bush and Blair have pointed out the double standards in their claims. This has been especially the case for allies that are far from democratic. For example, Saudi Arabia, where a lot of the suspected terrorists that planned the attacks on America in September 11, 2001, has a very authoritarian regime, long criticized by human rights groups and others. Israel has been a sore point for many, as they have nuclear weapons and are accused by human rights groups and others of countless abuses of human rights violations and military occupations of Palestinian areas. Turkey has for years had a harsh crackdown on Kurds. North Korea has recently increased hostility in its nuclear posture. There are various other examples, too. (See for example, the Noam Chomsky archive171 for extensive collection of articles on more on the double standards.)

Channel 4 News in UK also highlighted (February 18, 2003) another aspect of Blair's propaganda dishonesty:

  • In that same speech, he read out a letter from an Iraqi women supporting the war, making a passionate plea and highlighting understandable reasons a war is needed to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
  • What Blair did not read out though, was another letter also sent by Iraqi women in exile, but arguing against war, and instead of supporting democratic movements and an uprising from within Iraq.
  • Despite the viewpoints one might have of how it should be done, that Tony Blair only highlighted one of the letters (the one that strengthened his argument) made for a propaganda speech, raising more concerns about dishonesty and trustworthiness of the Blair government.

Many are therefore skeptical that the humanitarian concerns were genuine, and ask why other nations that are more of a direct threat, or potentially so, are not being dealt with in the same way.

Democracy Domino Theory

Towards the end of February, 2003, George Bush gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, where he said, "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region." This "Democracy Domino Theory" though sounding promising and full of hope is full of controversy.

Many nations in the Middle East did not receive it well (understandably, as most of the corrupt regimes174 would not want democracy to reduce or remove their positions of power.)

At the same time, many have argued (including, for example, a group of Iraq women, exiled in Britain, appearing on public television, as mentioned above), that genuine democracy can only come from within, not installed from outside. The challenge from within when Saddam Hussein has a strong grip is another issues, but the sanctions regime currently has impacted the people, not Saddam, and had the effect of actually strengthening him, as a result, as detailed on that sanctions part of this section of this web site. Lifting or changing focus of the sanctions to target Saddam Hussein and not his people could allow for the beginnings of a domestically grown democratic challenge. It is easy to argue against this given Saddam's position of strength and brutality. The sanctions regime and its implementation has not, as often raised in the mainstream, been down to Saddam Hussein. A UN Sanctions Committee (heavily containing British and American influence) is the key implementor.

But further complicating matters, as reported by the Los Angeles Times (March 14, 2003) has been that according to a classified U.S. State Department Report, Bush's Democracy Domino Theory is 'not credible'175.

Because, as argued above, the humanitarian card has been played so late, the justifications or goals for a war on Iraq do not seem concerned with humanitarianism as such, else that would have been the stated goals from the beginnings.

To many parts of the international community then, this sounds similar to imperial times where colonial rulers justified actions to save people from themselves. The irony often ignored in the mainstream is that the U.S., Soviets, as well as a few others were the ones that helped support176 a large number of corrupt, non-democratic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Back to top

Mixed Reactions from "International Community"

We often here on media reports that the "international community" feels this way or that way. Yet, the countries that make up the "international community" in the context of the Iraq crisis is often an unstated assumption of being other influential and powerful countries, such as France, Russia and occasionally China (the other three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council), plus occassionally other European countries, Japan and other key allies.

Public dissent in parts of that "international community" seems to be growing. For example, it appears that mass protests throughout Europe have contributed to a number of key nations also indicating that they are opposed to military action, or have highlighted the need to go the route of the United Nations. For example, summarizing from a Chicago Tribune article (January 21, 2003177) commenting on the impact the the mass protests around the world on the weekend of January 18 had:

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a speech that "We will not take part in a military intervention in Iraq, and that is exactly how our voting behavior will be in all international bodies."
  • France concurred. The article adds that, "In Paris, senior French officials said that France will use its seat on the Security Council and all of its influence to restrain U.S. militarism."
  • (Germany just recently began a rotating seat at the United Nations Security Council, as one of the non-permanent members.)
  • In countries such as Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, there are extremely large percentages of the population against military action, in some cases even if there is a U.N. backing for such action.
  • Even in Britain, Tony Blair suffered a major revolt, mostly from his own Labour Party, in what is the biggest revolt in recent times by the leader's own party. DetailsTony Blair had put a motion forward asking Parliament for backing a UN effort to disarm Iraq. It did not explicitly mention war, but there was an ammendment put forward to say that the case for war is unproven. It was thought that of the approximately 600 parliament members, some 100 would vote for this, and the rest would successfully defeat this ammendement hence allowing for war. Instead, an unexpected 199, or an entire third of government voted for this ammendment, 120 or so of whom were from Blair's own Labour Party (with the rest including all members of the third major party, the Liberal Democrats, and a handful from the Conservative party as well). Blair won his backing by a vote of 393 to 199 mostly because of the large majority that Labour has in Parliament, and because most of the main opposition party the Conservatives, backed him, perhaps highlighting how far to the right Tony Blair has gone. (Most of the Labor Party did back Blair, some 254, but that some one third of his own party were against this is seen as extremely significant.)

The positions of France, Germany, Russia, Belgium, China and others, in opposing immediate war have, to some extent, angered the U.S. and Britain, and have even led to rifts in NATO, where there has been disagreement on whether NATO should agree to defend Turkey if there is a war on Iraq.

Around the world, governments have raised concerns. So too have many ordinary citizens. In some cases, (for example, Britain and Italy), while the government may openly be supporting the Bush position, a large majority of people have been openly critical of their government and the U.S. war agenda. As just a small example:

  • Indonesia, the worlds most populous Muslim nation, has expressed concerns and doubts and has stated that it opposes possible war with Iraq (as reported by Associated Press, January 9, 2003178).
  • Malaysia, another predominantly Muslim nation also expressed concerns of the implications of war and the reaction in Muslim countries, as reported by the Gulf Daily News, Bahrain (January 9, 2003179).
  • Some African countries have also said they are against a unilateral military strike. For example, The Namibian reports (January 8, 2003180) that, "Namibia has said it is against military action against Iraq."
  • The Financial Times also reports (February 4, 2003181) that after a summit of the African Union, the 53-nation union stated that it was firmly opposed to war.
  • Reuters reports (January 9, 2003182) that even Iran, the longtime foe and neighbour of Iraq, feels that war with Iraq is unnecessary.
  • The above-mentioned Reuters report also highlights that Greece and other European countries are against war, saying that "Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, is planning to lead an EU mission to Arab states including Iran in the next few weeks in a bid to avoid war."
  • Reuters also reports (January 7, 2003183) that the large, non-aligned group of nations want a more open debate, rather than a closed-door debate on the Iraq crisis at the United Nations, and that a number of countries are in opposition to any military action.
  • The Hindu (February 4, 2003184) reports that Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee has said that India does not favor an attack on India.
  • United Press International (UPI) reports (February 4, 2003185) that the secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League raises concerns about great instability in the region if the U.S. starts a war.
  • Jordan is Iraq's largest trading partner, while also being an American ally. It also has fears186 ranging from economic consequences to domestic political problems and refugee influx concerns if war erupts.
  • In Italy, opposition senators have denounced their government's support of Bush, as reported by the Los Angeles Times (January 30, 2003187)
  • As the previous LA Times link highlights, reactions to George Bush's 2003 State of the Union Speech was met with much resentment around the world.
  • In Japan, while the government has been strongly in favor for war and supporting the U.S., some polls suggest that around 80% are against war. The BBC suggests (March 14, 2003188) while it has a pacifist constitution, in reality it has long relied on the U.S. for military protection. North Korean tensions and need for continued support from the U.S. against it has contributed to the unpopular stance of the Japanese govt.
  • It is interesting to note how much Asia in general has been against the war, and how so many Asian nations view the U.S./British projection of power. The following is quoted at considerable length as it touches on many issues typically not discussed in context of Iraq in the mainstream:

    Asian unity on the issue of war against Iraq was clearly visible during the summit of Non-Aligned Nations in Kuala Lumpur. The Non-Aligned Movement unites 116 countries: two-thirds of the countries that make up the United Nations. The great majority of Asian nations are also members of the NAM.

    Malaysian PM, Mahathir Mohamad, declared "...uncertainties of today's world are due not to 'a clash of civilizations' between the West and Islam, but to a revival of the old European trait of wanting to dominate the world. The expression of this trait invariably involves injustices and oppression of people of other ethnic origins and colours. It is no longer just a war against terrorism. It is, in fact, a war to dominate the world."

    While the newspapers in South East Asia were full of quotes from Mohathir's speeches, the Western media exhibited a profound disinterest and disrespect to the opinion of people from the great majority of the world, openly expressed by their leaders at the summit of NAM.

    "The West talks about some disagreements between the US and Germany and between the US and France", said a painter in Ubud (he didn't want to be identified), a small town on the Hindu island of Bali.

    "These Western countries have just some small disagreements. They all say that Iraq has to comply with their will and that it has to disarm, they just differ in their views about how it should be achieved. In the end, France and Germany will not defend Iraq from US aggression. We in Asia say: the West terrorized this continent for centuries and, in many ways, still does. We all suffered more from Europeans than from Iraqis. Why should we now listen to the West? It has no moral mandate, no right to define for all of us what is right and what is wrong."


    Asia suffered tremendously from Western terror. British colonial rulers didn't hesitate to use chemical weapons and extermination techniques against the people of the Middle East (Blair never mentions this when he muses about the "civilized world"). The French ruled brutally over entire Indochina, and the Dutch over Indonesia. And so on!

    East Timor lost more than one third of its population during the Indonesian occupation which received a green light from the US and Australia (and was subsequently fuelled by the British military industry).

    The whole of South Asia and large areas of the Middle East and Far East experienced the "civilized" whip and greed of the British Empire. The Iraqi people suffered from the coup led by Saddam Hussein, supported by the CIA. Iran lost around one million people after it had been invaded by Iraq, armed simultaneously by the US and the USSR.

    The US managed to kill millions of innocent people in Indochina, bombing the Cambodian countryside, supporting corrupt and brutal dictatorships in both Southern Vietnam and Cambodia (paving the way for Khmer Rouge to take power). It carpet-bombed the poor people of isolated Laos. It butchered between one and three millions of Vietnamese men, women and children, not even caring to find out how many really died - they hardly considered them to be human, anyway.

    Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese people, and particularly children are still losing their limbs and lives in countryside where multitudes of unexploded "bombies" rest at the bottoms of rice fields and elsewhere. The US doesn't even bother to cooperate with de-mining agencies.


    We are not the chosen people and our truth is not the only truth. There are only two groups that should be allowed to disarm the Iraqi President: one group consists of the Iraqi people themselves. Another group is called 'the people of the world' - the majority of the countries of the General Assembly of UN. The same majority should also have a right to tell us - the West - to disarm as well as to tell us to comply with the UN resolutions.

    Yes, we are all laughing now. We all know that such a suggestion is naive and absurd. But our laughter may not last too long. It is enough to listen to the words of Malaysian Prime Minister (and each and every journalist working in this part of the world will confirm his words) to have chills running down our spines:

    "Our people are getting restless. They want us to do something. If we don't they will, and they will go against us unable to mount a conventional war they will resort to guerrilla warfare, terrorism against us."

    Andre Vltchek, Asia And The War With Iraq189, ZNet Commentary, March 3, 2003

But it does not mean that these and other countries are happy to let Iraq get away with things themselves. As mentioned by the Center for Defense Information (Jan. 30, 2003191), "On Jan. 30, the leaders of Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Portugal published joint op-ed pieces in European and American newspapers supporting the U.S. line on Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin also publicly warned Iraq that time was running out and patience was at a premium. On Jan. 23, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey met in Istanbul and issued a statement warning Iraq to take advantage of the opportunity left to it to avoid war."

This highlights that as well as opposing a U.S.-led and non U.N.-authorized war, many nations are also warning Iraq to make sure it cooperates and doesn't give an excuse for war to happen.

France has also put itself in an awkward position by chiding some Eastern European nations for supporting the war. Some commentators had suggested that various East European nations had supported the U.S. position, perhaps because of their need to become a NATO member. Regardless, the French leader, Jacques Chirac's comments to them, that they should have known when to keep quiet, has done nothing to help the splits within Europe. Britain and the U.S. of course will be quick to pick up on this an exploit this situation, as would any nation.

But the U.S. have, in a more tactful way, implied that France is also displeasing them. The U.S. ambassador in Paris said that the U.S. would view any French veto of a new U.N. resolution authorizing force as "very unfriendly192." In diplomatic speak, this is a very serious accusation.

That some countries from the Middle East, such as Iran, who have hardly been friends with Iraq do not see a concern that the U.S. and U.K. have is perhaps quite significant. Yet, a number of Middle East countries show other concerns about their own situation, maybe regardless of how they feel about a war with Iraq: political stability in the region, where anti-Americanism could rise even more is a big concern, so some states have expressed an anti-war stance as a result.

Some of the countries from the developing world and the non-aligned movement have highlighted their concerns about the political process and "diplomacy", which reflect a less-than democratic process in the international arena, and highlights more one of the ways power and influence works, in terms of the closed-door negotiations rather than open door policy. "World opinion" or "international community" in that context has often not included the developing world, which has the majority of the world's population.

The lack (so far) of clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction development by Iraq, or lack of a clear "smoking gun" with which to claim Iraq is in material breach of the U.N. resolution has led to a slight shift in emphasis on how to pin Iraq down. From an innocent until proven guilty paradigm (which itself was a weak paradigm in the whole Iraq issue, and nation states are rarely 'innocent'), the emphasis is shifting to guilty until proven innocent. A New York Times article (January 23, 2003197) captures this, where it is pointed out that "Bush administration officials said today that next week they would confront France, Germany and other skeptics of military action against Iraq by demanding that they agree publicly that Iraq had defied the United Nations Security Council." This is because it might be realized that there appears to be no hard evidence and that

Administration officials said their strategy was based on the belief that there might never be a "smoking gun" proving Iraq's possession of illegal weapons. Accordingly, they acknowledged that the case must be made in a negative fashion: that Iraq has failed to disprove the contentions of the United States and others about its weapons of mass destruction. The administration asserts, without offering evidence, that Iraq has thwarted inspectors by hiding the weapons.

Steven Weisman, U.S. Set to Demand That Allies Agree Iraq Is Defying U.N.198, New York Times, January 23, 2002

While American and British troops began to prepare199 for deployment in the Gulf French President, Jacques Chirac, suggested to his troops the importance of being ready, if need be. In March 2003, just before the onset of war, France even suggested that they would be ready to offer military assistance if Iraq used chemical weapons. This was met with some cynicism and humor in British and American circles, given France's hostility to war.

And even if some governments are supportive of the American and British governments, large segments of society within those nations may be opposed to various aspects of the crisis. For example,

  • MediaLens mentioned (January 1, 2003200) that "The Pew global attitudes project revealed in December [2002] that when asked if Saddam Hussein should be removed by force 71% said no in Germany, 64% in France and 79% in Russia. In Turkey - a major US ally - 83% are opposed to the use of Turkish bases for an attack on Iraq. In Britain 47% said no, and 47% yes to the removal of Saddam Hussein by force. In the US 62% favoured war and 26% were opposed." Side NoteThe BBC indicates by February 21, 2003, the Turkish opposition to war may be running as high as 94%201, all while the U.S. and Turkey governments play with the idea of massive amounts of aid in return for allowing the U.S. to use their bases.
  • The above-mentioned Chicago Tribune article also highlighted that in France, a new poll showed that there were "82 percent against a war with Iraq and 75 percent in favor of France's using its veto on the UN security council to block a new UN resolution" while in Germany a poll showed that "76 percent of the population opposed a war with Iraq even if it had UN backing". In Italy there were some "61 percent against war and only 30 percent in favor."
  • Copely News Service reports in the Sandiego Tribune (February 14, 2003202) that "A New York Times/CBS poll published today says 66 percent of Americans approve of war with Iraq as an option. Fifty-nine percent said they believed the United States should give U.N. weapons inspectors more time. Sixty-three percent said Washington should not act without allied support and 56 percent said President Bush should wait for U.N. approval."

U.S. Says Some 50 Willing Nations For War. Some Didn't Know They Were

On the eve of war, the U.S. annouced that it had some 30 nations supporting it, in a "coalition of the willing" offering various means of support. Yet, the radio show Democracy Now! (March 19, 2003) highlighted some of the complexities in this support:

The list [of nations making up the coalition] includes Britain, Spain and Australia, as well as Turkey, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, Italy and others.

Of these nations, only two, Britain and Australia plan to supply troops.

The Washington Post reports that some of the countries were surprised by their inclusion. A senior diplomat at Colombia's embassy was unaware that his nation had been listed.

Turkey has voted against allowing US troops to be deployed there.

95% of the Spanish population is against a US invasion of Iraq, despite its government's support.

The list includes no governments in the Arab world.

Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett criticized the so-called coalition: He said "the posse announced today is mighty weak. It includes such military powerhouses as Eritrea and Estonia and pariahs like Uzbekistan with a human rights record as difficult to defend as Saddam Hussein's." The Congressman added, "This list is an embarrassing indication of the administration's foreign policy failure."

As U.S. names 30 countries supposedly supporting war, protests intensify203, Democracy Now!, March 19, 2003

Later, this number increased to 50. However, some nations wanted to remain anonymous, while others did not wish to be on it at all, as highlighted by AFP (March 29, 2003204). In addition, as Jan Oberg of the Swedish research organization, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, says205 that given that 95.8% of the troops come from four countries (U.S., U.K., Australia and Poland), "It would be more appropriate to call the aggressors the Gang of Four."

And while polls can always be questioned, there have been large numbers of people turning out in protests, vigils and demonstrations in various places.

Back to top

Large Anti-war Protests

In various parts of the world, many people have protested on the streets against possible war on Iraq. For example (and these are very limited examples):

  • A very large number of protestors, estimated from 150,000 (police estimates) to 350,000 (organizer estimates) marched in London in September 2002 (and at that time was considered one of the biggest peace demonstrations in UK in recent times). Side NoteMedia watchdog group, FAIR, noted206 how media coverage of these protests was lacking, compared to other kinds of protests, such as protests in London at a similar time against a possible ban on hunting.
  • Some 1.5 million in Rome207 took to the streets, October 5, 2002.
  • A march in Florence, Italy on November 9, 2002 saw some 300,000208 protestors as well.
  • On the weekend of 18th January, 2003, hundreds of thousands209 of people protested around the world, in various cities, including throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
  • February 15, 2003 saw a day of global protests, with some of the biggest protests to date for some nations (at time of writing):
    • The BBC reported (News 24 broadcast, February 15, 2003) that some 10 million protestors took part in demonstrations in 600 cities around the world.
    • In London, UK, estimates ranged from "in excess of" 750,000 protestors (police estimates) to over some 1.5 to 2 million (organizer's estimates). Whichever it was, the BBC highlighted that this made it the "biggest demonstration in British history" for anything.
    • An estimated 1 million turned up in various cities in Spain, another country behind the U.S. in supporting a war (about 200,000 in Seville, 600,000 in Madrid, for example).
    • Sydney, Australia (another country that backs the U.S. for war on Iraq) saw some 250,000 people protest, described as the largest since the days of the Vietnam War. Melbourne saw about 150,000.
    • In New York, near the United Nations, some 100,000 (police estimates) to 400,000 (organizer's estimates) people turned up, despite what news site, described210 as "draconian restrictions". With some 200,000 in San Francisco, up to 100,000 in Los Angeles, and with large protests in Canada and Mexico, there was possibly over a million people throughout North America that protested.
    • 3,000 Jews and Arabs marched together in Tel Aviv211, as reported by the BBC (which also reports on some of the other protests mentioned here)
    • In Paris, France, 100,000 turned up, and this is in a country which is already against war!
    • Germany saw some 500,000 people, also a nation against war on Iraq!
    • (Mass protests on various issues have often been ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media as discussed on this web site's protest212 against corporate globalization section, or the coverage has been marginal. But this was so big that the mainstream could not ignore it. To their credit, the BBC and other British mainstream media, for example, provided a lot of coverage and viewpoints.)
  • Protests have even taken on different dimensions and creativity. For example, "virtual demonstrations" whereby people have emailed, phoned and faxed the Senate and White House has drawn some 400,000 people, as reported by CNN (February 28, 2003213)
  • Since February 15, there have been many other rallies. March 15, 2003, was another big global rally214, (though not as large as February, with war looking more likely) where according to Reuters in the previous link, various cities throughout the world saw tens of thousands often turned up. IPS reports (March 16, 2003215) for example, that Washington DC alone saw 50,000 people.

These are just a very small sample of the protests that have occurred very frequently throughout the crisis. Various peace groups, religious organizations and others have held vigils, demonstrations and protests around the world against the idea of war.

As exemplified by the enormous march in London, on February 15, 2003, and constantly seen in the footage and live coverage by the BBC at the time, the diversity of the people that turned up was immense. People from all colors, religions, ages and classes had turned up. The Sandiego Tribune also highlighted (February 14, 2003216) that even for the U.S. protest movement, not only is there such diversity, but that the "U.S. anti-war movement [is] based in the mainstream". The same could be applied to many other countries, given the large turnouts.

Some have commented that some protests have been larger than those seen during the Vietnam war, and yet these current and large anti-war protests have been before war has even started. In Vietnam, it was many years before mass protests started, and only when the cost in American lives were becoming unacceptable.

Around the world, as war has started, people have continued protests. School children from all over UK have walked out of schools. In cities around the world children and adults continue to protests. Some have been met with violence. Throughout the middle east, cities see continual protests almost each day, by more and more angry people.

It would be impossible to try and list all the various protests that have occurred here. But while there are many, many web sites out there, covering various angles of the protests movements, the following may be some useful starting points, perhaps:

  • Free Speech TV coverage217 of protests in audio, visual and online articles.
  • Protest.net218 provides listings and calendars of upcoming major protests on many issues, including the possible war on Iraq.
  • Iraq Watch219 from ZMagazine's ZNet web site provides many articles, some of which are related to protests, vigils, etc.
  • IndyMedia.org220, The Independent Media Center, provides reports from grassroots activists and journalists, and often highlights protest meetings, etc.

Back to top

Proposed Second U.N. Resolution By Bush and Blair

Bush and Blair had proposed a second resolution to the Security Council, basically seeking authority for war. This resolution made six measurable demands. However, France and others said that the inspections were working so there was no need for war at this time, so would oppose any war-requesting resolution (not any resolution, as simplified by the U.S. and U.K., making it appear that France were opposed to any concerted U.N. effort.)

Draft Resolution Designed to Fail and Therefore Allow War

Politicians supporting war of course are not going to analyze the negative side of their own proposed resolutions. Hence, often not mentioned was that at least one of the terms in the draft second resolution would be unaccetable whether the receiver of the demands was ruthless and despotic, or completely democratic and peaceful. This resolution was designed, then, as some would argue, to ensure Saddam Hussein would lose, and no-one would expect Saddam to surrender, hence, this resolution basically supported war. The BBC mentioned this:

One British test requires Saddam Hussein to make a public statement, in Arabic and therefore to his own people, saying that he has hidden weapons of mass destruction and will give them up.

This is perhaps the most difficult of the demands. The idea of Saddam Hussein going public with a humiliating climbdown and mea culpa is difficult to imagine.

Indeed, this demand brings to mind the demarche made by Austria to Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. It was designed to be so harsh as to be rejected. War followed not long afterwards.

Paul Reynolds, UK assault on France221, BBC, March 13, 2003

Bush/Blair Dropped Second War Resolution due to International Opposition

By March 17, 2003, it was clear that for all the pressure from the U.S. and U.K. (and Spain), described above, only Bulgaria was a sure bet. All the rest remained unconvinced and opposed.

Seeing no chance for winning a second resolution put forth by the British and Americans, and noting that France was going to veto it anyway, the second resolution was withdrawn.

But how this was handled, and spun, is interesting to note:

Not International 'Deadlock' But Opposition to US/UK

A common phrase used in some mainstream media outlets, for example, the BBC, has been the benign phrase 'deadlock', or 'deep division' or some other phrase that gives a false impression of an even split. Yet, by most accounts it has been an opposition to the U.S./U.K. position, given that most nations were going to oppose war or abstain (an opposition but without formally noting so, so as not to face the future wrath of the US/British.)

In addition, withdrawing from the UN process highlighted a number of things.

  • Withdrawing the second resolution highlighted international opposition, especially in the Security Council
  • But withdrawing ironically also may imply that official history will never record such opposition, because it was never put to the vote.
  • Also ironically, Iraq technically speaking (though in real terms it would not amount to much), has the right under Article 51 to use force to defend itself. Had the U.S. and U.K. managed to get Security Council Authorization for war (eventually if not now), Iraq would have had no such right.
  • Withdrawal paved way for the British, Americans and Spanish to:
    • Blame France for the breakdown at the U.N.
    • Decide to go its own way and go to war anyway.

Blaming France

For a while the French were being blamed for causing rifts amongst Europeans and Americans. Now, more explicitly than ever, as the U.S. and U.K. ambassadors to the United Nations gave speeches to the press on March 17, 2003, they explicitly blamed France solely for the breakdown because, as they claimed, France would veto anything.

However, it was not only France, but Russia that also indicated it could use its veto. But not only that, most of the U.N. Security Council seemed opposed.

Consider what Tom Craver, a correspondent at the United Nations for the BBC's political news programme, NewsNight had to say:

The attempts to blame the French is frankly a canard.

The reason that the British and the Americans killed off their own resolution is not because of the veto but simply because it did not have the support in the Security Council. And the longer I have watched this the more obvious this has become.


America came here [to the United Nations] to try and sell its view of the world but it failed to make the sale; its diplomacy was heavy-handed, even inept at times; many of Bush's own team were openly scornful of the whole diplomatic process. They talked all the time about the need for American security after 9-11, but very little about the global context.

Yet despite all of that we all assumed here that in the end, the shear weight of American power would prevail. Bit it didn't; 5 months of bargaining and arm-twisting produced the staggering result of winning over Bulgaria.

Tom Craver, Newsnight, BBC, March 17, 2003 (this was said 25 minutes into the broadcast. The transcript here is my own.)

Members All Knew That Serious Consequences in 1441 Meant War, Even Though US and UK Themselves Said it did Not

As mentioned further above, even the American and British ambassadors to the U.N., and even Tony Blair himself, just after 1441 was passed stated that there was no automatic trigger for war, and the Security Council had to decide.

1441 was passed unanimously precisely because most countries did not want automatic war type of clause to be in the resolution.

However, from the likes of Britain's Home Secratary David Blunkett (interviewed on BBC, March 16, 2003), and Colin Powell (March 17, 2003), they have said that it was obvious what "serious consequences" meant, and that it meant war. Most people agree that this is what the intention of the U.S. and U.K. was. However, technically, the resolution did not authorize war, and, the last paragraph stated that the U.N. remained seized of the matter, meaning nations had to come back to the U.N. to determine another resolution.

Instead, using spin, it has been argued, with almost no challenge, that the other nations should have known this, and so it is ok to go to war, regardless of what the majority of the council thinks.

Is War Legal or Illegal

In announcing the withdrawal of the draft second resolution, the U.K. ambassador said "The co-sponsors reserve their right to take their own steps to secure the disarmament of Iraq." This went unchallenged by various media outlets and journalists, but the questions would have included, what gave these nations the right to take actions into their own hands, when the final paragraph of 1441 said that "the Security Council remained seized of the matter"?

In Britain, the Attorney General annouced223 March 17, that war on Iraq would be legal, because of the combined effects of two resolutions from 1991, 678 and 687, and with 1441.

But many lawyers disagree224. Some say that explicit authorization from the U.N. Security Council is still needed. International Human Rights Lawyer, Keir Starmer QC, argues:

The only real alternative for the government is to argue that Iraq's failure to comply with the ceasefire requirements of UN resolution 687, passed at the end of military action against Iraq in April 1991, justifies the renewed use of force. But that, too, is not without its difficulties. Like resolution 1441, resolution 687 does not itself authorise the use of force. The only security council resolution expressly authorising the use of force against Iraq was 678, which was passed at the start of the Gulf war in November 1990, and the only action it authorised was such force as was necessary to restore Kuwait's sovereignty.

It is true that the ceasefire resolution 687 requires Iraq to destroy all weapons of mass destruction, but under Article 42 it is for the security council and not the US or UK to decide how it is to be enforced. In 1993 the UN secretary general suggested that resolution 678 justified US and UK air attacks to enforce the no-fly zone in Iraq. But that is a very fragile basis for arguing that, 10 years later, it justifies an all-out attack without the need for a further UN resolution.

The government has a point when it grumbles about permanent members of the security council, such as France and Russia, threatening to veto any further UN resolution. But that does not justify the US or the UK acting outside the UN. It merely highlights the need for reform of the undemocratic security council structure which they put in place at the end of the second world war. Article 2 of the UN charter requires all states to refrain from the threat or use of force that is inconsistent with the purposes of the UN, which emphasises that peace is to be preserved if at all possible.

Against that background, it is no surprise that the government has been coy about its advice so far. But on the eve of war that is not good enough. If the attorney general's advice is that force can be used against Iraq without a further UN resolution, he must explain fully how the legal difficulties set out above are to be overcome. Simply to argue that the interpretation of resolution 1441 accepted by all the other security council members except the US and the UK should be abandoned in favour of military action won't convince anybody. Flawed advice does not make the unlawful use of force lawful.

Keir Starmer, Sorry, Mr Blair, but 1441 does not authorise force225, The Guardian, March 17, 2003

The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) in New York detailed in a report226 the illegality of war. They also highlighted that Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive strikes itself was illegal, saying227 that, "In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal rejected German arguments of the necessity for preemptive attacks against its neighbors and instead outlawed preventive war as a crime against the peace. In the Tribunal's judgment, 'To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.'" (The phrase "supreme international crime" was the condemnation and definition used at the Nuremberg Trials.)

(See also also a debate228 between the executive director of CESR and a professor of law who argues that war is legal. The previous link will allow you to listen to a real audio archive of the show. You can also watch a streaming video229 of that show.)

War Is Not the Only Option; Resolution 377

The United Nations Charter230, which binds all member states, in Article 2 states that all members "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force".

Ignoring for a moment that the build up has actually involved both the use of threat and use of force (Coalition forces had begun to deploy troops and bomb key installations in Iraq before March 20, 2003, when bombing really commenced), the United Nations charter highlights that the purpose of the U.N. is "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law."

Given there was so much disagreement in the U.N. Security Council on whether to authorize war or not (the U.S./U.K. now revealing that this was their intention all along, the French/Chinese/Russian camp not seeing the need for war), the solution to by-pass the U.N. and go to war anyway, sets many dangerous precedents. For example

  • It sends a message to the world that if the U.S./U.K. don't like anyone else (for there are "allies" that are gross violators of human rights in various ways), they could be next. This would normally fall in line with geopolitical interests that the U.S. would have.
  • Any nations fearing U.S. actions may think twice about developing their military capabilities
  • Or they may feel the need to increase their military capabilities, otherwise they would face the fate of Iraq.
  • Other nations may also see fit to do as they please as well, regardless of if the U.N. authorizes action or not.
  • The anger and resentment this has cause around the world risks fueling more terrorism in the future.

However, the impasse, or lack of unanimity at the Security Council did not justify action outside of U.N. authority, for there has been an alternative option used a number of times in the past: A little-mentioned U.N. resolution, 377 A (V), also known as "United For Peace".

The resolution addressed the case where there was a lack of concensus. The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and others have been raising the awareness of this resolution, and highlights231:

  • The Uniting for Peace resolution, allows the General Assembly to meet to consider the threat to international peace and it can then recommend collective measures to U.N. Members to maintain or restore peace.
  • If one U.N. Member State requests that a meeting be convened to consider adoption of such a resolution and either seven Members of the Security Council or a majority of the Members of the General Assembly agree, an emergency special session will be called and the General Assembly will come together to discuss the threat to international peace.

Citing the resolution directly:

Reaffirming the importance of the exercise by the Security Council of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and the duty of the permanent members to seek unanimity and to exercise restraint in the use of the veto,

... Conscious that failure of the Security Council to discharge its responsibilities on behalf of all the Member States, particularly those responsibilities referred to in the two preceding paragraphs, does not relieve Member States of their obligations or the United Nations of its responsibility under the Charter to maintain international peace and security,

Recognizing in particular that such failure does not deprive the General Assembly of its rights or relieve it of its responsibilities under the Charter in regard to the maintenance of international peace and security,

... Resolves that if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restart international peace and security.

A/RES/377 (V)232, Uniting for Peace, U.N. Resolution 377 A(V), Adopted at the Three Hundred and Second Plenary Meeting, November 3, 1950

Note, the above resolution recognizes for example, that

  • The Security Council on occasion may not agree
  • In such cases, the larger and more inclusive General Assembly can get involved.
  • The General Assembly has a responsibility to get involved.

This resolution was first created in 1950. It is posted on the United Nations web site as a land mark document233. Ironically, the U.S. was one of the main supporters of this important resolution.

However, as of March 21, 2003, Reuters reports (March 21, 2003237) that the U.S. has been pressuring many nations to avoid having a special session of the General Assembly.

War Is Not Only Option; Lack Of Patience Is Not Enough of a Reason for War

One of the many reasons Tony Blair, Colin Powell and other stated that it was time for war was their impatience with more inspections. Despite other nations and Hans Blix himself saying inspection processes were working and they just needed more time, the reason of impatience was one of the reasons given to stop, and choose war, instead.

Yet, patience and its limits is subjective, which is why the Security Council would have to decide together whether to go to war, or choose another course of action. Because the U.S. and U.K. realized, or felt they did not have enough support for war, that not enough other nations were as impatient, they decided to go to war, anyway.

Major Resignations

In Tony Blair's Labour Party, a key minister, Robin Cook, resigned. In a long resignation speech at the House of Commons, he received an unprecedented standing ovation238. Amongst many things, he said:

We delude ourselves if we think that the degree of international hostility is all the result of President Chirac.


Iraq's military strength is now less than half the size of the time of the last Gulf War. Ironically it is only because Iraq's military forces are so weak we can even contemplate invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that his forces are now so weak, so demoralized, so badly equipped, that the war will be over in a few days.

Mr Speaker, we cannot base a military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and that at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.

Robin Cook, Speech of Resignation as Leader of the House at the UK House of Commons, March 17, 2003

The BBC, commenting on Cook's speech said the following:

He drew a comparison over the impatience shown with Iraq over its failure to comply with the will of the UN and the situation in Palestine.

"It is over 30 years since resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories," he reflected.

The former foreign secretary went on to express alarm that the US administration seemed more interested in regime change that in Iraq's disarmament.

[He also added immediately after that: "And that explains why any evidence that inspectors may be showing progress is greeted in Washington not with satisfaction, but constination for it reduces the case for war."]

"What has come to trouble me most over past weeks is the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected we would not now be about to commit British troops," he said.

The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, called Mr Cook's performance "without doubt one of the most effective brilliant resignation speeches in modern British politics".

He said MPs applauding one another was "simply not done" and there were "pretty sick faces" among the ministers on the front bench.

Cook gets Commons ovation239, BBC, March 17, 2003 (article also contains a link to Cook's full speech)

Other ministers also resigned during those days leading up to war.

It would seem then that war was the option regardless of proof of Saddam being a genuine threat to world peace, ignoring the opinions of the international community and possibly international law.

Back to top

Considering the Option of Using Nuclear Weapons against Iraq

In March 2002 Pentagon Nuclear Posture documents came to the fore describing nuclear options at named countries. This raised further fears about nuclear weapons being turned from deterrents to possible weapons. The New York Times reported:

In its Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon cites the need for new nuclear arms that could have a lower yield and produce less nuclear fallout. The weapons, the Pentagon said, could be designed to destroy underground complexes, including stores of chemical and biological arms. The targets might be situated in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya or North Korea, a reorientation away from cold war scenarios involving Russia.

... "Throughout the nuclear age, the fundamental goal has been to prevent the use of nuclear weapons," said Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy specialist at the Brookings Institution. "Now the policy has been turned upside down. It is to keep nuclear weapons as a tool of war-fighting rather than a tool of deterrence. If military planners are now to consider the nuclear option any time they confront a surprising military development, the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons fades away."

... Mr. Bush's Pentagon has also pushed for new and more usable nuclear weapons.

Michael R. Gordon, Nuclear Arms for Deterrence or Fighting?240, New York Times, March 11, 2002 (Emphasis Added)

And on Iraq, nuclear weapons usage on the battlefield has been an option that has been considered.

Military analyst for the Los Angeles Times reported (January 26, 2003) on The Nuclear Option in Iraq; The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon241.

Arkin highlights that the Bush administration's decision to actively plan for possible preemptive use of such weapons, especially as so-called bunker busters, against Iraq represents a significant lowering of the nuclear threshold. It rewrites the ground rules of nuclear combat in the name of fighting terrorism. (Emphasis is original)

  • Nuclear weapons have long been considered to be used as either a matter of immediate national survival, or in retaliation to a nuclear strike.
  • But now, to raise the possibility of using these weapons in a preemptive strike sends a hypocritical message to the rest of the world, especially other nuclear powers, or states considering their nuclear options, who could conceivably choose to lower their own thresholds for nuclear use.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would also both be breached.

Arkin adds another concern that the decision-making of nuclear use options is being more and more concentrated, thus making dissent harder to hear:

At the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in Omaha and inside planning cells of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, target lists are being scrutinized, options are being pondered and procedures are being tested to give nuclear armaments a role in the new U.S. doctrine of preemption.

... [T]here are dangers in concentrating the revision of nuclear policy within a single military command, STRATCOM, which until now has been focused strictly on strategic -- not policy -- issues of nuclear combat. Command staff members have unrivaled expertise in the usage and effects of nuclear weapons, but their expertise does not extend to the whys of weapons usage.

Entrusting major policy reviews to tightly controlled, secret organizations inside the Pentagon is a hallmark of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's tenure. Doing so streamlines decision-making and encourages new thinking, advocates say.

But it also bypasses dissenters, many of whom are those in the armed services with the most knowledge and the deepest experience with the issues. The Bush inner circle is known to be a tight bunch, prone to group think about Iraq and uninterested in having its assumptions challenged. But there are opinions they need to hear. While most military officers seem to consider the likelihood of our using nuclear weapons in Iraq to be low, they worry about the increased importance placed on them and about the contradictions inherent in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons for the purpose of eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

William Arkin, The Nuclear Option in Iraq; The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon242, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2003 [Link is to reposted version at] (Emphasis Added)

Furthermore, options are being considered to use nuclear weapons in the event that chemical and biological weapons are used:

Defense secretary [Donald Rumsfeld] sent Bush a memorandum asking for authority to place Adm. James O. Ellis Jr., the STRATCOM commander, in charge of the full range of strategic warfare options to combat terrorist states and organizations.

The memo, obtained by The Times, recommended assigning all responsibilities for dealing with foreign weapons of mass destruction, including global strike; integrated missile defense; [and] information operations to STRATCOM. That innocuous-seeming description of responsibilities covers enormous ground, bringing everything from the use of nuclear weapons to nonnuclear strikes to covert and special operations to cyber warfare and strategic deception under the purview of nuclear warriors.

Earlier this month, Bush approved Rumsfeld's proposal. On the surface, these new assignments give the command a broader set of tools to avoid nuclear escalation. In reality, they open the door much wider to contemplating American use of nuclear weapons. The use of biological or chemical weapons against the U.S. military could be seen as worthy of the same response as a Russian nuclear attack. If Iraq were to use biological or chemical weapons during a war with the United States, it could have tragic consequences, but it would not alter the war's outcome. Our use of nuclear weapons to defeat Hussein, on the other hand, has the potential to create a political and global disaster, one that would forever pit the Arab and Islamic world against us.

William Arkin, The Nuclear Option in Iraq; The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon243, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2003 [Link is to reposted version at] (Emphasis Added)

The BBC also revealed a report from the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament organization, that a leaked document244 suggests that Washington is beginning detailed planning for a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons245. This has raised further concerns of double standards; that Iraq is not allowed to have such weapons, while the U.S. can, and also breach the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in the process.

In an interview with the BBC (see the previous BBC page for a link to a Real Audio of the interview), Dan Plesch of the Royal United Services Institute, an organization that studies defence and international security, said that the U.S. position amounted to a policy which is do as we say, not as we do, when it comes to nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We have nuclear weapons; other people can't have it.

For additional information see

  • An interview246 with William Arkin for additional discussions, by Democracy Now! radio, January 30, 2003, archived online).
  • This site's section on arms control247 for further background and issues relating to nuclear weapons.

Back to top

Learning from Past Lessons of Propaganda

Christian Science Monitor describes249 how in the Gulf War in 1991, there was bad intelligence and even outright disinformation to build the case for war. They further note then that such concerns still abound today and propaganda is always something to be wary of.

As has been mentioned in the propaganda sections of this site, occasionally, official versions and media reporting go hand in hand, which strengthens propaganda, while at other times, official establishments may attempt to successfully contain or manipulate the media. The Boston Globe highlights (November 20, 2002250) the challenge that many media outlets have and will face, with the Pentagon restricting access in various ways for reporters. The article quotes Mark Thompson, Time magazine's national security editor, who says that, "This Pentagon practices, regularly, lack-of-information warfare against the press". The article also quotes a media representative from the Pentagon at a military reporter's conference who says, "We're committed to access. But it's probably not going to be the access you want."

An article from Asia Times (November 14, 2002251) also highlights that Public Relations (PR) firms have been hired by the U.S. to produce spin, and have done so for many years, for many conflicts. (The dead baby story mentioned further up was a PR spin.) That article is worth quoting on this aspect in detail:

H&K's [Hill & Knowlton, a giant PR firm] baby-atrocity routine really won over the hearts, but for the minds of realpolitik skeptics the Pentagon had other methods. To sway them, the Pentagon flooded the major media outlets with reports of a top-secret satellite image that allegedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks amassed at the Iraqi-Saudi border.

Once again, this was misinformation. When the US military refused to hand the satellite image over to the press, several investigative journalists opted to purchase commercially available, but equally detailed, satellite images on the open market. Shots of the exact same region, during the same time frame, revealed no Iraqi soldiers anywhere near the border. The journalists hired a coterie of experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare imagery, and the verdict was the same: no Iraqis, just desert and a lot of US jet fighters sitting wing-tip to wing-tip at nearby Saudi bases.

But by the time those questions began circulating about the Pentagon's supposed satellite image and the web of decisions being spun around it, the US military was already set on course. Once again, a similar mobilization is in high gear, with skeptical questions lagging behind.

Ian Urbina, This War Brought to You by Rendon Group252, Asia Times, November 14, 2002 [Link is to reposted version by Globalvision News Network]

And the relationship between PR and Pentagon perhaps continues subtly as implied by the following:

Speaking to French television reporters, Pentagon spokesperson, Torie Clarke kept a straight face while explaining that, 'We try to put out news information in as straightforward and as credible a fashion as possible.'

She added: 'We always tell the truth.' Clarke, who is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, was previously General Manager of Hill and Knowlton's Washington DC branch, the office that arranged Nayirah Al Sabah's dubious [dead baby atrocity] testimony.

Propaganda Diary253, Corporations and War Special, Newsletter Issue 11, Corporate Watch, December 2002 - January 2003

Side NoteNayirah Al Sabah was the Kuwaiti US Ambassador's daughter who testified before U.S. Congress that Iraqi soldiers had pulled babies from incubators in Kuwait City Hospital and left them on the floor to die. This story turned out to be a propaganda stunt created by PR firm Hill and Knowlton's.

It is perhaps to the credit of ordinary citizens the world over that so much propaganda has to be necessary and yet many remain skeptical.

  • Journalists and politicians from the west in countries such as the U.S. and U.K. have shown appropriate cynicism and critique when reporting claims and announcements from the Iraqi regime.
  • The same does not seem to happen very often though, when questioning our own leaders.
  • As John Pilger points out254, there are a few who do, but these are not the norm, and they do not usually get the prominence they deserve.
  • Yet, the same healthy cynicism and criticism needs to be applied to our own leaders for the sake of accountability, and for the lives of ordinary citizens in the Middle East and the West.

The following two quotes perhaps serve as ominous warnings, given the sources:

Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during World War II, April 18, 1946. (This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact, while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the book, Nuremburg Diary.)

Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.

Adolf Hitler, in a speech responding to critics of the invasion of Austria, quoted by Thom Hartmann in When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History255,, March 16, 2003

For additional detailed insights of these and other examples, especially in the area of media reporting and propaganda, see for example the following:

  • Media Lens257 a media watchdog from the U.K.
  • Iraq258 resources from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
  • Media await war on Iraq259 from looks at media reporting on Iraq.
  • Iraq Under Pressure260 is a special report section from including coverage from partner sites from around the world.
  • ZNet's Iraq Watch261 provides a large collection of articles and analysis, many of which include articles related to media, propaganda and the geopolitics.
  • Between Iraq and a Hard Place262 from Britain's Channel 4, looking at the issue of Iraq using humour to highlight some of the absurdities of the issue! What is interesting about this link is that you can watch the comedy on line, but also that such harsh critique of Britain, the U.S. and Iraq policies, and the history of the conflict appeared on a mainstream television channel, albeit using comedy and humor to highlight the issues. It is good to see such critique, though as well as comedy, it would be good to see similar issues being raised and discussed in more depth in the regular programming!
  • Media and Iraq Crisis263 from the Global Policy Forum, presents a look at the mass media coverage of the Iraq crisis, and as it says in its introduction, "It looks especially at how the big US-based media companies adopt an overwhelmingly pro-Washington slant. In the US, the major television networks, newspapers and magazines steadily bombard the public with sensational, pro-war news reports that demonize Saddam, exaggerate the level of international support for Washington's policies, and pass along uncritically false rumors spread by US intelligence agencies. These reports, which are scornful of the UN and the inspection process, pay little heed to the consequences of war, especially the consequences for innocent Iraqis. Washington's oil interests and its former ties to Saddam are usually a taboo topics."
  • Democracy Now!264 radio show in the U.S. provides archives and on-going coverage interviewing and reporting on perspectives that the mainstream media typically have not.

Back to top

We are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.

Winston Churchill, in a paper submitted to his Cabinet colleagues in January 1914

(This web site's section on the Iraq crisis265 provides more details of how the media portrayed the Iraqi crisis in 1998 plus other on-going issues. Links to other web sites are also provided.)

0 articles on “Media, Propaganda and Iraq”:

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created:
  • Last updated:

Back to top