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Was this enough to start a war?

This article is over 18 years, 4 months old
Glen Rangwala is a politics lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge. He exposed the government's February dossier as based on a student's outdated thesis. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the Hutton inquiry and the latest developments in Iraq
Issue 1866

THE HUTTON inquiry has revealed fascinating documents and testimony. Of course, the inquiry is examining only the relations between the intelligence information and the prime minister, which was a very small part of the whole question of the build-up to the war, and Dr Kelly is only a small part of this picture. But the inquiry has already shown the disquiet among senior officials about the way the case for war was presented. Dr Kelly was one of these people.

In March 2002 he gave a lecture where he said that there was no convincing evidence that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons. This suggests that he could not have believed what appeared in the dossier. Whatever the inquiry discovers, we know for certain that the government misled the public in the run-up to the war.

To take one example, the most high profile defector from Iraq was Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son in law and director of Iraq’s weapons programmes. He told UN inspectors and British intelligence agencies in 1995 that Iraq had no more prohibited weapons. Yet the dossier produced last September repeated claims that UN reports said that Iraq still had stocks of chemical and biological agents, and weapons produced before the Gulf War of 1991.

There is no UN report after 1994 that claims that Iraq continued to possess weapons of mass destruction. Everyone in the intelligence circles knows this. The fact this claim could appear in a document which claims to be based on intelligence sources is a clear sign that the information was ‘pumped up’ for political purposes, to support the case for an invasion.

It is not just that pro-war politicians have abused material provided by the intelligence officers. The process of intelligence gathering is not an objective process. The reality is that the politicians wanted a case for war and the intelligence services were sent out to construct a case. This does not mean they simply produced direct untruths, but there is a sifting and an interpretation of material.

All the ‘information’ about chemical and biological weapons, weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi military capability and so on have to be viewed in this context of a political case for a political purpose.

One example is the way that the Blair government talked up suspicions and portrayed hypothetical possibilities as terrifying facts. UN inspectors discovered that Iraq had destroyed some or all of its stocks of anthrax and botulinum in 1991. But they did not know the precise amounts destroyed.

They knew that some anthrax growth media had been burnt and buried in bulk at a site next to the production facility at al-Hakam. There was no way-and there never will be-to tell absolutely precisely from the soil samples the amount destroyed. UN inspectors recorded this material as unaccounted for. They could not say for certain it was destroyed, but they did not know if any still existed.

Yet British government statements suggested that absolutely none had been destroyed, and that the full quantities were stockpiles that Iraq was hiding from the inspectors.

Most of the attention recently has been on the claims about Iraq in the dossiers that were produced in September 2002 and February 2003. These are important. But in the months before the war Blair, Bush and Straw made speeches where what they said went far beyond anything that appears in the dossiers.

For example the claims about the precise size of the stocks of anthrax does not appear in the dossiers but it was used in the parliamentary debates, particularly by Jack Straw on 17 March. Two days before the war began, when he was desperate to win the Commons vote, Blair’s speech included a quote from a recently released UN document. He told MPs that Iraq had had plans to ‘weaponise’ the deadly nerve agent VX. In fact the quote was from a background, historical section of the report, on Iraq’s policy before 1991.

But in the debate on the crucial war vote, MPs would have got the impression that Iraq had an ongoing programme for VX. This cannot have been an honest mistake.

The arguments over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction are far from over. In a few weeks the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) will publish its report. The ISG is the CIA-led team of ‘investigators’ who have been searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. The UN inspectors were of course not allowed to continue their work.

The ISG is headed by David Kay, who used to be vice-president of an important defence firm, Science Applications International Corp, which has made large profits from the war on Iraq. He was constantly cropping up on US TV networks prior to the war, to tell audiences how dangerous Iraq’s weapons are. He knows that he would have no credibility in future if he admits that in fact Iraq had few if any prohibited programmes.

It is very likely that the ISG will come up with ‘evidence’ that will be seized upon by Blair. Helpfully for him the report will probably come just before the Labour Party conference. We will have to examine that report very carefully. It may say, for example, that there were ‘programmes’ to produce weapons. It would be remarkable if, as with most governments, Iraq was not interested in chemical and biological weapons.

But serious programmes to produce them require much more. They need a physical infrastructure and continuing research and development. We have seen no evidence for this so far.

The ISG may say that Iraq had factories to produce chlorine and phenol, as Blair trumpeted in his dossier from September 2002. But, although these could be used militarily, they are also staples of any industrial society. Already there are attempts to make the ISG sound more independent by Blair. He referred to the ISG as the ‘International Survey Group’ (not the ‘Iraq Survey Group’). This gives the impression that it is not just a bunch of US and British handpicked people.

It is very important that the government has not got away with its lies. It probably expected there would be a quick victory, cheering in the streets of Iraq and then any later revelations about the case for war could be brushed aside. But this has not happened.

There are strong bodies, like the Stop the War Coalition, which have kept up the pressure on the government. Newspapers like the Mirror, the Guardian and the Independent which took a stand against the war will continue to publish material which justifies that opposition.

And the events in Iraq itself mean the government cannot easily shrug off what was said in the run-up to war. The continuing resentment at the occupying forces, the loss of life, the lack of basic services-all of this throws attention back to the reasons why the war took place.

We can also see very clearly now just what damage the sanctions on Iraq caused. They were undoubtedly useful militarily, depriving Iraq of the resources necessary to create a modern military machine. There was hardly any army to fight when the US and Britain invaded this time.

After the 1991 war electricity and water were restored in a matter of weeks. But this time it is much more difficult because Iraq has been bled dry by 12 years of sanctions. There are no spare parts, many of the experts have left, and there is no functioning civil service because there was no money to pay them. As well as the appalling human cost, Iraq was so weakened by sanctions that the shock of the war caused catastrophic collapse.

It is remarkable that one of the arguments Blair used to justify the war was the effects of sanctions. Yet of course Blair had allowed those sanctions to be imposed.

The resistance to the occupation flows from the sense that the Iraqi people do not have any real democracy or ownership of what is going on. Unless this changes then the turmoil will continue.

DAVID KAY Iraq Survey Group ‘It is likely that the ISG will come up with ‘evidence’ that will be seized upon by Blair’

JACK STRAW ‘Before the war Blair, Bush and Straw made speeches that went far beyond anything that appears in the dossiers’

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