Saddam Hussein is the new Hitler.
This facile comparison, which has also been applied to General Galtieri, Colonel Gaddafi, Slobodan Milosevic and Osama bin Laden in recent years, has become so tired that even many hawks are now embarrassed to use it. A new trend is to insinuate this false parallel with references to ‘appeasing’ Saddam Hussein.
At the start of the Second World War Germany was among the strongest of the world’s powers. In contrast, years of UN sanctions have left Iraq with a Third World economy. The Nazis were not ‘appeased’ by the left, who fought against them in France, Spain and London’s East End while Tories like Neville Chamberlain were doing deals with them. Although Saddam is a dictator, it is inaccurate to call the Ba’athist regime fascist. It came to power not on the back of 400,000 stormtroopers smashing the organised working class, as the Nazis did in Germany, but with a coup connived with the CIA against a Nasserite government.
This is a war for ‘freedom and democracy’.
There is little freedom for many in the US which has by far the largest prison population in the world–over 2 million people (25 percent of the world’s total number of prisoners). George Bush has introduced internment (indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial) both at home and abroad. This includes more than 600 non-US nationals denied ‘prisoner of war’ status, including those still being held at Guantanamo Bay. New Labour has passed similar legislation.
Can such governments be trusted to ensure Iraqi freedom? When Kurds and Shi’ites rose up against Saddam at the end of the last Gulf War Bush Sr left them to be slaughtered, fearing the turmoil of popular revolt.
Bush and Blair are in no position to lecture the world about democracy. Bush won the presidency thanks to his brother disqualifying thousands of voters in the key Florida election, and then using Republican appointees to quash the recount. Blair has refused to allow MPs, let alone the wider public, a vote on this war. Both support and arm repressive regimes around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The US assisted the recent failed coup in Venezuela. Democracy is not proposed for Iraq. General Tommy Franks was initially suggested as a military dictator by the US, although a puppet ruler on the model of Hamid Karzai seems more likely.
An attack on Iraq is part of the ‘war on terror’.
There is no credible evidence linking Iraq and Al Qaida. Bin Laden’s objection to the last Gulf War was not the attack on Iraq, but the continued presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia. Despite Saddam’s sporadic attempts to appeal to Islamic solidarity, Al Qaida rejects the essentially secular Ba’athist regime. The 11 September hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. An attack on Iraq will multiply the anger at the imperial control of the Middle East. Terrorism will inevitably compete with mass struggle as an outlet for that opposition.
Saddam has ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
The US has by far the largest arsenal of such weapons. It is the only state to have used nuclear weapons on civilians, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It covered half of Southern Vietnam with the chemical weapon Agent Orange, and the depleted uranium used in the last Gulf War has increased cancer rates exponentially. It was the US army which patented VX chemical weapons, and the Bush administration which scuppered the Biological Weapons Convention. Bush is happy to use ‘non-lethal’ chemical weapons, such as those used by the Russian government during the Moscow theatre siege which killed over a hundred people.
The US and Britain’s concern about such weapons is rather belated, considering they played such a big role in supplying Iraq with them throughout the 1980s. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was Ronald Reagan’s special presidential envoy to Iraq in 1983-84, when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an ‘almost daily’ basis against Iran. The US provided Saddam with anthrax, bubonic plague and strategic advice. When Iraq presented its account of its weapons capabilities the Pentagon edited out ‘sensitive information’ about this period before presenting it to the UN.
There was some surprise when the US didn’t present documents referring to the enrichment of uranium, found at an Iraqi scientist’s home, as evidence of a ‘material breach’ of UN resolution 1441. Perhaps they would have been an awkward trigger to war. They are thought to relate to before 1991. Last year a South African intelligence official told a BBC investigation that ‘the Americans gave the green light’ for the transfer of ‘about 50kg’ of enriched uranium to Iraq in 1989. All of this suggests the use of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was not an issue as long as Iraq was a US ally.
Saddam has flouted international law.
The country which has broken the most UN resolutions is not Iraq but Israel. It has been able to ignore demands to leave the Occupied Territories because of its role as the US’s most reliable ally in the region. It is the highest recipient of US aid–at roughly $500 per person per year–as a result.
Bush is adamant that international law not be applied to the US–hence his refusal to endorse an International Criminal Court, the Kyoto climate change protocols or UN weapons inspections in the US.
War will bring stability to the region.
No doubt this is Bush and Blair’s aim–to install a compliant leader to help Israel to police the Middle East, and to secure a steady, controlled supply of oil and strengthen the power of the multinationals through naked imperial aggression. But from our rulers’ perspective, this is a very risky strategy–hence the tension and dissent among some generals and diplomats. The global anger about this war is immense. Egypt’s leader Hosni Mubarak has even raised the spectre of revolution in the region.
Saddam poses a threat to the west.
Even if Iraq still possesses a handful of working Scud missiles their range would not go beyond eastern Turkey or the north of Israel. The conventional missiles that Iraq does possess only have a range of 150km–roughly the distance between London and Coventry. Years of sanctions have not only crippled Iraq’s economy but also hindered its weapons development programme.
Iraq has a military budget of $1.5 billion per year. The US dwarfs this, spending 264 times as much–more than China, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea and all the other Nato countries combined.
Saddam is a danger to his own people
We are told that Saddam is uniquely evil for ‘gassing his own people’–the Kurds at Halabja. Leaving aside the fact that Britain pioneered the use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in 1921, and that Nato ally Turkey has an even more murderous record against its Kurdish minority, this tragedy is being ruthlessly exploited as part of a propaganda war. At the time of the massacre, the US and British governments claimed that there was no ‘conclusive proof’ with which to confront their then ally. Condemnation was not forthcoming from the current Halabja-citing hawks. Two early day motions in March 1988 and three more in 1989, 1994 and 1998 deploring the attacks went unsigned by Jack Straw, Tony Blair, John Prescott, David Blunkett and Geoff Hoon.
The appalling persecution of Iraqis seeking asylum in Britain also belies our government’s supposed concern for their welfare. While refusing a recent application from an Iraqi refugee who had been detained and tortured, a letter from Jack Straw claimed that ‘Iraq, and in particular the Iraqi security forces, would only convict and sentence a person in the courts with the provision of proper jurisdiction’. He told the refugee that he was satisfied that if he faced any outstanding charges in Iraq he ‘could expect to receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted judiciary’.
The biggest current danger to the Iraqi people is Bush and Blair’s bombing raids. Only when the threat of war and crippling sanctions are removed will a genuinely progressive mass opposition to Saddam be likely.
This war is not about oil.
The idea that oil is not a key motivation behind this conflict is rightly an object of ridicule. Iraq has a proven reserve of 112 billion barrels of oil (second only to Saudi Arabia), and there is believed to be a further 100 billion barrels which is unproven. Iraqi oil is six times cheaper to extract than Russian oil, and is easier to refine.
The oil lobby is at the heart of the Bush administration. Vice-president Dick Cheney, the former director of Halliburton, has arranged meetings with representatives of Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco (the company that named a tanker after former board member Condoleezza Rice) and ConocoPhilips. The oil-guzzling superpower has been particularly vulnerable recently, with depleted domestic reserves and the Venezuelan ‘strike’ adding to the fear of scarcity. Concerns not to be dependent on the Saudi Arabian regime, attempts to weaken Russia’s relative position and fear of an emerging Chinese military and economic power, are also part of a wider geopolitical strategy of domination in which natural resources such as oil are a factor.
US plans to seize the oil fields (perhaps using British troops) have been described in terms of ‘trusteeship’–a patronising euphemism for handing them to the multinationals rather than the Iraqi people.
War is justified if backed by the UN.
The first Gulf War, which killed an estimated 200,000 Iraqis, and economic sanctions, which have killed perhaps 1 million more, were both backed by the United Nations. They were no more justified as a result.
Despite many people’s hopes that it could be a counterweight to US power, the UN cannot act as an independent force. It reflects the relative power and influence of the nations that make it up. If the US succeeds in getting a further UN resolution to wage war it will do so through a mixture of bribery and coercion. No state is likely to forget the example of Yemen, which dared to vote against the last Gulf War and immediately lost US aid. Aside from the US and Britain, the permanent members of the Security Council are France, led by a Tory crook currently reviving his country’s imperial past in West Africa, Russia, led by the butcher of Chechnya, and China, a dictatorship which manages to make US execution figures look lenient.
The real opposition to this war comes from below–the masses of people taking to the streets all around the world.
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