‘This is a war against ethnic cleansing/terror/weapons of mass destruction’
Tony Blair wrote ‘It is no exaggeration to say what is happening in Kosovo is racial genocide.’ But in 1995 US bombing aided the ethnic cleansing of up to 250,000 Bosnian Serbs from Krajina. Nevertheless, Milosevic was used to police the subsequent ethnic carve-up decided at Dayton. When the Kosovo Verification Mission withdrew in preparation for the bombing on 20 March 1999 ‘summary and arbitrary killing escalated dramatically immediately’, according to Human Rights Watch. The vast majority of the 750,000 Kosovans who were expelled went after Nato’s bombs allowed Milosevic to declare martial law. And at the conclusion of the war 200,000 Serbs and Roma were ethnically cleansed by the western-backed Kosovo Liberation Army–creating a virtually monoethnic Kosovo.
The war was primarily an assertion of Nato’s power, an attempt to dictate the terms of its eastward expansion and the shedding of its nominally defensive Cold War role. As US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told US generals, ‘Losing Kosovo [would] damage US interests in Europe [and] threaten US leadership in Nato.’
None of the 19 hijackers of the 11 September 2001 attacks were from Afghanistan, and there were many debates in the White House about where the US would unleash its military might in retaliation. The attack on Afghanistan was planned as the first stage of an aggressive reshaping of the world as laid out in the Project for the New American Century, the think-tank promoted by leading US hawks such as Dick Cheney and Richard Perle.
For many months Tony Blair told us that the primary motivation for war was destroying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, delivering a series of dodgy dossiers in a futile attempt to prove their presence in Iraq. MI6 and Mossad have even been implicated in forging documents suggesting that Iraq had procured nuclear material from Niger. In his State of the Union address in February, President Bush said that Saddam Hussein was hiding 25,000 litres of anthrax, 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin and 500 tons of sarin, mustard and nerve gas. If the US had such precise information about these weapons, how can we explain their elusiveness? Because it didn’t. The anthrax quantity, for example, was an inflation of a hypothetical projection of future production at a biological plant that had been shut down long ago.
The likelihood that, as anti-war activists argued, no significant amount of such weapons had survived weapons inspections leaves Bush with three options: (1) Brazen it out, and hope that no one notices; (2) ‘Find’ them anyway, hence a team of 1,500 Anglo-American ‘disarmament experts’ are at work in Iraq–insistently refusing UN jurisdiction; (3) Assert that they have been smuggled out, presumably to wherever he chooses to target next. Syria and Iran, be warned.
‘The Serbs/Taliban/Saddam had every chance to avoid war’
Appendix B of the Rambouillet negotiations demanded that Nato could roam throughout Serbia, move military equipment through its ports, roads and airspace, and use its water, gas and electricity for free with complete legal immunity. It also asserted that ‘the economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles’. In the words of US foreign policy aide to Senate Republicans, Jim Jafas, ‘We intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that’s what they’re going to get.’
The US’s opposition to the Taliban is recent and opportunist. During the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s the CIA, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, funded the Mujahadeen, the forerunners of the Taliban. Former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski asked of this proxy war, ‘What was more important in the worldview of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?’
After 11 September 2001 Taliban attempts to negotiate–including an offer to discuss extraditing Bin Laden–were rejected out of hand.
‘Today the path to peace is clear. Saddam can co-operate fully with the inspectors. He can voluntarily disarm.’ This, Tony Blair told the House of Commons, was all that was necessary to avoid war. It was a mendacious lie. Iraq had agreed to the resumption of weapons inspections, as demanded, despite inspectors supplying Anglo-American forces with details for bombing raids in 1998. Iraq supplied an extensive account of its military capability, as required, which the US seized and edited before presenting it to the UN. And Iraq began decommissioning its conventional Al-Samoud missiles, whose destruction was demanded on the flimsy pretext that a third of them slightly overshot their permitted range in tests disclosed by Iraq.
‘Milosevic/Bin Laden/Saddam is the new Hitler’
Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq
‘To sell a war in a democracy when you are not attacked,’ argued S Robert Lichter, president of the Centre for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, ‘you have to demonise the leader or show that there are humanitarian reasons for going in. George Bush [Sr] demonised Saddam Hussein. We did something of the same with Milosevic.’
The CIA funded Al Qaida until 1989, with Bin Laden the choice of the Saudi government to organise Islamic volunteers to fight against Russia. It was only during the Gulf War, when US troops became a fixture in Saudi Arabia, that Bin Laden turned against his patrons.
Jack Straw, Tony Blair and Donald Rumsfeld all alluded to the Second World War to justify their military crusade in Iraq. Given that Nazi Germany began that war with a series of ‘pre-emptive’ invasions, you might think they would be more wary of the parallel. Nazi Germany was one of the major imperialist powers, with perhaps the second strongest military in the world. In contrast a single Stealth bomber costs more than Iraq’s entire military budget. And horrible as the Ba’ath regime was, it was not fascist–it came to power not through 400,000 stormtroopers decimating the organised working class, but through a CIA-backed coup.
‘We take every single precaution we possibly can to prevent civilian casualties’
This was Tony Blair’s promise at prime minister’s questions on 28 April 1999. In the ‘Guardian’ of 27 March 1999, in an article titled ‘The Serbs Don’t Appreciate How Carefully Force Against Them is Being Deployed’, Martin Woollacott argued that Belgrade residents ‘ha[d] more to worry about from burglars than Nato aircraft’. Yet Nato attacks hit hospitals and medical centres in Leskovac, Nis, Djakovica, Novi Sad, Belgrade and Aleksinac, schools in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Leskovac and Lucane, creches in Visarionova Street and in Sangaj, and a refugee centre in Pristina. Depleted uranium and cluster bombs were both used in populated areas.
‘US military forces are taking extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties as they hunt down the terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan,’ asserted the US Department of State. But Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire documented what he considered a conservative estimate of 3,767 civilians killed between 7 October and 7 December 2001. This is more than the approximately 3,100 who died in the 11 September attacks, and excludes roughly that number again of Taliban, including perhaps 600 prisoners at Qala-I-Jhangi and 160 more near Kandahar in mass executions. As millions fled or were internally displaced, hunger and disease caused an immense humanitarian crisis.
The Ministry of Defence in Britain went so far as to say that ‘greater attention to precision-guided weapons means we could have a war with zero civilian casualties’. Or, as iraqbodycount.net documents, about 2,500 and counting. This includes up to 200 deaths each at Basra General Hospital and Basra Teaching Hospital, many caused by the lack of electricity.
Dozens were slaughtered in crowded marketplaces in Shu’ale and Shaab, seven civilians were shot at a checkpoint near Najaf, and eight were killed in an assault that hit a maternity hospital. Seventeen people were shot dead for daring to protest against the occupation in Mosul. Cluster bombs and depleted uranium were used again.
The US admits to killing 3,650 combatants, a gross underestimate given that US Central Command estimated massacring 2-3,000 in Baghdad on 5 April alone.
‘Oil is not a factor’
In an article of 2 June 1999 the ‘Guardian”s Jonathan Freedland ridiculed the notion that securing a trans-Balkan oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea could be an additional motive for war. The very same day the US Trade and Development Agency announced that it was awarding Serbia’s neighbour Bulgaria $588,000 towards a feasibility study on a trans-Balkan pipeline. The US Energy Information Administration believed there could be as many as 195 billion barrels of oil in the Caspian.
When the Soviet Union collapsed the oil and gas deposits in the newly independent Central Asian provinces, as well as the recently discovered oil and gas fields in northern Afghanistan, became a cause of competition between Russia, China, the US, Iran and Turkey. Unocal, a US oil company employing Zalmay Khalilzad, who would later become Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan, negotiated the development of a 900-mile pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. The Taliban were armed and funded by the US, as well as the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian governments, until a rising in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1996 convinced Washington that the Taliban couldn’t impose the necessary stability to enable the project, and they fell out of favour. As a result of the war the US now has military bases in Pakistan, Afghanistan and every Central Asian country apart from Turkmenistan.
Tony Blair has repeatedly scotched as a ‘conspiracy theory’ the glaringly obvious role this raw material plays in the politics of the Middle East. The fact that Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves, a proven 112 billion barrels, as well as much more that is untapped is, Blair says, immaterial. Yet Washington’s National Energy Plan of May 2001, also known as the Cheney report, describes in some detail the US’s increasing dependence on oil imports, and its strategic need to command additional supplies.
The US set up the International Public Information Group to discredit critical information from the foreign press. Throughout Europe US embassies offered newspapers free articles by high profile figures who invariably defended Nato actions–with the comment that although the US government held the copyright there was no need for the papers to say so. And Alistair Campbell reorganised Nato’s media arm into the Media Operations Centre, responsible for gems such as Jamie Shea’s ‘the evil here is not our mistake. The evil here is Milosevic’ after Nato bombed a refugee convoy in Djacovica.
Despite their best efforts, they were regularly found out. When Nato bombed that convoy Robert Fisk disproved its denials by finding the responsible bomb fragments, which had Nato markings. When propaganda failed Nato deliberately destroyed a Serbian TV station.
In the early stages of the war, worried about the loose grip on information coming out of Afghanistan, Alistair Campbell flew to the US to tighten it. This strategy included pressurising US news networks not to broadcast statements by Bin Laden unless they had been screened, and possibly edited, by the government. When the Arabic TV station Al Jazeera refused to toe the propaganda line, the US destroyed its office in Kabul.
When the US bombed the Shu’ale marketplace, killing at least 62 people, Robert Fisk again disproved its denials by finding the responsible bomb fragments, which had US markings and were made by Raytheon. On 25 March the US bombed Iraqi TV offices in Baghdad, and an Al Jazeera correspondent was killed during the bombing of the station’s Baghdad office. The Pentagon had been given the building’s coordinates and had promised that it wouldn’t repeat the ‘mistake’ of the Afghan war. A US tank also killed two cameramen when it fired on the Palestine Hotel.
The endlessly looped pictures of Iraqis cheering the destruction of Saddam’s statue centred on some 150 Iraqis gathered directly outside the international journalists’ hotel. Among the cheering crowd was at least one member of the entourage of Ahmed Chalabi, the crooked exile airlifted into Iraq by the Pentagon. On the third day of larger anti-US demonstrations at the same site, military officials moved the press away from the scene, an anonymous colonel explaining that the Iraqis were ‘only performing because the media are here’.
‘Winning the peace’
On 3 May 1999 Blair promised a measly £40 million for Kosovan refugees. Compare this to the $30 billion of economic damage caused to Serbia, by a bombing campaign which cost at least that much again.
Even if Bush could afford the political cost of the saturation bombing necessary to take Kabul, his new allies in Pakistan could not. The US did a covert deal in December 2001 with the Taliban and Northern Alliance, in which most of the Taliban rank and file returned to southern Afghanistan and their leaders went to Pashtun areas of Pakistan, on the proviso that former Unocal employee Hamid Karzai be installed in Kabul. Al Qaida, and anyone unfortunate enough to be mistaken for them, were less lucky. Those who weren’t slaughtered under the watchful eye of CIA operatives in Mazar were flown to Guantanamo Bay to be tortured as ‘illegal combatants’–a nomenclature that deliberately denies them either the rights of criminals or prisoners of war.
The deaths from contaminated water and the lack of medicine are likely to far outweigh the initial tragedy of the invasion, for which the White House committed $75 billion. The promised ‘reconstruction’ has so far involved selling water to ‘promote a free market’, and plans for US firms to privatise Iraqi schools and hospitals. In total the value of contracts is expected to exceed $100 billion. With 1.5 million people without water, the US prioritised laying a water pipe to douse oilwell fires. The one building troops immediately protected from looting was the Ministry of Oil.
The Serbian Revolution achieved what 78 days of Nato bombing could not–the overthrow of Milosevic. A million workers and students disproved every warmonger who claimed that Serbs were either too weak or too evil to oppose the regime.
‘We’re offering help and friendship to the Afghan people,’ promised President Bush on 6 October 2001, shortly before he began bombing them. Attempts to instigate uprisings against the Taliban fell on fallow ground. Karzai’s rule would be impossible without US patronage, as shown by his American military entourage. He only effectively controls Kabul, which is characterised by conspicuous corruption. His deputy has been assassinated, as was his close associate Haji Gilani early last month. The democratic government promised has not materialised.
Only 73 percent of Unicef’s $191 million funding requirements for Afghanistan have been met. Meanwhile, according to a Christian Aid report of October 2002, ‘A quarter of all children born cannot expect to survive until their fifth birthday. Only 23 percent of the population have access to clean water. Only one third of children go to school, including only 3 percent of girls.’ The World Food Programme estimated that 5.8 million people were ‘highly vulnerable’ to food shortages a year after the bombing began, an increase of 800,000. By the end of 2002 only $560 million of the $4.5 billion pledged for reconstruction had been paid by the ‘international community’.
Republican donors Bechtel were among the first to profit from Iraq’s ‘liberation’, grabbing a $680 million reconstruction contract. The future of post-Saddam Iraq looks, depending on whether the hawk is in the Pentagon or the State Department, like a choice between the pro-Israel US general Jay Garner or the pro-US puppet Ahmed Chalabi. But Iraqis are already resisting this ‘choice’, with demonstrations against the occupation (including 20,000 in both Nasiriya and Baghdad), and major Shia groups refusing to attend US-hosted discussions on a political carve-up.
A combination of Israel’s brutal blockade of this small patch of Palestinian land alongside the ravages brought by Covid-19 has produced an enormous level of stress and mental distress for tens of thousands of people. Yasser Abu Jamei, director of Gaza Community Mental Health Centre, reports.
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