War on Saddam
WHY WAS anyone surprised when America and Britain bombed Iraq just before Christmas? We love these Arab dictators when they do what we want by toppling foppish Egyptian or Libyan kings or invading Iran. But when they nationalise the Suez canal, attack Berlin discos or invade Kuwait, we bomb them. That's what neo-colonialism is all about.

In the 1930s, the RAF was bombing recalcitrant Iraqis - usually Kurds - under the command of the future Arthur "Bomber" Harris. Sixty years later, we were doing it again. Then the Iraqis were rebels; now they are guilty of far worse crimes, which, through the constant repetition of the list over the past three weeks, have become a mantra of world evil.

So let's get through the 1998 list. President Saddam Hussein, according to Messrs Bill Clinton and Tony Blair:

One: Refuses to abide by countless United Nations Security Council resolutions;

Two: Continues to build weapons of mass destruction;

Three: Blocks the work of Unscom arms inspectors;

Four: Abuses human rights;

Five: Has used poison gas "on his own people";

Six: Threatens his neighbours.

We all know President Saddam is awful. Not as bad as Hitler or Stalin, but probably worse than Laurent Kabila, certainly worse than Muammar Gaddafi.

But who else in 1998 qualifies for the first crime? Israel and Serbia. Who qualifies for the second crime? Iran, Israel, Syria, Pakistan, India. Crime number three is exclusive because there's no Unscom to inspect the other countries' weapons of mass destruction. But qualifying for crime number four? Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey ... you name it. Crime number five? Only Iraq - with a caveat: why does no Western leader mention that he killed far more Iranians with gas than he did Iraqi Kurds? Because the Kurds were supporting Iran at the time? Or because the Foreign Office and the US State Department supported Iraq when it was gassing Iranians? Guilty of number six? Iran, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Turkey.

So what were we doing bombing Iraq? Or, more to the point, why weren't we bombing all the other Middle Eastern sinners? Back in February, we clearly wanted to bomb Iraq when President Saddam prevented UN arms inspectors from entering his palaces. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, produced a "memorandum of understanding" to let the UN make a one-time inspection, in the company of foreign diplomats. Then President Saddam reneged again, sending the inspectors home. To the fury of the American military, Bill Clinton called off the bombers at the last moment.

Then President Saddam blocked the inspectors once more, and it was "chocks away". Or so we are led to believe.

Certainly, President Saddam had decided to rid himself of the inspectors. Indeed, he almost certainly wished to be bombed - he had given up any hope of having sanctions lifted. He knew he would survive and that the Arab world would sympathise with the Iraqis who suffered and that the UN Security Council would be split between the US-British alliance and the rest.

His list of crimes may seem obvious in the West. In the Middle East, the list of those who also commit his crimes is rather better known. And so is the result of eight years of UN sanctions: the 5,000 babies dying every month, the children dying of cancer in the irradiated battlefields of southern Iraq, the villagers drinking water from rivers and taps contaminated with sewage, the girls prostituting themselves.

All President Saddam's fault, Messrs Clinton, Blair and Cook tell us. But it's not. Iraq cannot feed itself under the oil-for-food programme, as the UN's bureaucrats have now admitted. President Saddam is unaffected by sanctions, yet we continue to impose them.

Journalists are afraid of the figure of a million Iraqis dead through sanctions. But if the death toll for children is correct - and the statistic comes from the World Health Organisation - then we're talking about more than 480,000 dead children alone. When do we start talking about genocide?

So this Christmas, we debate the rights and wrongs of killing 62 Iraqi soldiers and 82 civilians in bombing raids and ignore 60,000 dead children who have expired via sanctions since January. Arabs, of course, do not. However deplorable their regimes, there is an overwhelming sense of fury and humiliation in the Arab world, which the Ramadan bombings have brought to boiling point. The conviction that it was all done to help President Clinton to avoid impeachment seems to put it beyond the immoral.

And of course, we've forgotten one of the most intriguing - and dangerous - revelations of the year: UN senior inspector Scott Ritter's admission that for years he was liaising with the Israeli intelligence service, something the Iraqis had claimed all along (to the contemptuous dismissal of the Americans and British).

Our masters didn't mention that when they launched their cruise missiles, did they? How much of Unscom's work was being handed on to the Israelis? Just Mr Ritter's investigations? He said the Israelis pinpointed targets for inspection to him. Does that mean, directly or indirectly, that they also helped to target the missiles?

Washington politics are so cynical that there is not much point in debating the timing of the air strikes and Mr Clinton's impeachment. But what about Mr Blair, shrilly insisting that everything is above board.

French television got it about right when its Guignol series - the equivalent of Spitting Image - concluded after the bombings that the Prime Minister was the President's new White House intern.