Deadly cost of a degrading act

If the inspectors couldn't find the weapons, how come we know where to fire the cruise missiles?
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The Independent Online

WE ARE now in the endgame, the final bankruptcy of Western policy towards Iraq, the very last throw ofthe dice. We fire 200 cruise missiles into Iraq and what do we expect? Is a chastened Saddam Husseingoing to emerge from his bunker to explain to us how sorry he is? Will he tell us how much he wantsthose nice UN inspectors to return to Baghdad to find his "weapons of mass destruction"? Is that what wethink? Is that what the Anglo-American bombardment is all about? And if so, what happens afterwards?What happens when the missile attacks end - just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, because, ofcourse, we really are very sensitive about Iraqi religious feelings - and Saddam Hussein tells us that theUN inspectors will never be allowed to return?

WE ARE now in the endgame, the final bankruptcy of Western policy towards Iraq, the very last throw ofthe dice. We fire 200 cruise missiles into Iraq and what do we expect? Is a chastened Saddam Husseingoing to emerge from his bunker to explain to us how sorry he is? Will he tell us how much he wantsthose nice UN inspectors to return to Baghdad to find his "weapons of mass destruction"? Is that what wethink? Is that what the Anglo-American bombardment is all about? And if so, what happens afterwards?What happens when the missile attacks end - just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, because, ofcourse, we really are very sensitive about Iraqi religious feelings - and Saddam Hussein tells us that theUN inspectors will never be allowed to return?

As the cruise missiles were launched, President Clinton announced that Saddam had "disarmed the [UN]inspectors", and Tony Blair - agonising about the lives of the "British forces" involved (all 14 pilots) -told us that "we act because we must". In so infantile a manner did we go to war on Wednesday night. Nopolicies. No perspective. Not the slightest hint as to what happens after the bombardment ends. With noUN inspectors back in Iraq, what are we going to do? Declare eternal war against Iraq?

We are "punishing" Saddam - or so Mr Blair would have us believe. And all the old cliches are beingtrundled out. In 1985, just before he bombed them, Ronald Reagan told the Libyans that the United Stateshad "no quarrel with the Libyan people". In 1991, just before he bombed them, George Bush told theIraqis that he had "no quarrel with the Iraqi people". And now we have Tony Blair - as he bombs them -telling Iraqis that, yes, he has "no quarrel with the Iraqi people".

Is there a computer that churns out this stuff? Is there a cliche department at Downing Street which alsoprovides Robin Cook with the tired phrase of the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, abouthow Saddam used gas "against his own people"?

For little did we care when he did use that gas against the Kurds of Halabja - because, at the time, thoseKurds were allied to Iran and we, the West, were supporting Saddam's invasion of Iran.

The lack of any sane long-term policy towards Iraq is the giveaway. Our patience - according to Clintonand Blair - is exhausted. Saddam cannot be trusted to keep his word (they've just realised). And soSaddam's ability to "threaten his neighbours" - neighbours who don't in fact want us to bomb Iraq - hasto be "degraded". That word "degraded" is a military term, first used by General Schwarzkopf and hisboys in the 1991 Gulf war, and it is now part of the vocabulary of the weak. Saddam's weapons of massdestruction have to be "degraded". Our own dear Mr Cook was at it again yesterday, informing us of theneed to "degrade" Saddam's military capability.

How? The UN weapons inspectors - led for most of the time by Scott Ritter (the man who has admittedhe kept flying to Israel to liaise with Israeli military intelligence), could not find out where Saddam'snuclear, biological and chemical weapons were hidden. They had been harassed by Iraq's intelligencethugs, and prevented from doing their work. Now we are bombing the weapons facilities which theinspectors could not find. Or are we? For there is a very serious question that is not being asked: if theinspectors couldn't find the weapons, how come we know where to fire the cruise missiles?

And all the while, we continue to impose genocidal sanctions on Iraq, sanctions that are killing innocentIraqis and - by the admission of Mr Cook and Mrs Albright - not harming Saddam at all. Mrs Albrightrages at Saddam's ability to go on building palaces, and Mr Cook is obsessed with a report of theregime's purchase of liposuction equipment which, if true, merely proves that sanctions are a total failure.

Mr Cook prattles on about how Iraq can sell more than $10bn (£6bn) of oil a year to pay for food,medicine and other humanitarian goods. But since more than 30 per cent of these oil revenues are divertedto the UN compensation fund and UN expenses in Iraq, his statement is totally untrue.

Dennis Halliday, the man who ran the UN oil-for-food programme in Baghdad, until he realised thatthousands of Iraqi children were dying every month because of sanctions, resigned his post with thedeclaration that "we are in the process of destroying an entire society... it is illegal and immoral." Soeither Mr Halliday is a pathological liar - which I do not believe - or Mr Cook has a serious problem withthe truth - which I do believe.

Now we are bombing the people who are suffering under our sanctions. Not to mention the small matterof the explosion of child cancer in southern Iraq, most probably as a result of the Allied use of depleteduranium shells during the 1991 war. Gulf war veterans may be afflicted with the same sickness, althoughthe British Government refuses to contemplate the possibility. And what, in this latest strike, are some ofour warheads made of? Depleted uranium, of course.

Maybe there really is a plan afoot for a coup d'etat, though hopefully more ambitious than our call to theIraqi people to rise up against their dictator in 1991, when they were abandoned by the Allies they thoughtwould speed to their rescue. Mr Clinton says he wants a democracy in Iraq - as fanciful a suggestion asany made recently. He is demanding an Iraqi government that "represents its people" and "respects" itscitizens. Not a single Arab regime - especially not Washington's friends in Saudi Arabia - offers suchluxuries to its people. We are supposed to believe, it seems, that Washington and London are terriblykeen to favour the Iraqi people with a fully fledged democracy. In reality, what we want in Iraq is anotherbullying dictator - but one who will do as he is told, invade the countries we wish to see invaded (Iran),and respect the integrity of those countries we do not wish to see invaded (Kuwait).

Yet no questions are being asked, no lies uncovered. Ritter, the Marine Corps inspector who worked withIsraeli intelligence, claimed that Richard Butler - the man whose report triggered this week's new war -was aware of his visits to Israel. Is that true? Has anyone asked Mr Butler? He may well have avoidedsuch contacts - but it would be nice to have an answer.

So what to do with Saddam? Well, first, we could abandon the wicked sanctions regime against Iraq. Wehave taken enough innocent lives. We have killed enough children.Then we could back the realsupporters of democracy in Iraq - not the ghouls and spooks who make up the so-called Iraqi NationalCongress, but the genuine dissidents who gathered in Beirut in 1991 to demand freedom for theircountry, but were swiftly ignored by the Americans once it became clear that they didn't want apro-Western strongman to lead them.

And we could stop believing in Washington. Vice-President Al Gore told Americans yesterday that it wasa time for "national resolve and unity". You might have thought that the Japanese had just bombed PearlHarbor, or that General MacArthur had just abandoned Bataan.When President Clinton faced the worstof the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he bombed Afghanistan and Sudan. Faced with impeachment, he nowbombs Iraq. How far can a coincidence go?

This week, two Christian armies - America's and Britain's - went to war with a Muslim nation, Iraq. Withno goals, but with an army of platitudes, they have abandoned the UN's weapons control system, closedthe door on arms inspections, and opened the door to an unlimited military offensive against Iraq. Andnobody has asked the obvious question: what happens next?

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