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Simon Jenkins on "Britain's secret wars"

The following opinion piece appeared in today's (25th August) Times.
Although he's anti-sanctions Jenkins isn't very well-informed about "oil for
food". Indeed he writes that "Iraq is allowed to earn $1 billion a year for
its oil, to use for humanitarian relief under UN supervision" and that "Less
than half Iraq's oil quota is being sold through formal channels".

[Regarding the latter statement the British Government *have* actually
produced some figures for oil smuggling - in response to a question from
(Conservative MP) Michael Fabricant. I'll try and dig them out later this
evening. These figures - which, one could argue, the British Government has
every reason to inflate - are in accord with the Economist's assessment
(back in April '98) that illicit oil sales are "tiny in comparison with the
UN's oil-for-food programme". "Tiny" they were and "tiny" they remain.]

I'm pretty certain the Government will have a response in tomorrow's Times
so it's probably best to hold your fire until then. Expect the North/South
comparison to be brought up !
Letters should be sent to :

Gabriel Carlyle.


The Times
August 25 1999  OPINION

Our campaign of bombing and sanctions only strengthens Saddam

Britain's secret wars

Believe it or not, Britain is still at war. You may shrug. You may think
that pocket wars have become the adventure tourism of Labour foreign policy.
But British troops are engaging an enemy. They are bombing, killing and
spending a million pounds a week. They have been fighting Saddam Hussein
since he evicted United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq last December.
The inspectors remain out, and Saddam remains in.

Small wonder the war has been kept secret. The last time it was mentioned in
Parliament was in June. Enemy casualties are mounting. Last week 19 Iraqi
civilians were reported killed in a single day, topping the 17 killed when a
missile hit a Basra housing estate in January. Asked about the point of all
this on radio this week, a Foreign Office Minister, Geoff Hoon, was reduced
to the Vietnam "My Lai" defence, that civilians had to die for their own
protection. Another minister, John Spellar, was asked about reports that he
had just bombed the tomb of St Matthew, no less. He claimed ignorance of the
report. Ministers, like their pilots, are fighting this war from above a
thick cloud base.

Britain, in alliance with the United States, is fighting not one war against
Iraq, but two. The first involves dropping bombs on average three times a
week, roughly a thousand in the past eight months. There are now 1,400
British troops in the area, with 26 planes and two ships. The bombs are said
to be intended to stop Saddam using chemical weapons or displacing Kurdish
and Shia minorities, a similar goal to those dropped on Yugoslavia.

The ability of planes flying above 15,000ft to target or police anything on
the ground is limited. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam has continued his
ethnic cleansing undeterred by air power or any threat of ground invasion.
Some 100,000 Kurds are now crowding UN refugee enclaves in northern Iraq as
Saddam strengthens his grip on the Kurdistan oilfields. He did use chemical
weapons in the Halabja massacre in 1988, but there is no evidence that he
has used them since. The constant citing of Halabja by the Foreign Office to
justify its bombing is lame. Mr Hoon talks of the horrors of VX nerve gas:
"One drop can kill." One drop of Mr Hoon's favoured cluster bombs does more
than kill, it goes on killing long afterwards. Britain's support for these
de facto landmines is a moral outrage.

Bombing is having the same effect on Baghdad as it had on Belgrade last
spring. It turns public wrath from the immediate oppressor, Saddam, and
directs it at the West. Saddam thus turns the bombing on and off at will.
Whenever he wishes to strut as king Arab against the American aggressor, he
locks his anti-aircraft radar on to a Western plane and invites a missile
attack. A few peasants are blown to pieces, Saddam gets his publicity, and
the Pentagon and Whitehall claim to be "acting in self-defence", despite
flying well out of range. (The only place the RAF dares fly low these days
is over the demonic sheep of Mid-Wales).

The bombing war in Iraq was started during the "Monica" affair last
December, and nobody knows how to stop it. The Kurds welcome it as a general
indication of American support. Saddam likes it, since it depicts him as
victim of an already unpopular foe, America. The bombing postpones the day
when the West must admit that it has made Saddam impregnable. Other Arabs
are not unhappy at Iraq's oil staying off the market. The only people
entitled to protest are dead Iraqi civilians, and they can take their
complaint to the morgue.

What of the second Iraqi war? This has been going on not for eight months
but for eight years and is far more lethal. While the bombing war is
supposedly protecting Iraqis from their Government, the sanctions war is
supposedly, in Robin Cook's words, "bringing Saddam to his senses" to accept
UN Resolution 687 against "weapons of mass destruction".

This war was lost last December and Mr Cook knows it. At least Washington
openly admits that sanctions are to bring Saddam not to his senses but to
his doom. How, nobody seems to know.

Saddam has joined Castro, Gaddafi, the Iranian mullahs and possibly Mr
Milosevic in the ranks of dictators propped up by the West's inept
diplomatic siege machines. A decade of sanctions against Iraq has
consolidated the Baghdad regime and devastated the Iraqi people. The
sanctions weapon is a sort of economic nerve gas, killing by stealth. On the
ninth anniversary of sanctions last week, Unicef reported that infant
mortality in Iraq had more than doubled, largely through malnutrition and
lack of medical care. There has been a similar rise in mortality among the
elderly. Iraq's lobbyists claim that as many people die each year from the
effect of sanctions as died at Hiroshima. UN experts do not argue. Even the
hardest noses among the old inspection team, such as the hawkish Scott
Ritter, now regard sanctions as counter-productive.

The sanctions weapon targets not land or property but the living conditions
of the poor, especially in a totalitarian political economy. The sufferers
are not armies, soldiers, the rich or the powerful. These soon become
sanctions-busters, racketeers and arch defenders of the regime. The
sufferers, in addition to the poor, are Saddam's most plausible enemies, the
former business community, the professional middle class, the provincial
bureaucracy. These groups have been debilitated or driven into exile by
Western action. Ministers sometimes argue that sanctions are aimed at Saddam
(which they plainly are not), and sometimes that they will make the poor
rise up against him (which they plainly cannot). Such political illiteracy
would be merely stupid if it were not so cruel.

Mr Cook and his colleagues (Mr Blair seems to have forgotten Iraq in the
excitement of Kosovo) reiterate that sanctions "could end tomorrow" if
Saddam complied with UN Resolution 687 and readmitted weapons inspectors. In
addition, Iraq is allowed to earn $1 billion a year for its oil, to use for
humanitarian relief under UN supervision. This may offer ministers some
comfort as they wriggle on the moral hook of sanctions cruelty. It ignores
the fact that Saddam has no interest in co-operating.

As he has turned Western bombing to advantage, so he has vastly enriched
himself and those round him from sanctions. He has risen to become Forbes
Magazine's "sixth richest head of state" in the world, worth some $6
billion. Milosevic, another beneficiary of Foreign Office sanctions, is said
to be following suit.

Less than half Iraq's oil quota is being sold through formal channels.
Outside the UN enclaves, aid is mostly undistributed in warehouses or is
being sold on the black market. One UN consignment was recently captured on
its way to export in the Gulf. Iraq even buys 5,000 cases of whisky a year.
This is declared to be an instance of Saddam's venality. What is new? The
fact is, he is not beaten and at present cannot lose. The West's idiot
diplomacy means that if sanctions are lifted he declares a triumph. If they
remain, he gets richer, his people get poorer and the West is blamed.

British policy has blatantly helped to entrench the Gulf's most detestable
dictator in power for almost a decade. Why? One obvious answer is Britain
and America want Saddam in power as a balance between the Saudis, the
Israelis and Iran. If so, killing a few thousand Iraqis a year may seem a
small price to pay for regional stability, cynical though it may be. Another
answer is that Britain knows that the only sensible policy is to end the
war, end sanctions and initiate a new inspection regime - but has not the
guts to say so. The rest of Europe and most of the UN want to end the war.
Britain dare not gainsay Washington, and so must keeping on bombing.

One or other policy must be true. But to call either "ethical" is obscene.

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