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Reply to Hain

I sent the following letter to the Independent today (8th August) in reply
to Peter Hain's piece on the 7th August, which was circulated to the list:

Dear Sir

Peter Hain (Monday August 7th) is becoming very energetic in his efforts to
defend our government's policy of deliberately engineering the deaths of
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis by slow starvation and disease. But he is
unconvincing when he says: 'If Saddam Hussein were to allow a new
disarmament body into Iraq, he would quickly move towards suspension of
sanctions if he cooperated with the weapons inspectors'.

Iraq cooperated for five years with weapons inspectors to an extent well
beyond what anyone could have thought reasonable or possible for a country
that had not actually been subjected to physical occupation. Cooperation
only ended when it was clear that the real intention of sanctions is, to use
the elegant phrase of your headline, 'to keep Saddam in his cage'. Which is
to say that the Iraqi people (who are also living in this particular cage)
will not be allowed to rebuild their shattered industrial and economic
infrastructure while President Hussein is still in power.

After all, 'lifting sanctions' means restoring to the Iraqi government and
people control over their own economy and treating the Iraqi government as a
more or less normal member of the family of nations. Can anyone imagine any
US President having the courage to do that (and on this particular issue
British Prime Ministers must be regarded as a sort of appendage to US

So we will continue our policy of mass murder until somehow, anyhow,
President Hussein disappears. The only options available to him personally
are to continue more or less as he is at present, clinging to power by all
available means; or to die, by his own hand, by another's, or by natural

In the event of President Hussein failing to oblige us in the matter there
are two ways I can see of bringing the present situation to an end. One is
to restore normal relations with the Iraqi government; the other is to go to
war to overthrow the Iraqi government. I recommend the former. If Peter Hain
were to recommend the second I would oppose him but I would at least be able
to regard him with respect. The present policy. however, is merely
prolonging a situation which, for anyone with any moral sensitivity
whatsoever, is utterly intolerable.

Yours sincerely

Peter Brooke

In hops of getting it published I kept it as short as I could but there is
of course much more to be said.

In his piece, Hain said that there had been '850 direct threats against our
aircrew in the past year and a half, including missile attacks and heavy
anti-aircraft fire'. He neglected to say that 'threats' which are taken to
justify bombing as a retaliation, include radar tracking  which could be
interpreted as Iraq trying to keep track of incursions into its territory
which are, after all, illegal by any generally recognised standards of
international law.  It would be interesting to know how many of the 850
threats were actual attacks and how many simply radar illuminations  and
also to what extent even the real attacks posed the slightest threat given
the altitude at which these planes fly.

When he says (denying that we are engaged in an aggressive bombing campaign,
as we clearly are) that 'the last time UK aircraft dropped bombs in the
no-fly zones was on 29th June'  not that long ago  Mr Hain neglected to
tell us what our US allies have been up to. We are after all only there to
provide a bit of moral support to the real player in the game; and perhaps
also to provide a sense of historical continuity from the days, the 1920s
and 1930s, when we pioneered the use of aerial bombing in Iraq.

Except that at that time our targets were the Kurds in the North and the
Shia in the South, just like Saddam Hussein, and for the same reason. At
that time we were responsible for trying to maintain the national unity of
the territory we had carved out of the Ottoman Empire. Since then, Saddam
Hussein has only assumed our mantle, as well, of course, as our methods.

The excuse for the present policy is that now we are defending the Kurds and
the Shia. But the last time the Iraqi army entered the Kurdish north was at
the invitation of one of the Kurdish groups to repel an invasion from Iran
(in conjunction with the other main Kurdish group). We duly punished the
Iraqis but we did so by dropping bombs in the South, well away from the
scene of the action. Why did we do that? because actually we did not want
Iran to succeed in invading Iraq. We wanted to punish the Iraqis, but we
also wanted them to win.

As for defending the Shia, Hain maintains that we only drop bombs when we
ourselves are attacked. So we don't drop them when the Shia are attacked.
Some defence that is!

But in any case we know very little about this situation. There is an
assumption that, left to his own devices, President Hussein would be sending
in aircraft against 'his own people' peacefully minding their own business.
In fact violence of this kind has generally occurred in a context of civil
war. So is there a civil war going on in Southern Iraq? If there is, given
our opinion of President Hussein, why aren't we engaged on the side of the
Shia? Answer: because we don't want them to win. We don't want an
independent or autonomous Shia state in southern Iraq. We want President
Hussein to succeed in his aim of preventing it.

Hain's points about sanctions have been looked at already in the CASI list
by Nathaniel Hurd. Hurd's main point as I understand him is that 'oil for
food', especially in the early days when a cap was imposed on Iraqi oil
sales, could never have met, and was not intended to meet, Iraq's minimum
humanitarian needs. Even now it is calculated to prevent the only thing that
can save the Iraqi people which is the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy. So
the Iraqi government may be criticised for administering it badly but even
if they administered it very well the problem would remain.

Outside what amounts to charity (the simple import of food and medicines
independent of any real functioning Iraqi economy) economic activity in Iraq
has been criminalised and those who are responsible for this state of
affairs  Mr Hain and his friends  are hardly in a position to complain
that it has become criminal. So remarks about whiskey and cigarettes are
singularly out of place.

Hain says that 'In northern Iraq, where Saddam's writ has not run, the same
sanctions apply but the situation is much better ...' We are left puzzled.
If the aim of sanctions is to keep President Hussein from acquiring weapons
of mass destruction why should they apply in the three Kurdish provinces
where his writ has not run? Why should we punishing the Kurds of all people?

While that question remains in the air it is surely reasonable to assume
that the sanctions on these provinces are applied in a comparatively
friendly manner. After all, the whole area is under our protection. It also
includes the best agricultural soil in the country. And a very large number
of presumably well supplied aid agencies who could be expected to have a
good effect on infant mortality rates.

Peter Hain's abrupt statement "He started a war with Iran ..." requires some
elaboration. Some of us remember the hysteria there was throughout Europe
and the US at the time of the Iranian revolution which it was widely, and
not unreasonably, assumed was a revolution for export. The first country in
line to receive that particular export was Iraq. There, with its Shia
majority and some of the most important Shia holy places, the threat was

It was about the time of the Iranian revolution that Saddam Hussein emerged
out of the shadows to take direct public control in Iraq, and I have
assumed, rightly or wrongly, that this was because he reckoned that a war
with Iran was inevitable. The war he launched (and I know he launched it,
because I worked it out with great difficulty at the time, when the media
were fudging the matter) was, so far as I can see, a pre-emptive strike, and
no-one who admires the Israelis for the six day war could blame him for
that. He could be blamed for the fact that it went badly wrong and provoked
the very thing he had feared  an Iranian attempt at invasion. For most of
the war, Iraq was on the defensive and trying to seek peace. Had Iran
succeeded in its ambitions the consequences would have been, shall we say,
interesting  which was why we generally supported Iraq (though the Irangate
scandal illustrates how deeply rooted is the human instinct for treachery).

Finally, on Hain's appeal to 'credulous critics' to say how else the
'international community' (ie the US and Britain) can prevent 'Saddam
building up the weapons of mass murder' or using these weapons against 'his
own people  the Kurds, the Shias  or his neighbours'. All the countries
surrounding Iraq possess weapons of mass murder in abundance, often sold to
them with great zeal by us. These are generally assumed to include large
arsenals of chemical and biological and, in the case of Israel, nuclear
weapons. Although noone could claim that Iraqis, who must, if human nature
is what it has been for the past few thousand years, be longing for revenge,
will never again pose any threat to anyone, but it would be a long time
before Iraq (which, we remember, was almost defeated by impoverished and
embargoed Iran) could build up anything like what its neighbours already

On the other hand, the policy of mass murder of the Iraqi population may be
a useful device for discouraging all potential troublemakers in the region,
apart from ourselves, of course. That seems to be what Hain is arguing, but
he doesn't really spell it out. It amounts to this: we must engage in mass
murder in order to prevent a fairly remote, but certainly real, possibility
of somebody else engaging in mass murder.
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