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[casi] The Coming October War in Iraq

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Assyrian News Watch
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Assyrian Chaldean Syriac


The Coming October War in Iraq

By William Rivers Pitt

t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday, 24 July, 2002

Room 295 of the Suffolk Law School building in downtown Boston was filled
to capacity on July 23rd with peace activists, aging Cambridge hippies and
assorted freaks. One of the organizers for the gathering, United For
Justice With Peace Coalition, handed out green pieces of paper that read,
"We will not support war, no matter what reason or rhetoric is offered by
politicians or the media. War in our time and in this context is
indiscriminate, a war against innocents and against children." Judging from
the crowd, and from the buzz in the room, that pretty much summed things

The contrast presented when Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in
Iraq, entered the room, could not have been more disparate. There at the
lectern stood this tall lantern-jawed man, every inch the twelve-year
Marine Corps veteran he was, who looked and spoke just exactly like a
bulldogging high school football coach. A whistle on a string around his
neck would have perfected the image.

"I need to say right out front," he said minutes into his speech, "I'm a
card-carrying Republican in the conservative-moderate range who voted for
George W. Bush for President. I'm not here with a political agenda. I'm not
here to slam Republicans. I am one."

Yet this was a lie - Scott Ritter had come to Boston with a political
agenda, one that impacts every single American citizen. Ritter was in the
room that night to denounce, with roaring voice and burning eyes, the
coming American war in Iraq. According to Ritter, this coming war is about
nothing more or less than domestic American politics, based upon
speculation and rhetoric entirely divorced from fact. According to Ritter,
that war is just over the horizon.

"The Third Marine Expeditionary Force in California is preparing to have
20,000 Marines deployed in the (Iraq) region for ground combat operations
by mid-October," he said. "The Air Force used the vast majority of its
precision-guided munitions blowing up caves in Afghanistan. Congress just
passed emergency appropriations money and told Boeing company to accelerate
their production of the GPS satellite kits, that go on bombs that allow
them to hit targets while the planes fly away, by September 30, 2002. Why?
Because the Air Force has been told to have three air expeditionary wings
ready for combat operations in Iraq by mid-October."

"As a guy who was part of the first Gulf War," said Ritter, who indeed
served under Schwarzkopf in that conflict, "when you deploy that much
military power forward - disrupting their training cycles, disrupting their
operational cycles, disrupting everything, spending a lot of money - it is
very difficult to pull them back without using them."
"You got 20,000 Marines forward deployed in October," said Ritter, "you
better expect war in October."

His purpose for coming to that room was straightforward: The Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, chaired by Democrat Joe Biden, plans to call a hearing
beginning on Monday, July 29th. The Committee will call forth witnesses to
describe the threat posed to America by Iraq. Ritter fears that much
crucial information will not be discussed in that hearing, precipitating a
war authorization by Congress based on political expediency and ignorance.
Scott Ritter came to that Boston classroom to exhort all there to demand of
the Senators on the Committee that he be allowed to stand as a witness.

Ritter began his comments by noting the interesting times we live in after
September 11th. There has been much talk of war, and much talk of war with
Iraq. Ritter was careful to note that there are no good wars - as a
veteran, he described war as purely awful and something not to be
trivialized - but that there is such a thing as a just war. He described
America as a good place, filled with potential and worth fighting for. We
go to just war, he said, when our national existence has been threatened.

According to Ritter, there is no justification in fact, national security,
international law or basic morality to justify this coming war with Iraq.
In fact, when asked pointedly what the mid-October scheduling of this
conflict has to do with the midterm Congressional elections that will
follow a few weeks later, he replied, simply, "Everything."
"This is not about the security of the United States," said this
card-carrying Republican while pounding the lectern. "This is about
domestic American politics. The national security of the United States of
America has been hijacked by a handful of neo-conservatives who are using
their position of authority to pursue their own ideologically-driven
political ambitions. The day we go to war for that reason is the day we
have failed collectively as a nation."

Ritter was sledding up a pretty steep slope with all this. After all,
Saddam Hussein has been demonized for twelve years by American politicians
and the media. He gassed his own people, and America has already fought one
war to keep him under control. Ritter's presence in Iraq was demanded in
the first place by Hussein's pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons of mass destruction, along with the ballistic missile technology
that could deliver these weapons to all points on the compass.

According to the Bush administration, Hussein has ties to the same Al Qaeda
terrorists that brought down the World Trade Center. It is certain that
Hussein will use these terrorist links to deliver a lethal blow to America,
using any number of the aforementioned weapons. The argument, propounded by
Bush administration officials on any number of Sunday news talk shows, is
that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, and the unseating of Saddam
Hussein, is critical to American national security. Why wait for them to
hit us first?

"If I were an American, uninformed on Iraq as we all are," said Ritter, "I
would be concerned." Furthermore, continued Ritter, if an unquestionable
case could be made that such weapons and terrorist connections existed, he
would be all for a war in Iraq. It would be just, smart, and in the
interest of national defense.
Therein lies the rub: According to Scott Ritter, who spent seven years in
Iraq with the UNSCOM weapons inspection teams performing acidly detailed
investigations into Iraq's weapons program, no such capability exists. Iraq
simply does not have weapons of mass destruction, and does not have
threatening ties to international terrorism. Therefore, no premise for a
war in Iraq exists. Considering the American military lives and the Iraqi
civilian lives that will be spent in such an endeavor, not to mention the
deadly regional destabilization that will ensue, such a baseless war must
be avoided at all costs.

"The Bush administration has provided the American public with little more
than rhetorically laced speculation," said Ritter. "There has been nothing
in the way of substantive fact presented that makes the case that Iraq
possesses these weapons or has links to international terror, that Iraq
poses a threat to the United States of America worthy of war."

Ritter regaled the crowd with stories of his time in Iraq with UNSCOM. The
basis for the coming October war is the continued existence of a weapons
program that threatens America. Ritter noted explicitly that Iraq, of
course, had these weapons at one time - he spent seven years there tracking
them down. At the outset, said Ritter, they lied about it. They failed to
declare the existence of their biological and nuclear programs after the
Gulf War, and declared less than 50% of their chemical and missile
stockpiles. They hid everything they could, as cleverly as they could.

After the first lie, Ritter and his team refused to believe anything else
they said. For the next seven years, the meticulously tracked down every
bomb, every missile, every factory designed to produce chemical, biological
and nuclear weaponry. They went to Europe and found the manufacturers who
sold them the equipment. They got the invoices and shoved them into the
faces of Iraqi officials. They tracked the shipping of these materials and
cross-referenced this data against the invoices. They lifted the
foundations of buildings destroyed in the Gulf War to find wrecked research
and development labs, at great risk to their lives, and used the reams of
paperwork there to cross-reference what they had already cross-referenced.
Everything they found was later destroyed in place.

After a while, the Iraqis knew Ritter and his people were robotically
thorough. Fearing military retaliation if they hid anything, the Iraqis
instituted a policy of full disclosure. Still, Ritter believed nothing they
said and tracked everything down. By the time he was finished, Ritter was
mortally sure that he and his UNSCOM investigators had stripped Iraq of
90-95% of all their weapons of mass destruction.

What of the missing 10%? Is this not still a threat? Ritter believes that
the ravages of the Gulf War accounted for a great deal of the missing
material, as did the governmental chaos caused by sanctions. The Iraqis'
policy of full disclosure, also, was of a curious nature that deserved all
of Ritter's mistrust. Fearing the aforementioned attacks, Iraq instituted a
policy of destroying whatever Ritter's people had not yet found, and then
pretending it never existed in the first place. Often, the dodge failed to
fool UNSCOM. That some of it did also accounts for a portion of that
missing 10%.

Ritter told a story about running down 98 missiles the Iraqis tried to
pretend never existed. UNSCOM got hold of the documentation describing
them, and demanded proof that they had, in fact, been destroyed. He was
brought to a field where, according to Iraqi officials, the missiles had
been blown up and then buried. At this point, Ritter and his team became
"forensic archaeologists," digging up every single missile component they
could find there.

After sifting through the bits and pieces to find parts bearing serial
numbers, they went to Russia, who sold Iraq the weapons in the first place.
They cross-referenced the serial numbers with the manufacturer's records,
and confirmed the data with the shipping invoices. When finished, they had
accounted for 96 of the missiles. Left over was a pile of metal with no
identifying marks, which the Iraqis claimed were the other two missiles.
Ritter didn't believe them, but could go no further with the investigation.

This story was telling in many ways. Americans mesmerized with stories of
lying Iraqis who never told the weapons inspectors the truth about anything
should take note of the fact that Ritter was led to exactly the place where
the Iraqis themselves had destroyed their weapons without being ordered to.
The pile of metal left over from this investigation that could not be
identified means Iraq, technically, could not receive a 100% confirmation
that all its weapons were destroyed. Along with the other mitigating
factors described above, it seems clear that 100% compliance under the
UNSCOM rules was impossible to achieve. 90-95%, however, is an impressive

The fact that chemical and biological weapons ever existed in the first
place demands action, according to the Bush administration. After all, they
could have managed to hide vast amounts of the stuff from Ritter's
investigators. Iraq manufactured three kinds of these nerve agents: VX,
Sarin and Tabou. Some alarmists who want war with Iraq describe 20,000
munitions filled with Sarin and Tabou nerve agents that could be used
against Americans.

The facts, however, allay the fears. Sarin and Tabou have a shelf life of
five years. Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of
weapons from Ritter's people, what they are now storing is nothing more
than useless and completely harmless goo.

The VX gas was of a greater concern to Ritter. It is harder to manufacture
than the others, but once made stable, it can be kept for much longer.
Ritter's people found the VX manufacturing facility that the Iraqis claimed
never existed totally destroyed, hit by a Gulf War bomb on January 23,
1991. The field where the material they had manufactured was subsequently
buried underwent more forensic archaeology to determine that whatever they
had made had also been destroyed. All of this, again, was cross-referenced
and meticulously researched.
"The research and development factory is destroyed," said Ritter. "The
product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been
destroyed. More importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was
going to be used for their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was
identified by the special commission - still packed in its crates in 1997 -
and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your

This is, in and of itself, a bold statement. Ritter himself and no weapons
inspection team has set foot in Iraq since 1998. Ritter believed Iraq
technically capable of restarting its weapons manufacturing capabilities
within six months of his departure. That leaves some three and one half
years to manufacture and weaponize all the horrors that has purportedly
motivated the Bush administration to attack.

"Technically capable," however, is the important phrase here. If no one
were watching, Iraq could do this. But they would have to start completely
from scratch, having been deprived of all equipment, facilities and
research because of Ritter's work. They would have to procure the
complicated tools and technology required through front companies, which
would be detected. The manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits
vented gasses that would have been detected by now if they existed. The
manufacture of nuclear weapons emits gamma rays that would have been
detected by now if they existed. We have been watching, via satellite and
other means, and we have seen none of this.

"If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof," said
Ritter, "plain and simple."
And yet we march to war, and soon. A chorus of voices was raised in the
room asking why we are going. What motivates this, if not hard facts and
true threats? According to Ritter, it comes down to opportunistic politics
and a decade of hard anti-Hussein rhetoric that has boxed the Bush
administration into a rhetorical corner.
Back in 1991, the UN Security Council mandated the destruction of Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions were placed upon Iraq to pressure
them to comply. The first Bush administration signed on to this, but also
issued a covert finding that mandated the removal of Saddam Hussein. Even
if all the weapons were destroyed, Bush Sr. would not lift the sanctions
until Hussein was gone.

Bush Sr., and Clinton after him, came to realize that talking about
removing Hussein was far, far easier than achieving that goal. Hussein was,
and remains, virtually coup-proof. No one could get close enough to put a
bullet in him, and no viable intelligence existed to pinpoint his location
from day to day. Rousing a complacent American populace to support the
massive military engagement that would have been required to remove Hussein
by force presented insurmountable political obstacles. The tough talk about
confronting Hussein continued, but the Bush and Clinton administrations
treaded water.

This lack of results became exponentially more complicated. Politicians
began making a living off of demonizing Hussein, and lambasting Clinton for
failing to have him removed. The roots of our current problem began to
deepen at this point, for it became acceptable to encapsulate a nation of
20 million citizens in the visage of one man who was hated and reviled in
bipartisan fashion. Before long, the American people knew the drill -
Saddam is an evil threat and must be met with military force, period.

In 1998, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation
Act. The weight of public American law now demanded the removal of Saddam
Hussein. The American government went on to use data gathered by UNSCOM,
narrowly meant to pinpoint possible areas of investigation, to choose
bombing targets in an operation called Desert Fox. Confrontation, rather
than resolution, continued to be the rule. By 1999, however, Hussein was
still in power.

"An open letter was written to Bill Clinton in the fall of 1999," said
Ritter, "condemning him for failing to fully implement the Iraqi Liberation
Act. It demanded that he use the American military to facilitate the Iraqi
opposition's operations inside Iraq, to put troops on the ground and move
on up to Baghdad to get rid of Saddam. Who signed this letter? Donald
Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick, Richard Perle,
and on and on and on."

The removal of Saddam Hussein became a plank in the GOP's race for the
Presidency in 2000. After gaining office, George W. Bush was confronted
with the reality that he and many within his administration had spent a
great amount of political capital promising that removal. Once in power,
however, he came to realize what his father and Clinton already knew -
talking tough was easy, and instigating pinprick military confrontations
was easy, but removing Hussein from power was not easy at all. His own
rhetoric was all around him, however, pushing him into that corner which
had only one exit. Still, like the two Presidents before him, he treaded
Then came September 11th. Within days, Bush was on television claiming that
the terrorists must have had state-sponsored help, and that state sponsor
must be Iraq. When the anthrax attacks came, Bush blamed Iraq again. Both
times, he had no basis whatsoever in fact for his claims. The habit of
lambasting Iraq, and the opportunity to escape the rhetorical box twelve
years of hard-talking American policy, were too juicy to ignore.
The dearth of definitive proof of an Iraqi threat against America began to
go international. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appeared before NATO not long
ago and demanded that they support America's looming Iraq war. Most of the
NATO nations appeared ready to do so - they trusted that America's top
defense official would not come before them and lie. But when they tried to
ask questions of him about the basis for this war, Rumsfeld absolutely
refused to answer any of them. Instead, he offered this regarding our utter
lack of meaningful data to support a conflict: "The absence of evidence is
not the evidence of absence."

Scott Ritter appeared before NATO some days after this at their invitation
to offer answers to their questions. Much of what he told them was mirrored
in his comments in that Boston classroom. After he was finished, 16 of the
19 NATO nations present wrote letters of complaint to the American
government about Rumsfeld's comments, and about our basis for war. American
UN representatives boycotted this hearing, and denounced all who gave ear
to Ritter.

Some have claimed that the Bush administration may hold secret evidence
pointing to a threat within Iraq, one that cannot be exposed for fear of
compromising a source. Ritter dismissed this out of hand in Boston. "If the
administration had such secret evidence," he said, "we'd be at war in Iraq
right now. We wouldn't be talking about it. It would be a fait accompli."
Our immediate military action in Afghanistan, whose ties to Al Qaeda were
manifest, lends great credence to this point.

Ritter dismissed oil as a motivating factor behind our coming war with
Iraq. He made a good defense of this claim. Yes, Iraq has the
second-largest oil reserves on earth, a juicy target for the
petroleum-loving Bush administration. But the U.S. already buys some 68% of
all the oil produced in Iraq. "The Navy ships in the Gulf who work to
interdict the smuggling of Iraqi oil," said Ritter, "are fueled by Iraqi
oil." Iraq's Oil Minister has stated on camera that if the sanctions are
lifted, Iraq will do whatever it takes to see that America's oil needs are
fulfilled. "You can't get a better deal than that," claimed Ritter.

His thinking on this aspect of the coming war may be in error. That sort of
logic exists in an all-things-being-equal world of politics and influence,
a world that has ceased to exist. Oil is a coin in the bargaining, peddled
as influence to oil-state congressmen and American petroleum companies by
the Iraqi National Congress to procure support for this baseless conflict.
Invade, says the INC, put us in power, and you will have all you want.
There are many ruling in America today, both in government and business,
who would shed innocent blood for this opportunity.

Ritter made no bones about the fact that Saddam Hussein is an evil man.
Like most Americans, however, he detests being lied to. His work in Iraq,
and his detailed understanding of the incredible technological requirements
for the production of weapons of mass destruction, leads him to believe
beyond question that there is no basis in fact or in the needs of national
security for a war in Iraq. This Marine, this Republican who seemed so
essentially hawkish that no one in that Boston classroom would have been
surprised to find wings under his natty blue sportcoat, called the man he
cast a Presidential vote for a liar.

"The clock is ticking," he said, "and it's ticking towards war. And it's
going to be a real war. It's going to be a war that will result in the
deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans and tens of thousands of
Iraqi civilians. It's a war that is going to devastate Iraq. It's a war
that's going to destroy the credibility of the United States of America. I
just came back from London, and I can tell you this - Tony Blair may talk a
good show about war, but the British people and the bulk of the British
government do not support this war. The Europeans do not support this war.
NATO does not support this war. No one supports this war."

It is of a certainty that few in the Muslim world support another American
war with Iraq. Osama bin Laden used the civilian suffering in Iraq under
the sanctions to demonstrate to his followers the evils of America and the
West. Another war would exacerbate those already-raw emotions. After 9/11,
much of the Islamic world repudiated bin Laden and his actions. Another
Iraq war would go a long way to proving, in the minds of many Muslims, that
bin Laden was right all along. The fires of terrorism that would follow
this are unimaginable.
Scott Ritter wants to be present as a witness on Monday when the Foreign
Relations Committee convenes its hearing, a hearing that will decide
whether or not America goes to war in Iraq. He wants to share the
information he delivered in that Boston classroom with Senators who have
spent too many years listening to, or propounding, rhetorical and
speculative fearmongering about an Iraqi threat to America that does not
exist. Instead, he wants the inspectors back in Iraq, doing their jobs. He
wants to try and keep American and Iraqi blood from being spilled in a
military exercise promulgated by right-wing ideologues that may serve no
purpose beyond affecting the outcome of the midterm Congressional elections
in November 2002.
"This is not theory," said Ritter in Boston as he closed his comments.
"This is real. And the only way this war is going to be stopped is if
Congress stops this war."
On the web: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. His new book, 'The
Greatest Sedition is Silence,' will be published soon by Pluto Press.

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