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A couple of cheap polemics, that may nevertheless be of interest. Both are to appear in the Sept edition of Labour Left Briefing. http://www.labourleftbriefing.org.uk/ Comments appreciated, as always, especially if critical. 1. Glen Rangwala examines a US agenda fixed on aggression. When the Prime Minister was touring the Middle East in October last year to drum up support for the war on Afghanistan, he was unequivocal on one point. After Blair held talks with Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, a senior British official told journalists there would be no steps taken against Iraq unless there was "absolute evidence" of Iraq's complicity in the events of 11th September. Those who attended the meeting, including the BBC political editor, reporters from the Guardian and the Independent, and the Reuters correspondent, all came to the view that Blair was attempting to reassure the Arab world of the limited aims of the "war against terror". The message was that the Arab countries could endorse or acquiesce in the war against Afghanistan without fearing a new regional conflagration. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon emphasised the point at a London press conference later that month: "There is no hidden agenda; this is not a prelude to a wider war. Our objectives are linked to the events of 11th September ... there is no evidence linking Iraq to the events of 11th September; there is no evidence either so far that links Iraq to the anthrax attacks in the United States. It's important that we emphasise those things." The about-turn in the government's position, with tacit though substantial support now for US plans to invade Iraq, amounts to more than Blair's willingness to be blown whichever way the wind from across the Atlantic sends him. It demonstrates the loss of Britain's credibility as an independent actor in the diplomatic world. On 22nd August, Jack Straw flickered back into life to tell the BBC that the prospects for an invasion of Iraq would "recede" if Iraq readmitted weapons inspectors. Even if Straw had ruled out British participation in an invasion if weapons inspectors were admitted - which he did not do - it would be difficult to take him seriously, given how easily British ministers have switched position on Iraq whenever US leaders lay down the line. In fact the Bush administration has abandoned all effort to induce the Iraqi government to allow weapons inspections. During August, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice joined the president and vice-president in asserting that renewed inspections would not be sufficient to alter the aim of toppling the Iraqi leadership. Most explicit in this regard was John Bolton, US under-secretary for arms control, who told the BBC on 3rd August: "Our policy ... insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not." In contrast to British statements that Iraq should implement Security Council resolutions, Bolton has gone on record - in an article entitled "Is There Really 'Law' in International Affairs?" - to claim that international law is a malicious figment of the academic imagination, harmful to the pursuit of national interests, and best ignored. He presumably believes that Security Council resolutions - effective only due to a particular legal treaty, the United Nations Charter - are also best brushed aside when inconvenient. Hans Blix, the current head of the weapons inspectorate (Unmovic), said on 18th August that, "if the Iraqis conclude that an invasion by someone is inevitable then they might conclude that it's not very meaningful to have inspections." It even has a clear disincentive if it believes that the weapons inspectors will - like their predecessors in Unscom - collect information that the US government would use to plot its overthrow or provoke crises that will be used to justify the bombing of Iraq. That Unscom was engaged in such actions is now beyond doubt. Its executive director from 1991 to 1997, Rolf Ekéus, said on Swedish radio at the end of July that the US tried to gather information about Iraq's security services, its conventional military capacity and even the location of Saddam Hussein through the supposedly impartial weapons inspections programme. It is not hard to guess why the US wanted such information. Given this, Iraq has tried to obtain assurances from the UN that the readmittance of inspectors would be linked to an end to the US agenda of "regime change". It put a series of questions, some of which were on this theme, to the UN Security Council in March this year. A US spokesman dismissed these questions as a "distraction" and the US mission at the UN blocked the Security Council from making a reply. Since March, Iraq has also been making offers to allow inspections by experts from the US and UK. None of these offers have met the UN standard for unlimited and unimpeded access, and have been rejected for that reason by the UK. However, it could be more relevant to consider how such inspections could help uncover Iraq's non-conventional weapons, if fears about these are genuine. ---- 2. What regime change? Glen Rangwala surveys the former associates of Saddam Hussein that the US is planning to install in Iraq. For those on the left who recognise that the current Iraqi government is one of the most repressive in the world today, casting aspersions on Iraqi opposition movements must seem to be a rancorous, even perfidious, activity. Many in these movements have suffered directly at the hands of a regime that has committed violations of human rights on a scale that is - in the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in 1993 - "so grave that it has few parallels in the years that have passed since the Second World War". Their programmes for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, some requiring the support of the US military, often arise from unimpeachable motives to advance democracy, freedom and peace. Nevertheless, the various Arab opposition groups promoted by the US as potential collaborators in the plans for an invasion of Iraq, and as replacements for the current regime, do not provide models for what a democratic, responsible Iraq would look like after Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the Bush administration has favoured individuals who have a history of engaging in severe repression within Iraq. The plans circulated by the Bush administration all rely on the prospect of extensive defections from the Iraqi army, with units turning against the regime to ally themselves with the tiny opposition guerrilla forces inside Iraq. For this purpose, the US has aggressively courted Iraqis who have risen through the ranks of the Iraqi military, and thus retain personal knowledge of, and can command some respect from, serving Iraqi officers. The US has also been recruiting former senior members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, to gain a better understanding of the attempts that the party will make to mobilise citizens. The pay-back may well be that these individuals will be placed in positions of power if the current regime is overthrown. One military clique would be replaced with another, acting in as brutal a way as its predecessor to fulfil Washington's ambitions for Iraq. The slogan may be "regime change", but "leadership change" may be a more appropriate description. The Iraqi National Accord (INA), the group that has become the protégé of the CIA, is a prime example of this: it is made up of Baathists and former military officers who have turned against Saddam Hussein. Before it launched a failed coup in 1996 in league with the CIA, it made its name by planting bombs, including in a Baghdad cinema in 1995 that killed a number of civilians. Rather than arresting the INA's leaders on suspicion of terrorism, Washington has openly funded the INA from 1999, and invited its head to meet Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. Similarly, the Iraqi National Movement, a grouping of some 40 former Sunni Muslim military officers has received financial support from the US State Department since February 2002. The Iraqi National Coalition is another umbrella group of former officers led by former Brigadier Tawfiq al-Yasiri, including former General Saad Ubeidi, once head of psychological operations in the Iraqi army. It hosted a conference in London in July, and established a "military council". Although the Coalition disavows a future role as a ruling junta, it already stridently publicises its views on global and economic issues, leading one to believe that it has an agenda beyond the liberation of Iraq. Other recent graduates from the Iraqi military who have held meetings with US officials include Brigadier-General Najib al-Salihi, heading the Free Officers' Movement, who commanded an armoured division of the Republican Guard in the invasion of Kuwait; General Fawzi Shamari, heading the Iraqi Officers Movement, who now admits to having ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980-88 war; and Wafiq Sammara'i, now heading the National Salvation Council and a one-time chief of military intelligence. The most high-ranking defector is General Nizar al-Khazraji, who was until 1991 Saddam's chief of staff. A number of Kurdish and human rights groups in his current base of Denmark have collected testimonies with a view to prosecution that allege that he planned the devastating chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, which killed 5,000 people. A prominent critic of the Iraqi regime has also testified that he witnessed Khazraji kicking a Kurdish child to death in 1988. In contrast to these military groupings, the umbrella Iraqi National Congress (INC) was given priority at the Washington meeting of 9th August. The INC is led mostly by two bankers, Ahmad al-Chalabi and Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, the cousin of King Faysal II who was assassinated in 1958. Neither Chalabi nor Sharif Ali have been to Baghdad since the 1950s. Part of their attraction for Washington may be that they can take the role of the figurehead leaders of a post-Saddam Iraq. Weakened due to their lack of political experience in the country, the actual power would remain with the military officers that the US installs behind their throne. The US has a more difficult relationship with the explicitly sectarian groupings within Iraq. The two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Shi'a revivalist and Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, have all voiced doubts about the prospects for a US invasion. Much more forthright still have been the two major non-Baathist parties that were founded inside Iraq. The Iraqi Communist Party, founded in 1934 and at its height bringing out demonstrations of half a million activists, has joined together with their historic enemies in the Islamic Daawa party, which commanded in 1977 the largest ever demonstrations against the Baathist regime. Together, as the Coalition of Iraqi National Forces, they have declared themselves not only against the regime of Saddam Hussein, but also against foreign interference and economic sanctions. Unlike the non-Kurdish groupings mentioned so far, they have legitimacy inside Iraq as popular, anti-regime movements. Those who want to know what the Iraqi people think of US warmongering should take note. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk