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Dear CASI list I sent the following to Helena Smith and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian. Best wishes Eric Herring -------------- Dear Ms. Smith and Mr. MacAskill I am writing to you regarding your article in The Guardian today (November 19) titled 'As arms inspectors arrive, row erupts over US smears'. I wrote the following to the letters page: 'Helena Smith and Ewen MacAskill state today (Front page, November 19) that 'The inspectors <HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS> abandoned Baghdad in December 1998, claiming Iraqis were obstructing their work.' This misleadingly implies that Iraqi obstruction caused the withdrawal. Richard Butler, chief UN weapons inspector, US Ambassador to the UN Peter Burleigh informed him that the US was about to bomb Iraq and advised him to remove the inspectors. Without even informing the UN Security Council, Butler 'told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.' According to Rolf Ekeus, chief UN weapons inspector 1991-97, members of the Security Council (read US and UK) were trying to provoke a confrontation with Iraq and succeeded.' I would like to elaborate on that letter. The Butler quote is from his memoir 'Saddam Defiant' p. 224 and Ekeus is quoted in Milan Rai's 'War Plan Iraq' p. 51. Your article was certainly an improvement on the mistaken assertion that Iraq 'expelled' or 'threw out' the weapons inspectors (I have appended a useful piece on this below). However, your article was still misleading. The confrontation which the United States in cooperation with Butler managed to engineer in 1998 involved a coordinated violation of agreed UN inspection procedures. This is detailed very well by Scott Ritter in 'War on Iraq' pages 51-54 and by Milan Rai in 'War Plan Iraq' pages 47-56 and especially pages 51-54. This material on the engineering of the confrontation was not available to Lecturer in Politics at Cambridge University Dr. Glen Rangwala when he wrote the piece below and hence it is more favourable to Butler than the facts now warrant. While there was much Iraqi obstruction, the inspectors' own reports in October and December 1998 showed that they had been able to eliminate all of the nuclear programme and most of the ballistic missile, chemical and biological programmes. See http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/s98-920.htm http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/s98-1172.htm For a very useful commentary see http://www.arabmediawatch.com/iraq/mythwmdevidence.htm The United States was opposed to continuation of the weapons inspections not because of their failure but because of their success. US official policy then as now was, in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions with which Iraq is meant to comply, to keep sanctions until Saddam is gone. The United States was faced with the prospect of the completion of the inspectors' mission and thus the lifting of the sanctions. Even Butler admitted in December 1998: 'we might have a satisfactory account of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programmes within six to eight weeks' (quoted in Rai p. 64). And now the United States is seeking to wreck the weapons inspection process because it wants war. See my article 'The Choice on Iraq' on my website http://www.ericherring.com/, Milan Rai's book, and http://www.arabmediawatch.com/iraq/mythoflifting.htm Hence, in comparison to your article, a more accurate but wordier formulation would be 'Without UN Security Council authorisation and despite the near-completion of their disarmament mission, chief UN weapons inspector ordered his staff out of Iraq so that they would not be present during the illegal US and British bombing of Iraq.' At the very least I would suggest: 'The inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 in order to not be present when the United States and Britain bombed Iraq in Operation Desert Fox.' Sincerely Dr. Eric Herring Senior Lecturer in International Politics University of Bristol -------------------------------------- http://www.arabmediawatch.com/iraq/mythofunscom98.htm Iraq and the exit of the UN weapons inspectors in December 1998 In April 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, the United Nations Security Council established an ad hoc Special Commission, UNSCOM, to carry out on-site inspections of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile capabilities, and to destroy (or monitor the Iraqi destruction of) any facilities that were found. UNSCOM carried out inspections intermittently in Iraq until December 1998. During this period, UNSCOM often complained that the Iraqi authorities were obstructing its monitoring work. Iraq, in turn, claimed that UNSCOM was overly intrusive, especially in its attempts to search so-called "presidential sites" without giving any prior notice; and that its arms inspections teams included US "spies". On 15 December 1998, Richard Butler, the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, reported to the Security Council that Iraq had failed to grant UNSCOM full and unconditional access to (at least) four sites in Iraq. In anticipation of the airstrikes that the US and UK governments were threatening, Butler ordered weapons inspectors to be withdrawn on the following day, December 16. Airstrikes - "Operation Desert Fox" - immediately followed. These events were reported accurately at the time by most major media outlets. For example, Josh Friedman wrote in the New York Times on 17 Dec 1998: "While the 133 [UN humanitarian] workers had been left behind, more than 185 others, most of them arms inspectors, had been evacuated yesterday by air to neighboring Bahrain and by car to Jordan ... Butler abruptly pulled all of his inspectors out of Iraq shortly after handing Annan a report yesterday afternoon on Baghdad's continued failure to cooperate with UNSCOM". The chronology on UNSCOM's own website reports this event: 16 Dec 1998: The Special Commission withdraws its staff from Iraq. In withdrawing the arms inspectors, Richard Butler acted unilaterally: he did not wait for the Security Council to assess his report and to make any decisions in consequence of it. Instead, Peter Burleigh, the US ambassador to the UN, "advised" Butler to withdraw his staff from Iraq and Butler did not consult other Security Council members. The events are recounted in more detail in Butler's book, The Greatest Threat (2000), p.210 (or in the altenate edition,Saddam Defiant , p.224): "I received a telephone call from U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission [...] Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be 'prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.' [...] I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq." Given that the chain of events is so well established, it is surprising that many commentators and politicians have claimed since 1999 that Iraq "expelled" the weapons inspectors in December 1998. This mistake has been made not only by hawks such as President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address ("the axis of evil" speech), Dick Cheney (before he became vice-president), Alexander Rose, the Canadian right-wing Washington correspondent of the National Post, and the editorial writers of the Sunday Times. It has also been repeated by those who have shown concern for the humanitarian situation in Iraq, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson Menzies Campbell, and the usually superb Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker. The BBC often makes this mistake, and usually acknowledges its error when it is pointed out to them. Even the US Department of State's "Myths and Facts About Iraq" acknowledges that this claim is mistaken. It reports: "The inspectors were not thrown out of Iraq." It was hardly unpredictable that the Iraqi regime would refuse after December 1998 to re-admit the arms inspectors who had been withdrawn so that Iraq could be bombed. Ironically, Iraq has been giving the same reason that the US offered in December 2001 for refusing to sign up to a convention that would be effective in prohibiting biological weapons: on-site inspectors are unacceptable because they would spy. In the present climate of tension in relations between Iraq and other countries - with widespread speculation that the US will justify military attacks on Iraq in terms of the absence of arms inspectors - a valid account of the events that led to that absence would seem especially important. ---------------------- Dr. Eric Herring Department of Politics University of Bristol 10 Priory Road Bristol BS8 1TU England, UK Office tel. +44-(0)117-928-8582 Mobile tel. +44-(0)7771-966608 Fax +44-(0)117-973-2133 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Politics http://www.ericherring.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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