The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
As my monthly rant for Labour Left Briefing contains a section about Blair's argument about sanctions, I thought I'd post it onto this list. Comments, insults etc gladly appreciated. Past articles are archived at: http://middleeastreference.org.uk/writings.html Print copies of the March edition, in which an edited version of this article appears, are available on request. --- Blair's crumbling case for war Dr Glen Rangwala of Newnham College, Cambridge, assesses the new argument for an invasion of Iraq The appearance of the Prime Minister's new "moral case" for war from his Glasgow conference speech of 15 February derives from the failure of his prior justifications for invading Iraq. The claims about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons facilities inside Iraq that formed the heart of his September 2002 dossier have been discredited through the inspections of those facilities by United Nations teams, who have found no evidence for the production of these weapons. As for the later dossier on an "infrastructure of concealment" inside Iraq, the government's case was subject to public humiliation when a certain contributor to the Briefing spotted that large chunks of it were plagiarised from a Californian doctoral student's thesis that used documents which were at least 12 years old as its primary source. US Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council on 5 February was more substantive. He attempted to make the case that inspectors would not be able to find any illicit weapons that Iraq might hold: Iraq, Powell argued, would always be able to hide its weapons facilities. Therefore, as the subtext of the argument went, the only way to achieve Iraq's disarmament was to pull the inspectors out and to invade. The only problem was the inspectors themselves had a very different perspective. Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei presented to the Security Council an overview of the work of their inspections agencies on 14 February. They took issue with no less than 16 of Powell's claims about Iraq. Powell had argued that Iraq was covertly receiving information about imminent inspections, and was using this information to move its weapons before the inspectors arrived, thus defeating the entire purpose of the inspections regime. Blix took this claim head-on. "Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly," said Blix. "In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming." With the inspectors arguing for the success of their work, and acknowledging Iraq's substantive cooperation, the argument for pulling the inspectors out could scarcely look weaker. The day after the inspectors presented their findings, two million people were on the streets of London to protest against the war. That morning, in anticipation of the demonstration, Blair changed his argument. Now the goal was not to remove the threat of non-conventional weapons; it was to liberate the people of Iraq from their government. Blair had already chosen his corner; now he managed to box himself into it. Leaving Saddam Hussein in place, Blair argued, would be "inhumane". This was not so much a shifting of the goal posts, but the start of a whole new ball game. Blair's new argument has three strands to it: the economic sanctions, the human rights violations and the purported urgings of Iraqi groups and exiled individuals. All these themes had been mentioned before by the British government, but they now took centre stage in the justification for war. The justification about economic sanctions was first aired by Blair on 12 February in the Commons: "The only alternative to disarmament by the United Nations is that we keep sanctions in place year on year, and I am simply saying that that is also a moral choice with bad and devastating consequences for the Iraqi people." Given that the Prime Minister was claiming that Iraq was not disarming, he was presenting the policy alternatives as either war or sanctions. Blair described the effects of sanctions: "let us look at the morality of the present policy that we have towards Iraq and the policy that we have had for the past 12 years—a policy of sanctions that, because of the way that Saddam has implemented those sanctions, leaves Iraq in this state: with 130 deaths per 1,000 children under the age of 5, with 60 per cent. of the population on food aid, with half the Iraqis in rural areas having no access to safe water". The new attention to the dire poverty that Iraqis have been in for the past 12 years is surely welcome. It marks a sea change from when former Foreign Office minister Peter Hain dismissed campaigners' concerns about sanctions in November 2000 by claiming (inaccurately) that there were no reliable figures on child malnutrition in Iraq. What is still absent in the Prime Minister's statement is an acknowledgement of responsibility for the effects of sanctions. He continues to blame "the way that Saddam has implemented those sanctions", an assessment not borne out by the facts or shared by the United Nations agencies in Iraq. One of the most striking features about sanctions is not only the level of deprivation inside Iraq, but also the change that has taken place since 1990. The findings of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) are that there has been a surge in the childhood mortality in Iraq from one in eighteen children not reaching their fifth birthday in the 1984-1989 period to over one in eight children in the period 1994-1999. The regime has remained the same, but there have been some 500,000 deaths of children by this analysis that would not have taken place if the developments of the 1980s had continued. The argument of the Foreign Office has been that Saddam Hussein has abused the sanctions regime for propaganda purposes. Clearly, the Iraqi government has on occasion wasted the revenues that it has been allowed to earn through oil exports, as part of the "oil-for-food" programme. But this has been a drop in an ocean of economic despair. During twelve years of sanctions, Iraq has generated about as much oil revenue in total as it did in the single peak year prior to the implementation of sanctions, when the Iraqi population was half of what it is today. Through the oil sales, Iraqis have earned the equivalent of 50-60 cents per day for the past six years, a sum that has to provide for all their needs. The petty frivolities of the Iraqi government are relatively insignificant when compared to the enormous drop in the earnings of Iraqis caused by the sanctions system. In addition, the Foreign Office has claimed that Iraq has not properly distributed the supplies it has received through the oil-for-food programme. This claim receives no support from the United Nations in Iraq, responsible for overseeing the distribution of supplies. In 2000, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation called the Iraqi rationing system "effective", and said that famine had been averted in Iraq because of this effectiveness. In February 2002, Unicef described the distribution of food rations by the Iraqi government as "a massive logistic operation that appears to work flawlessly". All other UN reports commenting on the issue give similar pictures. The Prime Minister asserts that the alternative to war is continued sanctions. However, with weapons inspectors in place in Iraq, the previous excuse for sanctions - that Iraq could import prohibited weapons in their absence - falls away. By not considering the lifting of sanctions without war, Blair is refusing to substantively improve the humanitarian condition of the people inside Iraq, his purported goal. To justify war in the name of human rights - Blair's second strand - is to ignore the very real destruction that would be caused by war itself. The people of Iraq are in a highly vulnerable position, dependent upon a government ration for all their basic food supplies, and upon a fragile infrastructure for their water and sanitation. The lack of attention to the humanitarian consequences of war was shown in the Prime Minister's press conference of 18 February. Blair was quizzed about a confidential report from the United Nations dated 7 January that was leaked to the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, which on the basis of the extensive experience of the UN agencies in Iraq, assessed that in a "medium" scenario of conflict "30 percent of children under 5 would be at risk of death from malnutrition". As there are 4.2 million children under 5, this makes a total of 1.26 million children at risk of death - by the UN's own estimate - in the event of war. Blair did not even address the problem in his flustered reply, reverting instead to his theme of the deaths caused by the human rights abuses of the Iraqi regime. Why the UK should kill in the space of a projected two months of conflict potentially as many people as the Saddam Hussein regime has taken 23 years to murder was left unexplained. His silence on this theme was understandable, given that the UK has yet to commit a single penny for humanitarian work to alleviate the consequences of war. The US has committed $15 million, which is the same amount it spends on its military every 21 minutes. If the Prime Minister had explored this theme, it would have been made apparent just how low the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is on the scale of UK and US priorities. Blair's trump card has been to invoke the support that certain Iraqi opposition groups and individuals have given to war. He published a series of letters from exiles to this effect. One of the letters Blair brandished was from Hamid al-Bayati, the London-based spokesman of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is suspected of having organised the armed attack on the US embassy in Kuwait in December 1983 and attempting the assassination of the amir of Kuwait in April 1985, in response to both those countries' support for Iraq during the war with Iran. The distance from those acts to being called upon by the UK Prime Minister to justify his foreign policy stance is clearly not so long. The US likewise has been able to call upon the Iraqi National Congress (INC) since its creation in 1992 to support its military adventures. The INC is the manufactured boy band of Iraqi politics, with its song sheet and stage management coming straight from the Pentagon. Even their name was reputedly chosen by the Rendon group, a public relations firm that has worked closely with successive US administrations to sell their policy lines. Unsurprisingly, these groups have little support inside Iraq. Surveys in the autonomous Kurdish north of Iraq, and by the International Crisis Group in Baghdad-controlled Iraq, have shown widespread distrust for them. The historic Iraqi opposition, which is viewed more positively - the Iraqi Communist Party, the Islamic Call party and groupings of Arab nationalists - have all voiced their opposition to a US invasion. Given the lack of support inside Iraq, the difficulties in establishing a pro-US democracy after an invasion are apparent. Marc Grossman, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the Senate foreign relations committee on 11 February that a military occupation could last "two years" and would involve an American military governor, control over civilian ministries and the Iraqi oil industry. He played down any hope for the Iraqi opposition playing a major role in the governance of the country. SCIRI's response was to send up to 2000 members of its armed forces into northern Iraq to display its potential to fracture the anti-Saddam alliance. "While we are listening to what the Iraqis are telling us, the United States Government will make its decisions based on what is in the national interest of the United States," said Grossman. That interest, for a stable Iraq, appears to involve keeping the bureaucracy and army structures of the current regime in place. In these circumstances, whether exchanging President Saddam Hussein for General Tommy Franks or Premier Chalabi will make a substantive difference to human rights inside Iraq, even in the long-term, is very much an open question. _______________________________________________ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk