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Provocation In The Gulf - A Special Report


Provocation In The Gulf - A Special Report
  Friday, 20 November 1998, 6:46 pm
  Staff Reporter: Alastair Thompson


In the week since the world went to the brink of Armageddon in the Persian
Gulf for the second time this year, the game plan of the Allied US and UK
forces in the Gulf, and of their respective governments, is now clear. The
US and the UK, using UNSCOM as their pawn, are seeking to force Saddam
into again taking protest action against UNSCOM's inspectors. They will
then use this as a pretext to mount the attacks they appear to so dearly
wish to undertake. In their respective public statements both UK Prime
Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton have made it clear that
their fingers remain on the trigger. "Their will be no more warnings",
says Blair. Saddam Hussein had better not blink. 

The level of provocation against Iraq is far more subtle and destructive
than is immediately apparent and is occurring on numerous fronts. In this
special report on the gulf crisis, NewsRoom Political Editor Alastair
Thompson, explains the background to the latest war scare. In the process
he joins the dots on the complex interrelationships involved with the
crisis, backgrounds how the world nearly went to war, and warns that the
game is not yet over. (Thompson recently met the man at the centre of the
crisis UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler at a peace conference in
San Francisco as part of a Saatchi and Saatchi sponsored web broadcast


Last Saturday morning (November 14) at 7am Washington D.C Time the US
President was in discussions with four advisors - Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defence William Cohen, Chief of Defence
Admiral Shelton and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. 

They were discussing plans to launch an attack - which was due to begin at
9am. The aircraft were fueled up and ready to go. Some were possibly
already in the air. 

The plan was to bomb Iraq for several days without stop. Estimated
casualties from the Pentagon were 10,000 dead - a mid range estimate. It
had been decided not to pursue a "bomb-pause to negotiate-bomb" policy as
that might allow Iraqi military equipment to be hidden and the defenders
to prepare to fight back. 

According to the Washington Post, as the President and his advisors met
the first sketchy reports of Iraq's offer of a back-down were filtering

In spite of this, the paper says, Albright, Shelton and Cohen advised The
President to continue with the attack.  This was the best time. The
weather was right. The Iraqi's could be caught by surprise. 

The dove was Sandy Berger. 

We all know now what happened. At around 8am as CNN picked up the story of
the Iraqi backdown - the President called the bombers back to their bases.
Nevertheless another strike order was issued for the following day and
that too was rescinded only at the last minute. 

In the aftermath of the crisis both the US and UK were very keen to not be
seen as having been outwitted by the Iraqi's and launched into a series of
tirades about how the Iraqi's had backed down. (See "No bombs today,
thankyou very much"- Says Iraq for a different viewpoint. ) 

Then came the provocation. And it has been poured on thick and fast. 

The Iraqi's have always complained that UNSCOM was being run by the US and
the UK in a punitive vendetta against it. 

In the wake of the latest crisis the truth of the matter is now in the
open for all to see. 


Before the crisis UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler was insistent
that his mandate to operate in Iraq is solely in relation to removing
weapons of mass destruction - and not Saddam Hussein. 

Interviewed by State of the World webcast team member Jeremy Rose on
whether there was a mandate to seek the removal of Saddam Hussein, Richard
Butler was very clear in his response.  "No one has ever said that,
there's nothing in the resolution that says he should be removed from
power.  Nothing." 

Rose: "I believe [US Secretary Of State] Madeleine Albright has said

Butler:"That's her problem. There is nothing in the resolution of the
Security Council that says that Saddam Hussein doesn't have the right to
be the president of Iraq. All they say is that he has no right to have
weapons of mass destruction and the minute they are got rid of US
sanctions will go. So he has had that key in his hand for eight years. I
tell you he has chosen to have a biological weapons program rather than
the welfare of his people." 

However in the aftermath of the world going to the brink of war the
political leaders of the UK and US have made it clear they could not
disagree more.

We now have very obvious and clear statements from the US and UK that they
will seek to assist the internal Iraqi opposition, and seek to maintain
the sanctions regardless of the weapons inspections outcomes. (Sadly it
does not appear to have occurred to US or UK boffins that being associated
with the US in any way at all within Iraq will surely be a kiss of death
to any internal opposition.) 

The real problem however from an ethical, and international law,
standpoint for the allies is how much UNSCOM and the US and UK are now

Theoretically UNSCOM works for the Security Council and so a conflict of
view-point between the two would not pose a problem.

But the facts do not support this argument - however much Richard Butler
insists that this is the legally correct interpretation of the situation. 

Among the reasons to believe UNSCOM is not a truly independent agency. 

1. Former UNSCOM intelligence officer and weapons inspector Scott Ritter
says UNSCOM does not provide its data to the Security Council but only to
"some members" of it - the US and the UK. This, he said, was because other
members are "too sympathetic" to Iraq. (See.. INSIDE UNSCOM: The Scott
Ritter Tape (1) and INSIDE UNSCOM: The Scott Ritter Tape (2) ) [to follow]

2. The only excuse at international law for the present US and UK threats
against Iraq - which would otherwise simply be completely illegal - is
that they have been mandated to ensure the work of UNSCOM can continue. In
this way the belligerence and bullying stance of UNSCOM inspector Richard
Butler is complimentary to their stated objectives. 

3. It is now understood that the decisions taken by UNSCOM executive
chairman Richard Butler to withdraw his inspectors from Baghdad following
the October 31 suspension of cooperation by Iraq, were taken without
reference to the UN Security Council, rather they were taken simply on the
advice of the US. 

3. There is no imminent threat from Iraq. In a Press Conference yesterday
- Richard Butler again confirmed that so far as UNSCOM is concerned
chemical and missile weapons inspections matters are substantially
complete. (See Empty Clash Threatens Future Of UN l for an earlier report
of similar comments from Butler).

Butler went on in the press conference to describe the subject of
biological weapons as a "black-hole" and used this to justify his
continued insistence on international pressure being brought to bare on

The odd thing about this is that only three days prior to the latest
crisis Butler was pointing his fingers at the Iraqi Ambassador to the UN
Nizar Hamdoon, saying his answers to questions on the weaponisation of VX
(nerve gas)  were, "too pathetic for words". Recently he also drew
widespread criticism for claiming Iraq still had the chemical weapons
potential to wipe out Tel Aviv. At the time of the latest crisis the gas
masks were again on sale in Tel Aviv.

Whichever way it is looked at UNSCOM can not now be seen as an independent
agency. It's poodle like characteristics are becoming all too obvious. 

In these circumstances any military action taken by the US and UK against
Iraq can only be seen as illegitimate, morally and legally. 


Having missed out on their chance to pummel Saddam with a final solution
on November 14 the Allies have now changed their tack. Or have they?

Late this week the US UN Ambassador Peter Burleigh, said that a
comprehensive review of sanctions would not necessarily be followed by a
review of the sanctions policy against Iraq. 

Burleigh said the U.S.government has always viewed the comprehensive
review as just that -- a review of Iraqi obligations and the many
questions it hasn't answered. 

``We don't see the sanctions lifting as the end result of the
comprehensive review,'' he said. 

The extent to which these remarks are provocation to the Iraqi's needs to
be put in context to be fully understood. 

Since the beginning of the year Iraq has been demanding what it calls a,
"comprehensive review", of the weapons inspection process and the economic
sanctions imposed in support of UNSCOM's activities. It was this that led
the world to the brink in February and again last week. 

The Iraqi's - for increasingly obvious reasons - want the Security Council
to formally investigate the operation of UNSCOM - and particularly the
activities of its chairman Richard Butler. 

For equally obvious reasons the Iraqi's also want the Security Council to
investigate the impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi civilian population.
With other UN agencies estimating the number of children's deaths caused
by the sanctions at 750,000+ this too can hardly be seen as an
unreasonable demand. 

However it is not simply a matter of the Iraqi demand having some merit.
Provocation, to be effective, must be more personal, more needling.

In Burleigh's latest comments a pattern is emerging. 

On October 30, the day before Iraq issued the statement suspending all
cooperation with UNSCOM (which in turn led to the latest crisis), a letter
saying essentially the same thing as Peter Burleigh's latest comments was
sent to the Iraqi's, allegedly expressing the Security Council's view on
the Iraqi demand for a comprehensive review. 

The memorandum - which according to reports was drafted in the UK -
similarly made it clear that Comprehensive Review which found the Iraqi's
to have substantially complied, would not necessarily lead to a lifting of
the sanctions. 


Saddam is being sorely tested. While his UN ambassador Nizar Hamdoon says
he is confident the Security Council will not see things in the same way
that the US and the UK have, he is not the irrational ruler of the Iraqi

In trying circumstances the Iraqi government has placed itself at the
mercy of the Security Council as the US and UK openly state their
intentions to overthrow his government. 

Thus far Saddam's advisors Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and Ambassador
Hamdoon are playing it by the book. 

However very powerful forces are working against their attempts to
maintain the peace. 

Butler - who appears only too willing to participate in an Iraqi goading
campaign, now has his inspectors back on the ground in Iraq. The potential
for mischief making that he has in this position is virtually limitless. 

Perhaps equally important, in also admitting that the chemical weapon
threat is not really an issue any more, Butler is in effect implying that
the US and UK (and by implication the Security Council's view) is now,
"look we know we have no reason to bomb you, but we don't care. We don't
need one." 

Meanwhile the Security Council itself remains split and silent while its
two most powerful members are jamming the airwaves with threats against
Saddam's government. 

Over time frustration at making no progress will almost certainly wear
away the Iraqi resolve to count on the honour of the Security Council. 

The principal question that now remains is, does the Security Council have
any honour left? 

If it does nothing now an attack on Iraq is possibly inevitable. Once
again President Clinton will be forced to make a moral decision that no
living human should be forced to take. 


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