IRAQ: Powell's dishonest case for war



"Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions", US Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the UN Security Council on February 5. "These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries." He claimed he had delivered "incontrovertible" proof that Iraq is concealing the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Powell lied.

While Powell's presentation included grainy satellite images, dubious phone intercepts and PowerPoint slides, there were only assertions based on wild speculation as to what the council was being shown and on unsubstantiated "intelligence".

The aim of Powell's performance on behalf of the leaders of the "axis of empire" — the US, Britain and Australia — was not to convince sceptical members of the UN Security Council of Iraq's "guilt" but to try and overcome the growing mass opposition to a war.

Powell played up allegations of "links" between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorism, leaving the option open for the Bush gang to portray an invasion of Iraq as another Afghanistan war in the event of not receiving UN endorsement for its attack.

For example, Powell attempted to exploit people's fear of attacks by terrorists using biological weapons, telling the council that "less than a teaspoon full of dry anthrax in an envelope shutdown the US Senate in the fall of 2001". Powell forgot to explain that the type of Anthrax used in that attack, the Ames strain, has been traced to US military laboratories, not Iraq.

Powell repeated stale accusations that the 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin, 25,000 litres of anthrax, 29,984 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents and 550 mustard gas shells, the destruction of which Iraq cannot fully document and therefore "could" still possess, are being expertly whisked from their hiding places moments before UN weapons inspectors can discover them.

This is supposedly being achieved despite the fact that, confirmed by UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) head Hans Blix, many of the inspections are unannounced. As Iraq's UN ambassador Mohammed Alrouri pointed out, no chemical or biological weapons residue has been found in the 527 inspections of 321 sites. Inspectors have high-tech detecting equipment that can test soil, water and air for the most minute traces of banned weapons residue.

Powell also reiterated long-standing US claims that Iraq possesses "mobile" bioweapons storage and research facilities. However, the February 5 British Guardian reported that Blix had rejected Powell's claim that "one of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents".

Conveniently for Powell, these "mobile biolabs" from the outside are "indistinguishable" from ordinary trucks or train carriages (a highlight of the presentation was an artist's impression of the biolabs. It was a drawing of ... a truck).

The "evidence" for the existence of these mobile bioweapons factories? The testimony of four Iraqi defectors, whose say-so is considered "incontrovertible" proof! Powell said that "confirmation" of the existence of the trucks came in 2000 — conveniently, two years after UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq.

Claims debunked

The February 5 Guardian also reported that "Dr Blix said he had already inspected two alleged mobile labs and found nothing: 'Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found.'"

Powell asserted in his report: "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons."

This flies in the face of the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency to the January 27 meeting of the UN Security Council. The IAEA reported that "within the next few months, barring exceptional circumstances and provided there is sustained proactive cooperation by Iraq, [the IAEA believed it would be able] to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program".

On February 3, Dr Imad Khadduri, a former top nuclear scientist in Iraq, told the Reuters wire service: " All we had after the war from that nuclear power program were ruins, memoirs, and reports of what we had done ... on the nuclear weapon side I am more than definitely sure nothing has been done. For Bush to continue brandishing this image of a superhuman Iraqi nuclear power program is ... fallacious misinformation."

Proving just how desperate Washington is for any "evidence" of an ongoing Iraqi nuclear weapons program, Powell raised the repeatedly discredited accusation that Iraq's import of aluminium tubes was for the enrichment of uranium. "Most US experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium", he claimed. "Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon."

Who are these "other experts"? None other than the IAEA inspectors, who have examined the tubes and assessed that they are consistent with rocket manufacture and could not be used in the construction of a centrifuge without "extensive modification".

Powell played three "phone intercepts" during his presentation, which he claimed proved that Iraqi officials have attempted to conceal "illegal" weapons. However, Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Arab-American Action Network and a founder of the respected Palestine solidarity web site Electronic Intifada, noted in an analysis of Powell's speech (at <>): "None of the recordings, if real, amounted to a 'smoking gun'. If they were real, they could be incriminating in a certain context, but they could also have been taken out of a context in which they were entirely innocent. The evidentiary value of the alleged recordings is close to nil."

Abunimah also pointed out that the "recordings could easily have been faked, as the United States has a history of doing. In 2001, US public radio's This American Life, broadcast recently declassified tapes from a clandestine radio station set up by the CIA in the 1950s to help provoke a coup against the democratically elected government of Guatemala. The radio station, which broadcast completely fake 'opposition' voices, is credited with helping bring a repressive American client regime to power...

"More directly related to current events, New York's Village Voice newspaper reported late last year how, during the 1990s, a Harvard graduate student celebrated for his convincing impersonation of Saddam Hussein was hired by the high-powered US government-linked public relations firm, the Rendon Group, to make fake propaganda broadcasts of Saddam's voice to Iraq."

Scary stories

But the section of the Powell report most likely to earn him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction is the accusation of links between Hussein's regime and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group. Possibly the addition of "It was a dark and stormy night" would have made more convincing Powell's rhetoric of a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organisations and modern methods of murder".

The claims revolve around Abu Masub al Zarqawi, a veteran of the Afghan war in the 1980s, in which he fought alongside the US-backed mujaheddin. Zarqawi is linked to an allegedly al Qaeda-aligned group called Ansar al-Islam, which is based in northern Iraq — the area beneath the US-enforced "no-fly" zone controlled by Washington's Kurdish allies, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The BBC reported on February 5 that its correspondent Andrew Gilligan had seen a top secret document produced by the British intelligence services which contradicted the White House's claims of an al Qaeda link to the Iraqi government. It states, according to the BBC's Barnaby Mason, "While there has been contact between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime in the past, we believe that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideology". According to the BBC, "the UK government has in effect acknowledged the authenticity" of the document.

Powell told the Security Council that Zarqawi had "travelled to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day". A January 30 BBC report noted that "there is not any evidence, nor is it claimed, that Mr Zarqawi received anything other than medical treatment in Iraq".

Indeed, by what appears to be Powell's primary criteria of complicity in terrorism — the residence of al Qaeda-linked individuals in a country — in Europe alone, France, Britain, Spain, Italy and Russia should now be targeted as part of the "war on terror" (not to mention the US itself, where the 9/11 hijackers were resident for lengthy periods). In Britain, a group linked to al Qaeda have been allegedly found manufacturing the poison ricin — considered a "weapon of mass destruction". Time to send the carriers to the English Channel, Dubya?

Ensuring that his case haemorrhaged further, Powell used testimony by "detained" al Qaeda members that "tells us that Saddam was more willing to assist al Qaeda after the 1998 bombings of [US] embassies in Kenya and Tanzania". The December 26 Washington Post revealed how al Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan are "encouraged" to cooperate with US interrogations: "Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights — subject to what are known as 'stress and duress' technique."

If this torture doesn't give Washington the answers it wants, prisoners "are turned over ... to foreign intelligence services whose practice of torture has been documented by the US government and human rights organisations".

Indeed, the accusations of Iraq's "links" to al Qaeda are too far-fetched even for sections of the CIA, which is supposed to have provided "proof" for Powell's allegations. According to the February 1 New York Times, "Some analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency have complained that senior administration officials have exaggerated the significance of some intelligence reports about Iraq, particularly about its possible links to terrorism, in order to strengthen their political argument for war".

In his 90-minute presentation, Powell merely repeated tired White House propaganda, much of which has already been dismissed by Hans Blix. The truth remains that all UN inspections have "revealed" in Iraq is that Baghdad once had biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

The Reuters wire service reported on January 30 that tests on the one "discovery" made by inspectors, rocket warheads of the type used by Iraq to deliver chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, revealed that they had not contained "any chemical agents".

The satellite images offered by Powell reveal only that vehicles enter and leave Iraqi military installations, which — given the massive build-up of a hostile military force on Iraq's borders — is hardly proof of weapons of mass destruction.

Little impact

But for the White House warmongers, and their allies in London and Canberra, the issue has never been weapons of mass destruction. After all, as a January 25 article in the Los Angeles Times reported, the Pentagon is "quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq". The one Middle East state that does possess weapons of mass destruction is Israel, Washington's closest ally in the region.

Nor is the US war drive in response to a country "defying" the UN — the two countries who have most frequently defied UN resolutions are Israel and Turkey, another close Washington ally.

Powell's speech seemed to have little impact on the 15 members of the Security Council. Only the US and Britain stated that Powell had proved the need for war. Tang Jiaxuan, China's foreign minister said that the weapons inspectors "are not in a position to draw conclusions and they have suggested continuing the inspections... We should respect their views ... and support the continuation of their work".

The New York Times reported on February 6: "'They have failed in front of the world to prove that he's a threat to the world,' Jacques Myard, a majority member of the French parliament, said of Saddam Hussein. 'The US really lost a great opportunity today.'"

For the French government, the Security Council permanent member most critical of the White House's pro-war stance, two issues remain to be settled before it will relent to Washington's demand for war.

First, Paris must deal with the French people's overwhelming opposition to a war, UN-endorsed or not. Second, France's capitalist rulers want to ensure that they will be a "player" in a pro-imperialist post-Hussein Iraq, especially in terms of access to Iraq's lucrative oil reserves for French companies.

Similar factors will influence how Russia, another permanent council member with veto power, and Germany, a non-veto wielding council member, will cast their votes on a Security Council resolution to endorse military action. Popular opposition to war remains high in both countries.

The February 5 British Guardian quoted Jacques Beltran of the French Institute of International Relations: "To say that France and Germany's positions were the same is an error. Germany is against a war under any circumstances; that is not and has never been France's position."

A French "foreign ministry source" told the Guardian: "France's initial position was clear and will end up earning the respect of almost everyone — even, eventually, the US. It is that war is the last option, and that it is down to the Security Council alone to make the final decision. That message has somehow got muddied in the past few weeks."

The French government's opposition is not to war against Iraq per se but to the White House's attempt to wage war independent of the interests of other imperialist nations. France is likely to try to extract as high a price for its cooperation as possible.

As a diplomatic compromise, the US and Britain may not push for a formal UN endorsement for military action, but instead push through a more general condemnation of Iraq's "failure to disarm" or "non-cooperatation" with UN inspectors, which can be interpreted as a green light for war. Alternatively, Washington could use Powell's accusations of Iraq's links to al Qaeda links to justify a unilateral war.

From Green Left Weekly, February 12, 2003.

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