IRAQ: UN opposition may delay US invasion

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON

The US government's difficulty in convincing France, Russia and China to agree to a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would authorise a large-scale US-led military attack on Iraq may have disrupted Washington's carefully prepared plans for a ground invasion to overthrow Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

According to several US newspaper reports on October 22-23, White House spokespeople and military officials have said that Washington's favoured January-February invasion may have to be delayed for up to nine months if a UN resolution containing the necessary "triggers" is not passed soon.

The October 23 Washington Post reported that "Pentagon officials acknowledged yesterday they might have to adjust their timetable for a military buildup in the Persian Gulf... Military planners were considering ways of adjusting it to accommodate a new round of UN weapons inspections that may begin later and last longer than once envisioned. 'It's fair to say there's some recalibration going on', one senior defence official said."

It is an open secret that US military strategists and top Bush administration officials have planned for the US-led invasion of Iraq — which will involve a minimum of 100,000 mainly US and British soldiers — to take place in the cooler months of the Iraqi winter, between January and March, preceded by a bombing blitz in December.

Summer temperatures in Iraq can reach 50° Celsius and sudden, blinding desert sandstorms are common. US ground troops will be dressed in bulky protective clothing in order to maintain the fiction that the Iraqi regime is equipped with chemical and biological weapons.

The crews of the thousands of US armoured vehicles and tanks that will have to cross the desert from Kuwait and Jordan will find conditions stifling inside. Cruise missiles and heat-seeking munitions are much more likely to malfunction or miss their targets in hot conditions.

Game plan stalled

When US President George Bush addressed the UN General Assembly on September 12 to threaten that, unless the UN Security Council agreed to militarily enforce its resolutions against Iraq, the US would attack unilaterally, Washington expected France, Russia and China to buckle quickly under the weight of its threat.

With its winter attack schedule in mind, the US was already preparing a Security Council resolution that would impose impossible new rules for weapons inspections on Iraq. The Bush gang's goal was to impose guidelines that so disregarded Iraq's national sovereignty that Baghdad would not be able agree to them, thus making US military action almost certain.

However, Washington's game plan was disrupted by Iraq's quick decision on September 16 to allow the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors, in order to, Baghdad stressed, "complete the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions and remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction".

This removed any justification for a new Security Council resolution. However, Bush and his British sidekick Tony Blair refused to accept Iraq's agreement and stepped up the push for a "tough" new resolution.

On October 1, in talks between Iraqi officials and the heads of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iraq confirmed its willingness to cooperate.

Without a new resolution, UN weapons inspections would be conducted under UN Security Council resolution 1284, passed in 1999. Under its terms, weapons inspectors would have 60 days to determine what sites need to be inspected or monitored, followed by six months to determine whether Iraq retains or is developing banned weapons. Once Iraq fully cooperated for 120 days, sanctions imposed on Iraq would be suspended.

This was at odds with Washington's timetable for a war and contradicted its oft-stated goal of "regime change" in Iraq.

The details of the US-British draft resolution which emerged in early October revealed it to be a formula for inevitable war. It authorised "member states of the UN Security Council" to use "all necessary means" to force Iraq to accept or comply with the resolution. It demanded that Iraq accept its terms within seven days of the Security Council passing it and provide a "full, final and complete declaration" of banned weapons programs within 30 days.

Any "false statements or omissions in the declaration ... and failure by Iraq to comply and cooperate fully in accordance with the provisions ... shall constitute further breach of Iraq's obligations".

As a US official bluntly told the September 28 New York Times, "If we find anything [Iraq] gives us that is not true, that is the trigger. If they delay, obstruct or lie about anything they disclosed, then this will trigger action." A further meeting of the Security Council was not required, giving the US a blank check to attack whenever it chose to claim that Iraq had violated the terms of the resolution.

Not only did the initial draft order Baghdad to agree to "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records and means of transport", it also stated that "any permanent member of the Security Council may request to be represented on any inspection team with the same rights and protections" as UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors.

In other words, US spies and agent-provocateurs could openly join the teams. The draft stated that Iraq must provide "immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted and private access to all officials and other persons whom UNMOVIC wish to interview" and UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors "may at their discretion conduct interviews inside or outside Iraq, or facilitate the travel of those interviewed and family members outside of Iraq, and that such interviews shall occur without the presence of observers from the Iraqi government". This amounted to an invitation to Iraq's top scientists and officials to defect; it would legalise the kidnapping of key Iraqis who would not cooperate.

Inspectors and "Security Council members" (i.e., the US and Britain) would have the right to impose "no-fly/no-drive zones, exclusion zones and/or ground- and air-transit corridors, which shall be enforced by UN security forces or by member states". Inspectors, their base camps and transit routes will be protected by "sufficient United Nations security forces".

Impasse

France, Russia and China have been unwilling to accept the US-British resolution. Russian officials have repeatedly stated that existing UN resolutions are adequate for inspections to resume and argued for the speedy return of inspectors.

France has objected to Washington's insistence on a single resolution that would both impose harsh new conditions and automatically pre-authorise US military action against Iraq in the event of a breach. Paris wants a second Security Council resolution to be passed that would explicitly authorise military action if UNMOVIC reported a "serious failure" by Iraq to comply.

After nearly six weeks of almost daily high-level negotiations between the five permanent members of the Security Council, the impasse has not been broken. On October 22, the five permanent council members, which have the power to veto council resolutions, were given the text of Washington's "revised draft" resolution. It was formally submitted to the full 15-member Security Council on October 23.

Washington had made some semantic changes to the resolution, and dropped a few of the most outrageously unacceptable clauses — such as the right of Security Council members to attach their own inspectors to the UN inspection teams and that the teams be accompanied by an armed UN force wherever they go.

Crucially however, the resolution has retained wording that will authorise a US attack without requiring another council resolution to be passed. US officials told Associated Press on October 22 even though the draft requires the council to convene immediately in the event of an Iraqi breach, this does not commit the Bush administration to wait for the Security Council to approve military action.

Russian UN ambassador Sergey Lavrov said on October 23 that Russia, France and China "cannot agree to automaticity in the use of force". He added that Moscow and Paris also opposed the draft because it imposed "unimplementable, unrealistic" weapons inspection rules on Iraq. Lavrov was referring to the provision that allows Iraqis to be taken out of the country.

French President Jacques Chirac said in Jordan on October 22 that, "We have to first make sure the inspectors are allowed to do their work and report on their mission to the international community".

US officials continue to threaten unilateral military action if Washington does not get its way. Bush on October 22 declared: "If the UN can't make its mind up, if Saddam Hussein won't disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him for the sake of peace." White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer warned on October 23: "After 11 years of Saddam Hussein defying the UN, the UN has to face up to its mission... They have some amount of time left, but not a lot. And the president knows that, and I think the UN knows that, too."

Anti-war sentiment grows

Whether the warmongers who dominate the US administration will carry out these threats remains to be seen. However, the fact that Washington has been forced to continue to negotiate with the Security Council members and that France and Russia have not yet caved in — and the US therefore may be forced to postpone its planned attack on Iraq — is testimony to the growing reluctance of most Americans to support a war involving high US casualties.

The Bush administration has made little headway in convincing a majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein poses such an immediate and serious threat to their safety that the US must launch an immediate invasion.

An October 8 CBS/New York Times poll found that 63% of Americans said the US should give UN weapons inspectors more time to work before taking military action, up from 57% in September. Nearly 66% said that the US should not attack Iraq unilaterally.

Support for war is likely to continue to drop as the US anti-war movement begins to organise and grow. Already, there have been significant anti-war protests in major cities and an increasing number of trade unions have passed anti-war resolutions, including Chicago's second largest Teamsters local. Major US newspapers are nervously monitoring the growing anti-war activity on university campuses around the country.

From Green Left Weekly, October 30, 2002.
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