BY ROHAN PEARCE
When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in a July 17 speech to mark the 34 years of rule by his Baath party, attacked "evil tyrants and oppressors" — referring to US-backed Iraqi opposition forces, primarily former Iraqi military officers — the label fit.
A meeting of former Iraqi military officers and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress, a puppet organisation which has received millions of dollars from the US government under the provisions of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, was held over the July 13 weekend in London.
The meeting elected a military council to administer a post-Hussein regime and to generate support within Iraq's military for a US-led invasion. The July 13 New York Times reported that only 50 former Iraqi officers attended the meeting, out of the 1500 military defectors from Iraq around the world.
The meeting elected former general Tawfiq al Yassiri to head the council. Other members include General Najib Salhi, a former army and Republican Guard commander who fled Iraq in 1995, and General Saad Obeidi, who was in charge of psychological warfare for Hussein before he fled in 1986.
Some of the more prominent defectors were unable to attend. Nizar al Khazraji, the four-star general who was chief of the Iraqi army between 1980 and 1991 (during both the Iran-Iraq war and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), was unable to leave Denmark, where he lives in exile, because he is being investigated for war crimes connected with his ordering of poison gas attacks against Iraq's Kurdish minority, which killed 5000 people in the town of Halabja 1988.
It was this attack that US government officials, and most recently Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer on ABC Lateline on July 18, continually refer to when they accuse Hussein of "gassing his own people". At the time of the Halabja attack, the US played down the attacks because Washington was allied with Hussein in its war against Iran.
The March 11 Boston Globe reported that al Khazraji was the state department's preferred candidate to be the "post-Saddam Saddam". Washington does not have a problem with Iraq being ruled by a ruthless military dictator as long he is friendly to US economic and political interests in the oil-rich region.
Al Khazraji's role as a proven mini-tyrant qualifies him for the role. His human rights abuses are considered forgivable, since they occurred when Hussein was a firm ally of the US.
Al Khazraji has been associated with the proposal for a military council, and in the past was considered a possible head for it. However, in an effort to maintain some degree of legitimacy, particularly to help placate the Kurdish national liberation forces, the London meeting decided the council should be fronted by less "tainted" officers.
Many of the other ex-officers backing the military council are guilty of human rights abuses. Most are responsible for massacres of Kurds and other opponents of Baath rule in Iraq.
Washington is courting Turkey to join its anti-Iraq coalition. The Turkish government is as guilty as Iraq of denying the Kurdish people their national rights and has committed massacres and ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish people within Turkey.
The Turkish government has publicly opposed a renewed US military offensive against Iraq. However, the writing off of more than US$4 billion of debt by the US and assurances that the US will oppose self-determination for Iraqi Kurds has convinced the Turkish government of the need for a new Gulf War.
According to a July 17 Associated Press report, at a meeting between US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the chief of staff of Turkey's army Huseyin Kivrikoglu, Wolfowitz confirmed US opposition to an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
Turkey also wanted assurances that Kirkuk and Mosul, both oil-rich areas in northern Iraq, would not come under the control of the pro-US Iraqi Kurdish parties. The Turkish regime's concern is that an independent Kurdish state in the region may inspire, and perhaps support, the struggle for self-determination of the Kurdish people south-east Turkey.
Washington shares Ankara's concern: a successful uprising of Iraqi Kurds would cause similar uprisings in Syria, Turkey and Iran, threatening "regional stability" — Orwellian doublespeak for US economic and political dominance of the Middle East through its client regimes.
The US still faces several hurdles to launching its planned large-scale invasion of Iraq: the continuing slaughter of Palestinians by Israel; the political instability of Turkey's regime (the country is in "its worst recession since 1945", according to the July 18 NYT); Jordan's uncertain support for US military action; and winning sufficient domestic and international support for a bloody war.
The July 17 Christian Science Monitor revealed that a June 21 US Gallup poll found that 59% of respondents supported military action against Iraq. However, more detailed polls show that this support is conditional and only a minority support unilateral US action.
The extent to which the US will need to "go it alone" is uncertain. Backing from the British and Australian governments is guaranteed, but support from Washington's Arab client-states will depend on whether they can control their increasingly angry populations. Many European governments, especially France, Italy and Spain, are under pressure from reinvigorated and radical mass social movements.
Hence the current frenzied US propaganda onslaught about Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" and support for "terrorism". The mainstream capitalist media has been happy to buy this line without so much as a polite request for evidence.
Former senior UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has described the central pillar of Washington's black propaganda against Iraq — its development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons — as a "phantom menace", reported Lateline on July 18. Ritter demanded that the US and British governments show their people proof that Hussein has such weapons.
Ritter has repeatedly dismissed claims that Iraq has developed chemical and biological weapons since the UN withdrew its inspectors in December 1998, ahead of four days of blanket US-British bombing raids.
Ritter told the October 19 British Guardian that between 1991 and December 1998, Iraq "was subjected to intrusive, full-time monitoring of all facilities with a potential biological application. Breweries, animal feed factories, vaccine and drug manufacturing facilities, university research laboratories and all hospitals were subject to constant, repeated inspections... The UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field."
From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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