Why invade when the U.N. system is disarming Iraq?

Have Courage. Why not reprint a “North American” Viewpoint? The Canadians are concerned and loyal allies and neighbors… Found at: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1’c=Article’cid=1035777592117’call_page=TS_Columnists’call_pageid=970599109774’call_pagepath=Columnists

Why invade when the U.N. system is disarming Iraq?


Every war has its galvanizing image, aimed at rousing all decent people to take up arms. In the last Gulf War, it was the image of Iraqi soldiers ripping Kuwaiti babies out of incubators. (Only afterwards did it come out that no such thing actually happened.)

The galvanizing image of the upcoming invasion of Iraq has been the story that Saddam Hussein “gassed his own people.” By constantly raising this 1988 atrocity — including in his recent State of the Union address — U.S. President George W. Bush has managed to paint an image of Saddam as so uniquely, horrifyingly evil that a war to dethrone him is justified.

As a galvanizing image and call-to-arms, it’s hard to beat. It’s also, apparently, not true.

Given its sheer centrality to the case against Saddam, one might have thought that a New York Times article late last month casting doubt on the “Saddam-gassed-his-own-people” story would have stirred a little interest, even prompted some skepticism about how much the Bush administration can be trusted on Iraq.

What makes The Times story compelling is the source — Stephen Pelletiere, who served as the CIA’s senior political analyst on Iraq throughout the 1980s and later taught at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. So we’re not talking pinko or Saddam-lover.

Pelletiere says that the gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq occurred as part of the fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, after Iranians seized the town.

Both sides are believed to have used some form of gas on enemy troops, but the condition of the dead Kurds’ bodies in Halabja indicated they were killed by a cyanide-based gas, which Iran had — and Iraq didn’t. Pelletiere notes that an investigation by the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency concluded it was gas released by Iran — not Iraq — that killed the Kurdish civilians.

Using gas against enemy troops (who are also using it back) is hardly good behaviour, but it doesn’t conjure up the same level of depravity as gassing one’s own defenceless citizens. So the Bush administration, although it presumably had access to the same inside intelligence as Pelletiere, didn’t hesitate to alter the story considerably, thereby pushing Saddam’s reputation for evil into the stratosphere.

All this provides an interesting backdrop to the dossier presented at the U.N. last week by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell — a dossier based on unnamed sources, ambiguous aerial photos and snippets of overheard conversations, all of which we’re supposed to take on faith that this administration is presenting and interpreting honestly. (Among the many allegations in the dossier was the claim that Saddam gassed the Kurds.)

One odd aspect of the whole spectacle was Powell’s insistence that war is immediately necessary to disarm Iraq. But the U.N. is already in the process of disarming Iraq. The inspectors are on the job, they are being given unfettered access, nobody in Iraq is threatening to kick them out. (If more inspectors or more equipment for the inspections are needed, these can be provided.)

In other words, the U.N. system is working — working so well that we should consider imposing it on other countries defying U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Israel, Turkey and Morocco.

Interestingly, the only country hampering the U.N. inspectors from truly getting on with the job of disarming Iraq is the U.S., which wants to replace this peaceful process of disarmament with a violent disarmament brought about by war. Nobody has explained why this would be preferable.

In fact, it would be a clear violation of international law. The U.N. Charter (chapters 6 and 7) establishes that an attack on another nation can only be justified in cases of immediate self-defence (hardly applicable here) or a Security Council decision to use force, which can be taken only after every possible peaceful channel has been exhausted (certainly not applicable here!). Ironically, if the U.S. invades now, it will actually be interrupting the U.N.’s process of disarming Iraq.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is unabashedly eager for an invasion, wrote last week that disarming Iraq is Washington’s “stated purpose” while its “unstated purpose” is to transform Iraq into a “progressive model to spur reform … around the Arab world.”

Let’s leave aside the sheer arrogance of this line, and marvel instead at the heavy-handed way that Friedman envisions this happening. “Iraq will be controlled by the iron fist of the U.S. army and its allies, with an Iraqi civilian `advisory’ administration gradually emerging behind this iron fist,” he wrote.

The amazing thing is that these lines are written with enthusiasm; Friedman doesn’t even understand that what he’s describing is commonly referred to as imperialism.

——————————————————————————– Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and political commentator. Her column appears every Sunday.

Additional articles by Linda McQuaig