Baghdad Framed, UN Shamed

The United Nations was guilty of gross un-professionalism last week, and that is putting it politely. While it operates ostensibly as an international body, representing the interests of its member states, the alacrity with which it handed over the original 12,000-page Iraqi report on its weapons of mass destruction (or lack of them) to the US was almost indecent.

Nations such as Syria and Norway did express outrage at this blatant favouritism but their voices were soon drowned out. What would the reaction have been if, say, China or Russia had received the document one full day before the other permanent members of the Security Council?

But one very brave and honest man has spoken out loud and clear. Nelson Mandela, respected elder statesman and former President of South Africa has condemned the unseemly grab of the dossier as ‘piracy’. He said: “I am disappointed with heads of state who are just keeping quiet when the United States wants to sideline the United Nations”, and added that he has a clear impression that the US “remained intent on military action against Iraq at all costs”.

It certainly looks that way. Strangely, Washington condemned the report as being full of holes even before its experts had had the opportunity to turn back its covers. Although, White House spokespersons such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and even George Bush himself have reiterated on numerous occasions that war is not inevitable and all that Iraq has to do is abide by Resolution 1441, American actions tell a completely different tale.

The Pentagon has shipped tens of thousands of American troops and equipment to its two bases in the Qatari desert where it has been conducting ‘war games’. Reports out of northern Iraq indicate that the US military is already working with Kurdish militias, and Washington is pushing Recip Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey’s ruling AKP Party, for the use of Turkish bases and airspace during any upcoming conflict.

America went as far as holding out the carrot of EU membership to Turkey in return for cooperation over Iraq, but this backfired with EU Commissioner Chris Pattern suggesting that perhaps the EU should reciprocate by offering Mexico membership of the United States. This is not a view taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair who is known for constant kowtowing to Bush and company, and support of Washington’s Iraq policy.

Both Blair and Bush are anxious to find fault with the Iraqi government, which, thus far, hasn’t put a foot wrong as far as the inspections are concerned. On the contrary, it has extended itself to ensure smooth, hassle-free inspections.

However, during a routine inspection of an Iraqi centre for communicable disease control last Friday, there was a slight hiccup caused by a few locked doors.

The media immediately launched into a feeding frenzy. It was ‘breaking news’ on all the networks. They made it sound oh, so sinister that employees of the centre were, no doubt, enjoying their weekend and had taken the keys to their offices home with them.

As anyone who lives in the Arab world would attest, it would have been even stranger if the inspectors had found every office open on Islam’s holy day. After a flurry of telephone calls, someone turned up with a hand drill and it was a case of all’s well that ends well. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the Washington hawks muttering, ‘Aw shucks. Foiled again’ in response.

It is hardly surprising that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and other Iraqi officials have made statements to the effect that the current inspections are nothing but a sham, a fabricated scenario destined to eventually provide the pretext for a U.S. attack.

In the meantime, the US military is all set to receive vaccinations for smallpox – a deadly and virulent disease, which has long been eradicated from the face of the earth. American first responders have the option of being vaccinated too and George W Bush has ‘heroically’ offered to stand alongside his men and women in uniform and submit to the jab.

Israelis too are lining up for smallpox vaccinations and equipping themselves with gas masks, which begs the disturbing question: what do they know that we don’t?

An assessment prepared by Paul Jabber for the US National Intelligence Council in December last year, suggests: ‘… if Saddam is to be dislodged by military force, a massive air campaign will need to be mounted that will bear the major burden of destroying Iraq’s military assets, internal security apparatus, and installations that are known or suspected of having WMD potential.

‘Clearly, such a campaign runs the risk of inflicting serious collateral damage on the civilian population and the country’s economic infrastructure. Perhaps more ominously, it may unleash lethal biological, chemical or nuclear agents locally and regionally in the course of destroying them’.

Six Iraqi opposition groups seemingly care little about the devastating effect that a full-scale war might have on their countrymen and, instead, are eagerly preparing for a Saddam-free Iraq. Their combined future role was discussed in a London hotel last weekend.

In the Iraqi capital, the long-suffering people are almost resigned to the thought of an imminent war. Most are fatalistic. The middle-aged have survived a succession of wars and the young have lost educational opportunities and witnessed the death of their children and siblings due to more than ten years of punishing US/UK-led sanctions. If the Bush administration has its way, their suffering is far from being over.

After a catalogue of failures, the US is still trying to come up with a link between the Iraqi regime and Al Queda. Bush recently claimed that top Al Queda lieutenant Abu Musaab Al-Zarkawi – who Germany says heads up Al Queda’s European operation – was a patient in a Baghdad hospital and now operates out of Iraq.

There have also been unsubstantiated accounts in American newspapers that Iraq has sold large quantities of VX nerve agent to Al Queda members. The various articles were jam-packed with innuendo, statements from anonymous officials and lacked any credible substance. In fact, the claims were so spurious that even the White House saw fit to dispute them, else lose further credibility.

But with war with Iraq now looming large, the Bush administration isn’t one to rest on its laurels. It is already setting up a post-Iraqi occupation war plan, which could involve Iran. Already accusations are flying out of Washington that Iran has built two suspicious nuclear facilities, although Mohammed Al Baradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has explained that he has known about these constructions for some time and has been invited to view them early next year.

Naturally, once General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief of the US Central Military Command, and his merry band are ensconced in Iraq, they will be perfectly positioned to set their sights on ‘freeing’ the Iranian people too. Secretary of State Colin Powell is working the psychological front and during a speech to The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, he indicated that it was the US policy to assist in democratising the region.

Ironically, North Korea, which openly admits to having a nuclear weapons’ program is not being aggressed by Washington. After America’s recent stoppage of fuel shipments to the North and the recent debacle over the illegal seizure by Spain and the US of its vessel the So San, North Korea is determined to look after its own interests.

Much to the consternation of its neighbours South Korea and Japan, North Korea has even asked the IAEA to remove its seals and monitoring cameras from its former nuclear facilities. Yet, despite the clear and present danger here, the Bush administration holds up the principle of negotiation as being the way forward.

This, is, of course, the best way forward but if limiting weapons of mass destruction is the genuine motive for America’s stance vis-a-vis Iraq, one can only wonder why Baghdad can look forward to bombs rather than discussion. Of course, there is one major difference here. Iraq boasts the second largest oil deposits in the world, while North Korea’s claim to fame is being one of the poorest of the world’s nations.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sent a letter to Kofi Annan last Saturday pointing out that allied planes had violated Iraqi airspace on 1, 141 occasions between November 9 and December 6. “These daily violations… and the barbaric bombing of Iraq’s cities and villages, have reached the level of an undeclared war,” he wrote. He asked the UN to take the necessary steps in line with the (UN) charter to halt the aggression.” Judging by the UN’s previous lily-livered record, Sabri’s appeal is destined to fall on deaf ears.

Due in part to the Bush administration’s bellicosity, the world is becoming ever more hostile. The Clinton White House looks positively benign in retrospect. Those were the days of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, willingness on the part of Israelis and Palestinians to implement the Oslo Accords, and amicable dialogue with Tehran. Iraq was then hopeful of getting the sanctions lifted and rejoining the world community and Western economies were booming. What’s that you say? Monica? Monica who?

What a difference just two short years can make. For some it will represent the difference twixt life and death.

LINDA HEARD is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: