Sunday, September 30, 2007

Iraq's WMD Myth

Counterpunch Weekend Edition
September 29 / 30, 2007

Why Clinton is Culpable


A former senior UN diplomat has revealed to me details of how, just over 10 years ago, the Clinton administration deliberately sabotaged UN weapons inspections in Iraq.

American officials were fearful that Iraq would be officially certified as weapons-free, a development that was seen as a political liability for Bill Clinton. Thus the stage was set for the manufacture of the Iraqi WMD myth as the excuse for George Bush's catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

It was March 1997. For six years the UN inspectors had been probing the secrets of Saddam's weapons programs, in the process destroying huge quantities of chemical munitions and other production facilities. To enforce Saddam's cooperation, Iraq was subject to crushing sanctions.

Now, Rolf Ekeus, the urbane Swedish diplomat who headed the inspection effort, was ready to announce that his work was almost done. "I was getting close to certifying that Iraq was in compliance with Resolution 687," he confirmed to me recently.

At the time, he declared that although there were some loose ends to be cleared up, "not much is unknown about Iraq's retained proscribed weapons capabilities."

For the Clinton administration, this was a crisis. If Ekeus was allowed to complete his mission, then the suspension of sanctions would follow almost automatically.

Saddam would be off the hook and, more importantly for the Clintonites, the neo-conservative republicans would be howling for the president's blood.

The only hope was somehow to prevent Ekeus completing his mission.

Enter Madeleine Albright, newly appointed Secretary of State. On March 26, 1997, she strode on to the stage at Georgetown University to deliver what was billed as a major policy address on Iraq. Many in the audience expected that she would extend some sort of olive branch toward the Iraqi regime, but that was far from her mind.

Instead, she was set on making sure that Saddam effectively ended his cooperation with the inspectors. "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted," she declared. Sanctions, she stated without equivocation, would remain unless or until Saddam was driven from power.

Ekeus understood immediately what Albright intended. "I knew that Saddam would now feel that there was no point in his cooperating with us, and that was the intent of her speech."

Sure enough, the following day he got an angry call from Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy prime minister and emissary to the outside world. "He wanted to know why Iraq should work with us any more."

From then on, the inspectors found their lives increasingly difficult, as Iraqi officials, clearly acting under instructions from Saddam, blocked them at every turn.Ekeus resigned in July 1997, to be replaced by the Australian Richard Butler. Butler was soon embroiled in acrimonious confrontation with the Iraqis. Later the following year, all the inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq and the US mounted a series of bombing raids.

Clinton's strategy had been successful. Iraq remained under sanctions, while in Washington the neo-conservative faction spun the wildest conjectures as to what evil schemes Saddam, unmolested by inspectors, might be concocting with his weapons scientists.

In fact Saddam had long abandoned all his WMD programs, but as the CIA had no sources of intelligence inside Iraq, no one in the West could prove this.

Finally, following 9/11, the war party in George Bush Jr's administration was able to make the case for invasion on the grounds that Saddam had refused to comply with UN resolutions on disarmament by refusing to grant access to the weapons inspectors. The Iraq disaster has many fathers.

[Footnote: Ekeus knew from the mid-l990s on that Saddam Hussein had no such weapons of mass destruction. They had all been destroyed years earlier, after the first Gulf war.

Ekeus learned this on the night of August 22, l995, in Amman, from the lips of General Hussein Kamel, who had just defected from Iraq, along with some of his senior military aides. Kamel was Saddam's son-in-law and had been in overall charge of all programs for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

That night, in three hours of detailed questioning from Ekeus and two technical experts, Kamel was categorical. The UN inspection teams had done a good job. When Saddam was finally persuaded that failure to dispose of the relevant weapons systems would have very serious consequences, he issued the order and Kamel carried it out. As he told Ekeus that night, "All weapons, biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed." (The UNSCOM record of the session can ne viewed at In similar debriefings that August Kamel said the same thing to teams from the CIA and MI6. His military aides provided a wealth of corroborative details. Then, the following year, Kamel was lured back to Iraq and at once executed. Editors.]

Andrew Cockburn is the author of Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Inverse Echo?

In praise of appeasement

Edward Pearce

September 13, 2007 12:00 PM

There is something indecent about the attempts of the Bush people to pretend that Iraq and the Iraq war and the occupation of Iraq are things now quietly getting better. President Bush also invites a comparison with Vietnam and says that "if only the boys hadn't been withdrawn, if only we had fought on".

That plaint is, if you know your history, an echo of a legend familiar in 1920s Germany, the dolchstoss, the stab in the back, the great national betrayal - by student protesters and the McGovern Democrats or by Prince Max of Baden. Either way, a duty was abandoned and a victory spurned. We should have fought some more, died and killed some more. The governments of countries fighting wars lose sight of what war actually is, who dies, who suffers, who endures the ancillary awfulness of it, the man described by Patrick Cockburn who, in the fifth year of Iraqi democracy, squelches through green sewage to reach the nearest stand-pipe.

The people who govern do not really mind about their boys, or the Sun's boys (why boys?) the men, dead or amputated, who they sent off to such trumpets and falsehoods. But they mind far more about those men, potential losers of votes, than they will ever mind about the dead of the other side.

To a greater degree than anyone will acknowledge, the Iraqi dead, do not register, do not matter. Yet across the spectrum, left to right, the burden of the argument for withdrawal, British or American, comes back to British or American casualties.

It will be argued, tediously, that most of the Iraqi dead were killed by other Iraqis. They were killed because advice given by the state department, the Foreign Office or the CIA, advice which itself rests upon commonplace good sense, that a confessional war for mastery would be the certain outcome of invasion, was wholly disregarded. The war was murderous, was vanity, was grotesquely negligent in conception, was in the teeth of history, and please; it was against all rational, selfish pursuit of American and British interests. The US has been in smouldering contention with Iran for 60 years, and for 25 imposed a brutal government there. The possibility that it will bomb Iran is real, is actually canvassed, and may be the valiant decisive thing of 2010.

Yet despite such a preoccupations, the other assured thing which will come out of the terror and counter-terror which the invasion released, is the near accomplished creation in Iraq of a regime of Shia Islam, of those now manning the militias, from whose threats the British army has now been withdrawn to an airport.

Give or take enclaves, Moqtada al-Sadr or his nominee will soon rule Iraq. That government will be on terms of friendship with the government of Iran. The Shia crescent will shine bright upon the Euphrates. Yet from Gertrude Bell down to George Bush senior, it has been the Anglo-Saxon view that the 20% Sunni must rule the 65% Shia. This is because Shia Islam, the minority creed, has historically been more extreme, more theocratic, more of a western enemy.

Never mind our liberal motives or our concern at terrible violence, this failed invasion flew clean against the interests of the US. It has destroyed a tyranny indeed, a tyranny nationally stable and internationally quiescent, one at odds with both Iran and al-Qaida. This invasion has installed social breakdown, the rolling expulsion of the Sunni, and an Iranian writ running everywhere.

We onlookers should mind and mourn the dead, but players of power politics should mind the total reversal of all their objectives. This has been an inverse Munich, an insistence upon pointless action, a failure to see the perfect utility of doing nothing at all. By valiant, decisive action and at some slight expense, the American government has empowered the enemies of America.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

DoD postwar planning

From The Times

September 13, 2007

Washington 'misled' Blair over plans for postwar Iraq

Greg Hurst, Political Correspondent

Britain's outgoing Ambassador to Washington has accused the Bush Administration of misleading Tony Blair over its much-criticised plans for the reconstruction of Iraq after the invasion of 2003.

Sir David Manning, who leaves his post at the end of this month, said that Britain was left in the dark as Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary, overruled the plans for postwar Iraq drawn up by Colin Powell and the US State Department.

"There were plans made and deployed in the State Department, but in the end the State Department wasn't allowed to take the job," Sir David told the New Statesman.

"I did not know that [Rumsfeld's Defence Department] was going to take over the running of the country. We didn't have any sense that that was about to be the way postwar Iraq was going to be run."

Sir David, who at the time of the invasion was a key member of Downing Street's unofficial war cabinet as the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, also claimed that Mr Blair never wanted to go to war in Iraq and instead wanted a diplomatic solution.

"I don't think he ever wanted to go by the military route," Sir David said. "He accepted it might come to this, but he always wanted to do it in a different way. I've always believed he would much rather it hadn't taken place."

His comments follow claims in Washington that President Bush was taken aback by some of the decisions in running postwar Iraq, such as dismantling the Iraqi army.

Paul Bremer, who headed the coalition provisional authority which ran Iraq after the invasion, produced documents that appeared to show that he told Mr Bush that he planned to dissolve Saddam's military and intelligence structures, and was informed he had the President's full support.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bush briefed - no WMD

Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
Salon exclusive: Two former CIA officers say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.
By Sidney Blumenthal

Sep. 06, 2007 On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.

On April 23, 2006, CBS's "60 Minutes" interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. "We continued to validate him the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller's account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri's intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war...


-- By Sidney Blumenthal

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Basra Debacle

Why the British Deployment was Doomed from the Start


September 5, 2007

The British campaign in Basra was undermined from the beginning to the end by lack of Iraqi support. The supposed aim of the occupation of Basra and southern Iraq was to allow time for a stable and democratically elected Iraqi government authority to be established with its own police and army forces on whom it could rely.

This was never likely to happen. The British occupation began with the killing of six British military policemen at Majar al-Kabir, south of Amara, in June 2003 after an ill-conducted search for arms.

Local people said they had never bowed their heads to Saddam Hussein and asked why they should now accept a foreign occupying power.

Tony Blair was endlessly claiming that the British forces were usefully engaged in training Iraqi security forces in the face of dogged resistance from "rogue" policemen.

But it was clear from early on that the rogues were, in effect, in charge.

British forces had to storm a police station to rescue their own soldiers who had been detained while spying in Arab clothing on the same station.

"As early as 2004, British influence was in steep decline," says Reidar Visser, a leading academic specialist on Basra and southern Iraq.

"In other words, the recent pull-out itself was a largely symbolic affair: the British ceased exercising effective control of Basra a long time ago."

Could the British have done any better?

The problem was the belief that because in 2003 the Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, they would welcome a foreign occupation force.

The Sunni in central Iraq rose in rebellion in 2003 but the Shia, though willing to use the occupation, never accepted it as legitimate.

In fact, an increasing number supported armed resistance.

They saw the rhetoric of President George Bush and Mr Blair about installing democracy in Iraq as propaganda concealing a neocolonial adventure.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

Brits Flee from Basra


September 3, 2007

The withdrawal of British forces from Basra Palace, ahead of an expected full withdrawal from the city as early as next month, marks the beginning of the end of one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army. Ostensibly, the British will be handing over control of Basra to Iraqi security forces. In reality, British soldiers control very little in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces are largely run by the Shia militias.

The British failure is almost total after four years of effort and the death of 168 personnel. "Basra's residents and militiamen view this not as an orderly withdrawal but rather as an ignominious defeat," says a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Today, the city is controlled by militias, seemingly more powerful and unconstrained than before."

The British military presence has been very limited since April this year, when Operation Sinbad, vaunted by the Ministry of Defense as a comparative success, ended. In the last four months the escalating attacks on British forces have shown the operation failed in its aim to curb the power of the militias.

The pullout will be a jolt for the US because it undermines its claim that it is at last making progress in establishing order in Iraq because Sunni tribes have turned against al-Qa'ida and because of its employment of more sophisticated tactics. In practice, the US controls very little of the nine Shia provinces south of Baghdad.

The British Army was never likely to be successful in southern Iraq in terms of establishing law and order under the control of the government in Baghdad. Claims that the British military could draw on counter-insurgency experience built up in Northern Ireland never made sense.

In Northern Ireland it had the support of the majority Protestant population.

In Basra and the other three provinces where it was in command in southern Iraq the British forces had no reliable local allies.

The criticism of the lack of American preparation for the occupation by Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British Army, and Maj Gen Tim Ross, the most senior British officer in post-war planning, rather misses the point.

Most Iraqis were glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the majority opposed a post-war occupation. If the Americans and British had withdrawn immediately in April 2003 then there would have been no guerrilla war.

Soon after the British arrival, on 24 June 2003, British troops learnt a bloody lesson about the limits of their authority when six military policemen were trapped in a police headquarters between Basra and al-Amara. I visited the grim little building where they had died a day later. Armed men were still milling around outside. A tribesman working for a leader who was supposedly on the British side, said: "We are just waiting for our religious leaders to issue a fatwa against the occupation and then we will fight. If we give up our weapons how can we fight them?"

The British line was that there were "rogue" policemen and, once they were eliminated, the Iraqi security forces would take command. In fact, the political parties and their mafia-like militias always controlled the institutions. When a young American reporter living in Basra bravely pointed this out in a comment article he was promptly murdered by the police. One militia leader was quoted as saying: "80 per cent of assassinations in 2006 were committed by individuals wearing police uniforms, carrying police guns and using police cars."

Could any of this have been avoided? At an early stage, when the British had a large measure of control, there was a plan to discipline the militias by putting them in uniform. This idea of turning poachers into gamekeepers simply corrupted the police.

The violence in Basra is not primarily against the occupation or over sectarian differences (the small Sunni minority has largely been driven out). The fighting has been and will be over local resources.

The fragile balance of power is dominated by three groups: Fadhila, which controls the Oil Protection Force; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which dominates the intelligence service and police commando units, and The Mehdi Army, which runs much of the local police force, port authority and the Facilities Protection Force. One Iraqi truck driver said he had to bribe three different militia units stationed within a few kilometers of each other in order to proceed.

In terms of establishing an orderly government in Basra and a decent life for its people the British failure has been absolute.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.