COMMENT: by Alistair BarrosNews Weekly
Why we went to war in Iraq
, October 23, 2004
President George W. Bush and Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Howard have retrospectively justified the war in Iraq because Iraqis are now free and the world is surely better off without Saddam Hussein. But Alistair Barros argues, in the first of two articles, that not enough has been said about the war's original justification - the justifiable fear of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its ties with al-Qa'ida.With reports claiming that US intelligence on Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was faulty, critics of the war have been quick to accuse George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard of being liars and reckless warmongers.
With the original justification for invading Iraq apparently having been discredited, the global nerve for further military action of this nature - and hence the ability to counter terrorism at its roots - has been all but sapped.
However, in this debate, three important things should be remembered:
First, President Bush never actually claimed that the reason for invading Iraq was because of an imminent threat. In fact, in his 2002 State of the Union address, he said quite the opposite: invasion was necessary to stop the threat from becoming imminent. Even John Kerry and Mark Latham, who would later accuse Bush of lying, accepted as fact that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs.
Second, the Bush administration repeatedly said that it did not believe Iraq played any part in 9/11. However, there was still ample evidence linking Iraq to the al-Qa'ida terrorist network, among many assorted enterprises of Islamic militancy.
The advent of global terrorism, it was feared, increased the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction by a hundredfold. In light of this, President George W. Bush, declared that, in order to tackle the amorphous terrorist network, its state sponsors - including Saddam's régime - had to be eliminated, not merely contained.
Third - and this point is frequently overlooked - America's controversial doctrine of régime-change originated, not with George W. Bush, but with the Clinton administration.WMDs in context
Saddam Hussein defied 12 resolutions passed by the UN Security Council, each one specifying conditions to which Saddam had to adhere, under ceasefire agreements of the first Gulf War.
Knowledge that Saddam possessed prohibited weapons from the war and that he had used chemical warfare on neighbouring Iran and the Kurds to the north, made the international community understandably wary.
Evidence for Saddam's hidden deadly arsenal came not from UN inspections or intelligence agencies, but from one of Saddam's sons-in-law, Kamal Hussein, chief organiser of Iraq's weapons programs, who defected in 1995. The weapons programs and stockpiles he revealed had been completely overlooked by the outgoing UN inspections team, who had passed Iraq's compliance with flying colours.
Australia's Richard Butler - head of the 1997/8 UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) team, charged with overseeing the elimination of Iraq's WMDs - stumbled upon, among other things, anthrax, botulin, nerve-gas, and sarin, in stockpiles or weaponised form.
As the UN inspectors got closer to concealed stockpiles, Saddam blocked off access. A decisive stand-off occurred in late 1997 when Saddam declared off-limits his "presidential palaces" - vast complexes of buildings and warehouses - after US intelligence officials tipped off UNSCOM on suspect equipment. Saddam thereupon expelled American UNSCOM members for spying. In February 1998, President Clinton prepared the US for war, in a speech remarkably prescient of the Bush doctrine.
In December 1998, President Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing of suspected weapons sites. Intelligence agencies believed that most sites were destroyed or significantly disabled. At that point, Saddam banned indefinitely UN inspections.
There then followed a familiar pattern of events. UN weapons inspection teams continued to be misled, as if Hussein Kamal's damning evidence was non-existent. Iraqis denied point-blank any knowledge of deadly VX nerve, even as scientific equipment detected its presence in special warheads.
In November 2002, the UN Security Council gave Iraq a 30-day deadline - the last of the "last chances" - to comply, this time with Hans Blix's UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).
In February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council, justifying military action to bring about régime-change: a lengthy array of WMDs identified from UN inspections, declassified intelligence, satellite imagery and intercepted calls of Iraqi conversations revealing Iraq's "cat and mouse" game with UN weapons inspectors.
Powell reminded the Security Council that it had "placed the burden on Iraq to comply and disarm, and not on the inspectors to find that which Iraq has gone out of its way to conceal for so long. Inspectors are inspectors; they are not detectives."
Later on, after the war, Powell admitted that some of the data he presented to the UN was based on faulty intelligence, which wrongly identified a number of vans as mobile biological laboratories.
The media seized on this admission as evidence that the whole war was based on a lie.
But weapons expert David Kay provided a crucial but paradoxical insight into the WMDs saga. Appointed by President Bush to lead the Iraq Survey group, Kay resigned after just eight months, citing the absence of WMD stockpiles, which he believed did not exist at the time of invasion. Yet Kay's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee actually vindicated the invasion.
To be sure, no stockpiles of WMDs were found, but a sizeable WMD system was. It was capable of rapid build-up or melt-down according to the political situation.
Equipment, laboratories, research and an impending nuclear facility had all been uncovered. Kay pointed to hundreds of cases, by way of documents, physical evidence and testimony of Iraqis, of prohibited weapons and activity. For Kay there was no doubt that Iraq was in breach of UN guidelines.
So were the WMDs appreciably diminished after 1998? Not necessarily according to Kay. Much of the documentation seized by Coalition forces was written in Arabic and will take years to parse, and most captured officials are reluctant to speak out for fear of reprisals.
The latest weapons inspection report from Charles Duelfer, successor to David Kay, has confirmed the absence of WMDs in Iraq, notably during the time of the invasion.
But Duelfer has confirmed, as did Kay before him, that Saddam illegally possessed anti-aircraft guns, missile components and missile-guidance electronics from Russia. Iraqi negotiations were on the way to procuring North Korean missiles, and there was every indication that Iraq's nuclear program and chemical-weapons production were capable of being reactivated at short notice.Early Iraq and al-Qa'ida links
Saddam's ties with terrorists are well established. The State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism
(May 21, 2002), provides a comprehensive survey: Palestinian homicide bombers, Abu Nidal, Arab Liberation Front, Hamas, Kurdistan Workers' Party, Mujahedine Khalq Organization and the PLF, Abu Abbas, and Khala Khadr al Salahat (designer of the bomb that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988).
An unreported confirmation of Saddam's ties with Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist network was contained in a memorandum prepared by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas J. Feith, for the Senate Intelligence Committee. It spells out Iraq-al-Qa'ida contacts from high-quality, mainly CIA, sources. It was conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources: Iraqi defectors, captured members of al-Qa'ida and Iraqi intelligence, and other well-placed sources.
Stephen Hayes covered this in a Weekly Standard
article - acknowledged by US Vice-President Dick Cheney as the "best source of information" on the subject - and later enlarged on his theme in his groundbreaking book, The Connection
One-time Clinton counter-terrorist operative, Mansoor Ijaz, has also provided direct evidence of Iraq-al-Qa'ida collaboration.
Iraq's relationship with al-Qa'ida extends back to the early '90s. It was born out of mutual convenience in which the then contained and monitored Iraqi leader strove to spread viral and chemical recipes through the Saudi fugitives' ideologically-driven network of willing homicidal fanatics.
Through clandestine meetings, the collaboration - which at first lay fallow until reactivated through bombings of US targets - saw terrorists trained in explosives and WMDs, and given logistical support for terrorist attacks, training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support.
The deadly embrace traces back to Sudan in 1990, where an Islamic coup fostered a state-sponsored terrorist haven. Terrorist groups such as al-Qa'ida were drawn there to mould fledging terrorist aspirations into the lethal, subterranean force it is today.
Bin Laden caught the interest of Iraqi officials through his emissaries in Jordan, while Saddam - under siege through the first Gulf War - sought al-Qa'ida liaison through his connections with Afghanistan and Sudan. Sudanese leader of the al-Qa'ida-affiliated National Islamic Front, Hussan al-Turabi, brokered the link.
While the details of early Iraq and al-Qa'ida links are sketchy, many defectors can corroborate the motives and details of the initial meetings. That the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) already regarded bin Laden as a crucial asset, is spelt out clearly in captured IIS records found after last year's war.
Sceptics often question how Islamic militants, such as bin Laden, could collaborate with secular Baathists. In fact, Feith documents bin Laden as having secured Saddam's confidence by forbidding operations against him.
As a small and scattered band without professional grounding, al-Qa'ida relied on its state sponsors chiefly for expertise in bomb-making. None other than the IIS's principal explosives expert, Brigadier Salim al-Ahmed, was dispatched for this purpose during the mid-'90s. This corroborates CIA surveillance photos showing Ahmed at bin Laden's farm in Khartoum in 1995 and 1996 with none other than Mani abd-al-Rashid al-Tikriti, director of Iraqi Intelligence.