COVER STORY: Iraq: make haste slowly
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, March 8, 2003
As the United Nations Security Council moves towards a further resolution of the Iraq crisis, the argument against American intervention is largely based of the effectiveness of UN weapons inspectors in finding chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the only reason why Saddam has offered any level of co-operation with the UN weapons inspectors is because American and British forces are massing on his border, ready to invade.
However, as Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), pointed out in his report to the UN Security Council on February 14, "It is not the task of the inspectors to find [the evidence]. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions."
Guided missile program
Iraq's response to questions about its guided missile program, which threatens a number of neighbouring states, is a case in point.
In his latest report to the UN, Dr Blix pointed out that under the terms of UN resolutions dating back to 1991, Iraq was forbidden from producing missiles whose ranges exceed 150 km. Yet missile experts had concluded that recently-constructed Iraqi variants of the Al Samoud 2 missile could exceed this range, and therefore must be destroyed.
At the time of writing, Saddam had baulked at this proposition, again highlighting the fact that he has never been willing to relinquish his offensive weapons systems, despite explicit written undertakings to do so 12 years ago.
Dr Blix again referred to the fact that Iraq's declaration of December 7, 2002, stated that proscribed chemical and biological weapons had been unilaterally destroyed in 1991, but Iraq had provided no evidence, although such evidence would clearly have been available to Baghdad.
He said, "Another matter - and one of great significance - is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. To take an example, a document which Iraq provided in 1991, suggested to us that some 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent were 'unaccounted for'.
"One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented," Dr Blix said on February 14.
Despite UN Security Council Resolution 1441 which required Iraq to "cooperate immediately, unconditionally and actively with UNMOVIC", this has not occurred. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, as both the US and Britain have done, that Iraq maintains an arsenal of chemical and biological agents. No other conclusion seems possible.
As he is a ruthless and mendacious dictator, Saddam's latest promise of legislation outlawing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in Iraq is worthless.
Saddam Hussein's history of defiance of the UN is justification for allied intervention to disarm him; but there are good reasons for caution in proceeding.
Without widespread international support, there is a real danger that military operations against Iraq will be interpreted as an attack on the Islamic world, however absurd such a view might seem to us.
It was vehemently espoused at the recent conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, and undoubtedly is believed by many others.
The virulence of the attacks on US President Bush during the recent anti-war protests in Australia, show that irrational hostility towards the United States is not restricted to Islamic fundamentalists.
A further complication involves the possible future government of Iraq. If the US has its way, it will try to install a democratic government in Baghdad.
However well intentioned such an idea may be, Iraq (like most other Islamic societies in the Middle East) has no democratic tradition, having passed from despotic traditional rulers, through colonialism, to the dictatorship of people like Saddam.
Gilles Kepel is the author of the recent book, The Revenge of God, subtitled "The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World". In it, he wrote that among Islamic fundamentalists, "'Democracy' itself is rejected out of hand, as ... there is no basis in the Koran for the idea of demos, the people as sovereign. On the contrary, it affronts the only legitimate sovereignty: that exercised by Allah over the umma, the community of believers, through a government which must implement the divine commands as found in the sacred writings of Islam."
This sentiment was the dominant one in the Shi'ite Iranian Revolution of 1979. Within Iraq, the numerically dominant Shi'ite sect, who are co-religionists with neighbouring Iran but have been persecuted by Saddam, would emerge as a major force. The future of post-Saddam Iraq is therefore extremely uncertain.
Securing wide international support for military action to disarm and if necessary replace Saddam is therefore crucial to the stability of the region, and the world.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council