Who is hiding what?
December 18, 2002
Major controversy has erupted over Iraq's declaration on its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was required by the recent UN Security Council (SC) Resolution to provide such a declaration by Sunday, 8th December. In fact Iraq provided the document the day before. It reportedly consists of eleven or twelve thousand pages.
Paradoxically, the controversy is not over the contents of the document but over the "seizure" by the US administration (one needs a stronger word than acquisition) of the only copy then received by the Security Council. The US is reported to be editing or purging the document and will then circulate it only to the other permanent members of the Security Council, namely China, France, Russia and the UK.
The ten non-permanent elected members have been left out in the cold. Syria was the first to protest. Norway which chairs an SC Committee on Iraqi Sanctions has also taken a strong stand against the US decision to limit distribution of the full document only to the permanent members. All non-permanent members except Colombia are demanding to see at once the unedited version of the Iraqi document. In addition to Colombia, Norway and Syria, the other non-permanent members are at present Mauritius, Mexico, Singapore, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea and Ireland.
The UN Secretary General (SG) Kofi Annan had apparently not been informed of the situation which developed in the Security Council, despite the fact that as Chief Executive of the UN, of which the SC is a part, it would have been proper for the documents to be sent to him and that he would have been responsible for its distribution. In response to a press enquiry the SG described the situation as unfortunate and expressed the hope that it would not happen again - a statement which from one perspective may be considered as the careful use of diplomatic language but from another may be seen as an expression of the usual timidity.
The main mover in the situation which Saddam Hussein has described as banditry but which is more like hijacking or a coup was the Colombian Permanent Representative (ambassador) at the UN who is currently President of the Security Council. He has defined his decision to give the document to the USA as one made after consultation. It must have been very limited consultation. The explanation for the Colombian role is in fact straightforward. Colombia is now the third highest recipient of US economic assistance, third behind Israel and Egypt. Moreover, President Bush has accepted and acted upon newly-elected President Uribe of Colombia's assertion that the Colombian civil wars are not just struggles against drug cartels or political insurgents but against terrorism. Uribe (like Sharon) must therefore be supported, the US administration contends, as actors in the global war against terrorism. The behaviour of the Colombian President of the Security Council is therefore simply explained. Payback time had come.
The US explanation for its actions puts pressure on credulity. First it was said that it was simply a matter that the US had better photo-copying facilities - a reason which should be dismissed out of hand as farcical.
The second reason is more complex and needs careful analysis. It is said that the US is concerned that sensitive information should not fall into the hands of other states (apparently including the ten non-permanent members of the SC). It has been further leaked to the US press that such sensitive information includes information on how to make Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). If the latter is indeed the case Saddam Hussein would have unexpectedly earned high marks for a wholly inexplicable burst of candour in making such information available.
More probably the sensitive material, as the press has suggested, consists of a list of Iraq's suppliers. In view of the closeness and support for Saddam of the US and UK governments during Iraq's war with Iran and up to the eve of his invasion of Kuwait, the list of suppliers could in all probability include US and British Corporations, many of which may be heavy subscribers to party funds.
A further explanation for the US action probably lies in US strategic interests. First, if the Iraqi document turns out not to contain any or adequate information on sites and operations for the manufacture of WMDs, the US will be under enormous pressure in view of its often repeated accusations to the contrary to provide information on what it knows to the SC and the weapons inspectors. The US administration is clearly anxious that the Iraqi document does not, so to speak, cut the ground from under its contentions. Second, it is known that the documentation includes information on so-called dual purpose sites and operations i.e., activities of for example a chemical factory which can be used for either civilian purposes (making of medicines) or for manufacture of components of WMDs. The US is probably intent in ensuring, as soon as possible, that such sites are included in its bombing programme.
Such US actions in hijacking the work and responsibilities of the SC should not have come as a surprise. For long the US administration has been intent on discrediting the work of weapons inspectors.
US Washington hawks who are committed to war have waged a long and continuing smear campaign against Hans Blix, the Chief UN Weapons Inspector. Long before the recent SC Resolution, earlier this year, the CIA had been instructed to "collect dirt" on Hans Blix. The campaign has continued. Anonymous aides of US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have leaked statements to the press that Blix is too weak to stand up to Saddam. Richard Perle, a Pentagon Advisor has stated that on the basis of his previous record Blix should not have been chosen.
The US, as far as is known, has not directly produced any documentation in support of its claims. This task was entrusted to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's faithful ally. Blair produced a 16 page dossier for the British Parliament which one journalist, Robert Fisk, reflecting a widespread view, described as dishonest and consisting of weasel words and phrases. Fisk concluded "Now maybe Saddam has restarted his WMD programming .
Let's all say it out loud, 20 times. Saddam is a brutal, wicked tyrant. But are "almost certainly", "appears", "probably" and "if" really the rallying call to send our grenadiers off to the deserts of Kut-al-Amara".
In view of the sceptical reception of that dossier, the Blair government in an attempt to close off all options except war has tried again, wheeling out early in December another dossier, this time on Iraq's Human Rights record. This attracted a sharp response from "Amnesty" whose spokesman said "We are afraid this is opportunistic and selective. Iraq's human rights record is appalling, but we have been saying this for years. The British and US are being selective, conveniently ignoring other countries and using that record to drive forward foreign and military goals".
What will be the affects of the US action? At the time of the unanimous support of the Resolution by the SC both the SC and the UN were strongly acclaimed by President George Bush as representing the views of the international community. Now the US action has perhaps divided the SC beyond an early repair. The permanent members are seen as an entity separate and apart with the existence and role of the other ten members being no more than a device of giving respectability to the actions of the five when considered necessary. By one stroke the role of the UN's Secretary General has been similarly diminished.
The US action has been precipitated by Saddam Hussein's unexpected behaviour. The US apparently felt confident that he would reject the Resolution and/or fail to provide the declaration. Moreover, his cooperation to date with the inspectors has been exemplary. Monster though he be, he is clearly capable of cunning and demonic humour. In the Declaration he appears to have located the needle of truth in a haystack of documentation. He is also making therapeutic use of the international media by promoting and facilitating the media's accompaniment of the inspectors on every sortie. Although Hans Blix has correctly refused to allow the media to be present during inspections, they have been facilitated by the Iraqi authorities to visit sites as soon as the inspectors leave.
Therefore although it is still early days, a real risk is perceived in some circles that it might not be easy to find an occasion for war. The latest action has cast further doubts on US motives. It is increasingly clear that the primary motivation is not the disarmament of Saddam but the control of Iraq's vast oil reserves.
The UK government in case of war will of course support the US and the Russians and French will go along if they have had sufficient assurances that their interests in Iraqi oil concessions will be maintained. Indeed it has been reported that President Bush went to Leningrad during his recent visit to Europe precisely to provide President Putin with assurances not only about the share- out of the oil reserves but about the repayment of the bad debt owed by Iraq to Russia.
And China? Preoccupied by the internal problems of managing a capitalist economy within a Communist political system, China will acquiesce. After all the Great Wall of China endures.