A World Crisis Web Exclusive
On January 17th 1991, the President of the USA, George Bush, supported mainly by an army from the UK, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children. He claimed his actions were purely “to defend civilized values around the world” to set up “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle”, and to bring about “a world where the strong respect the rights of the weak”.
George Bush is quick to soak up the publicity from appearing the hero in front of his troops, but can he handle responsibility?
Twelve years later, the President of the USA, George W Bush, supported mainly by an army from the UK, is killing many thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children. He claims his actions are purely “to save civilization itself”, to bring about “a world moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear, and to set up “a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region”.
A casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that the present conflict is simply a re-run of the one twelve years ago. Nevertheless, military analysts have already been seen on TV showing that the first 1991 Gulf War was very different from plans for the present war. The military objective in 1991 was the forcible removal of Iraq from Kuwaiti territory, and the acceptance by Iraq of Kuwait?s sovereignty. This time, the military objective is to overthrow Saddam Hussein?s regime, and to install a military dictatorship, followed shortly by a USA led civilian dictatorship of indefinite length, with the eventual aim of installing a USA-friendly democratically elected government some time in the future.
Given the strong possibility that the majority of the Iraqi population (those that survive) will be glad to be free of the rule of Saddam Hussein, and that most of those will either welcome the invading USA and UK troops, or grudgingly accept their presence, it?s possible that the occupation will have to carry out only a short-lived guerrilla war against any rump resistance. It is also likely that, within weeks of the invasion the USA, will finally allow other governments on the UN Security Council to end the thirteen-year brutal sanctions regime against Iraq. It is already becoming clear that this will be followed by massive investment of USA businesses in the reconstruction of Iraqi roads, railways, and oil fields.
Paul Bremer was responsible for USA internal security before 9/11, and now he is to be in charge of a post-Saddam Iraq.
So, while the massive death toll of the first USA Gulf War, with its widespread destruction of social infrastructure, and the sanctions regime that followed it, cost the unnecessary deaths of millions of impoverished Iraqis, this time the war?s death toll ? while initially very high - will quickly drop off, probably to hundreds after the invasion is complete. Even on the points already raised, it is clear that this war is different from the last. It will require a different military strategy, and will probably lead to less Iraqi deaths than did the war in 1991. It could be said, therefore (and it certainly will by the mainstream news), that the present war is going to be far less damaging than the last one.
This raises a valid question for those opposed to the war. Many of those against the war today also opposed the war in 1991. However, judging by the wholly different levels of opposition to this war - compared not just with Iraq in 1991, but with any other war in history - many clearly did not. Can we therefore say that that the present war is really any worse or better than the last one? Of course, people will hotly debate these points while the invasion and occupation is still under way, but in fifty years time will history view the war in 2003 as any worse the one in 1991? To answer this question, we must highlight a further distinction between this war and the last; a distinction that is central to the anti-war argument, but which has gained relatively little attention in much of the mainstream news. Its close examination will dispel any notion that this war can be compared to the last war, either in terms of damage done, or moral legitimacy.
In 1990, the USA case for war was based on the legitemate rights of Kuwaitis, but no effort has since been made to democratise the ‘liberated’ country.
Many believe that the war unleashed on Iraq in 1991 was nothing whatsoever about freeing Kuwait from a monstrous dictator. If freeing Kuwaiti society was the case, then the USA and UK would have made it a condition of ousting Iraq that the previous regime made a commitment to democracy in a new Kuwait. Instead, they simply reinstated Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as head of state, and despite early promises of democratic reform from the ruling dynasty, that is how things remain today. No government since, in either the UK or USA, has criticised this arrangement, and UK and USA troops continue to prop up the regime to this day, despite widespread oppression of Palestinians just after Iraq left Kuwait, and of Kuwaiti dissidents in the thirteen years that followed. There is no question that USA and UK support continues only as long as the Kuwaiti government continues to act as the West?s representative in the Arab League. The fact that this can also be said of a number of other Arab countries only adds weight to the argument that the 1991 Gulf War was about strengthening the hand of oil consumer states in this strategically important area of the globe.
In this, the earlier war closely mirrors the one being conducted now. However, whilst in 1991 the USA and UK had the unanimous backing of European governments still under the shadow of the Soviet Union this time there is no such support. Before Bush’s father went to war in Iraq, he had secured from the UN Security Council no less than ten separate resolutions condemning Iraq’s invasion, with a final one given in unambiguous terms that authorised him to “use all necessary means” to force Iraq to leave Kuwait. In the certainty of such support, George Bush senior was then able to crow that his planned war in Iraq offered “a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation”. This time around, however, Bush and Blair have had to rely on misquotes of previous resolutions, lies about Iraq?s military capability, absurd claims of acting in self defence, and vague references to unproven links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Since 9/11, the Bush administration has hidden it’s imperialist agenda behind the USA flag.
Each time, however, their excuses have been revealed to be either baseless or hypocritical. Their initial attempts to use the public concerns after the World Trade Centre attacks to link Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden were quickly exposed as highly unlikely, since the two were known to be deeply hostile to each other?s cause. After they used the excuse of Iraq?s gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1998, it was pointed out that not only did previous USA and UK governments supply Saddam Hussein with the means of committing his horrific attack, but they continued to defend and support him after the attack, amid widespread public opposition. While they pointed to Iraq?s purchase after 1991 of chemical and biological agents capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction, others told the world about how the UK and USA had supplied Iraq with the means of delivering such weapons to its neighbours. Despite their claim that Iraq “may be less than a year” away from developing nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded after intrusive inspections that Iraq is absolutely incapable of such development. When they claimed that Iraq had not decommissioned all of its weapons of mass destruction during the 1990?s, the weapons inspection regime uncovered concrete evidence that Iraq may well have done so. This spring, with nothing left to go on, they pointed to Iraq?s possession of ballistic missiles that could be fired outside their permitted range. However, the weapons inspectors have since showed that the United Nations was capable of securing their destruction.
After all their previous arguments have fallen to pieces, they now simply insist that their view as to whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is the correct one, and refer to a Security Council resolution (SCR1441) that threatened “serious consequences” if Iraq did not meet its “obligations” to decommission such asserted weapons. Clearly, such a position is utterly and brutally absurd. If I said that you have something prohibited, threaten serious consequences if you don?t hand it over, and then attack you whether you do so or not, people would accuse me of using aggressive disingenuous excuses for an attack I intended anyway. More important for the historians, however, is the fact that this war is not merely baseless and immoral. It is also illegal.
The war against Iraq will be carried out entirely outside the international laws, upon which the peace of the world depends.
United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, addressed this point recently, when he warned that an attack on Iraq without explicit approval from the UN Security Council would violate the UN Charter. With the UN institutions in disarray over the USA and UK plans to go to war whatever the consequences, many don?t consider this point to be very important. However, as Michael Ratner, President of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, has pointed out, this warning from Annan is “probably the most important statement by a major leader since the USA push for war has begun”, and it has grave implications for both the USA and UK governments, and those involved inside the respective armies carrying out Bush?s and Blair?s plans.
According to international law, there are only two circumstances where a state or its peopple can legaly go to war against another. The first is in self defence against an armed attack against one’s country. The second is when the UN Security Council explicitly approves the use of military force. It must do this by nine votes in favour, and must receive no votes against by any of the five permanent members: USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. Any war outside these parameters is considered by the Charter “a crime against peace”. Such an act would be, according to the Charter, to which all national laws are subservient, the ultimate crime. Compared to stealing a car, or robbing a bank, this crime is so much more serious that it is impossible to overstate the case. The law that the USA and UK are breaking is the one that was used in the Nuremburg Trials against the vanquished Nazi regime in 1946. So, legally speaking, by engaging in a war with Iraq under present circumstances, the USA and UK governments are committing the same crime as fascist Germany did when it invaded the rest of Europe. Even without considering the implications for the future of the United Nations, regional stability, and world peace, those in the peace camp, as well as those in favour of a war, should be clear about the fact that what is going on in Iraq is far worse in legal terms than the 1991 Gulf War, and that a day will surely come when those planning it, and those carrying it out, will be onvicted of the most serious crime on the planet.