Many years ago now, it seems, the world wrangled with itself about a mooted war in Iraq. Washington and London set out to convince their Electorates that a War with now former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wasn't only necessary it was also inevitable. After about a year of this and the many Radio Talk Shows and much Media Speculation I eventually wrote this Article as my definitive comment on it all. It formed the basis for quite a lot of Media Coverage on the Subject and proved quite influential. Rather than have it stored in some Archive never to be read or seen again I thought I would post it here so you can see and decide for yourselves whether the now ended Conflict was right or wrong. All I know is that after the last Soldiers withdrew a Couple of years ago the Region has descended into Violence and Chaos, and areas of it are now completely ungovernable, or are in the hands of the Islamic Caliphate ISIS. Even the Pentagon - who only in quite recent years - are admitting the fallacies of a War that ended 40 years ago (Vietnam) - are now starting to think the war in Iraq was a mistake. An unprecedented stance in an increasingly uncertain World.
THE IRAQ WAR
In January 1991 I was watching “The Villain” on BBC 1, when all of a sudden Richard Burton disappeared, and the Beeb went over to “Special report” mode. Martyn Lewis announced that operation “Desert Storm” had been launched - taking us over to Dahran air base and Brian Barron, engulfed in a wave of jet fighter sounds and air raid sirens. The sirens, Brian explained, screamed because Saddam had launched Scud missiles, and it was believed that they were heading for his location. A lot of Martyn - Brian, Brian - Martyn tooing and froing unfolded on the screen, as we were given that sense of immediacy only broadcast media can create in times of crisis. Brian’s journalistic mastery conveying the real sense of history he was witnessing, The pictures of Tornado aircraft taking off into the darkness, the sirens still wailing in the background, then suddenly NOTHING!!!. Whiteout, a snowstorm picture with a white noise soundtrack where a BBC news veteran had, moments earlier, filled my portable! I remember the overwhelming sense of shock, the pulse quickening, and mind racing with ”what's happened?” questions, the sudden contrast as Martyn Lewis, surrounded by soundproofed studio silence, gamely held the broadcast together, finding himself on an electrical frontline where the chilling abruptness of war suddenly became very very real!
This was our introduction to a whole new way of fighting a war, when the technology being employed in the air and on the ground in Iraq, would be matched by the advances in media coverage techniques that became a part of all our lives in the weeks to follow. Peter Arnett of CNN - a news organisation only regularly watched by the - then - minority of people with cable or satellite TV suddenly appearing on every terrestrial box in the land! A prototype News 24 service, put together by circumstance as the BBC opened its newsroom to the events happening in a desert 1000's of miles away! The jargon that would find its way into the lexicon of every day parlance, and the expert academics becoming the new celebrities of the moment! I remember the eerie cogniscience of seeing a Broadcast in the darkness - and later watching a squadron of Stratofortresses vapour trailing the dawn skies on their way back to Gloucestershire after a “Carpet bombing” mission. These were all momentous events in a seismic chapter of time when the world was in flux! To understand what I mean look at the 'then' world order...............
Political geography had just changed as the impossible became possible and the Warsaw pact gaffed and lumbered its way into extinction. Every street in eastern Europe had been filled with jubilant crowds of newly liberated people, who'd seen their communist rulers fall one by one as an intelligent, enlightened man in the Kremlin left them to their own devices. The Berlin wall - that dividing line of world ideologies that so scarred the psyche of cold war Europe - had been reduced to souvenirs on mantelpieces around the world, and the Iron curtain had been drawn back to let in the light of freedom. Europe had been made whole for the first time since the out break of the second world war, and we all basked in a new spirit of optimism. U2 provided the soundtrack with “Achtung baby” - freed Trabants guesting at their live shows.
At the turn of the year we were still riding the wave, and Saddam was going to get squashed by the biggest international military build up since D day, about to crash onto him like a mighty Tsunami. To add a paradoxical twist that somehow compounds the certainty of the moment, Massive Attack - whose rule book trashing ”Blue lines” album appeared the year before - dropped the ”Attack” suffix to the name as an act of protest for the duration. Everything seemed to be balanced in a way we could all readily understand. This was a very tumultuous period indeed..... .......................................and a very long time ago!!!
Back then we weren't having any of Saddam’s claims that Kuwait belonged to Iraq, a contention dating back to when Baghdad was first granted sovereignty. The protestations that the tiny Emirates over-production of oil was forcing down the price of Iraqi petroleum , and that a lot of it was being drawn from a source that was partially theirs anyway! He'd overstepped the mark, ignored UN security council resolutions to quit Kuwait, and something was going to be done about it!
This wasn't the first time the west had taken military action with the country over oil as - long before Mr Hussein assumed the presidency and stepped into the annals of international notoriety - Britain dispatched forces to Iraq to prevent the USSR getting too close to the Baghdad government - and therefore the precious resource the area seems to float on! To call the region volatile is an understatement, as Baghdad and Tehran’s bickering over the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway blew up into a full scale war, (ignited by an Iranian Kurd problem spilling over into Iraq at the turn of the 80s), resulting in an 8 year conflict that cost an estimated 1 million lives. Ironically, at that time Kuwait was Saddam’s ally - probably because they saw the arabic Ba'athist dictator as more favorable than the theocratic Persian Mullahs in Iran, and the simple geographic buffer presented by Iraq that afforded them protection from the Ayatollah! Looking further back, David Leans epic film portrayed how captain T E Lawrence (of Arabia) assisted the fledgling Iraqi nation in its guerrilla war against Turkish hegemony in the early 20th century, and up until the 1950s Baghdad was a member of what was then known as the “Sterling Bond” linking their currency to ours................The twists and turns of Arabic destiny is steeped in blood, oil, violence, and betrayal going back centuries, and Mr Bush Jr is about to become another player in the game of middle eastern politics.
The Persian gulf war of the early 90s was a relatively straight forward affair, a recognisably 'legitimate' international response to an intolerable violation of one countries territorial sovereignty by another, and one that was easily sold to electorates and politicians the world over. A global sentiment that had echoes in the similar international reaction to the atrocities of 9/11, when the world really did sing in unison about how justice must be done to those responsible. The mighty tidal waves that carried the respective coalitions into those wars has diminished to not much more than a ripple, upon which George Bush Jr rides a surf board of technicalities, and an up hill political struggle shared by our own Prime minister. Theoretically, we could (and some say should) have finished off the job in 1991, using the vast array of military materiel in the area at the time. But the war was based on the premise that we were liberating one country from another, and therefore the campaign had reached its conclusion the moment the last Iraqi soldier crossed the border back into his own country. I remember how, when that had happened, George Bush Sr rallied the Shia marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to rise up against the government, and how they were brutally put down by the remnants of Saddam’s army, rendered prostrate before any conventional force but still more than a match for a lightly armed group of largely poor civilians (They actually got more practical support at the time from Iran than any western source!)
At that time the cold war had just ended and the seed that would later grow into Al Qa,eda had its roots in the Moujahadin rebellion that drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan the previous decade. How many of us can remember those 80's dispatches of smiling Afghans surrounding captured or knocked out Russian tanks - portrayed as heroes in the struggle against soviet oppression? That same man in the Kremlin had long realized the folly of the USSR adventure in his southern neighbour, and to prevent the hemorrhaging of more lives and money his country could afford, he withdrew, leaving Afghanistan to continue her own destiny. The problem is that while Moscow attempted to subjugate Kabul with sheer military might, the west - through its proxys - supported the rebels, and when the Red army left the country to her own devices so did we! By definition Bin Laden’s men were allied - though tenuously - to us, so when the gulf war was under way those that would later become the worlds most wanted terrorist organisation would technically have been on the same side. But they were left behind, in a country brought to its knees by war, a land with no clearly defined structure in which to function, a place where hatred could (and did) fester, a place ripe for the propaganda of the merchants of violence! Osamas Saudi family had huge financial interests in both construction and oil, so any multinational military force that would indirectly safeguard the interests of the Saudi petrodollar was also unwittingly protecting the huge financial resource that later helped fund those responsible for some of the most notorious acts of terrorism committed in the 1990s.
There's an expression that sums up the region quite eloquently, and so it should as it was coined by an Arab any way........”Your enemy's enemy is not necessarily your friend!” Right now we're in the process of courting favour with the Saudis for permission to use their airbases in the same way as we did 11 years ago, but this isn't 11 years ago, and we aren't going in to release a small country from Saddam’s iron grasp. Saudi Arabia isn't a democracy, and one wonders what the ordinary people of the region are going to think as they see this campaign unfolding on their TV screens via Al Jazeera. Something between 100,000 and 200,000 civilian lives were lost in a war that was about driving an occupying force out of another country, so what will the cost in civilian lives be when trying to drive the same army from their own? Saudi money was the principal lifeline for Al Qa'eda, and the events of 9/11 proved that there is a completely undeterred network of terrorists capable of executing the biggest blow to American domesticity since the Japanese raid on Pearl harbour. Put all these factors together can we guarantee that the Saudi government will be able to hold on to power, when the Saudi people (and others in the region) begin to see the body count mount up? What measures would they have to begin to apply should civil unrest begin to hit the streets, and how would any response look in the eyes of the rest of the Moslem world? Would we not be giving every Islamic terror group on earth the best recruiting sergeant they ever wanted, rendering them capable of waging their particular brand of warfare at home and abroad?...........................................................And what about the Iraqis themselves?
Iraq is a country that owes its very existence to insurrection, a proud people that has fought off the advances of many foreign powers for 100s of years, and the current regime has enjoyed absolute rule for over 20. Even if we drove Saddam from every sphere of local, regional, and national government - installing the desired regime and bolstering it with military and financial support, where would the Ba'athists go if they weren't all killed or captured, and who's to say that they wouldn't form a guerrilla army of their own and wreak havoc both in and outside the country? The new world order has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and the developing world has demonstrated both on 9/11, and at the recent earth summit, that they aren't scared of us anymore, and the old subserviences that the 19th and 20th centuries were made of are beginning to evaporate. Our government has tried to establish a link between Saddam and Bin Laden in its attempt to justify the campaign. The irony is that any links at all could be reinforced totally by this war as remnants of both Al Qaeda and the Ba'athists find common cause in their hatred and contempt for the west, and the US and Britain particularly! We could be in danger of galvanizing the very entity that the post 9/11 war on terrorism was supposed to deal with, as any perceived western threat extremists in the region (and beyond) have been pointing out to anyone who would listen begins to take on the characteristics of a promise.........................are we not playing into their hands?
There is the instantly obvious paradox that any link between Bin Laden and Saddam is theoretical compared to the fact that he has one with the very country the majority of the new coalition is going to be based.
Lurking in the background is the question of Iran, and how do they fit in with this scenario? During the gulf conflict, the old “Enemies enemy ......” adage became very appropriate, as upon the declaration of war they proclaimed their neutrality. A neutrality that meant 100 Iraqi pilots fled to Iran rather than fight western aircraft or stay at home. Here you had a country who - only 2 years earlier - were negotiating their way out of a bloody war with Iraq that had cost them 100's of thousands of lives and severe damage to civilian and industrial infrastructure. It proves that even the most bitter enmities in the region can be over ridden in the face of an outside military power - and, rather than side with us, Rafsanjanis government opted to become the Switzerland of the region by staying out of it. They have progressed since the days of Khomeini, with moves towards moderation and renewing diplomatic links with the west, and I wonder whether putting them in the same category as Iraq with the so called “Axis of evil” might threaten to turn the clock back. A danger that could become all too real when they begin seeing the hostilities raging on the other side of the border! ..........................................................It would force the obvious question “Who's next?”
Ostensibly, the reason we are going to war against Saddam is because of his refusal to comply with the UN resolutions surrounding his weapons of mass destruction, and a desire in the White house for a “Regime change” . Whether he possesses them or not is less important than the fact that if he did have them, would he use them? He certainly did against Kurdish villages, and during the war with Iran in the 80s, and if he still had any left would he use them on Allied troops in any conflict? If this war was interpreted in Baghdad as some kind of end game then the chances of a biological or chemical attack on coalition forces (maybe even Kuwait, Turkey or Saudi Arabia) escalate drastically! During the gulf war Saddam knew that the forces pitted against him were there to liberate Kuwait, not topple him from power. This time he'll be all too aware of what the ultimate objective will be, and as he lost about a third of his conventional forces in 1991 will he resort to other weapons at his disposal?* Couple that with the scorched earth policy he used at that time - setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells, and releasing millions of gallons of crude oil into the gulf - the potential consequences on both human life and the environment are unthinkable! Even if a new regime was installed in Baghdad, how much security would be needed to protect the oil production mechanism from terrorist attacks by a group of people who feel they have nothing to lose?
*He has also shown a willingness to use innocent people as hostages, as was demonstrated in 1990/91 with the so called “Human shield” strategy - using foreign civilian nationals as bargaining chips in a kind of blackmail to the coalition forces!
If the proposed campaign had too much of a unilaterally Anglo-american bias any new regime would be closer to Britain and America in a very direct sense than any other state in the region, with a political pipe line into Washington and London, which raises the inevitable question about the consequences on oil production and prices. How are the other gulf states going to respond to the prospect that Iraqi oil could enjoy favoured status in the west against their own product as a 'be good' incentive to the new government? Would the Iraqi oil industry be denationalized anyway, opening it up to foreign private ownership, and therefore removing control of the country's biggest resource from Baghdad? (Provoking potential criticism that we would be undermining Iraq's sovereignty and position as a self determined Nation State by the back door for financial motives, thus exacerbating an already precarious political situation, and therefore compromising our own standing in the middle east as a force for justice!) Saudi Arabia, who have had to be chivvied more than most regarding the planned campaign, could find itself in a far less powerful position in the region than the one it has enjoyed for decades, so what would the consequences be on their internal stability should their monarchistic government begin to show signs of weakness? One expert on Saudi affairs described the country as a house of cards which could very easily collapse should too much pressure befall it, and Bin Laden enjoys a lot of support on the ground there. Could we really run the risk of lighting the touch paper of a firework with his name on in an oil rich country like that? A very frightening thought indeed!
Much has been made about the UN in the political haggling over the proposals, but up until September last year the USA had arrears of around $2.3billion in its subscription to the organisation. (This would be enough to run it for an entire year!) Since then they've paid a substantial amount towards this, but it's still claimed to be an estimated 1$billion shortfall on the amount owed. It's sad that it wasn't until 9/11, when their vulnerability to attack was revealed, they decided to make moves towards clearing the debt. A cynic could argue that they decided to make amends to restore UN confidence in Washington should the White house need them for any plans they might have in their foreign policy! Or that, because of the attrocity committed last year they finally realize the true worth of the organisation as the main hope towards world peace! If they, and other western powers, got up to date with their subscriptions the UN would be in a much stronger position to be a bit more forceful with its peace keeping role, and maintaining international law over 'rogue' regimes like Saddam Hussein, bolstering the weapons inspection teams etc. (Maybe even installing and reinforcing a substantial UN mission in Iraq that would work so closely with Baghdad, Saddam would have very little choice but to comply! After all, if he thinks letting the UN back in would prevent the war and stop him from being “Smart bombed” out of office - therefore saving face with the Arab League - it could also be a step towards fostering some kind of legitimate indigenously developed opposition in a country that has never really known any, and set Iraq on a course that could ultimately, and more importantly, free itself from his ruler-ship from the inside. This would give any new government an unshakable mandate to exist, both in the eyes of the Iraqi people, and to the outside world. It would also present us with the opportunity to bring Saddam to justice for war crimes and human rights violations! The danger of using force in the way that we did then is that he could very well go into hiding, running the country from an undisclosed location the minute the first coalition plane takes off!!!) “Desert storm” cost an estimated $53billiion, at 1991 prices, so how much this operation would cost in today's money is incalculable. Money spent in a war with a very uncertain conclusion, and one that could set the whole region ablaze in conflict for years. Wouldn't it be more sensible for us to invest that sort of money in organisations like the UN, with their commitments to peace keeping, human rights, the environment, and work to improve the quality of life for peoples where ever they are?
I'm not sure whether they've thought this through very well at all, and I think Tony Blair is in danger of losing sight of the necessary objectivity in dealing with Mr Bush. At a time like this it is crucial to be constructively critical of any grand foreign policy making on either side of the Atlantic,.To his credit, Mr Blair has been very effective in securing some restraint in Washington , and he has shown a willingness to be open to serious questions raised in Parliament. The global wave of sympathy for the west after 9/11 has been severely compromised over the whole Iraq debacle, and we are in danger of isolating ourselves from the international community. National opinion is against a unilateral war in Iraq, and the whole argument has distracted attention from the proposals to rehabilitate Afghanistan. Are we in danger of spreading ourselves too thinly as a result of this? Former President Bill Clinton believes so, saying we should concentrate our efforts in Afghanistan. He could be right. We need to disarm the causes of terrorism, before people become terrorists, (let alone rogue states) and the opportunity to do this in Kabul is one we should capitalize on as much as possible!
Yes, I am worried about the proposed war on Iraq, not out of any appeasement or defense of the Baghdad government, (far from it) but out of the potential consequences for the world where I live, and the one my family will have to grow up in. A world that I believe is in a situation potentially more dangerous than it might have been during the Cuban Missile crisis! The potential fault line dividing the 2 sides is rooted in something far older, and etched far more profoundly in the souls of those involved than a comparatively transient political ideology that has only been around for about 150 years . The old cold war policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (”M.A.D”) is alive and well, but the potential for insanity runs much deeper, and is a lot more volatile
..........Oh, and what would make for an ominous piece of broadcasting? - Watching BBC1 as they show a well known film starring Peter O'Toole!!!
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