Busting myths of the Iraq war

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 23 Mar 2003


WAR is the most serious and deadly business between nations, and elected governments in particular need firm support from their populations to embark on it. 

But firm public support is lacking in many countries, including the United States and Britain, as these governments pursue a contentious war against Iraq. Washington and London have therefore come to rely on a series of falsehoods for their war propaganda. 

A common myth is that a pre-emptive, unilateral war against Iraq, even without UN Security Council authorisation, is the “only way.” History knows two major types of war: the unilateral assault of a belligerent state against its target territory, and the defensive war of the target territory against such attacks. 

Neither type of war is the only or even preferred way to solve problems, as all wars only add new problems to existing ones. Today’s war against Iraq is pre-emptive, unilateral and unauthorised, while claiming to be defensive, and may be the only sure way to encourage similar wars by other states in a chaotic world. 

In trying to stem anti-war protests, US and British officials say they are targetting only President Saddam Hussein while avoiding civilian casualties. This myth is exposed by some basic realities: attacking forces have little or no information about Saddam’s whereabouts, the impracticality of distinguishing between civilian and “legitimate” targets in crowded or unfamiliar locations, and the habit of even “smart bombs” going astray. 

Although the opening salvo on Baghdad three days ago was relatively measured, the attack proper is expected to be a massive “shock and awe” bombardment conforming to current US military doctrine. Bush’s address to the nation on Thursday morning echoed his military planners’ warning that civilian areas will also be attacked, such that ordinary people are the most vulnerable while Saddam the supposed target remains the most elusive. 

The third myth relates to war as a “solution” to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But massive, indiscriminate bombardment will either spread any WMD contaminants to the Iraqi (civilian) population, or tear up the country so much that any concealed weapons will never be found. 

Perhaps that is one of the real purposes of this war behind all the official reasons for it. US officials earlier advocated UN arms inspections when they thought Iraq would never comply, then when Saddam welcomed the inspectors the US opposed the inspections, then embarked on a war to stop all inspections when the inspectors were beginning to succeed and proclaim there were no WMD. 

The fourth myth is that such a war serves to deter other nations against acquiring WMD. The simultaneous case of North Korea is instructive: this is a country that is more advanced than Iraq in its nuclear arms programme, but which is being rewarded with food aid rather than attacked. 

The moral of the story is not deterrence, but reward if a WMD programme is sufficiently developed. According to US sources, there are 32 other countries around the world with WMD systems or capability, most of which are more advanced than Iraq, and none of which is being attacked. 

Even the presumption that Iraq possesses WMD at all is an unproven assumption.  

Iraq’s only apparent violation of UN regulations is the range of its al-Samoud 2 and al-Fatah missiles, which exceeds the prescribed 150 km limit by up to 30 km in some tests. 

Former US Defence Secretary William Cohen told incoming President George W. Bush in January 2001 that, following the destruction of Iraq’s WMD by UN inspectors in the 1990s, Iraq “no longer poses a military threat to its neighbours.” 

The same point was made by the previous batch of UN arms inspectors after their departure from Iraq in 1998. 

Yet a vague allegation lingers around the myth that Iraq is still somehow a threat, with nothing to substantiate this claim. The fact is that following its retreat from Kuwait more than a decade ago, Iraq has been lying very low, with meagre resources hemmed in by punishing sanctions, no-fly zones and periodic US-UK aerial attacks. 

US Congressman Ron Paul has pointed out that Iraq’s navy and air force are practically non-existent, while its army is now down to only a fifth of its original strength. A BBC report last year found Iraq to have “in many ways, a wasting and increasingly obsolete arsenal.” 

The seventh myth is that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 provides adequate authorisation for the war. The document took two months to agree on precisely because several Security Council members insisted on wording that would exclude automatic authorisation (the “trigger”) for war. 

To further ensure that UNSCR 1441 would not be a basis for war, its final paragraph provides for any decision on war to be made collectively by the Security Council itself. The fact that the US and Britain considered tabling a second resolution that would authorise a war proves that 1441 alone is insufficient basis for war. 

Another myth intended to justify an attack on Iraq appeals to humanitarian values, despite indiscriminate attacks actually damaging such values. Thus it is said that all Iraqis are being oppressed by Saddam’s government. 

Independent foreign (including American) observers who sought to verify this in Iraq found the majority of the population to be less oppressed than expected, unless they indulged in opposition politics – a familiar situation in other countries in the region that are US allies. The observers also found that ordinary people suffered more from the crippling sanctions made even tougher by the US and Britain, as acknowledged by the resignations in disgust by consecutive UN humanitarian coordinators. 

Yet another myth of war is that war itself will liberate the Iraqi people. The reality is that the Iraqi people were never given a choice whether to have this war, a conflict that would kill many of them, and which is rejected by Iraqi NGOs including those opposed to Saddam. 

The idea of war as liberation also comes as a late afterthought from Bush, after his other reasons for war failed to impress the world. 

Meanwhile, in US plans, Iraq’s Kurds, Shi’ites and the opposition Iraqi National Congress – oppressed for years by Saddam – would not be empowered or “liberated” after a US invasion. 

The 10th myth is the boast that this war is being waged for reasons of morality and integrity rather than the oily motives of the Bush cabal. Yet again, the facts speak differently. 

The US oil industry was one of the earliest unanimous supporters of this war, while official documents reveal that the Bush team – with close links to the oil industry – had been planning such a war for more than a decade. From Tony Blair’s discredited “dossiers” to Colin Powell’s fake “evidence” to Bush’s shifting and shifty motives, this illegal war is among the most immoral in world history. 

Another myth is the claim that this war acts to preserve UN authority. This perverse logic clings to the stature of UNSCR 1441, which US and British attempts to supersede with another resolution had diminished or annulled. 

The fact is that a unilateral, unprovoked and unauthorised war against Iraq directly and blatantly damages UN authority, possibly irreparably. Iraq is a sovereign state and member of the United Nations, and this war is clearly rejected by the UN and the world at large. 

The 12th myth is that as many as 45 countries are in the US-led war coalition. In reality only three countries – the US, Britain and Australia – are fighting this war against Iraq. 

As soon as the “45 countries” were mentioned on Wednesday, those on the list like Thailand immediately objected. 

The desperation of the US is exposed by its specious scheme of “recruiting” countries around the world as advertising endorsements without the knowledge and consent of those countries themselves. 

Despite the heated exchanges at the OIC emergency meeting in Qatar earlier this month, member countries came out in full agreement to reject any attack against Iraq. Opposition to this war is more than the US or Britain expected, while international support for it is less than they dare to admit. 

Bush’s televised address on Thursday consisted of 17 brief paragraphs, which contained 22 of such myths. The unjustified and unpopular nature of this war has thus required a web of deceit, disinformation and lies that only seem impressive to the naïve and interesting to the opportunistic. 

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