The war after the war in Iraq

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 03 Aug 2003


After the dust from the US invasion of Iraq has settled, questions mount over having to raise it in the first place. As the US and British governments fail to provide the answers, public confidence in both governments has sunk to the lowest in years.  

QUESTIONS continue to dog US and British leaders on their rush to war in Iraq, after they had sidelined the UN arms inspection team and the UN Security Council in doing so. One of the results is that people on all sides continue to be killed and injured, with no end in sight. 

Much of the controversy over the war decision comes from the war’s chief pretext: that Iraq possessed banned weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and, further, that these weapons constituted an imminent danger. The British version even claimed Iraq’s WMDs were deployable “within 45 minutes.” 

Now months after UN arms inspectors under Hans Blix had been accused of unproductive work, US and UK forces in their thousands – assisted by specialists, one or two freelancing UN inspectors and several “turned” Iraqi scientists – have found nothing either. There is nothing compelling by way of the alleged WMDs or even WMD plants and installations, with the only firm “evidence” being forgeries and lies. 

Against this background of disappointment, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz argued that Iraqi WMDs are now irrelevant because Washington no longer needs them to justify the war.  

As previously argued in these pages, finding any WMDs now is irrelevant – but only because they are now incidental since their discovery would be accidental, as nobody had any grounds to believe they existed when the war started. 

The problem with Wolfowitz’s cynical attitude is that it corrupts democratic governance, public accountability, obligations under international law and responsible action by a hyper-armed superpower – all in an act supposed to serve Iraq’s democracy.  

This is why George W. Bush’s Republican government is under attack by Democrats and democrats, which goes beyond party interests in next year’s presidential election. 

NOTHING TO SHOW: Months after Blix had been accused of unproductive work, US and UK forces in their thousands have found no weapons of mass destruction.--AFPpic.

There is similar pressure in Britain on Tony Blair’s gung-ho war-mongering, which continues to insist – if less confidently now – that the war was justified. In also losing something of the democratic plot in this “mother of democracies,” Blair continues to reject calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s shaky case for war. 

Questions abound, despite frequent official promises of WMD evidence that produce only more questions than answers.  

Vice-Chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen Jay Rockefeller, warned Bush officials on Thursday that evidence of Iraq’s “WMD programme” is not the same as supposedly lethal WMDs as an imminent threat and justification for war. 

In May, a US House Select Committee on Intelligence sent a letter to CIA Director George Tenet questioning the basis for alleging Iraq’s WMDs and al-Qaeda link. As no satisfactory answers were forthcoming, the questions multiplied. 

In June, British commentator Richard Norton-Taylor posed 10 questions to Tony Blair. These covered the alarmist wording the British government exploited to justify war, the outdated and plagiarised student work it used, the failure to protect Iraqi civilians and the apparent ill will between the British and US governments. 

Days later, a British Parliamentary Select Committee on foreign affairs completed investigating the issues and had more questions for Blair.  

These spanned the veracity of London’s assessment of Iraqi WMDs and “unaccounted for” missiles, forged documents against Iraq, and the dubious claim that Iraq could launch its WMDs within 45 minutes. 

Then two weeks ago, three US Congressional leaders posed another 10 questions for Vice-President Dick Cheney. These again concerned questionable conduct by Bush officials, including undue White House pressure on the CIA to compromise its professionalism and misleading public statements on Iraq. 

There are many more questions that deserve proper answers, answers which would be available freely without compromising intelligence operations – if the US and British governments were honest rather than deceitful.  

A random selection of a dozen of these questions are as follows: 

  • How could the CIA advise British officials about the unreliability of the allegation linking Iraq to Niger’s uranium, yet did not do as much for the US government it was set up to serve? The official version of events says the CIA did this but British officials refused to listen, leaving it to compromise with White House officials on attributing the claim to British intelligence. 

  • Why did Tenet only now admit that a mistake had been made, after something of the truth had been revealed? If UN officials had not examined and exposed the Niger document as a forgery, the US and British governments might have continued with the false allegation. 

  • Who faked the WMD evidence against Iraq? Logic suggests it is those who stand to gain most from it, to lose most without such evidence, or who have most strenuously denied evidence was faked. 

  • How could the CIA have reviewed and approved Bush’s State of the Union speech in January without knowing the truth or falsehood of the points mentioned in the speech? It would seem that the CIA only goes through the motions of checking without making any checks. 

  • Could Robin Cook as foreign minister have been unaware of decisive WMD evidence that warranted war, if such evidence existed, by the time of his resignation just days before the invasion of March 20? Cook was, and remains, unconvinced by the official justification for war. 

  • What is the difference between the WMD situation in February when Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted there was “no smoking gun” evidence against Iraq, and two days ago when US arms inspector David Kay promised “surprise” WMD discoveries soon? None at all, from the available evidence, except for even greater pressure to produce compelling WMD evidence now. 

  • Most of Britain’s intelligence on Iraq is said to be reliable because it had been corroborated by at least one other source. But how reliable is this assumption of corroboration, when a dubious or unreliable source at origin might have disseminated a falsehood to more than one intermediary before it reached an intelligence operative? 

  • Bush and Blair both say that they remain convinced by the justification to go to war. If this is true, why are their standards for justification so low, given the weakness of the available evidence as justification and the seriousness of going to war? 

  • When WMD evidence is strong and clear, it would contain hints or clues about the location of WMDs. Why does Blair continue to insist on the superior intelligence information he has, with no better idea of where the supposed WMDs are than anyone else? 

  • Why did the US not press Britain for the additional intelligence information on WMDs, since Britain is the closest US ally in the US-led war? The likely answer, yet again, points to there being no such intelligence information. (The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which searched for Iraqi nuclear weapons, said the only WMD evidence it was shown by Britain were the forged documents.) 

  • When Powell and other US officials like Sen Pat Roberts of the Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged there was no compelling “smoking gun” WMD evidence, why did Britain not provide the US with the supposed intelligence information it claims to have? 

  • Not only are the US and Britain the closest political and military allies, but intelligence sharing is at the core of their “special relationship.” To share such vital intelligence would also have helped the credibility of both governments. Does the fact that no such vital intelligence was shared between them not suggest that no such vital intelligence exists? 

    If Blair thinks that citing exclusive intelligence not made available to the US is a solution to his present problems, it might yet become a further problem.  

    It would question the strength of the “special relationship” between both governments, especially after US officials have made callous statements making Blair’s position even more precarious. 

    The longer Blair keeps the claimed intelligence information to himself, the more his own credibility suffers. An increasing number of British government officials themselves no longer believe Blair’s story. 

    In May, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that Iraq might have destroyed its WMDs before the war began. In the same month, but in comments published later, Wolfowitz went further to admit that WMDs were just an excuse to attack Iraq. 

    This eliminated any justification for the war, as more US officials in the CIA, DIA, Marine Corps and elsewhere in government rejected the official view. It plunged Bush’s popularity to its lowest level since Sept 11, 2001, and made Blair the least popular British public figure of the day. 

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