Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation


The supposed reason why Iraq was invaded:

Chasing phantoms?

by Glen Rangwala

Labour Left Briefing May 2003.
www.globalresearch.ca   1 May 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/RAN305A.html

In his first press conference after the launching of the invasion, General Tommy Franks, the war's commander, declared: "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction." Tony Blair expressed the same certainty in his first major press conference of the war: "We have absolutely no doubt at all that these weapons of mass destruction exist." He told Parliament during the debate that led to a vote for war that the idea that Iraq had disarmed was "palpably absurd."

Over three weeks into the war, and with most of Iraq captured by Anglo-American forces, the only reliable signs of illicit weapons in Iraq are the cluster bombs that have been dropped from US jets.

With so much personal credibility staked on finding these weapons in Iraq, their discovery has been a high priority since the start of the conflict. Hans Blix said when the invasion began, "If they don't find something then you have sent 250,000 men to wage war in order to find nothing." Even before the first missiles struck Baghdad, special operations teams were raiding four sites in western Iraq that were considered to be likely stores of weapons. But the anticipated propaganda victory was not to be had: the searches revealed no prohibited items.

Every new discovery by the invading armies of a vat or vial inside Iraq has led to trumpeting about how the "smoking gun" may have now been found. As Iraq has several petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries still functioning in the country, the feverish headlines have been frequent. In each case, the results of tests have been quietly released after a few days: always negative.

Three days into the war, US forces claimed to have come across a "huge" chemical weapons factory near Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad. It turned out to be a cement factory that had been disused for a number of years. Next, claims were being made about the presence in Nasiriya of chemical protection suits, gas masks and antidotes. According to Geoff Hoon, these items "show categorically that Iraqi troops are prepared" to use "weapons of mass destruction". When told that the suits were of the same type that Iraq had in the 1980s during the war with Iran, Hoon relented; now the find was "obviously not conclusive". Indeed, the suits may well have been twenty year-old leftovers. US officials confirmed that there was no indication they were freshly worn or issued.

Similar false alarms were raised over vials of white powder found in the Qa Qaa factory complex on 4th April, which turned out to be common explosives, and over fourteen barrels of chemicals at Hindiya in central Iraq which US officials claimed on 7th April contained nerve agents - in reality insecticide. Given that the barrels were found at an agricultural warehouse, the contents should not have been particularly surprising.

In the face of no evidence of Iraq's prohibited weapons, and with no use of those weapons by Iraq, the flag of disarmament under which this war has been fought has fallen away. As a result, many - including the Russian foreign minister - have speculated that if the evidence is not there, it would have to be invented. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said US military commanders would be responsible for identifying and destroying any prohibited weapons that are found. The US military has also started to set up its own weapons inspectorate, and have attempted to poach UN staff for this purpose. This would give the US administration free rein to exaggerate or falsify any material that might retrospectively legitimise the military campaign.

In taking this course of action, the US is clearly in violation of the very Security Council resolutions that it claimed justified the war. Under Security Council Resolution 687 that ended the 1991 Gulf War, the destruction of all chemical, biological and nuclear material and missiles must take place under the supervision of UN inspectors. These were obligations imposed on Iraq, not the regime of Saddam Hussein, and are binding on any successor government. As the US has become the occupying power, the Security Council obligations transfer to it. By failing to freeze any sites that are found, and allowing UN inspectors in as soon as safety allows, the US has committed exactly the same breach that it accused Iraq of.

The UN has confirmed its role in verifying any claims that Iraq has retained prohibited weapons. Kofi Annan said on 24th March that "UNMOVIC still has the responsibility for the disarmament of Iraq…they will be expected to go back to Iraq and inspect." Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA, added that only international inspections could provide credible information on Iraq's weapons.

Without independent verification from UN inspections teams that Iraq did retain prohibited weapons, the US and UK will be judged as having a launched a war on the basis of deceit. If this war was for the disarmament of Iraq, as Blair told us, then unless prohibited weapons are found and destroyed, it can only be judged a failure.


(A) The occupying army's responsibility to re-admit UNMOVIC / IAEA

Hans Blix, "Notes for briefing the Security Council on UNMOVIC's Readiness to Resume Operations", 22 April 2003, at:
http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/bxSC22april.html . The UN news report is "Blix makes case for return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq " (22 April 2003).

Secretary-General's press encounter upon arrival at UNHQ (unofficial transcript), 10 April 2003, at: http://www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=413 . Quote:


"I think on the question of the weapons inspectors – their mandate is still valid. It is only suspended because it became inoperable on account of the war. I would expect [Hans] Blix and [Mohammed] ElBaradei to be able to return as soon as it is possible and I think they are the ones with the mandate to disarm Iraq, and when the situation permits they should go back to resume their work."

Edith M. Lederer, "Secretary-General says he expects U.N. inspectors to return as soon as possible", AP, April 10, 2003.

Remarks by the Secretary-General upon arrival at Headquarters, 24 March 2003, at: http://www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=399 . Quote:

"the position of the Council and the United Nations is that Council resolutions are valid, including the mandate for UNMOVIC [..]. They have only been suspended temporarily because it's inoperable given the situation on the ground. The expectation is that as soon as the conflict is over and the situation permits, they will be able to resume their work"

Reuters: "IAEA sees return with full authority after Iraq war", 31 March 2003, here . Quote:

"The IAEA mandate in Iraq is still valid and has not changed, and the IAEA is the sole body with legal authority to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament," IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told Reuters in an emailed statement. "Our operation is interrupted because of hostilities. We expect to go back with full authority after the cessation of hostilities, to resume our inspection activities in Iraq," he said, adding that only impartial international inspections would be credible.

(B) The US administration thinks differently

Colin L. Powell, Press Conference at NATO Headquarters Secretary, Brussels, Belgium April 3, 2003, at: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/19350.htm . Quote:

"Initially, military commanders, the coalition commanders will be responsible for [..] making sure that we find all the weapons of mass destruction, identify them, destroy them, pull out the infrastructure and capability, making sure that we have disarmed any remaining remnants of the Iraqi army that might be a threat to their own people or to coalition forces."

Barton Gellman, "Special Search Operations Yield No Banned Weapons", The Washington Post, 30 March 2003, here .

Nicholas Watt, Owen Bowcott and Richard Norton-Taylor, "Weapons teams scour Iraq: Secret units in desperate hunt for banned arsenal", The Guardian, 12 April 2003, here .

Kamal Ahmed and Peter Beaumont, "No role for UN in weapons hunt", The Observer, 20 April 2003, here .

(C) The "certainty" of weapons finds

Briefing with CENTCOM Commander General Tommy Franks, 22 March 2003, at: http://www.centcom.mil/CENTCOMNews/Transcripts/20030322.htm . Quote:

"There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. And at -- and as this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them. And of course there is no doubt about that. It will come in the future."

Further quotes from US officials in Mike Allen and Dana Milbank, "Question of the Day Dogs Administration Officials Where Are Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction?", The Washington Post, 23 March 2003, here .

Prime Minister Tony Blair, press conference of 25 March 2003, at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3347.asp . Quote:

"We have absolutely no doubt at all that these weapons of mass destruction exist"

Prime Minister Tony Blair, statement opening Iraq debate (18 March 2003), at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3294.asp . Quote:

"We are now seriously asked to accept that in the last few years, contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence, he [Saddam Hussein] decided unilaterally to destroy the weapons. Such a claim is palpably absurd."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, press conference with President George Bush (8 April 2003), at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3448.asp . Quote:

"On weapons of mass destruction, we know that the regime has them, we know that as the regime collapses we will be led to them."

White House Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer (10 April 2003), at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/04/20030410-6.html . Quote:

"we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found."

(D) False finds

Mark Huband, "Search at Najaf yields no sign of chemical weapons", Financial Times, 24 March 2003.

Joby Warrick, "Banned Weapons Remain Unseen", The Washington Post, 27 March 2003, here .

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, press briefing, 27 March 2003, at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3363.asp

Barton Gellman, "Special Search Operations Yield No Banned Weapons", The Washington Post, 30 March 2003, here . Quote:

John S. Wolf, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation: "The president has made very clear that the reason why we are in Iraq is to find weapons of mass destruction".

Jim Sciutto, "Hit on Ansar Al-Islam Camp Finds No Signs of Chemical Weapons", ABC News, 30 March 2003, here . Quote:

"A specialized biochemical team scoured the rubble for samples. They wore protective masks as they entered a building they suspected was a weapons lab, but found nothing."

Anne Kornblut and Susan Milligan, "Smoking gun still a phantom", Boston Globe, 4 April 2003, here .

Barton Gellman, "Banned Iraqi Weapons Might Be Hard to Find: Suspicious Sites Provide No Proof Yet", The Washington Post, 5 April 2003, here .

"Suspected WMD site in Iraq turns out to contain pesticide", ABC NewsOnline, 8 April 2003, at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s826802.htm .

Don Van Natta Jr. and David Johnston, "U.S. Search for Illegal Arms Narrowed to About 36 Sites", New York Times, 14 April 2003, here .

Walter Pincus, "U.S. Still Has Not Found Iraqi Arms", The Washington Post, 26 April 2003, here .

(E) Other

"Russia Will Believe UN Inspectors Only if Weapons of Mass Destruction are Found in Iraq", Pravda, 26 March 2003, at: http://english.pravda.ru/politics/2003/03/26/45041.html . Quote:

"Even if the American-British forces report that they have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the final assessment of their origin can be given only by international inspectors, said Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov"

Hans Blix, transcript of BBC Radio 4 interview, 20 March 2003, at: http://www.lynnejones.org.uk/blix20ma.htm . Quote:

"if they don’t find something then they have sent 250,000 men to wage a war in order to find nothing".

 Copyright G Rangwala  2003.  For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .