In trying to raise consciousness and inspire activist resistance
regarding the currently threatened invasion of Iraq, critics
repeatedly confront variations on relatively few themes. The
following article tries to distill these themes into a series
of questions and answers. We invite and welcome reproduction
in any form true to the original intent.
Are U.S. leaders correct in their characterization of Saddam
Hussein as a monster?
most people mean by the term “monster” is a leader
who pursues policies that violate every norm of morality and
international human rights law. By this definition, Saddam
Hussein is certainly a monster: he has murdered thousands
of political opponents and tens of thousands of members of
ethnic minorities, repressed the population, and waged wars
of aggression against Iran and Kuwait. A second, hypocritical
definition is that anyone the U.S. government considers an
enemy and insufficiently pliant is a monster.
How can we tell which definition U.S. leaders use? There are
two simple tests. First, look at instances of leaders in other
countries who are violators of human rights, but who serve
U.S. interests. Are they branded as monsters by the U.S. government,
which they would be by the first definition, but not by the
second? To take an example: Suharto of Indonesia presided
over killing at least half a million Indonesians and some
200,000 East Timorese, but Washington did not denounce him
as a monster, rather it provided him with arms and diplomatic
support (even provided his army with names of Communists to
The second test is to look at how the United States characterized
and treated Saddam Hussein before August 1990, when he was
serving U.S. interests. It was in this period that his worst
atrocities took place—his invasion of Iran, his use of
chemical weapons against both Iran and Iraqi Kurds, his Anfal
campaign of slaughter against the Kurdish population. Again,
Washington did not denounce him as a monster, rather it provided
him with economic aid, military intelligence, diplomatic support,
and equipment that could have been (and presumably was) used
for his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
Two of Hussein’s atrocities deserve special mention.
In 1975, the United States which, together with Iran and Israel,
had been aiding a Kurdish revolt in Iraq, abruptly cut off
its support for the Kurds when the Shah of Iran, Washington’s
close ally, struck a deal with Iraq. As Baghdad turned its
full wrath on the Kurds, many of the latter sought U.S. assistance
in obtaining asylum. In closed session testimony, Secretary
of State Henry Kissinger explained why the U.S. rejected their
appeal for help: “covert action,” he declared, “should
not be confused with missionary work” (Select Committee
on Intelligence, 1/19/76 [Pike Report] in Village Voice,
2/16/76; William Safire, Safire’s Washington,
New York: Times Books, 1980).
In 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Hussein ruthlessly
suppressed uprisings—encouraged by U.S. propaganda broadcasts—of
Kurds in the north and Shi’ites in the south. U.S. officials
permitted Hussein to use helicopters (U.S. warplanes flew
overhead watching Iraqi helicopters carry out their slaughter)
and refused to allow the rebels access to the Iraqi weapons
that the U.S. military had captured.
2. Are U.S. leaders right in their characterization of
Saddam Hussein as a threat to world peace and security?
Saddam Hussein, given no obstacles, would probably hurt many
more people by his actions than he already has. But he knows
that if Iraq does anything to seriously endanger people outside
its borders, it will be annihilated.
Hussein’s military position is far weaker today than
it was before the 1991 Gulf War, a war in which his forces
were decisively defeated. Whatever Hussein’s arsenal
of weapons of mass destruction, surely his nuclear, chemical,
and missile capabilities are fewer today than in 1990. At
the same time, regular over flights subject Iraq to far more
intense and intrusive surveillance than was the case prior
to the Gulf War.
if an attack is unleashed on Iraq, Hussein in desperation
might launch missiles at Israel or Saudi Arabia, but this
is a very different matter from his launching an attack out
of the blue. Far more likely to wage war on their neighbors
are Israel or India, nations that are regionally dominant
military powers. Of course, only one nation in the world has
actually proclaimed its right to preemptively attack others,
with or without UN authorization, and that is the United States.
3. What are the connections between al Qaeda and Saddam
One cannot prove the absence of connections. There are, however,
good reasons for doubting any serious ties between the two.
Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime has been ruthlessly
secular and has no love for fundamentalist groups. Al Qaeda,
for its part, considers its task the overthrow of all governments
in the region that are insufficiently Islamic. Cer- tainly
Hussein’s regime counts as such. (One might note that
Iraq did not have diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime.
The only countries that did have diplomatic relations with
the Taliban were U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates,
Of course, hostile parties can sometimes be useful to one
another against a common enemy, but no evidence has come to
light of cooperation between al Qaeda and Iraq. Since September
11, U.S. officials have been frantically looking for some
connection between the two.
On September 24, 2002, the British government released a 55-
page dossier laying out its case against Iraq. The evidence
was said to come from British intelligence and analysis agencies,
but also from “access to intelligence from close allies.”
Surely this includes the United States and whatever hesitancy
the United States government might have about revealing intelligence
information publicly would not prevent it from sharing such
information with its closest ally. The dossier presented zero
evidence of any al Qaeda- Iraq links
In the last week of September, in the face of international
and domestic hesitancy regarding the rush to war, U.S. officials
again raised the specter of al Qaeda- Saddam Hussein links.
Rumsfeld said he had “bulletproof” evidence tying
the two together, but, significantly, he did not present that
evidence and admits that it wouldn’t hold up in a U.S.
court of law.
There was one report, charged Rumsfeld, that Iraq provided
“unspecified training relating to chemical and/or biological
matters.” The report apparently came from Abu Zubaydah,
a high-ranking al Qaeda prisoner who, according to an intelligence
source cited by Newsday, “often has lied or provided
deliberately misleading information.” As one U.S. official
told USA Today, “detainees have a motive to lie
to U.S. interrogators: to encourage a U.S. invasion of Iraq,
the better to make the case that the United States is the
mortal enemy of Muslim countries.”
This said, an attack on Iraq may well play into al Qaeda’s
hands by destabilizing much of the Middle East and, in the
words of former General Wesley Clark, possibly “supercharge”
recruiting for the terrorist network (NYT, 9/24/02).
4. Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass
No one knows what weapons Saddam Hussein has. Most analysts
assume that he has biological and chemical weapons. No one
believes he has nuclear weapons.
We can presume that the most damning claims about the extent
of his arsenal are contained in two recent documents: the
September 24, 2002 dossier issued by the British government
and an October 4, 2002 report by the CIA. There is good reason
for thinking these documents exaggerated. For example, the
British dossier identifies several once destroyed sites that
it says have been rebuilt by the Iraqis. But Hans Von Sponeck,
the former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, visited two
of these sites and found that they were still destroyed. Other
British reporters visited some of the sites listed in the
dossier (chosen by them) and found nothing suspicious (Guardian,
Even if these documents were not exaggerated they would make
a good case for inspections, not war.
5. Is it true that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons
against Iran and his own people?
Yes. The British dossier and the October 4, 2002 CIA report
give details of these actions, but they omit one fact: that
the U.S. and British governments were backing Hussein when
he committed these atrocities.
One should also note that Hussein’s chemical munitions
are not the only weapons of mass destruction that have been
used in Iraq. Far more people have died— and are still
dying—from the diseases attributable to the U.S.-British
sanctions than from Hussein’s mustard gas or tabun.
6. How should we deal with Iraq’s weapons of mass
Council resolution 687, the resolution calling for the post-Gulf
War destruction of Iraq’s WMD systems, noted in paragraph
14 that the disarmament actions “represent steps towards
the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from
weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery
and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.”
The acquisition of WMD by one state generally encourages,
rather than discourages, their acquisition by others. So the
best method for dealing with Iraqi WMD—both from the
point of view of justice and efficacy—is in the context
of global or regional disarmament.
To the United States and many other WMD states, however, serious
disarmament is not on the agenda. The United States is a party
to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which sets
up a class of “have” and “have not” nations,
with the U.S. in the privileged “have” category,
but Washington has refused to meet its obligation under the
treaty to move towards disarmament; it has refused, for example,
to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that have-not
nations consider a minimal litmus test indicating a country’s
commitment to the NPT.
The United States is also a party to the Chemical Weapons
Convention (CWC). As a report for the Center for Nonproliferation
Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies
noted, “After signing the treaty in 1993, Washington
largely ignored it, escaping national embarrassment only with
a last minute ratification just four days before its entry
into force. Moreover, the United States took steps to dilute
the Convention by including waivers in its resolution of ratification
and implementing legislation exempting U.S. sites from the
same verification rules that American negotiators had earlier
demanded be included in the treaty.”
Among the exemptions were the U.S. president’s right
to refuse inspection of U.S. facilities on national security
grounds. The United States is also a party to the Biological
and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), but efforts to improve
compliance with the treaty floundered after Washington blocked
continued discussions. Among other WMD states, Israel has
refused to sign the NPT or the BWC or ratify the CWC; India
and Pakistan have refused to sign the NPT; and Egypt and Syria
have not ratified either the CWC or the BWC.
But even though many nations act hypocritically, it would
still be a good thing if Iraq’s WMD programs were effectively
inspected (not least, for establishing a precedent that could
be extended to others). Most everyone favors the inspection
of Iraqi WMD, other than Saddam Hussein and, as we can infer
from its actions, Washington. Everything the United States
has done for the last 11 years has had the effect of discouraging
Iraq’s cooperation with inspections.
Security Council resolution 687 declared that sanctions would
be lifted when Iraq was disarmed, but the United States promptly
removed Hussein’s incentive for disarmament, when in
May 1991 deputy national security adviser Robert Gates officially
announced that all sanctions would remain as long as Saddam
Hussein stayed in power.
After the inspectors were withdrawn in 1998 so U.S./UK bombing
could proceed, it was discovered that the United States had
used the inspection teams for spying. Obviously, Iraq would
not be inclined to admit inspectors again, if the United States
was determined to attack Iraq no matter what, for in that
case admitting them would weaken Iraq’s defenses in the
face of the inevitable assault. So an assurance from Washington
that compliance with UN inspections would forestall an attack
would provide an incentive for Hussein’s cooperation.
But, declared Secretary of State Powell (“ABC News,”
5/5/02), regardless of whether inspectors are admitted, the
United States “reserves its option to do whatever it
believes might be appropriate to see if there can be a regime
change.” Then, when Iraq on September 16 declared its
willingness to allow the inspection, the White House replied:
“This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament
of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s
compliance with all other Security Council resolutions.”
Now the United States is trying to force through a Security
Council resolution on inspections that could not possibly
be accepted by Iraq—essentially allowing U.S. military
forces full access to Iraq and the right to unilaterally declare
Iraq in non-compliance, thereby allowing the U.S. to invade
Iraq with spies already in place to direct the attack (Guardian,
10/3/02). Such a proposal could have no other purpose than
to make sure that inspections don’t take place. Yes,
Saddam Hussein has tried to obstruct and manipulate previous
inspections and loopholes need to be closed—as inspections
need to be imposed on all other WMD states as well. But U.S.
efforts here are not aimed at making inspections effective,
but at making them impossible.
7. Can Hussein fool the inspectors?
Maybe. But no inspectors at all are far easier to fool than
some inspectors. As best anyone can tell, the inspectors in
Iraq from 1991-1998 were far more effective at destroying
WMD than was bombing, either during the Gulf War or in 1998.
might ask, can’t the U.S. fool inspectors—can’t
India, Pakistan, China, Russia, France, and Israel? Dangerous
WMD arsenals in each of these countries are not subject to
inspections at all.
8. Can Saddam Hussein be deterred?
Suicide bombers or suicide pilots cannot be deterred. They
have already chosen death. But Saddam Hussein has spent a
lifetime trying to avoid death. In 1991 during the Gulf War,
Hussein withheld use of his chemical weapons. We don’t
know if he was deterred by the U.S. (and Israeli) threats
of disproportionate and massive retaliation or by the realization
that using such weapons against coalition forces would guarantee
a U.S. march on Baghdad, but either way, he was deterred.
Are there some circumstances in which Hussein would not be
deterred? Yes, if he thought he was doomed anyway, he might
decide to kill as many of his enemies as possible. So, ironically,
the one circumstance most likely to elicit Hussein’s
use of WMD is a war fought to depose Hussein in the name of
nullifying his WMD.
Bush claims he does not need Security Council authorization
to legally attack Iraq. Is this true?
No. The UN Charter prohibits nations from using or threatening
force against other nations with only two exceptions.
First, Article 51 permits self- defense, but only “when
an armed attack occurs.” Clearly, there has been no armed
attack by Iraq against the United States. Some argue that
self-defense includes the right to strike an enemy who is
about to launch an attack. Clearly there is no basis for claiming
that an Iraqi attack is imminent. If U.S. assertions that
Iraq might have nuclear weapons by the end of the decade are
taken as adequate grounds for allowing anticipatory self-defense,
then Lebanon would have the right to attack Israel, and vice
versa, and Pakistan would have the right to attack India,
and vice versa, and just about any country would have the
right to attack almost any other country.
The second exception to the Charter’s prohibition against
the use or threat of force is action taken under the authority
of Chapter VII. That is, the Security Council may, under Chapter
VII, authorize the use of force in pursuit of international
peace and security. So if the Security Council were to pass
a resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq, that attack would
be legal (which is not the same as just). But there has been
no resolution authorizing an attack, as yet. In 1990, after
all sorts of bribery and pressure from the United States,
the Council authorized action in resolution 678 to expel Iraq
from Kuwait. U.S. officials claim that this resolution is
enough to legitimize U.S. military action against Iraq today,
but that is preposterous. Resolution 678 authorized member
states to use all necessary means “to uphold and implement
resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions.”
Resolution 660 called for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and
the subsequent relevant resolutions are listed at the beginning
of 678 and consist of the series of resolutions relating to
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait passed between resolutions
660 (August 2) and 678 (November 29, 1990). U.S. officials
maintain that “all subsequent resolutions” includes
anything having to do with Iraq passed after August 2, 1990
and thus includes all the post-Gulf War resolutions relating
to arms inspectors. Such a claim cannot be taken seriously.
Resolutions don’t authorize the use of force to uphold
resolutions not yet passed. They don’t authorize individual
member states to determine for themselves whether Iraq is
in compliance with any particular resolutions. That’s
the responsibility of the Security Council.
After the Gulf War, resolution 687—accepted by Iraq—mandated
the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
But nothing in that resolution authorized any use of force
or the right of any individual state to determine Iraqi compliance.
If the U.S. view prevailed, then Israel, for example, could
have legally attacked Iraq any time after November 1990, if
it decided that Iraq wasn’t complying with subsequent
final U.S. argument is that Iraq remains in violation of some
1990 resolutions relating to Kuwaiti prisoners and property
and thus can still be brought to account under resolution
678. But at the March 2002 Arab League Summit, every Arab
state, including Kuwait, signed an all-sided rapprochement
with Iraq, including specific arrangements for the return
of Kuwait’s stolen National Archives and prisoner exchanges.
Thus there is no legal basis for a U.S. attack on Iraq without
explicit Security Council authorization. We reiterate, however,
that Security Council authorization determines legality, not
10. Has Iraq violated many Security Council resolutions?
Yes. But it is not the only country to do so. Other countries,
including close U.S. allies like Israel and Turkey, have been
in violation of Security Council resolutions. Of course, the
number of violations by U.S. allies would be far larger, if
it were not for the fact that the Security Council has a totally
undemocratic voting procedure that gives Washington (and four
other nations) the power to veto any resolutions of which
it disapproves. Still, that others violate UN resolutions
is not a justification for Iraq to do so.
11. What are the likely consequences of a U.S.
attack on Iraq?
Administration officials assure us that the consequences will
be positive. The Iraqi people will welcome their “nearly
bloodless” deliverance and “democracy” will
spread throughout the region. These are possible, but the
first is by no means certain and the second extremely unlikely.
Under some scenarios, Iraqi troops will refuse to fight and
Saddam will be defeated swiftly. But one cannot exclude the
possibility of intense urban fighting (with the U.S. using
overwhelming air-power to obliterate all resistance), which
would mean many civilian casualties. As for Middle Eastern
democracy, the corrupt authoritarian regimes of the region
will probably hold on to power by the imposition of greater
repression—that is, by becoming less rather than more
democratic. If the threat to these regimes gets more serious,
we can expect to see Washington increase its support for dictatorial
rule, for there’s no chance that the U.S. would tolerate
a new government in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia that came
to power by opposing the U.S. war in Iraq.
12. Are the claims of civilian deaths in Iraq, resulting
from the sanctions, exaggerated?
There is debate both on the number of deaths in Iraq under
the sanctions and the cause of those deaths. Save the Children
UK and a coalition of other NGOs recently issued a report
that summarizes the conflicting estimates: “UNI- CEF,
in a widely publicized study carried out jointly with the
Iraq Ministry of Health, determined that 500,000 children
under five years old had died in excess numbers in Iraq between
1991 and 1998, though UNICEF insisted that this number could
not all be ascribed directly to sanctions. UNICEF used surveys
of its own as part of the basic research and involved respected
outside experts in designing the study and evaluating the
data. UNICEF remains confident in the accuracy of its numbers
and points out that they have never been subject to a scientific
“Prof. Richard Garfield of Columbia University carried
out a separate and well regarded study of excess mortality
in Iraq…. Garfield concluded that there had been a minimum
of 100,000 excess deaths and that the more likely number was
227,000. Garfield now thinks the most probable number of deaths
of under-five children from August 1991 to June 2002 would
be about 400,000.”
Some supporters of the sanctions argue that any humanitarian
suffering is a result not of the sanctions, but of Hussein’s
manipulations of the sanctions regime. There is no doubt that
Hussein bears some of the responsibility for the situation.
However, as the Select Committee on International Development
of the British House of Commons noted (1/27/00), this does
not “entirely excuse the international community from
a part in the suffering of Iraqis. A sanctions regime which
relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is fundamentally
13. Aren’t the sanctions essential to prevent Iraq
from developing weapons of mass destruction?
Not if we are to believe the U.S. and British governments,
which claim that Hussein has been able to rebuild his WMD
programs by easily evading the sanctions.
Blocking weapons transfers and WMD components makes good sense—and
not just to Iraq. But the sanctions regime in Iraq blocks
far more than military supplies. In July 2002, $5.4 billion
worth of goods were being held up, almost always at the insistence
of the United States or Britain, covering such supplies as
water purification systems, sewage pipes, medicines, hospital
equipment, electricity and communications infrastructure,
and oil field equipment.
15. Do the American
people support a war against Iraq?
If asked do you support the United States preventing Iraq
from killing you or your parents or your children, a considerable
majority of Americans will certainly say yes.
If they are asked, should the United States attack Iraq—a
country it has already devastated for over a dozen years with
hundreds of thousands of casualties—in order to violently
steal for ourselves direct control over the resources of another
country, it is reasonable to guess that a majority of Americans
would say no.
As we write, reports suggest that about 70 percent of the
British population, by polls, oppose the war plans, despite
the British government being the only one in the world solidly
behind Bush. Two things seem to explain the British anti-war
sentiment. One, the planes that crashed into buildings on
9-11 didn’t do so in London. Two, Britain has a mass-circulation
press that is conveying more actual truths and morally civilized
reactions to the ongoing events than are being conveyed in
the U.S. Reaction in the U.S. is behind, but is catching up.
16. Why does the U.S. government want to go to war against
Because Iraq’s leader is not in Washington’s hip
pocket anymore, where he was, when Washington liked him quite
a lot, while he was committing his worst crimes.
Because Iraq is the world’s second largest reserve of
oil, which the U.S. government would like to control, particularly
given the instability of Saudi subservience.
Because around the world, country after country, suffering
the accumulating damage of corporate globalization, is being
pressured by its population to extricate from the American
Empire’s hold over their policies. Waging violent destruction
on Iraq sends a message regarding just how high the price
will be for extrication from U.S. domination.
Because anything remotely resembling a legal and moral approach
to international problems is ridiculed and rejected by U.S.
elites because legal and moral approaches to international
problems would, in case after case, lead to outcomes contrary
to their agendas and interests.
Because intense focus on Iraq is serviceable to Bush and Company
seeking to divert attention from the U.S economy and corporate
corruption leading up to the November U.S. elections; and
the Administration is hoping to undermine social spending,
which is strongly favored by the population, in the interest
of tax cuts for the rich, which are strongly opposed by the
Albert is sysop of ZNet and the author or numerous books, the
latest being Parecon (Verso) and Trajectory
of Change (South End Press); Stephen R. Shalom’
teaches political science at William Patterson, NJ. His latest
book is Whose Side Are You On? (Longman).