In North Carolina last month, a woman attending a lecture I was giving asked me when America would go to war in Iraq. I told her to watch the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post for the first smear campaigns against the UN inspectors. And bingo, right on time, the smears have begun.
One of the UN inspectors, it’s now stated – a man appointed at the behest of the State Department – is involved with pornography. Another senior official, we’re now told – again appointed at the urging of the State Department – was previously fired from his job as head of a nuclear safety agency. Why, I wonder, did the Americans want these men on the inspection team? So they could trash it later?
Actually, the official drubbing of the UN inspectors began way back in September when The New York Times announced, over Judith Miller’s by-line, that the original inspections team may be on a “mission impossible”. The source was “some officials (sic) and former inspectors”. Now President George Bush is banging on again about the Iraqi anti-aircraft defences firing at American and British pilots – even though the no-fly zones have nothing to do with the UN inspections nor, indeed, anything to do with the UN at all. The inspections appear to be going unhindered in Baghdad. And what does George Bush tell us? “So far the signs are not encouraging.”
What does this mean? Simply that America plans to go to war whatever the UN inspectors find. The New York Times – which is now little more than a mouthpiece for scores of anonymous US “officials” – has persuaded itself that Iraq’s Arab neighbours “seem prepared to support an American military campaign”. Despite all the warnings from Arab leaders, repeated over and over again, month after month, urging America not to go to war, this is the kind of nonsense being peddled in the United States.
And now the British government has come up with another of its famous “dossiers”on Saddam’s human rights abuses. Yes, again, we all know how vicious Saddam is. We knew about his raping rooms and his executions and his torture when we eagerly supported his invasion of Iran in 1980. So why is it being regurgitated all over again?
Just take one little point in the latest British “dossier”. It reveals that a certain Aziz Saleh Ahmed, a “fighter in the popular army”, held a position as “violator of women’s honour”. Now I happen to remember that name. Was this not the same Aziz Saleh Ahmed who turned up on page 287 of a book published back in 1993 by Kanan Makiya, who formerly called himself Samir al-Khalil? Why, indeed it was. Aziz Saleh Ahmed is listed as a “fighter in the popular army” and – you’ve guessed it – “violator of women’s honour”.
There was a controversy about the translation back at the time, but I’ve no doubt that there are raping rooms in Saddam’s Iraq. I went inside one in the northern city of Dohuk in 1991, women’s underclothes still lying on the floor. But the point is, what are we doing rehashing the Aziz Saleh Ahmad story all over again as if we’ve just discovered it when it’s at least eight years old and – according to Makiya – was first seen more than a decade ago?
And yet again, the Americans are trying to establish links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in a desperate attempt to hitch the “war on terror” to the war for oil (which is what, of course, the Iraqi “crisis” is all about). Vice President Cheney has been parroting all the same nonsense about “terror” leaders and Saddam, even though Bin Laden loathes the Iraqi leader. No one – absolutely no one – has produced the slightest evidence that Saddam had anything to do with the international crimes against humanity of 11 September. But still we are forced to listen to this trash.
Before Christmas or afterwards? I don’t know. I do believe that the US 1st Infantry Division will cross the Tigris bridges into Baghdad within one week of an invasion. The first photos will show Iraqis making V for victory signs at the American tanks. The second batch of pictures will show Baath party members strung up from lamp-posts by the population they have suppressed for so many years.
We will presumably use depleted uranium munitions against Iraqi armour – the same depleted uranium that was used 11 years ago in the deserts of southern Iraq, where children are now ravaged by strange and unexplained cancers. And we will not – repeat this one hundred times – we will not mention oil.
The most the Iraqi army will do in response to an invasion – always assuming they don’t have nuclear or chemical weapons – will be to score a stray hit on a Stealth bomber. Who, it is worth asking, knows the name today of Sgt Zoltan Bercik, the Yugoslav Hungarian from Vojvodina who single-handedly fired a liquid-fuelled Neva missile at an American Stealth bomber over Serbia on 27 March 1999? The only man to bring down a Stealth – and still his name remains unpublished, his story unknown. But that’s remembering another war in which the cause of the conflict – the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Albanians – subtly changed shape once the war had begun and the ethnic cleansing was under way.
In the meantime, Mr Bush’s foreign policy advisers are busy hatching up the conflict of civilisations. Take Kenneth Adelman, who is on the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board. He’s been saying that for Mr Bush to call Islam a peaceful religion “is an increasingly hard argument to make”. Islam is “militaristic” in the eyes of Mr Adelman. “After all, its founder, Mohammed, was a warrior, not a peace advocate like Jesus.”
Then there’s Eliot Cohen of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, who is also on the Pentagon board. He now argues that the “enemy” of the United States is not terrorism but “militant Islam”. Mr Adelman and Mr Cohen have not vouchsafed their own religion, but Islam is clearly being targeted.
Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster – who used to run a vile radio station in southern Lebanon which uttered threats against Muslim villagers and UN troops – says that “Adolf Hitler was bad but what the Muslims want to do to Jews is worse.” Jerry Falwell, one of the nasties of the religious right, called the Prophet a “terrorist”, while Franklin Graham, son of the same Billy Graham who made those anti-Semitic remarks on the Nixon tapes, has called Islam “evil”. And Graham, remember, spoke at Bush’s inauguration.
We ignore all this dangerous rhetoric at our peril. Does Mr Blair ignore it? Isn’t he aware that there are some very sinister people hovering around George Bush? Does he really think Britons are going to be cheer-led into war by “dossiers” and the constant reheating of Saddam’s crimes? Don’t we want the UN inspectors to do their work?
No, I rather think that we are being set up for war, that Britain will join America in invading Iraq, whatever the inspectors discover. In fact, we are being prepared for the awful, incredible, unspeakable possibility that the UN inspectors will find absolutely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That will leave us with only one conclusion: they were no good at their job. They should have been in the oil business.