Creating Pretexts: The Post-9/11 Campaign Against Iraq
In the aftermath of September 11, powerful forces within the U.S. establishment have been engaged in a campaign of lies, disinformation, and speculation to pin blame for the World Trade Center attacks and the anthrax mailings on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Over the past decade, more than a million Iraqis have died as a result of U.S. bombs and sanctions. Now, pretexts are being manufactured to justify targeting Iraq in "phase two" of â€œAmericaâ€™s New War.â€
On November 26, President Bush himself weighed in, demanding that Iraq submit to new weapons inspections. Asked what would happen if Hussein refused, Bush warned, "He'll find out." As Bush delivered his threat, 3,000 U.S. soldiers staged provocative maneuvers along Iraqâ€™s southern border, and U.S. planes bombed the southern Iraqi province of Nasiriyah.
While thereâ€™s a growing clamor within the U.S. power structure to topple the Hussein regime, there are differences over how and when, and what the next stage of their worldwide "war on terrorismâ€ should be.
Targeting Iraq -- Pre-9/11
U.S. accusations against Iraq and calls to overthrow or assassinate Saddam Hussein have been growing louder well before September 11. For example, U.S. officials have been unsuccessfully trying to link Iraq to Osama bin Laden since the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
In 1998, former government officials proposed a 9-point strategy for â€œbringing down Saddam and his regime,â€ endorsed by 10 who are now senior members of the Bush Administration--including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Last yearâ€™s Republican Party platform called for â€œa comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein.â€
In July the Wall Street Journal reported â€œSenior officials have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether to push for the [Hussein] governmentâ€™s ouster.â€ In August, the U.S. launched its most savage air attack on Iraq in six months.
Post-9/11: Creating New Pretexts
With the dust and smoke from September 11 still in the air, the New York Times (10/12) reported that on September 19-20, a â€œtight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government...met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of Sept. 11.â€ The group, known as the â€œWolfowitz cabalâ€ agreed â€œon the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan was over.â€
There was yet no evidence of Iraq involvement in the September 11 attacks, and for the last decade Iraqâ€™s focus has been a political campaign to end sanctions, not military attacks. So the Pentagon plotters dispatched former CIA chief James Woolsey to London â€œon a mission,â€ according to the Times (10/12), â€œto gather evidence linking Mr. Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks.â€
Unleashing the Anthrax Spin Doctors
After Senator Tom Daschle announced on October 15 that his office had received a letter laced with â€œweapons gradeâ€ anthrax, the "attack Iraq" cabal and much of the media went into full disinformation howl.
On October 18, the Wall Street Journal featured no less than three articles blaming Iraq for anthrax. Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen screamed, â€œSaddam and his bloody bugs have to go,â€ and two days later, Senators McCain and Lieberman advocated attacking Iraq.
Most attempts to pin anthrax on Iraq consisted of establishment â€œexpertsâ€ engaging in war-agenda-driven speculation -- without evidence. When the anthrax spores in the Daschle letter and other samples were analyzed, they turned out to be the â€œAmesâ€ strain -- developed in the U.S. -- NOT the vollum strain that Iraq had been working with (after buying it from a Maryland firm).
Researchers also discovered silica in the Daschle anthrax -- an agent U.S. weapons makers used to make anthrax disperse more easily through the air. Iraq reportedly used bentonite, which was not found.
A member of the Federation of American Scientists told the Geneva bio-weapons conference that the anthrax "was derived, almost certainly, from a U.S. defense laboratory.â€ (WSJ 11/21)
From â€œState Sponsorshipâ€ to â€œLone Terroristâ€
On October 18, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Iraq was the "likeliest supplier" of the Daschle anthrax because "refining anthrax is a complex and time-consuming process requiring relatively sophisticated equipment." Someone like Ted Kaczynski, the Journal argued, "couldnâ€™t do it in his basement."
Less than a month later -- without a word of self-criticism -- the Journal (11/12) reported the opposite:
â€œMounting evidence has made the lone domestic terrorist the leading theory...The FBI thinks a person could get the equipment needed to refine anthrax to the degree found in the Daschle letter for as little as $2,500... Indeed, the FBI now says that it has found 22,000 individuals or labs with access to anthrax.â€
On November 29, the FBI announced, without fanfare, that escaped fugitive and right-wing anti-abortion activist Clayton Lee Waagner had claimed responsibility for sending more than 280 anthrax threat letters to clinics.
Hyping - or Concocting - a Meeting in Prague
Another prop of the campaign to pin September 11 and/or anthrax on Iraq is a purported meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent last April.
This allegation was first floated by Woolsey in London, and according to the New York Times (10/20), soon after September 11 the Czech government was â€œasked by Washington to comb their records to determine whether Mr. Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat or agent here.â€ Czech officials â€œsaid they had told the United States they found no evidence of any such meeting.â€
Just one week later, the Czech reversed themselves and claimed that Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in April 2001. The Times (11/27) noted in passing, â€œIt was unclear what prompted them to revise their conclusions.â€
Massive Disinformation on Iraqâ€™s â€œWeapons of Mass Destructionâ€
Leaders of the "get Iraq" campaign increasingly argue that Iraqâ€™s involvement in September 11 or the anthrax mailings is irrelevant: Iraq, they claim, has -- or may have -- "weapons of mass destruction," and is therefore a "threat.â€
Such charges rest on a long campaign of lies and disinformation that ignores the impact of years of UN inspections and weapons destruction programs, and sanctions which have crippled Iraqâ€™s industrial and technical base.
The evidence, however, indicates that Iraq has been mostly disarmed. Earlier this year, Hans von Sponeck, the UNâ€™s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq from 1998-2000, wrote, â€œIraq today is no longer a military threat to anyone. Intelligence agencies know this. All the conjectures about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq lack evidence.â€
Biological Weapons Hypocrisy
Since September 11, U.S. charges have focused on Iraqâ€™s alleged biological weapons capabilities. At the Geneva biological weapons conference, the U.S. claimed, â€œIraq has taken advantage of three years of no UN inspections to improve all phases of its offensive biological weapons program... The existence of Iraq's program is beyond dispute."
Letâ€™s leave aside for a moment the enormous hypocrisy of the U.S. demanding that Iraq allow intrusive weapons inspections -- while refusing on-site inspection of its own biological weapons facilities and secretly developing new strains of anthrax.
All evidence suggests that Iraqâ€™s biological weapons capability has been minimized, if not effectively destroyed. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter writes in the Guardian (10/19/01):
â€œUnder the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of arms control, Iraq's biological weapons programmes were dismantled, destroyed or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections.
The major biological weapons production facility -- al Hakum, which was responsible for producing Iraq's anthrax -- was blown up by high explosive charges and all its equipment destroyed.
Other biological facilities met the same fate if it was found that they had, at any time, been used for research and development of biological weapons...No evidence of anthrax or any other biological agent was discovered.â€
A Blood-Stained Debate
At this writing, the U.S. and Russian governments have agreed to extend the current sanctions regime against Iraq for another six months, with new restrictions supposedly to follow. And the Iraqi government has rejected renewed UN weapons inspections.
Itâ€™s not clear where the U.S. rulers are heading. All agree on the need to strangle Iraq: some argue for an all-out attack now, while others fear such a move destroy the current US coalition. A former Jordanian official warned, â€œIf America moves to Iraq...People would start to question the motivation even for striking Afghanistan. People will begin to suspect that terrorism is just a pretext.â€
But much is clear. First, no actual proof of Iraqi involvement in either September 11 or the current anthrax scare has surfaced.
Second, evidence indicates that Iraq probably does not have â€œweapons of mass destructionâ€ in any significant quantities.
Third, the U.S. â€œfree pressâ€ has again proven to be another cog in the systemâ€™s machinery of oppression and war.
Fourth, thereâ€™s a hidden agenda in â€œAmericaâ€™s New War,â€ which has nothing to do with ending â€œterror.â€ That agenda is empire â€“ maintaining U.S. domination of the oil-rich Middle East and asserting its position as the worldâ€™s number one imperialist superpower.
And finally, the U.S. is preparing more deadly assaults -- of one sort or another -- against a country already losing 5,000 children a month due to U.S. air attacks and sanctions -- a September 11 sized horror every 30 days.
Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper and producer of the video Iraq: War Against the People (available from Revolution Books Berkeley: 510.848.1196/ firstname.lastname@example.org). He can be reached at email@example.com.