With the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the US has removed another obstacle in its path to an escalated war against Iraq.
Those countries who had been holdouts in the Security Council claim that they went along because their fears were allayed. Syria's UN ambassador said that they were assured that 'this resolution would not be used as a pretext to strike Iraq'. The Russian ambassador said 'this resolution deflects the direct threat of war [it] does not contain any provision about the automatic use of force.' France's ambassador showed less interest in the resolution's war-preventing properties: 'The rules of the game set by the Security Council are clear and demanding. If Iraq wishes to avoid confrontation, it must understand that the opportunity it has been given is the last.'
The resolution itself is full of timelines and deadlines for Iraq:
-Iraq has until November 15 to pledge that it will comply; -Iraq has until December 8 to declare all aspects of its weapons programs to the security council; -Inspectors have until December 23 to resume their work, with an advance team in Iraq by November 18 -Inspectors are to report to the security council no later than 60 days after their work-either January 17 or February 21.
This means that the last two hurdles in the US's path are 1) that inspectors have to actually find something, even if that something is just Iraqi 'interference', 'obstruction', 'false statements', or 'omissions' and 2) a second meeting of the security council after the inspectors report.
These hurdles will not be difficult to clear. It's unlikely that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction, but it is highly likely that inspectors could find evidence of 'interference' or 'omission' from the Iraqi regime, if they were looking for such evidence. And the resolution's 'early test' is designed to produce exactly such evidence: 'United Nations weapons inspectors plan to force an early test of Saddam Hussein's intentions by demanding a comprehensive list of weapons sites and checking whether it matches a list of more than 100 priority sites derived from the findings of previous weapons inspections and the latest intelligence culled from defectors and other sources by American and other intelligence experts.' (NYT, Nov 10, 2002). As for the outcome the US is looking for, that, too, is no secret: 'Many administration officials say they would far prefer a bold rebuff by Mr. Hussein, rather than have him seem to cooperate but actually try to run out the clock with evasions and confusing tactics in the hope that support for war will subside.'
It has been clear from the moment the focus of attention in the War on Terror shifted from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein that inspections for weapons of mass destruction, in this context and at this time, had only one purpose: to provide a pretext for the US to attack Iraq. The idea of inspecting countries for weapons of mass destruction and disarming them is of course a good one, and no one could oppose such inspections on principle. But the timing of these inspections, the fact that the US would 'far prefer a bold rebuff by Mr. Hussein' to cooperation, shows what the inspections are really about. Serious approaches to disarmament of countries with weapons of mass destruction would have to include many more countries than just Iraq, and should probably start with the country most heavily armed with such weapons: the United States. Such an approach is nowhere near the US, or the UN, agenda. The purpose of these inspections is to find a reason to attack Iraq.
After the inspectors do their job of finding 'omission' or 'interference', the next step, obtaining authorization from the Security Council for the use of force, will not be any more difficult than obtaining resolution 1441 was: a matter of bribing, promising, and threatening the members into line. This time around France's cooperation was probably bought with assurances that France wouldn't lose out when Iraq's oil concessions are handed out after the war, Russia with promises of diplomatic support for its own war on terror against the Chechens. To learn how the US wins the consent of smaller, weaker countries than France or Russia, a look at preparations for the 1990/91 wars is instructive. Back then, the US offered carrots:
'Egypt was the most indebted country in Africa. Baker bribed President Mubarak with $14bn in "debt forgiveness" and all opposition to the attack on Iraq faded away. Syria's bribe was different; Washington gave President Hafez al-Assad the green light to wipe out all opposition to Syria's rule in Lebanon. To help him achieve this, a billion dollars' worth of arms was made available through a variety of back doors, mostly Gulf states.'
'Minutes after Yemen voted against the resolution to attack Iraq, a senior American diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador: "That was the most expensive 'no' vote you ever cast." Within three days, a US aid programme of $70m to one of the world's poorest countries was stopped. Yemen suddenly had problems with the World Bank and the IMF; and 800,000 Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia.' (see John Pilger, 'Diplomacy?'); http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2361
The activities of the US military, meanwhile, suggest that the US interprets resolution 1441 as a green light to go to war.
The US is proceeding to build up its attack forces in the most deliberate and methodical way. There are the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan; 16,000 on carriers in the Gulf area; 11,000 in Kuwait; 5,000 in Saudi Arabia; 4,500 in Bahrain; 4,000 in Qatar; 2,500 in Uzbekistan, and smaller numbers elsewhere. 63,000 troops at last count, and building. These troops, meanwhile, pose a 'dilemma' for the US:
"On the one hand, they must avoid rushing too many invasion forces to the Persian Gulf region, where troops could end up sitting and waiting while inspections play out, risking losses in efficiency and morale and straining relations with Arab host countries. On the other hand, they must ensure that enough forces are in place to keep the pressure on the Iraqi government and to respond rapidly should inspections fail or should Iraqi President Saddam Hussein provoke a conflict." (Washington Post, November 9, 2002).
In other words, the US is worried that its soldiers might get bored sitting around waiting for the green light to destroy a helpless country. But, a senior Army officer sees a silver lining to the resolution: "This delay might help to get some equipment in place".
The plan is to go from 63,000 to 250,000 troops before the war starts. The New York Times described the war plan in loving detail. "Under the plan, the air campaign would be less than the 43 days of the first gulf war, and probably under a month, military officials said. In the opening hours of the air campaign, Navy and Air Force jets, including B-2 bombers carrying 16 one-ton satellite-guided bombs and B-1 bombers carrying 24 of the same weapons, would attack a range of targets from military headquarters to air defenses." (NYT, Nov 9, 2002).
The NYT also assured its readers that any civilians killed in the war would be blamed on Iraq, with the following amazing line: 'Mr. Bush hinted at another concern, that the Iraqi government would purposefully sacrifice its population to stain an American military victory with civilian blood.' The US is afraid of Iraqi 'volunteers [who] would hope to slow the American-led offensive by acting as suicide bombers or fighting in neighborhood defense squads, but their true strategic goal would be to generate anti-American feelings in the region.'
Notice that it isn't the civilian blood itself that is of concern, but that it might be used to 'stain an American military victory'. Notice too that there is no fear of Iraq's military might, only fear that the US war might be such a massacre that it will lead to 'anti-American feelings in the region.'
Civilian blood is of no consequence to those who are planning this war and ruling this world. The million Iraqis who have died so far in the Gulf War that started in 1990 and never really ended are proof of their depravity. The unanimous vote for Resolution 1441 is proof of their power. The only hope for stopping the war resides in those for whom civilian blood matters for reasons more than it being a 'stain on American military victory'.
Resolution 1441 shows that the US has the diplomatic support it needs to go to war. But diplomatic support from governments and elites will not be enough if there is enough resistance and protest from ordinary people. In September 2002, George W Bush threatened the United Nations with 'irrelevance' if it didn't support his war. The reverse is true: the UN demonstrates its irrelevance when it takes decisions that the people of the world are against. Whatever the UN Security Council does, the people of the world are not irrelevant.
People who cannot be persuaded to trade human lives for oil concessions, who won't accept a slaughter of civilians simply because the elites of the states who vote in the United Nations were bribed and threatened into signing off on the war, can mobilize to stop the war. If US war plans have been slowed at all, it has been because of them-the tens of thousands mobilizing in the US, the hundreds of thousands mobilizing in Europe and all over the world.