Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 February 2004
Issue No. 677
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Neither possible nor credible

The disgrace of spurious claims about WMD in Iraq highlights the need to reform the UN, writes Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie Suspicions had been growing for months. Now it is certain that the story of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a complete fabrication used to justify the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq.

I have long held that Saddam Hussein, through his stubborn and hotheaded defiance, bore a large share of the responsibility for setting his country on a collision course with the world's greatest superpower. But it was also obvious that the other side was bent on war.

Their pretext was the "imminent threat" posed by Iraqi WMD. A year ago US Secretary of State Colin Powell stood before the Security Council displaying what he claimed were satellite photographs and recordings that confirmed beyond the shadow of doubt Iraq's possession of WMD. He also claimed there was evidence of links between the Saddam regime and Al- Qa'eda, hinting at the likelihood that Iraqi's WMD would be placed at the service of terrorists. Other US and British officials backed these claims. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, announced that he had detailed information on the precise locations of Iraq's lethal arsenal.

Throughout the war and its aftermath US and British officials issued statement after statement attesting to how close they were to unearthing Iraq's deadly arms. The announcement that US forces in Iraq were made to wear special anti- germ and anti-chemical uniforms added a touch of sensationalism. Following the war and the subsequent occupation, US and British forces continued to comb the ground. They also apprehended most of the top officials of the former regime, and took numerous Iraqi scientists in for questioning. They were still unable to produce a speck of evidence.

People naturally began to ask where these elusive WMD were. Many began to suspect that they had been intentionally duped. Eventually, it came to light that political leaders had asked their intelligence agencies to "sex-up" their reports on Iraqi WMD in order to railroad plans for invasion. Then, seven months into the occupation, David Kay, head of the US Iraq Survey Group, sporting 1,400 weapons inspectors, announced that there was no evidence of WMD in Iraq, confirming the conclusion that UN weapons inspectors had reached before the war. As the heat increased, US and British officials began to backtrack on their once declared certainties over Iraq's possession of WMD.

In a speech at Georgetown University on 5 February, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet held that the agency had never explicitly stated before the war that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to the US. Rather, he said that analysts had differed over their assessment of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programmes, that these differences were included in the "estimate" the CIA had submitted to the White House in October 2002. The Bush administration had chosen to favour the view that warned of an imminent threat. Tenet went on to confess, "Before the war, we did not have sufficient human resources to penetrate Iraq, so we often had to rely on information furnished by our allies."

Throughout his speech, Tenet placed special emphasis on the word "estimate". Based on information gleaned from their sources, intelligence analysts concluded that the Saddam regime had "the intention" to convert civilian industries into chemical weapons plants, and that Iraq possessed the necessary infrastructure to continue producing biological weapons, "although we do not know whether he did so or not". In sum, he said, these analysts "painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programmes that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests". The language of probabilities rather than certainties evidence is inescapable.

In London, Tony Blair was also on the defensive. On 4 February, the British prime minister told the House of Commons that when he had warned the house of Iraq's capacity to deploy WMD within 45 minutes he had misinterpreted a British intelligence report on Iraq's weapons capacities. He was "unaware", he said, that the weapons the report referred to were merely short-range, tactical battlefield weapons that posed no threat to British interests in the region. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who had resigned in protest against his government's decision to join the war, was indignant. "In my resignation speech I made the very point that we were considering battlefield weapons, and that Saddam probably had no real weapons of mass destruction ... I find it difficult to reconcile what I knew and what I am sure the prime minister knew at the time we had the vote in March."

Nor was Cook the only sceptic. An opinion poll published in The Independent on 7 February revealed that 54 per cent of respondents believed Tony Blair had lied to the nation about the Iraqi threat. Fifty one per cent felt that Tony Blair should step down.

Both the White House and 10 Downing Street have had to cave in to pressure to establish independent commissions to investigate pre-war intelligence on the Iraqi threat. Prominent political figures in both countries have indicated that they will settle for nothing less than full and undistorted truth. In the US, Zbigniew Brezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said: "America's credibility throughout the world has suffered a serious blow over the issue of the WMD Iraq was alleged to have possessed." In Britain, Robin Cook was more explicit: "It would be a disgrace to hold the intelligence agencies responsible for a political decision. We know that there were no WMD and that there was no threat from Iraq. We all know that we have made a mistake."

But, it will take more than words to redress this "mistake", regardless of how Saddam might have courted it. The Iraqi people must be compensated for the death and destruction they suffered. The countries that waged war should be called upon to make restitution. In addition, immediate measures must be taken to transfer political and military jurisdiction over Iraq to the UN, preparatory to the rapid restoration of sovereignty and independence to Iraq.

At the same time, I appeal to all nations in the world to combine their efforts to rehabilitate the UN. The case of the trumped-up Iraqi WMD has taught us a bitter lesson about the abuse of power. It is now imperative to ensure that all governments abide by the principles and procedures of international consensus. The UN, alone, must be the ultimate authority in the preservation of international peace and security, and, specifically, in the implementation of international conventions on arms control and disarmament.

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