The Blair government continues to insist that Iraq poses a threat to the Middle East, despite clear evidence to the contrary

27 August 2002

The Blair government was told in January by the Americans that there was no justification for attacking Iraq in the "war on terrorism" and that their main aim was getting rid of Saddam Hussein who stood in the way of the West's control of Middle Eastern oil wealth.

This partly explains why Blair abandoned presenting to Parliament a famous "dossier" in which "the evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction is simply vast".

The dossier is no more than a stream of warmed-over assertions and deceptions, supplied by Washington. According to reliable intelligence sources in another Western country, who were privy to the same communications, the Central Intelligence Agency has made clear that there is "no credible evidence" justifying an attack in Iraq.

While Blair has continued to repeat propaganda that Iraq is a threat to the region and to what he calls "civilisation", the truth has long been an open secret. On February 5 last, the New York Times reported: "The Central Intelligence Agency has no evidence that Iraq has engaged in terrorist operations against the United States in nearly a decade, and the agency is also convinced that President Saddam Hussein has not provided chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaeda.

While Blair has claimed that Iraq has rebuilt its arsenal of "weapons of mass destruction", those who advise him know full well this is nonsense. And if Blair himself is not aware of this, this begs the question: what kind of prime minister is he?

They have read the evidence of Scott Ritter, who as senior United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq for seven years, is uniquely placed to assess how much of a danger the Iraqi regime represents.

RITTER, an American and international authority on weapons disarmament, personally led the inspections, investigations and destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes.

On July 23, he said: "There is no case for war. I say that, not as a pacifist, or someone who is afraid of war. I've been to war with the US Marine Corps. Moreover, I'm a card-carrying Republican, who voted for George W. Bush for president. More important, I believe in truth.

"The UN weapons inspectors enjoyed tremendous success in Iraq. By the end of our job, we ascertained a 90-95 per cent level of disarmament. Not because we took at face value what the Iraqis said. We went to Europe and scoured the countries that sold technology to Iraq until we found the company that had an invoice signed by an Iraqi official. We cross-checked every piece of equipment with serial numbers. That's why I can say that Iraq was 90-95 per cent disarmed. We confirmed that 96 per cent of Iraq's 98 missiles were destroyed.

"As for chemical weapons, even if Iraq had succeeded in hiding stocks of sarin and tabun nerve agents, these chemicals have a shelf life of five years; after that they deteriorate and become useless gunk."

Ritter does not deny that Iraq could have begun to reconstitute its weapons programmes. "But they would have to start from scratch because they don't have the factories any more, because we destroyed them (including the research and development plant). If they tried that, the evidence is readily detectable. The technology is available; if Iraq was producing chemical weapons today on any meaningful scale, we would have definitive proof to show, plain and simple; and there is none."

Blair must also be aware of the fact that the international Atomic Energy Agency reported that it had eliminated Iraq's nuclear weapons programme "efficiently and effectively". When he and Bush "demand" the return of the UN inspectors to Iraq, what they they omit to say is that the inspectors were never thrown out by Iraq, but ordered out by the UN after it was discovered they were being used as a cover for American spying.

Absurdity is never far away in Bush's world. His Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argues that the absence of evidence simply confirms that the nefarious Saddam has cleverly hidden his arsenal in caves and on the backs of lorries. "The absence of evidence," says Rumsfeld, "is not evidence of absence."

The second biggest lie is Iraq's "threat to the region". Blair and Bush repeatedly claim this as if they are echoing the fears of regional leaders. The opposite is true.

In March, the Beirut summit of the Arab League sent a clear message that all 22 governments wanted to see an end to the conflict with Iraq, which they no longer regarded as a threat. Saudi Arabia and Iraq have since re-opened their common border. Iraq has agreed to return Kuwait's national archives and to discuss the issue of missing people. Syria and Lebanon have re-established full relations with Iraq. Jordan's national airline flies five times a week between Amman and Baghdad."

THE unmentionable truth is that the entire Gulf and Middle East is being turned upside down, not by any perceived threat from Iraq, but by American obsessions with replacing Saddam Hussein.

He was their man, a thug whose Ba'athist Party was brought to power by the CIA in what the CIA official responsible described as "our favourite coup". Moreover, he was sustained in power during the 1980s by Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior and Margaret Thatcher, who gave him all the weapons he wanted, often clandestinely and illegally; in Washington, the relationship was known as "the love affair".

When I was in Iraq in 1999, I met an assistant hotel manager whose sardonic sense of western double standards was a treat.

"Ah, a journalist from Britain!" he said. "Would you like to see where Mr Douglas Hurd stayed, and Mr David Melon - (he meant Mellor) - and Mr Tony Newton, and all the other members of Mrs Thatcher's government... These gentleman were our friends, our benefactors."

This man has a collection of the Iraqi English-language newspaper, the Baghdad Observer, from the "good old days". Saddam Hussein is on the front page, where he always is. The only change in each photograph is that he is sitting on his white presidential couch with a different British government minister, who is smiling a smile uncannily similar to that of his murderous host.

There, in yellowing print, is Douglas Hurd twice - on the couch and on page two, bowing before the tyrant. And there is the corpulent David Mellor, also a Foreign Minister, on the same white couch in 1988. While Mellor, or "Mr Melon" as the assistant manager preferred, was being entertained by Saddam Hussein, his host ordered the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja. News of this atrocity the Foreign Office tried to suppress and the US State Department tried to blame on Iran. "Please give Mr Melon my greetings," said the assistant manager.

The 1994 Scott Inquiry into Britain's illegal supply of arms to Saddam Hussein found that deception was widespread among senior British officials and diplomats. One of those commended by Sir Richard Scott for the honesty of his evidence was the former head of the Iraq Desk in Whitehall, Mark Higson, who described "a culture of lying" in the Foreign Office.

Nothing has changed under Tony Blair. The Foreign Office has consistently lied about the inhuman effects of the American-driven embargo on the Iraqi civilian population. It has lied about the rise in the number of cancers in southern Iraq, the "Hiroshima effect" of depleted uranium, a weapon of mass destruction used by British and American forces during the Gulf War. It has lied about the vast amounts of humanitarian goods denied to Iraq, even though the UN Security Council has approved them. These include cancer assessment and treatment, medical equipment, and equipment that would allow Iraq to clean up its contaminated battlefields.

ON the issue of Iraq, the likeness between Thatcher's Tories and Blair's New Labour is remarkable. In 2000, Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister and a zealous supporter of the embargo on the civilian population, blocked a parliamentary request to publish the full list of the British companies that had helped to sustain Saddam Hussein in power.

Just as the Foreign Office under the Tories tried to hinder reports of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds from getting into the media (Foreign Office officials even questioned the "authenticity" of news photos), their successors under New Labour have questioned the veracity of United Nations studies reporting the death of children as a result of the American-driven embargo; and they play down the prospect of the new humanitarian disaster awaiting the Iraqi people when the Americans invade. Four years ago, the Pentagon told President Clinton that, if he invaded Iraq, he should expect "collateral damage" (civilian deaths) of up to 10,000 innocent people.

These days, various Saddam Hussein look-alikes are to be seen being greeted at the Foreign Office. Several are generals who served under the tyrant and would, if there was international justice for the West's friends as well as its enemies, be convicted of war crimes. A new, obedient thug is being groomed to rule Iraq, the world's second greatest source of oil - the "prize" on which the insatiable economies of the developed world, especially the United Sates, rely.

Why is there an urgency about this attack? Is it true that the Bush administration needs something to go right with its rampage against "terror". There is another reason, which is seldom reported. This is the dire state of the world's number one source of oil, Iraq's neighbour, Saudi Arabia. This medieval throwback is America's most important client in the region, almost as important Israel; and Washington is losing control.

SAUDI Arabia is also the home of al-Qaeda, most of the September 11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden. Its importance to the US is demonstrated in the close ties of many in the Bush administration with "big oil" and the Saudi sheikhs. George Bush Senior, a consultant for the giant oil industry Carlyle Group, has met the bin Laden family on several occasions.

Not surprisingly, no American bombs fell on Saudi Arabia; impoverished Afghanistan was the easy option that America prefers.

Because of the American connection with Saudi Arabia, the reaction and opposition within the deeply fundamentalist kingdom has been growing. Al-Qaeda probably enjoys support or influence among a majority of the ruling families. The Americans are desperately urging the caretaker ruler, Prince Abdullah, to "modernise" - at present, women are not allowed to drive and you can lose your head for apostasy. But the American pressure is having the opposite effect; popular support for al-Qaeda is unabated.

George W Bush and his own unelected, Christian fundamentalist regime face a dilemma. An attack on Iraq and conflict in the Middle East would provide a timely boost for America's military-industry-complex, for which the Senate has voted an historic increase in expenditure of ?24billion. It would also divert attention from a sick economy and the corporate corruption scandals in which Bush and his vice-president are immersed up to their necks.

However, an attack on neighbouring Iraq could also give al-Qaeda the moment they have been waiting for and allow it to take over Saudi Arabia through proxies and control the most important oil fields on Earth. It goes almost without saying that Bush's dilemma does not include consideration for the thousands of Iraqis who will die under the American cluster bombs and depleted uranium tipped explosives.

It is naive to expect Tony Blair to say anything about this: to tell us the truth. However, people all over the world are stirring. A clear majority of the British people oppose the latest proposed homicidal adventure by the United States, and the complicity of their own government. Silence is no longer an option. "Our lives begin to end," said Martin Luther King, "the day we become silent about things that matter."