Aftermath of a crime

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST

Iraq: A Report from the Inside by Dilip Hiro; Granta Books; pages 271, 8.99.

Iraq War: Russian Military Intelligence Reports on the War compiled by Zafarul-Islam Khan; Pharos Publishers, New Delhi; pages 112, Rs.75.

Another Century of War? by Gabriel Kolko; The New Press; pages 165.

IS it any consolation to the people of Iraq that the two men who launched a war of aggression on their country, pillaged it brutally, not sparing its ancient treasures, are now facing censures for the lies they told in their own respective countries? U.S. President George W. Bush relied on information provided by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which, the IAEA's (International Atomic Energy Agency) chief Mohammad el-Baradei had warned was based on forgery. Bush now admits that the claim in his solemn State of the Union address that Iraq tried to get uranium from Niger was false. It was recklessly made because Bush wanted desperately to go to war. It was admitted on July 18 that neither he nor his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice - supposedly an academic - had "entirely read" the 90-page summary of the National Intelligence Estimate (October 2002). It contained a warning by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence & Research that the claim was "highly dubious".

On that very day, July 18, Blair faced criticism at home over the death of David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector and adviser on biological weapons to the Ministry of Defence. He was thrown to the wolves by the Ministry in its row with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) dubbing him as the source of the leak. A day earlier, Bush and Blair met the media together to brazen it out. Even if he had erred, "I am confident history will forgive," Blair said. Hours later came news of Kelly's death. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence Committees faced embarrassed silence by witnesses. It was broken by a senior intelligence expert, Christian Westermann, who testified to pressure to tailor his analysis on Iraq (International Herald Tribune, June 26). To this day, there is no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or Iraq's links to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

These books together bring out the menace that the world faces today - enormous and unchecked power wielded by a country led by men devoid of understanding or sense. Dilip Hiro, an acknowledged expert on West Asia, has written a masterful account of Iraq between the end of the first U.S.-led war in 1991 and October 2002, on the eve of its second war. His lucid style enables even a lay reader to grasp the intricacies of the U.N. weapons inspection regime, the domestic set-up in Iraq, under Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party; oil as "the defining element of Iraq" and Iraq after 9/11. He recalls U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's opposition to a war on Iraq (The Washington Post, December 21, 2001), Democrats' criticism of Bush's "axis of evil" speech (January 29, 2002) and its sharp criticism by Europe's leaders. But, simultaneously, a small group led by Vice-President Dick Cheney was planning for war. In July 2002, The New York Times published the outline of a five-inch-thick dossier on the "concept" of war on Iraq.

"Military chiefs preferred the option of achieving the regime change through Saddam's assassination or deteriorating health. The top soldiers opposed the military option on several counts. The policy of containment applied on the military and economic fronts - naval enforcement of sanctions, no fly zones, continuous presence of 24,000 U.S. troops in the region, rigorous U.N. administration of Iraqi oil sales, and continued U.N. supervision of Iraq's imports - had proved effective in severely reducing Baghdad's military threat, and should continue. These restrictions had stopped Saddam from upgrading his armour and air force, two-thirds of which had become obsolete."

As the author tactly remarks, "If possessing WMD was a sufficient cause for a country to merit an invasion by the Pentagon, then certainly Israel - possessing an arsenal of two hundred plus nuclear arms, produced since 1968, and vast quantities of chemical and biological warfare agents at its Nes Tziona facility south of Tel Aviv, established in 1952 - should have been invaded by Washington a long time ago, especially when Israel also had missiles and aircraft to deliver its WMD. Baghdad, on the other hand, lacked means of delivery."

The U.S., with the U.K. in tow, went to war on grounds they know to be false, ignoring warnings of grave consequences. Engagement with the U.N. was a deceptive charade. Yet few believed that the war would be launched. The writer would like to pay a tribute to the insights and perspicacity of Agha Shahi, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who predicted the war in July 2002 at a dinner party of senior diplomats in Islamabad. The factors he cited precisely now emerge as the decisive ones. Hiro cites them carefully. One of them was Bush's plummeting popularity.

Contrary to U.S. expectations, Iraqis did not welcome the invaders as their liberators. Zafar-ul-Islam's compilation of reports on the war by the Russian military intelligence (GRU) tells us, uniquely, the story from the victims' point of view as recorded in the GRU's factual reports and analyses of the war. They were culled from its Russian language web site from March 17 to April 8, 2003, when U.S. pressure forced its closure with a note of disclaimer, which only betrayed the pressure (page 90). The reports, placed under the name of "Ramzaj" ("Necroman" in English) were the only uncensored reports on the war. Their record of Iraqi resistance infuriated the U.S. An introductory chapter initiates the reader into the secrets of interception of radio communications and the set-up of the GRU.

Sample these reports: "The coalition command is extremely concerned with growing resistance movement in the rear of the advancing forces. During a meeting at the coalition command headquarters, it was reported that up to 20 Iraqi reconnaissance units are active behind the coalition rear. The Iraqis attack lightly armed supply units" (March 25). On March 27, GRU reported: "During one of the Iraqi attacks yesterday against the U.S. positions the Iraqis for the first time employed the `Grad' mobile multiple rocket launch system (MLRS). As a result, an entire U.S. unit was taken out of combat after sustaining up to 40 killed and wounded as well as losing up to 7 armoured vehicles... . During a meeting with the German Chancellor (Gerhard) Schroeder, the heads of the German military and political intelligence reported that the U.S. is doing everything possible to conceal information on the situation in the combat zone and that the U.S. shows an extremely `unfriendly' attitude. Germany's own intelligence-gathering capabilities in this region are very limited," GRU had a mole in Germany, evidently.

The analyses are most instructive. "The first week of the war surprised a number of military analysts and experts. The war in Iraq uncovered a range of problems previously left without a serious discussion and disproved several resilient myths. The first myth is about the precision-guided weapons as the determining factor in modern warfare..... "

Other myths are destroyed with equal efficiency. On April 8, GRU reported: "But in spite of certain success, the U.S. forces are still unable to break the Iraqi opposition. Even units fortified at the outskirts are being attacked and are constantly receiving fire." Hours later, Ramzaj announced its end. "Our actions meet increasing opposition from the official quarters and in fact are turning into confrontation the outcome of which is not difficult to forecast. Therefore, we have to discontinue our work and thank everybody for taking part in the project." No student of the events can ignore this book. It explains why attacks on coalition troops continue still.

Gabriel Kolko, distinguished research professor emeritus of York University in Toronto, shows that the war was no aberration. It was the culmination of a policy of unilateralism, inspired by the arrogance of power. It found in 9/11 a good excuse for exercise of unbridled power with consequences that appear grimmer by the day.

His central thesis is stated boldly: "A foreign policy that is both immoral and unsuccessful is not simply stupid, it is increasingly dangerous to those who practice or favour it. That is the predicament that the United States now confronts.

"Communism no longer exists. American military power has never been greater, but the United States has never been so insecure and its people more vulnerable. After fifty years of interventions in the affairs of dozens of nations on every Continent (interventions that varied from training police and armies to supplying them with legal equipment and advisers to teach them how to use it, and after two major wars involving its own manpower. America's sustained, intense and costly efforts have only culminated in greater risks to itself... . The way America's leaders are running the nation's foreign policy is not creating peace or security at home or stability abroad. The reverse is the case; its interventions have been counterproductive. Every time - Americans and those people who are the objects of their efforts - would be far better off if the United States did nothing, closed its bases overseas and withdraw its fleets everywhere, and allowed the rest of the world to find its own way without American weapons and troops."

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment