Two of the world’s three top warmongers – US president George Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair (the third being Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon) – have been caught in a web of lies they spun to justify an illegal war against Iraq. The stench from their lies about Saddam Husain’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) has eroded the credibility of rulers on both sides of the Atlantic. As a result there is furious backpeddling by both in order to save face.
Bush has been dogged by the allegation made in his state of the union address on January 28, 2003, before a full session of congress: that British intelligence "learnt" Saddam had acquired uranium cakes from Niger to make nuclear weapons. This was a complete fabrication; the British had first considered including it in their dossier to the House of Commons in September 2002, but dropped it because it was untrue; even the Americans balked at mentioning it in October when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) questioned its authenticity. Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador to Iraq, was sent to Africa to investigate; he returned casting serious doubts on the story. Similarly UN weapons-inspectors said that the documents purporting to prove Saddam’s purchase of such material were forged. One of the signatures on the documents was that of a Niger minister who had held the post 10 years ago. However, the allegation still found its way into Bush’s speech in January over the objections of the CIA, yet George Tenet, its director, has been made a scapegoat for the disgraceful lie. There is even talk that national security advisor Condoleezza Rice may have to take the blame and resign for allowing the 16-word sentence to be included in Bush’s speech.
Bush might have survived the fallout from this episode, as he has done on many earlier occasions, but for the fact that a British scientist, Dr David Kelly, was found dead on July 18. He is reported to have committed suicide a day earlier by slashing his wrist and bleeding to death. Kelly’s alleged suicide – although most of the media on both sides of the Atlantic are presenting it as a fact – occurred the day Blair was making a triumphant speech to the US congress. He waxed eloquent in the style of Winston Churchill. While defending his intelligence report, Blair left the door open by claiming that he may well have been wrong. "If we are wrong [about Saddam’s WMDs and the Niger uranium story], we will have destroyed a threat that is at its least responsible for human carnage and suffering," he told the congress. He went on: "This is something I am confident history will forgive." Apparently not, for at least 47 percent of the British public, according to a YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph (July 25), do not believe him; 63 percent disapprove of his government’s record. Britain’s wonder-boy is having a hard time convincing a sceptic public that he should be believed. There have even been calls for his resignation from within his own Labour Party.
It was Kelly’s death (or murder) that has shaken Blair. When a British journalist asked him at a Tokyo press conference whether he felt he had "blood on his hands," it left Blair speechless. He was rescued by his Japanese host, who abruptly ended the press conference. But Kelly’s death is not going to be explained away so easily. A judicial inquiry has been established, headed by Justice Lord Hutton; it will submit its report in September. Kelly was a senior scientist in the ministry of defence who reportedly told the BBC that intelligence information about Iraq’s WMDs had been "sexed up" by 10 Downing Street (Blair’s official residence) to justify the war. Britain’s case for war against Iraq was laid out in two intelligence dossiers: the first was presented to Parliament in September 2002, and the other in February 2003, but doubts were expressed about both from the start. For instance, Blair had claimed that Saddam’s military could deploy WMDs "within 45 minutes of an order to use them." Nearly four months after US/British troops occupied Iraq, no WMDs have been found although Bush insisted after Blair’s speech in Washington that they will be found.
In Britain, a row has erupted between the government and the BBC, which first reported the "sexing up" of intelligence data. Andrew Gilligan of the BBC’s Today programme, was the offending journalist who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes left. Alistair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, demanded a retraction and apology from the BBC; the network refused, amid calls for Campbell’s resignation. Peter Mandelson, a former minister and a close Blair ally, waded into the controversy by launching a bristling attack on the BBC on July 19; others, like Gerald Kaufman, who chairs the House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport, threatened the BBC with dire consequences. He said that the network’s charter should be reviewed and it should be placed under the supervision of Ofcom (the British regulatory body for communications ). "I believe the BBC has behaved deplorably and there are serious implications for its future," Kaufman said. The BBC receives much of its funding from the British government, and Kaufman’s threat clearly spelled out what it is supposed to do. It is in times of crisis that the facade of independence of the most prestigious, and supposedly most impartial and most objective, news source in the world is exposed.
A similar war is raging on the other side of the Atlantic, although the media there are little more than a mouthpiece for government propaganda. Media outlets have been tame in their criticism of Bush’s lies but the opposition Democrats in congress, most of whom backed Bush’s war against Iraq, have suddenly discovered morality. Carl Levin, a senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, refuted White House claims that the now-discredited reports that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material from Africa was an isolated case of Washington using dodgy pre-war intelligence. "The misleading statement about African uranium is not an isolated incident. There is a significant amount of troubling evidence that it was part of a pattern of exaggerations and misleading statements," he said on July 15 in the US Senate. Rejecting the claim that it was a slip, Levin said "It was negotiated between the CIA and the NSC [National Security Council]."
Such statements would have been considered heresy but for the fact that the occupation of Iraq is not going well. Resistance is growing, and the deathtoll among American troops is mounting. Morale has hit rock-bottom, with soldiers shouting abuse at their superiors for putting them in the Iraqi hell-hole. Pressure from the families of servicemen and women is growing for them to be brought back. The lies about Iraq’s being a "cakewalk" have been exposed; one general, John Abizaid, the new head of Central Command, has admitted that the US is now facing serious guerrilla warfare. It was not supposed to be like this. Even the killing of Saddam’s sons—Uday and Qusay—in a villa in Mosul on July 18 has not dampened criticism of US policy. Instead, it has raised questions about why they were not captured alive; after all, there were only four people in the villa, among them a young boy and a crippled Uday. Why could 200 crack American troops, backed by scores of humvies and tanks, not overpower them? Why was it necessary to destroy the house by using helicopter gunships and firing 10 missiles at it? In Iraq many people are sceptical about the claim that Saddam’s notorious sons have indeed been killed.
Two of the most hawkish Pentagon officials – defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz – appear distinctly uncomfortable these days. It is Rumsfeld who famously remarked that the situation in Iraq was a "little untidy" but scoffed at suggestions that things were out of control, saying that "the sky is not falling." Perhaps not, but Wolfowitz made an astonishing admission on July 24 after returning from a five-day trip to Iraq. He admitted that US officials had underestimated the strength of resistance in Iraq by Saddam’s supporters, and have also done other "stupid things" there, according to an Associated Press report. "Some conditions were worse than we anticipated, particularly in the security area," said Wolfowitz.
He named three areas in particular: first, no Iraqi military units "of significant size" defected during the war; "second, the police turned out to require a massive overhaul"; and "third, and worst of all" was the underestimation of resistance, according to Wolfowitz. Putting a spin on it by claiming that resistance has come from Saddam loyalists, and that it will dissipate now that Saddam’s sons are dead, is part of another disinformation campaign. The fiercest resistance has occurred in the Faluja area north of Baghdad, despite the fact that it has never been a stronghold of Saddam loyalists. On the contrary, the Jabbur tribe that inhabits the region has been at the receiving end of Saddam’s brutality. Can the tribe really have had a sudden change of heart?
Nor have the Americans been telling the truth about their own casualties. Rather disingenuously, they cite figures since May 1, when Bush dramatically declared the end of the war in a theatrical performance aboard an aircraft carrier. While admitting that casualties have mounted – four American soldiers were killed on July 26, bringing the total to 34 since May 1 – they fail to mention the overall figure of dead and wounded since "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was launched on March 20. The real figure is 237 American soldiers killed and another 2,000 wounded. It is these figures that are causing concern to families of soldiers back home. With nearly 150,000 US troops in Iraq, and American officials talking about an occupation of three to five years, these figures will keep rising, especially with Americans displaying their characteristic brutality towards the Iraqi people. Such notorious gulags as Camp Cropper, where hundreds of people are held in soaring temperatures, can hardly endear Americans to the local population.
All the lies told by the spin-doctors in Washington and London cannot hide the harsh reality of life in Iraq, nor the resistance to foreign occupation. It is naive to expect that people—any people—will welcome foreign occupation troops, especially ones as crude and vulgar as the Americans. Americans have a lot to learn; the longer they stay in Iraq, the more of it they will learn. Unfortunately for them, it seems that they will only learn it the hard way.