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Politics

Iraq: Unanswered Questions

20 April 2003

Iraq: Unanswered Questions

By Gwynne Dyer

Wars always leave loose ends, but this one is over-fulfilling its norm. There is, for example, the enigma of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which allegedly posed such an urgent threat to the world that the US government was unwilling to wait for the UN arms inspectors to finish their job. “If by the turn of the year there is no WMD then the basis on which this (war) was executed was illegal,”said former British defence minister Doug Henderson last week.

Then there are the arsonists — not looters — who have been going around Baghdad, often in blue-and-white buses, burning the records in government ministries and public utilities. Every single ministry except the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Oil, both carefully guarded by American troops, has been hit. Somebody must be paying the arsonists, but who would benefit from the destruction of the business records of all these state-owned enterprises? Surely not those whose interest lies in privatising these activities?

And what about the bizarre way the war ended? No Battle of Baghdad, not even a serious attempt to defend the capital. Saddam Hussein’s troops didn’t even put anti-tank mines on the freeways leading into the heart of the city, though their failure to do so meant that the city could not be held. All the way up to Baghdad the Iraqi army and irregulars fought the invaders despite the crushing American technological superiority on the ground and total control of the air — and then suddenly it was over, just when the transition to street-fighting might have evened the odds a bit.

No Saddam Hussein, either. No Uday, no Qusay, no senior Iraqi military commanders: as of last weekend, only five regime members out of fifty-five sought by the US forces had actually been captured. And it seems highly unlikely that Saddam and his sons were killed in the last American assassination attempt on 8 April, when the US dropped four 2,000lb bombs on the residential suburb of Mansur where they allegedly thought he was hiding. For one thing, Saddam was seen in public and videotaped by Abu Dhabi TV in the northern Baghdad suburb of Azimiyah on 9 April (and forget all that disinformation about his ‘doubles’).

Even odder is the fact that the US authorities are so profoundly incurious about Saddam’s fate. British journalist Robert Fisk visited the bomb craters in Mansur on 15 April, just in time to find the last of the 14 civilians killed in the bombing, a baby, being pulled out from under the debris. After the attack the US briefers in Bahrein had spoken about being unsure whether the bombs had killed Saddam until forensic tests were carried out in the craters (presumably trying to match a sample of his DNA). But even a week later, no American officials had actually bothered to show up at the site.

The whole thing is so strange that Edward Said, the Columbia University professor who is virtually the only high-profile Arab-American participant in the US domestic debate, was moved to speculate that the White House let Saddam escape: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Saddam disappeared suddenly because a deal was made in Moscow to let him, his family and his money leave in return for (surrendering) the country. The war had gone badly for the US in the south of Iraq, and Bush couldn’t risk the same in Baghdad. On 6 April, a Russian convoy (of diplomats) leaving Iraq was bombed; (US National Security Adviser) Condi Rice appeared in Russia on 7 April; Baghdad fell 9 April.”

Is this even remotely plausible? Edward Said clearly has an ax to grind, and people who want to be taken seriously automatically back away from any hypothesis that sounds too conspiratorial and paranoid. Yet there are an awful lot of loose ends here.

It would seem inconceivable that the Bush administration could launch an invasion of Iraq without any evidence for the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were its sole legal pretext — if we did not already know that Lyndon Johnson’s administration staged a fake North Vietnamese attack on US Navy vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 to get Congressional approval for the Vietnam War.

It would be hard to believe that US interests would actively conspire to destroy Iraqi public-sector business records to prepare the way for privatisation — but there are those who still recall Henry Kissinger’s 1973 operation to bring Chile back within the circle of orthodox capitalist states.

As for letting the ‘Beast of Baghdad’ and his sons and cronies get away in return for a cheap victory — would that even be such a reprehensible deal, if it avoided the slaughter and destruction of a full-scale battle for the capital?

The point is not that all these suppositions are true, or even likely. It is that the Bush administration is just as capable of bare-faced lying as its various distinguished predecessors of both parties, and that a lot of the answers we are being given don’t hold water.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 5. (“Even odder…site”)