Phase 2 Iraq:
U.S. Lies and Pretexts

By Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1130, December 9, 2001, posted at

In the aftermath of September 11, powerful forces within the U.S. ruling class have been engaged in a campaign of lies, disinformation, and speculation to pin blame for the World Trade Center attacks and the anthrax mailings on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Over the past decade, more than a million Iraqis have died as a result of U.S. bombs and sanctions. Now, the allegations against Iraq are being used as justification for calls to target this already devastated country in "Phase Two" of "America's New War."

On November 26, the U.S. president himself delivered a threat against Iraq. Declaring that "Afghanistan is still just the beginning," Bush demanded that Saddam Hussein submit to new UN weapons inspections--"to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction." Asked what the U.S. would do if Hussein refused, Bush said, "He'll find out." Later that day, Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN that Hussein should consider Bush's threat as "a very sober, chilling message."

While it's clear that there is a strong view within the U.S. power structure as a whole that the Hussein regime should be toppled, there seem to be sharp differences over how to do that. There are reportedly intense debates within the ruling circles, including among Bush administration officials, over what the next stage of their worldwide "war on terrorism" should be.

But as the cries to "take the war" to Iraq intensify, it is important to look at the reality behind the U.S. campaign of lies and disinformation that could be laying the groundwork for escalating attacks--possibly a new war--on Iraq.

Years of Intensifying Campaign Against Iraq

Long before September 11, U.S. accusations against Iraq and calls to overthrow or assassinate Saddam Hussein had been growing louder. The New York Times (10/11) reported that U.S. officials had been trying to link Iraq to Osama bin Laden for eight years--since the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center--but had found no such links.

In 1998, former government officials proposed a 9-point strategy for "bringing down Saddam and his regime." Ten of the endorsers of this strategy are now senior members of the Bush administration--including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant, Paul Wolfowitz. The Republican Party platform for last year's election called for "a comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein."

These rumblings against Iraq grew louder as international support for the U.S.'s killer sanctions on Iraq (under a UN cover) has weakened. This July the Wall Street Journal called for the U.S. to "take swift and serious measures to remove Saddam Hussein from power." The Journal also reported, "Senior officials have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether to push for the [Hussein] government's ouster." In August, the U.S. launched its most savage air attack on Iraq in six months.

With the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the calls for war on Iraq have grown louder. As Kabul fell, the Wall Street Journal editorial, titled "Keep Rolling," said that the combination of B-52's and proxy armies "is a lesson worth recalling as the war moves into its next logical phase, especially into Iraq."

On November 18, Condoleeza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said in a TV interview, "We do not need the events of September 11 to tell us that [Saddam Hussein] is a very dangerous man who is a threat to his own people, a threat to the region and a threat to us." The next day, the lead U.S. official at the Geneva conference on biological weapons conference targeted Iraq as a threat.

And as Bush delivered his threat against Hussein on November 26, 3,000 U.S. soldiers staged provocative maneuvers along Iraq's southern border, and U.S. planes bombed the southern Iraqi province of Nasiriyah.

After 9/11: Creating New Pretexts

Even before the dust and smoke had cleared from September 11, high-level officials and advisers were meeting behind closed doors, plotting to expand the war to Iraq. The New York Times reported that on September 19-20, a "tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government...met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of September 11. The group agreed on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan was over." The group is reportedly known as the "Wolfowitz cabal" in the State Department and Congress, after Rumsfeld's deputy. According to the Times, the group's strategy "envisions the use of air support and the occupation of southern Iraq with American ground troops to install an Iraqi opposition group based in London at the helm of a new government... American troops would also seize the oil fields around Basra, in southeastern Iraq, and sell the oil to finance the Iraqi opposition in the south and the Kurds in the north."

There was no evidence of Iraq's involvement in the September 11 attacks. Iraqi intelligence may have met with bin Laden allies several times since the late 1990s. But the Wall Street Journal (9/19) noted that "few U.S. officials believe that any real alliance between Iraq and Al-Qaeda ever emerged... The two groups share few aims and have very different motivations..." According to the NY Times (10/11), intelligence officials from Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia also said there was no serious Hussein-bin Laden connection.

For the last decade the Iraqi government has focused efforts on lifting U.S. sanctions and, in recent years, had made headway in winning support for its efforts. The Wall Street Journal acknowledged, "Being held responsible for such a terrorist act would endanger the years of effort Iraq has made to restore foreign commerce, air routes, investment in oil production, relations with its neighbors, its much damaged infrastructure and its military capacity."

The lack of evidence for Iraqi involvement did not deter those clamoring for war against Iraq. According to the New York Times, the same "cabal" that met on September 19-20 sent former CIA chief James Woolsey to London on "a mission" to gather "evidence" linking Hussein to the September 11 attacks. The group drafted an open letter to Bush arguing that if the U.S. did not take the war to Iraq, the result would be "an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."

Woolsey began raising various charges against Iraq: that Iraqi agents met with Mohammed Atta, one of the alleged hijackers and the "ringleader" in the September 11 attacks; that Iraq provided fake passports for all 19 hijackers; that an al Qaeda member traveled to Baghdad in 1998 to celebrate Saddam Hussein's birthday; that Iraq trained al Qaeda members; and that Iraq was linked to anthrax. There was no solid proof for any of these charges; nonetheless, the media picked up and ran with some of them.

Unleashing the Anthrax Spin Doctors

After Senator Tom Daschle announced on October 15 that his office had received a letter laced with "weapons grade" anthrax, the "attack Iraq" cabal and much of the media went into a full disinformation offensive. They speculated that such "high-grade" anthrax must have been produced by a state, rather than an individual or a small group. And, they said, the only states capable of doing so were the U.S., Russia, and...Iraq.

In a New York Times op-ed piece (10/18), Richard Butler--the former head of the UN weapons inspections program in Iraq who collaborated with U.S. covert actions there--pointed the finger at Iraq: "Biological weapons are closest to President Hussein's heart." That same day the Wall Street Journal featured three articles blaming Iraq: a front-page article accused Iraq of being "at the top of [the] suspect list"; the lead editorial said that "by far the likeliest supplier [of the anthrax in the letter to Daschle] is Saddam Hussein"; and an opinion piece by Woolsey, titled "The Iraq Connection," claimed, "There are substantial and growing indications that a state may, behind the scene, be involved in the attacks." Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote, "Saddam and his bloody bugs have to go." Two days later, two top senators, McCain and Lieberman, advocated attacking Iraq.

The Fading Iraq-Anthrax "Connection"

Most of these attempts to pin anthrax on Iraq consisted of "experts" engaging in speculation driven by an imperialist agenda--with no proof. Typical was the October 18 Wall Street Journal coverage which claimed, "The UN believes it destroyed these [biological weapons] materials, but inspectors suspect there may be more." Richard Butler raised the specter of Iraqi "involvement" and then added--"I'm talking about the possibilities." Meanwhile, the U.S. media ignored Iraqi denials of any connection to September 11 or anthrax.

But when the anthrax spores in the Daschle letter and other samples were analyzed, it turned out to be the "Ames" strain. This is the strain of anthrax bacteria which was developed in the U.S. and which the U.S. military tried to "weaponize" in the 1960s. It is NOT the vollum strain that Iraq had been working with (after buying it from American Type Culture Collection, a Maryland company which sells biological material like anthrax worldwide).

Researchers also discovered silica in the anthrax in the Daschle letter. Silica is the coating that U.S. weapons makers mixed with anthrax so that the bacteria spores could more easily disperse through the air. Iraq reportedly used bentonite, which was not found.

A U.S. government official admitted that the "evidence at hand--involving not just the coatings, but also genetic analysis of the bacteria and other intelligence--suggested that it was unlikely that the spores were originally produced in the former Soviet Union or Iraq."

In other words, the anthrax mailed to Senator Daschle was most likely "Made in the USA." A scientist from the Federation of American Scientists told the Geneva conference on germ warfare that the anthrax used in letters mailed to New York City, Florida and Washington, D.C., "was derived, almost certainly, from a U.S. defense laboratory."

The October 18 Wall Street Journal had editorialized that Saddam Hussein was the "likeliest supplier" of the anthrax on the Daschle letter because "refining anthrax is a complex and time-consuming process requiring relatively sophisticated equipment." The Journal claimed that someone like Ted Kaczynski (known as the "unabomber") "couldn't do it in his basement." Less than a month later--without a word of self-criticism--the Journal (11/12) reported that the evidence points not to Iraq but to a "unabomber" type: "Mounting evidence has made the lone domestic terrorist the leading theory. The evidence ranges from exacting handwriting and linguistic analyses to test results on how the anthrax was prepared--plus the fact that no suspected al Qaeda operatives have shown anthrax symptoms."

As it turns out, the anthrax found on the Daschle letter is fairly easy to get. According to the Journal, "The FBI thinks a person could get the equipment needed to refine anthrax to the degree found in the Daschle letter for as little as $2,500... Indeed, the FBI now says that it has found 22,000 individuals or labs with access to anthrax, though it doesn't say how many had access to the Ames strain." Newsweek reported that "thousands of scientists around the world have learned how to turn anthrax into a weapon" and that the equipment to do so is "not hard to acquire."

While much speculation has been thrown out about Iraq, there has been little media focus and very few official government statements on U.S. right-wing organizations, which have a long track record of anthrax threats. The Feminist Majority Foundation has reported that since September 11, hundreds of abortion clinics and organizations have received letters signed by "the Army of God" claiming to contain anthrax. On November 29, the FBI announced that an escaped fugitive named Clayton Lee Waagner had claimed responsibility for sending more than 280 anthrax threat letters to clinics. Before his escape, Waagner had testified in court that he had staked out women's clinics because he had been asked by god to "be my warrior" and kill abortion doctors. The FBI announcement about Waagner was made with little fanfare--and the FBI announced no plans to question the Army of God and other right-wing groups, as the agency is doing with thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants.

The Hype around a (Possible) Meeting in Prague

The other main prop of the effort to pin September 11 and/or anthrax on Iraq is a purported meeting in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent last April. The suspicious evolution and broad promotion of this story has earmarks of CIA-type disinformation.

This allegation was first floated by Woolsey in London, and the U.S. government has also tried to claim an Iraq-Atta connection. According to the New York Times (10/20), soon after September 11 Czech officials were "asked by Washington to comb their records to determine whether Mr. Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat or agent here." The Times reported that Czech officials "said they had told the United States they found no evidence of any such meeting. They know only that Mr. Atta was in Prague once in 2000... Firm documentary evidence existed only that Mr. Atta had passed through the Prague airport from Germany to take a flight to Newark."

Just one week later, Czech officials reversed themselves and claimed that Atta did indeed meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. This new Czech claim was reported on the Times' front page (10/27)--while the prior week's denials of a meeting were buried in an inside page. The front-page Times story noted in passing, "It was unclear what prompted [Czech officials] to revise their conclusions."

On the basis of these reports of a meeting that may never have taken place, imperialist talking heads immediately began spinning out various hypotheses blaming Iraq. In his New York Times piece, Butler alleged that the Prague meeting "may have been an occasion on which anthrax was provided" to Atta by Iraq. To this speculation, the Czech Republic's Interior Minister responded, "The unequivocal answer to that is, no way." Laurie Mylroie, a bourgeois "expert" who has made a career out demonizing the Hussein regime, was quoted as "believing"--with no proof cited--that Iraq gave Atta "instructions" for the September 11 operation.

Dragging Out an Old Justification

Leading spokespersons in the "get Iraq" campaign also argue that it really doesn't matter whether the Hussein regime was involved in September 11 or the anthrax mailings. They charge that Iraq has--or may have--"weapons of mass destruction." Therefore Iraq is a "threat," and the U.S. should attack. Senator Lieberman, for example, declared, "Whether or not Saddam is implicated directly in the anthrax attacks or the horrors of September 11, he is, by any common definition, a terrorist who must be removed."

Such charges rest on a long campaign of lies and disinformation that has downplayed the effects of years of intrusive UN inspections and weapons destruction programs in Iraq--which were largely controlled by the U.S. and backed by U.S. bombings, threats, and sanctions. Evidence indicates that Iraq has been basically disarmed through all this, and that sanctions have crippled Iraq's technical and industrial infrastructure.

From 1991 to 1998, UNSCOM--the UN weapons monitoring agency--had regular access to Iraqi factories and laboratories, used video cameras to monitor Iraqi industrial and military sites 24 hours a day, placed chemical sampling devices around Iraqi labs, monitored the movement of Iraq's industrial equipment, pored over Iraqi documents, and questioned many Iraqi scientists and technicians associated with Iraq's weapons programs.

Iraq mostly cooperated with this effort in order to get sanctions lifted. In February 1998, former weapons inspector Raymond Zilinskas stated that "95 percent of [Unscom's] work proceeds unhindered."

The U.S. media endlessly repeats that Iraq "threw out" UN weapons inspectors in 1998. In fact, UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 when President Clinton told them to get out because he was about to order a new round of U.S. bombings. And international support for the UN weapons inspection program has shrunk after it was widely exposed as a front for U.S. government intelligence gathering, assassination attempts, and coup plotting.

The U.S. continues to float out accusations that Iraq is "rebuilding" its weapons programs. But former inspector Ritter said his team was satisfied as early as 1995 that Iraq had destroyed 98% of its weapons. Earlier this year, Hans von Sponeck, the former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, wrote, "Iraq today is no longer a military threat to anyone. Intelligence agencies know this. All the conjectures about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq lack evidence."

Biological Weapons Hypocrisy

Since September 11, U.S. charges have focused on Iraq's alleged biological weapons capabilities. At the biological weapons conference in Geneva, the lead U.S. official claimed, "Iraq has taken advantage of three years of no UN inspections to improve all phases of its offensive biological weapons program... The existence of Iraq's program is beyond dispute."

Let's leave aside for a moment the enormous hypocrisy of the U.S. government's demanding that Iraq submit to intrusive weapons inspections--while the U.S. itself has refused to allow international inspections of its own facilities, has worked to develop more deadly strains of anthrax, and has tried to gut the 1972 treaty banning biological weapons.

Evidence suggests that Iraq's biological weapons capability has been minimized, if not effectively destroyed. One Israeli military analyst said allegations about Iraqi biological weapons programs was "over-hyped." In 1999, Scott Ritter told the Fellowship of Reconciliation: "When you ask the question, 'Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?' the answer is a resounding NO. 'Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? NO! It is 'no' across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability."

In a more recent article in the Guardian (10/19/01) Ritter wrote: "Under the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of arms control, Iraq's biological weapons programmes were dismantled, destroyed or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections. The major biological weapons production facility--al Hakum, which was responsible for producing Iraq's anthrax--was blown up by high explosive charges and all its equipment destroyed. Other biological facilities met the same fate if it was found that they had, at any time, been used for research and development of biological weapons...

"No evidence of anthrax or any other biological agent was discovered. While it was impossible to verify that all of Iraq's biological capability had been destroyed, the UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field."

A Blood-Soaked Debate

At this writing, the U.S. and Russian governments have agreed to extend the current sanctions program against Iraq for another six months. The Iraqi government has rejected renewed UN weapons inspections, stating: "Anyone who thinks Iraq can accept an arrogant and unilateral will of this party or that, is mistaken."

It is unclear exactly where the U.S. rulers are heading in their war. Some ruling class figures argue for an all-out attack on Iraq; others fear that such a move will hurt U.S. interests by destroying its current coalition, and they advocate other options and other targets. A former official of the Jordanian government, a close ally of the U.S., warned, "If America moves to Iraq, people would not accept it is [against] terrorism. People would start to question the motivation even for striking Afghanistan. People will begin to suspect that terrorism is just a pretext."

Some things are clear. First, no actual proof of Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks or the current anthrax scare has surfaced--and there is lots of evidence suggesting the contrary.

Second, evidence indicates that Iraq probably does not have "weapons of mass destruction" in any significant quantity.

Third, this disinformation campaign shows--yet again--that the U.S. "free press" is just another cog in the imperialist machine of oppression and war, whose function is to systematically deceive the people.

And finally, the threats against Iraq show that "America's New War" has nothing to do with protecting the people--here or around the world. It's a war of empire to strengthen U.S. domination of the oil-rich Middle East and to assert its position as the world's number one imperialist superpower.

As the U.S. prepares to carry out more brutality and deadly assaults against Iraq, the people of Iraq are already losing 5,000 children a month because of the ongoing U.S. bombings and sanctions--a disaster on the scale of the losses at the World Trade Center every 30 days.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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