Iraq: The Catch-22 Inspections

Revolutionary Worker #1178, December 8, 2002, posted at

On November 25, the first wave of United Nations weapons inspectors landed in Baghdad, Iraq. Backed by the threat of immediate use of military force by the U.S. and its allies if Iraq does not "cooperate," the UN inspectors are empowered to walk into every nook and cranny of this battered Third World country.

Like prison guards searching through the cells of a penitentiary, the inspectors have been authorized to barge unannounced into factories, government offices, military facilities, and even presidential residences.

Under the November 8 UN resolution threatening Iraq--drawn up by the U.S. and approved by the UN Security Council--the inspectors can demand that Iraqi officials turn over government documents for examination and account for any equipment or material that may have something to do with unconventional weapons. Iraq must shut down air and land traffic wherever the inspectors roam.

UN Resolution 1441 also orders Iraq to provide lists of military scientists and says the inspectors can interrogate those scientists outside the presence of Iraqi government observers. The inspectors may even "facilitate the travel of those interviewed and their family members outside of Iraq." In other words, the inspectors have the green light to openly promote defections from Iraq's government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military buildup and other preparations for war continue at a feverish pace.

U.S. and British warplanes have stepped up bombings in the "no fly" zones of southern Iraq--aiming especially at the Iraqi military's command-and-control and communications facilities.

Troops and military equipment are pouring into U.S. bases around the region--while the groundwork is being laid for a larger mobilization of up to 250,000 soldiers. Command centers have been set up. The U.S. Army has taken over a third of Kuwait and has been practicing for offensive operations against Iraq. A commander of one U.S. Army unit in Kuwait said, "Even though Saddam Hussein has accepted the UN resolution, we continue to maintain the mindset that we are going to war."

Bush administration officials are making the rounds of allies in the Middle East and Europe, firming up plans and commitments for an invasion and occupation of Iraq.

There are some forces in the world who put forward the notion that the UN inspections are an alternative to military conflict--that if the inspectors are "allowed to do their job," war can be prevented. This is a serious misreading of the situation, to say the least. When such a statement comes from those like the French or Russian governments, it is a deliberate attempt--by imperialists who have their own predatory agenda--to mislead people about what is really going on.

In fact, UN Resolution 1441 and the inspection campaign are clearly not "constraining" the U.S. war machine. The war preparations are proceeding, even as the inspectors "do their work." And President Bush has repeatedly declared the "right" to launch this war whenever the U.S.--and not the UN or anyone else--determines that military action is necessary.

What the UN inspection regimen does do is to place Iraq in a dangerous Catch-22 situation-- a "die-if-you do, die-if-you-don't" trap that serves the U.S. preparations for war.

Consider this: At a time when the U.S. is placing massive military forces in offensive positions around Iraq, the Iraqi government has been forced to submit to outrageously intrusive searches of its military bases, government ministries, and production sites. At a time when the U.S. government is openly calling for the overthrow, or even the assassination, of Saddam Hussein, the inspectors can walk unannounced into presidential residences and snoop around.

It is an acknowledged fact that past UN weapons inspection teams have included CIA spies who gave the U.S. direct access to whatever information the inspectors gathered. The general assumption is that the U.S. will again place such spies among the inspectors and/or closely monitor the activities of the teams and the information they obtain.

And if the Iraqi government balks at any of this, the U.S. may declare that Iraq has committed a "material breach" of the UN resolution--and use this as a justification for launching war.

The Bush White House has proclaimed that they don't need a casus belli --a legal pretext for war--to carry out military action in any part of the world. They insist that they have the right to "preemptively" attack any country for things it might do in the future. This unprecedented theory of "preemptive war" is very disturbing to other countries, including U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East. And these allies find it hard to back the U.S. in a naked, unprovoked war of aggression on Iraq.

So the UN resolution and weapons inspections were created as an elaborate scheme of maneuvers. The resolution contains a list of provocative demands and a hair-trigger system of launching war if Iraq violates any of these demands. This is not a plan for avoiding war--it is a plan for justifying war. This process is designed to make a calculated act of aggression by the U.S. seem like a UN- approved response to something Iraq did.

Two key dates are coming up in the weapons inspection campaign. On December 8 the Iraqi government must hand over a complete inventory of everything related to its unconventional weapons programs. According to the New York Times,the UN resolution demands that Iraq hand over lists of "all its weapons sites and dual-use installations: industrial plants, agricultural sites, medical labs and research centers that could have both civilian and military uses." And by late January, the UN inspection team is supposed to produce its first major report on its findings.

At any point, the inspectors or the U.S. may accuse Iraq of "violating" the UN demands-- which could then become a trigger for war.

A recent syndicated editorial cartoon depicts Bush declaring " the first sign of noncompliance we attack Iraq..."; in the next panel, a UN weapons inspector sits at a Baghdad restaurant, phoning in to report: "...I asked for blue cheese and they gave me ranch..." Outside the restaurant window, U.S. missiles are beginning to rain down on Iraq.

The cartoon uses exaggeration to make a point--but it might not be that much of an exaggeration. A former UN inspector gave an example of problems encountered by previous inspection teams that now might trigger war: A team enters a military base unannounced and demands a door be opened, but the Iraq authorities can't find the man with the right key at that moment. In previous inspections, UN teams even claimed that traffic jams could be considered a sign of Iraqi obstruction.

After UN Resolution 1441 was passed, Bush insisted that it does not matter how small or petty the alleged Iraqi violations are: "With the passage of resolution, the world must not lapse into unproductive debates over whether specific instances of Iraqi noncompliance are serious. Any Iraqi noncompliance is serious."

The U.S. has issued ominous threats about the inventory that Iraq must hand over by December 8. A White House spokesman said that "any omission or deception in the declaration would be a material breach." Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "If the declaration is patently false and everybody can see it, if [Hussein] does not let the inspectors do their jobs, then the president is fully ready to take the necessary step, which is military force." And Bush has declared "zero tolerance" for any sign of Iraqi "defiance" of the weapons inspections.

Even if the Iraq government were to follow all the UN demands, there is no guarantee that war will be averted. The head UN inspector, Hans Blix, has declared that it is not enough for his team to find no weapons of mass destruction--the burden is on Iraq to prove that no banned weapons exist in the country. This is an impossible demand to meet.

And Resolution 1441 is deliberately vague about who, exactly, can make the determination that Iraq has committed a "material breach." The inspections team is supposed to report to the Security Council. But various U.S. "experts" have claimed that the UN resolution allows the U.S. government to make its own determination of Iraqi violation--even if the inspectors and the Security Council don't agree. The U.S., for example, may declare that its own "intelligence" contradicts reports by the inspection team or shows that Iraq is lying. And the resolution does not require another vote by the Security Council before war is launched.

Bush himself said after the UN resolution was passed: "America will be making only one determination: Is Iraq meeting the terms of the Security Council resolution or not? The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council, but without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country. If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein."


In the coming weeks and months, there might very well come a point when George W. Bush stands before the TV camera and declares that Iraq has once again "defied" the world and that Iraq's violation of the UN resolution justifies war. He will claim legitimacy and support--and say that this war is waged in the name of the people of the U.S. and the whole world.

In reality, this war launched by the U.S. will be an enormous crime against the people of Iraq--who have already lived through more than a decade of U.S. bombings and sanctions that have killed hundreds of thousands. But this war will also be a dangerous step in a far larger scheme affecting the whole planet. The U.S. moves in the Persian Gulf represent a power grab in a strategic area--aimed at forcefully recasting the power relations and economic arrangements of the whole world.

For all people of conscience, this is a moment that demands clarity and firmness: The UN resolution and weapons inspections were designed to disguise U.S. war moves as some act of the "world community." The real purpose of the UN resolution and inspection team is to organize provocations and justifications for war.

There is NO legitimacy in the war that the U.S. is preparing to launch--no matter what Bush, other heads of state, or the UN says. The U.S. government has NO right to launch an unprovoked attack on the nation of Iraq. There is NO justice in this imperialist war of aggression.

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