« Tempus fugit | Main | The elusiveness of absolute fame »

Monday, 15 December 2003


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Nail on head, Gert.

To kill Saddam would be to make a martyr out of him, a concept the West has little or no concept of.

Sarah B

As far as the Halabja episode is concerned, this took place as part of the Iran-Iraq war and both sides used poison gas in the course of a battle around the town. According to a senior CIA analyst, it was actually Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, since the gas concerned was cyanide-based (a blood agent), which Iran was known to use at the time but which Iraq was not known to possess.


Very well written. You've covered a lot of important points that I think most will forget/gloss over/ignore. The short attention span of the Western world, prompted by the knobs at CNN, see this as some great victory. It's not. The mess still exists and will for some time I think.


It is a great victory, Mitch, for the people who need never fear the return of Saddam Hussein. They understand that all too well, as the jubilant scenes from Iraq show quite clearly.

I'm surprised that you heard on the radio that this means the war is over, Gert -- all I heard in the hours of coverage I absorbed yesterday was that this did NOT mean the war was over.

Re Iraq and al Qaeda, I think the jury is still out on that one. It's getting lost in the reaction to Saddam's capture, but it emerged at the weekend that Iraq's coalition government has documentary proof that Mohammed Atta was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal.

Re the sanctions, it's interesting to note that huge warehouses full of stockpiled food and medicine were found during the invasion of Iraq -- humanitarian aid kept from Iraqis by Saddam Hussein. It's also worth remembering that the sanctions also applied to the north (a democratic area where Saddam did not rule), an area whose people did not suffer as a result. Add it up.

Re depleted uranium, please don't buy into the hysteria surrounding this scientific matter. A friend of mine who is a former UN employee (he worked for several years helping to prosecute war criminals in the former Yugoslavia), Dutch soldier and extremely well informed on such matters has written a very informative guide to the reality of DU vs the hysteria: http://www.blarg.net/~minsq/NCArchive/00000095.htm

Let's remember that in the early 1980s, the West was more scared of Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic that it was of Iraq. Let's remember (if one is old enough) hearing of Iran's use of adolescent boys, equipped only with green headbands and a promise of martyrdom, as 'human minesweepers' preceding astoundingly costly 'human wave' attacks. And the US was not alone in this fear: France sold Mirage and Super Etandard aircraft to Iraq, and the Exocet missiles to hang on them; the Soviet Union supplied Iraq with small arms, artillery and armoured fighting vehicles. And support for Saddam was not unequivocal -- when the Israeli air force destroyed the construction site of the planned Osirak nuclear facility at Thuwaytha in 1981, the Western response was approval and relief more than anything else.

The US did not give Saddam "a nod and a wink to invade Kuwait, Gert. In February 1990, Saddam Hussein gave a speech in Jordan demanding the withdrawal of US forces in the Arabian Gulf. He followed this up in April of that year with a speech declaring that Iraq had developed chemical weapons, adding: 'By God, we will make the fire eat up half of Israel, if it tries to do anything against Iraq.' The US State Department's response described the threat as 'inflammatory, outrageous, and irresponsible.' (Source: 'Kuwait: How The West Blundered,' The Economist, 29 September, 1990.) Some people argue that the fact that Saddam didn't use the chemical weapons at that time points to his relative harmlessness. But whether or not Iraq used chemical weapons after April 1990 is less relevant than the very real fear that it would: back when the SCUDs were falling on Tel Aviv, everyone in the west was very scared that one of them would have a chemical warhead, that the Israelis would respond with a WMD of their own (in their case, of course, a nuke) and that the next thing we knew, we'd have World War III on our hands. That makes Saddam's April 1990 speech a very good attempt at deterrence; that it didn't work is less important than the fact that it gave the Coalition pause in the conduct of Operations 'Desert Storm' and 'Desert Saber.' If Saddam had a nuke, that pause might have been greater -- to the extent of standing aside.

The earliest use of chemical weapons by Iraq which has been conclusively verified was on 13 March, 1984 at Hoor-ul-Huzwaizeh; this verification supported allegations that Iraq had used chemical weapons on other occasions in the preceding month. These claims were not only made by the Iranians: the ICRC had announced on 07 March, 1984 that wounded combatants in a hospital in Teheran displayed symptoms consistent with possible exposure to chemical weapon agents. More relevant is the fact that on 05 March, 1984, the US State Department announced that: 'The US Government has concluded that the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons.'

Baghdad's response was predictable: the USSD statement was 'political hypocrisy,' 'full of lies' and based on CIA fabrications. On 30 March, 1984, the President of the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq conflict. That same day, the US government imposed 'foreign policy controls' prohibiting the export to Iran and Iraq of five chemicals usable or even essential in the production of mustard, tabun and/or sarin gas. The United Kingdom followed suit on 12 April, 1984, adding three compounds to the list. (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).) And on 08 September, 1988, US Secretary of State George Schultz condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons on its Kurdish population.( I can find no evidence that Edvard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Foreign Minister at the time, did so, nor the French foreign minister at the time, Roland Dumas.

Further, the "FY 1192-1997 Defense Planning Guidance" of 24 January, 1990 directed Central Command to shift the focus of its planning away from the threat of a Soviet incursion into the Gulf (and Iran in particular), and towards the threat of an invasion of the Arabian peninsula (and especially the capture of the oil fields) by another country in the region. (Source: Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, both of 07 February, 1990.) On 08 February, 1990, General Norman Schwartzkopf, head of Central Command, testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee that this was the case; he also testified that Iraq had been acquiring a large amount of Soviet hardware, which had become surplus to Soviet Army requirements following the withdrawal from Eastern Europe.

In retrospect, nobody should have been surprised at the invasion of Kuwait the following August, but the fact that you made a mistake once is no reason to do so again.

The US government also shipped millions of tons of supplies to the USSR in WWII which kept Stalin, one of history's most murderous and repugnant dictators, in the fight long enough for the USSR to get their own production re-established in the east of the USSR, away from German reach. This act of supplying the USSR enabled it to turn events around and do the majority of the fighting that ripped the guts out of the German war machine. Without that, total victory by the Germans may have been achieved before the other Allies could have had a chance to take the fight to Europe. The side effect of that assistance saw a 50 year standoff with the threat of annihilation and half of Europe living under brutal communist regimes.

The point is, sometimes nations have to choose the lesser of two evils. Sometimes the choice is easy, such as in Afghanistan, where arming the mujahideen was a totally reasonable, and historically sound move. The alternative was to allow the country to be crushed by the Soviet Union or for direct intervention.

On Iraq, no one forced Iraq to invade Iran. Once it happened it provided a check on the ambitions of two megalomaniacs.

At the end of the day, whether you approve of the war in Iraq or not, it *is* easy to celebrate Saddam Hussein's capture -- because it is a good thing. The handwringing I'm noticing from some people is most bizarre; if you cannot be happy about the capture of a genocidal dictator who raped, tortured, chemically attacked, starved, murdered and otherwise degraded millions of people -- and attacked three of his neighbouring countries -- then what can you be happy about?


Today at Lunch, Sally asked me what I thought would happen to Saddam- would they kill them ? I don't think so, I answered, after all, that won't change anything that has happened. And, I added, it would probably be a more miserable punishment to spend the rest of one's life in jail.

What do you want for lunch ?


No, quite eloquent I thought! Very good post. Sums up my feeling exactly.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


  • Bow of boat


  • Bulls head


  • Comments welcomed in all languages - probably best in Latin script, I think!


Powered by...

  • Influence

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter


    Blog powered by Typepad
    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

    May 2015

    Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
            1 2 3
    4 5 6 7 8 9 10
    11 12 13 14 15 16 17
    18 19 20 21 22 23 24
    25 26 27 28 29 30 31