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Posted on Wednesday 28 July 2010

There’s an opinion piece in the Guardian written by an Iraqi living in England [Chilcot inquiry: too late, Hans Blix: too late] that faults Hans Blix, "Back then, he minced his words, providing enough ambiguity for Tony Blair and Jack Straw to push on with their plans to drag Britain into the US-led war." Who knows about that? Everyone has their own perspective for assessing blame for what happened in Iraq. So where does the blame really lie? Who is at fault? Certainly not Dr. Hans Blix or the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry!

But one doesn’t spend time trying to partition blame unless there’s something bad wrong, and there’s no problem in this case. Almost everything is wrong, including Iraq’s existence as a state:

Ancient Persia became part of the Islamic Empire is the 7th Century, was over-run by the Mongols in the 13th Century, was decimated by the Black Death in the 15th Century, and was rolled into the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th Century where it remained until World War I. After that war, it became the State of Iraq in 1921 under British Mandate – a collection of widely differing and warring ethnic/Religious groups [Kurds, Assyrians, Shiites, Sunnis] under the British imposed Hāshimite Monarchy. The British promoted the minority Sunnis into positions of power. Iraq became independent in 1932. When there was a coup in 1941, the British invaded and restored the Monarchy, which lasted until the next coup in 1958 [Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim], which was removed by another in 1963 [Colonel Abdul Salam Arif]. Finally, the 1968 coup by the Arab Socialist Baath Party succeeded in establishing control over Iraq and Saddam Hussein became President in 1979 [by killing off his rivals]. The Hāshimite Monarchy persists next door in Jordon; a different version of the Baathists rule Syria; Saudi Arabia has a Sunni Monarchy; and Iran has a Shiite who-knows-what?-ocracy.

So after their absurd history of outside interference, we can probably put Saddam Hussein next on some kind of blame list. His pugilism has been off the scale, both within Iraq and against his neighbors. But as to his danger to the world in 2003?

Dr. Blix had something to say about  that question:
    DR BLIX: Yes. We would have been able to clear up some things, but I think Mr Blair is entirely right. We have never got the whole truth, nor do I think it was necessary to get the whole truth. The interesting thing: was Iraq a danger in 2003? They were not a danger. They were practically prostrate and could not – it would have taken a lot of time to reconstitute in selling oil.
So why didn’t Hussein cooperate?
    DR BLIX: No, I am not convinced that Saddam had come to that decision that they would do their utmost to cooperate. He took the strategic decision in 1991 to do away with the weapons of mass destruction, the biological, chemical and the nuclear. So there was a strategic decision but he wouldn’t admit it publicly. One reason, again, the guess is he didn’t mind looking dangerous to the Iranians. [I would add "or to the rest of the world."]
So Hussein is guilty of being an obstructionistic jerk, but that is not a cause for war. And Saddam Hussein was of little danger to the world – and the question reduces down to whether or not the UN policy of containment was working or not. Here’s what Carne Ross, a UK UN Diplomat at the time, said in his recent testimony:
    New York [the UN] was in effect the front line of the UK’s work to sustain international support for controls on Iraq. Although this diplomacy was difficult and tendentious, it was not our view in New York that containment was collapsing either through the ineffectiveness of sanctions or the deterioration of international support. While there were serious sanctions breaches, it was not the UK judgement that these permitted significant rearmament, which was our major concern3. Politically, we noted a renewed French willingness to reunite the Council to pressurize Iraq to comply with the SCRs. In New York, the French ambassador spoke with enthusiasm about a new “package” to reaffirm the Council’s position that Iraq must fulfill all its disarmament obligations. It remained our view, which we explained to all at the UN, that the best method to control the WMD danger was through inspections, and Iraq’s compliance with its SCR obligations.

    The UK did not judge that Iraq had the means substantially to rearm, which was the key test of the effectiveness of the containment policy. It is therefore inaccurate to claim, as some earlier witnesses have done, that containment was failing and that sanctions were collapsing (and thus to claim that there was little alternative to military action to deal with the Iraqi threat). Although it required a substantial diplomatic effort, Security Council support for the resolutions had not collapsed. Indeed, had there been more diplomatic effort, above all from the US, this position could have been maintained for some time longer. But as 2002 drew on, it became clear that the US had a different agenda and had waning interest in negotiating a diplomatic way forward at the UN.
We now know for sure – containment had worked fine. In fact we were overdoing it with sanctions that hurt the Iraqi people, not Hussein himself. While Hussein was haggling with the UN and resisting its recurrent sanctions, at the end of the day, the UN containment of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was successful. The UN Inspectors had left Iraq when we bombed Iraq in 1998 [Operation Desert Fox],  and disbanded the following year amid allegations that the United States had used the UNSCOM‘s resources to spy on the Iraqi military [probably true].

I documented our recent history with Iraq in a recent post [Cheney’s Kampf and the war on the UN…] and implied that Iraq was just a stepping stone in the Neoconservative plan for the US to become the world’s sole superpower and essentially replace the UN – motivated partly by maintaining order, but more by expanding economic markets and gaining access to resources. I actually believe what I said to be true. Also, I’ve always said that Karl Rove came the closest to telling the truth about the Neoconservative/Administration’s motives in focusing on Iraq. It was not because Saddam Hussein was dangerous:

ROVE: Well, remember, we removed, as you said, Saddam Hussein in 22 days. But then the enemy, the Al Qaeda extremists, decided to make the central battlefield in the global war on terror. This will be worth that if we win. If we win we will have dealt the enemy a huge blow in a battlefield they chose to confront us on.

And it will send a powerful message throughout the Islamic world. I think Bernard Lewis of Princeton is accurate. That the Muslim world is waiting to see who is going to win the conflict. Is it going to be the West or is it going to be Al Qaeda? And by winning, we will send a powerful message that the momentum is on our side. And it will rally the Muslim world to us. It will also create a huge influence in the Middle East. Think about the creation of the democracy in the historic center of the Middle East with the third-largest oil reserves in the world. If we have a functioning democracy in Iraq, that’s an ally in the war on terror, a counterweight to mullahs Iran and to Assad in Syria, this will create a very hopeful center of reform and energy for reform throughout the Middle East.
Rove left off just one little detail, the part about becoming the sole superpower, replacing the UN, and dominating the world. Hans Blix didn’t say that either. But he did say a lot:
    DR BLIX: Without a Security Council authorisation. As you say, the Americans, to them, it was indifferent. They had already a doctrine that said: why should we have a permission slip from the Security Council? So they didn’t need it.

    DR BLIX: No. There is this big discussion as to whether a second resolution would be required. I for my part thought that to me it was clear that a second resolution was required. I have seen from some of the testimony that some of the British felt that it was desirable, but it was not absolutely indispensable…  I think it was Ambassador Meyer who said there were the three groups. There were the Americans on the one side who said, "No, nothing is needed". There were others who said, "You need a second resolution", and the British were somewhere in between.

    DR BLIX: Well, I think there was at least implied from the US side that if the Security Council doesn’t agree with us and go along with our view, then it sentences itself to irrelevance. I think that’s a very presumptuous attitude. I think the US at the time was high on military. They felt they could get away with it and therefore it was desirable to do so.

    DR BLIX: I don’t think that anyone would have been satisfied unless they had come up with a report that, "Here are the weapons". Certainly the Americans would not have been satisfied with anything less than that and I was also perhaps unfairly saying this is a deficiency in the document. They had the difficulty. They could not declare something very much because they didn’t have it very much.

    DR BLIX: I think what was really important about this business of sites given was that when we reported that, no, we did not find any weapons of mass destruction, they should have realised I think, both in London and in Washington, that their sources were poor.

    DR BLIX: No. I thought that Straw was giving up around 10th March. They tried the benchmark approach, which I approved. I mean, I saw it as something hopeful, but… So when it was seen then that the US will not go along with any prolongation of inspections and there would be an invasion, I think that was the moment when it was discovered that the cluster document indicated that inspections were meaningless.

    DR BLIX: I have never questioned the good faith of Mr Blair or Bush or anyone else. I think to question the good faith, it will — you need to have very substantial evidence and I do not have that. On some occasions when I talked to Blair on the telephone, 20 February, I certainly felt that he was absolutely sincere in his belief. What I questioned was the good judgment, particularly with Bush, but also in Blair’s judgment.

    DR BLIX: The first reflection that occurs to me is that if the British Prime Minister or Bush had come to their parliaments and said, "Well, we are not sure that there are weapons of mass destruction but we fear they could reconstitute", I can’t imagine they would have got an authorisation to go to war for that purpose.

    DR BLIX: Those who were 100 per cent convinced there were weapons of mass destruction, if they had less than zero per cent knowledge where they were, that would have been helpful.

    DR BLIX: We would have been able to clear up some things, but I think Mr Blair is entirely right. We have never got the whole truth, nor do I think it was 11 necessary to get the whole truth. The interesting thing: was Iraq a danger in 2003? They were not a danger. They were practically prostrate and could not — it would have taken a lot of time to reconstitute in selling oil.

    DR BLIX: So inspectors can give something that the intelligence cannot, and intelligence can also give to the inspector something. It is a quality control for those who have intelligence to say, "What do the inspectors say? Does this tally?" If it doesn’t tally, I think they should be alerted and they say, "Hey, there may be something wrong". There may vice versa also be quality control on the inspectors. "Have you missed this?" In a way that was the message of Colin Powell when he came before the Security Council and said — he was very courteous about us, but said, "Listen, this is what we have found now". Implicitly he said thereby, "These guys, the inspectors, they never found this". So their intelligence was superior. It was not. We were more critical. We also had the fortune of not being taken in by defectors and people who came with their stories. So that is the important — yes, there is important lessons in this.

    DR BLIX: The other reflection I have is a broader one about the going to war. I am delighted that I think your intention is to draw lessons from the Iraq war rather than anything else, and I think that when can states go to war still remains a vitally important issue, and the UN Charter in 1945 took a giant leap forward in this and said, "No, it is prohibited to do except in the case of self defence and armed attack or authorisation by the Security Council". Well, here in the case of Iraq you can see how the UK in the summer 2002 or the spring 2002 said, "Yes, we might, but it has to be through the UN power". Self-defence against an armed attack was out. Regime change was out. Straw was adamantly opposed to a regime change. Authorisation by the UN, yes, that’s the path. So they insist upon 1441 and they get it, but it is a gamble. 1441 is if they had shown or if the Iraqis had continued to obstruct, as it was expected, then they could have asked the Security Council for a second resolution and said, "Look, they are obstructing and we now ask for authorisation". They never knew whether they would get that. Eventually they had to come with I think very constrained legal explanations. We see how Mr Goldsmith, Lord Goldsmith now, wriggled about and how he himself very much doubted that it was adequate, but eventually said, "Well, if you accumulate all these things, then that gives a plausible …" — he was not quite sure that it would have stood up in an international tribunal. Most of your legal advisers not think so either. Nevertheless he gave the green light to it. I think it shows the UK was wedded to the UN rules and tried to go by them, eventually failed and was a prisoner on the American train, but it is true at the same time that this rule against going to war is under strain.

    DR BLIX: I am of the firm view that it was an illegal war. I think the vast majority of international lawyers feel that way. This can be discussed, but I don’t think — there can be cases where it is doubtful. Maybe it was permissible to go to war. Iraq in my view was not one of those.
I think this one is the most telling, "I have never questioned the good faith of Mr Blair or Bush or anyone else. I think to question the good faith, it will – you need to have very substantial evidence and I do not have that." I would propose that Dr. Hans Blix is being a perspecacious UN Diplomat here. He realizes that he should be careful not to speak without solid evidence. But in these examples, he’s making it abundantly clear who is obstructing the UN, and it’s not Saddam Hussein. It’s the United States of America, that’s who. And I think the "it will –" is the beginning of a sentence that might read, "it will" take more "substantial evidence" than I currently have to say that Bush was not acting in good faith "and I do not have that" yet.

So, do we belong on the Iraq blame list? Damned right we do! Somewhere near the top because  unlike the others, we ought to know better…
    July 28, 2010 | 6:07 PM

    Mickey –

    You ask the question here – So why didn’t Hussein co-operate?

    Hans Blix talks about strategic decisions, both in 1991 and in January 2003 when he (Blix) said to the Security Council “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance – not even today – of the disarmament, which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.” On Tuesday at the Inquiry he stated “So there was a strategic decision but he wouldn’t admit it publicly. One reason, again, the guess is he didn’t mind looking dangerous to the Iranians.”

    Unless one looks back over the entire history of Iraq’s WMD activities it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to fathom out exactly what strategic decision WAS made by Iraq (and not necessarily by Saddam himself) and carried through right up to the point of the March 2003 invasion.

    Both Husam Muhammad Amin, former director of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate,and Taqiq ‘Aziz, former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, informed their ISG debriefers about this decision, and it is spelled out in the ISG final report. The report states:

    On 18 July 1998, another incident created a confrontation between UNSCOM and Iraqi officials. During an inspection of the operations room at Iraqi Air Force Headquarters, an UNSCOM team found a document containing information about the consumption of special (chemical) munitions during the Iran-Iraq War.

    According to Husam Muhammad Amin, former director of the National Monitoring Directorate, “It was laziness on behalf of the Brigadier that the document was found. The Brigadier had more than one hour to hide the document while the inspectors waited at the entrance of the Air Force command. The Brigadier was sent to court and his judgment was imprisonment for 5-10 years in jail.”

    The inspection team felt that this document could be helpful in their efforts to verify the material balance of Iraq’s chemical munitions. Rather than take possession of the document, the chief inspector on the team requested a copy. Initially Iraqi officials on the scene agreed; then reneged, saying inspectors could only take notes on the document or receive a redacted copy. The chief inspector objected to these restrictions after which Iraqi officials seized the document from the chief inspector’s hands and refused UNSCOM any further access to the papers. According to Amin, Iraq considered any documentation or discussions detailing the use of chemical weapons to be a redline issue. Iraq did not want to declare anything that documented use of chemical weapons for fear the documentation could be used against Iraq in lawsuits. Iraqi Regime leadership was concerned Iran would seek legal reparations for the death and suffering of Iranian citizens due to Iraq’s use of CW in the 1980s.

    From 1998 until 2003, Iraq was unwilling to hand over the Air Force document. According to Tariq ‘Aziz, “In most cases Saddam listened and agreed with me when I would tell him that we must be forthcoming with the UN.” However, ‘Aziz added, “The Higher Committee did not want to release the document to the UN because the delivery times and methods contained in the document were thought to be sensitive.” When pressed further on why the Iraqis were so adamant about maintaining the Air Force document ‘Aziz paused, then stated, “We did not have to hand over the document because it was a matter of our national security.”

    In fact there are two instances of the likely use of Iraqi WMD, the first (as above) during the ’80-’88 Iran/Iraq war, and secondly against Coalition forces based in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Kuwait conflict via the use of Scud-type ballistic missiles.

    If we look back to just before the withdrawal of UNSCOM inspectors in 1998, it can be seen that these two key issues led in large part to Richard Butler’s declaration of Iraqi non-compliance. These are outlined in his letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on December 15 1998, the day before the withdrawal to allow for Operation Desert Fox:


    Iraq provided documents in response to one of the Commission’s requests. It gave some 64 pages related to Missile Unit 223 (Iraq’s 1991 Scud missile force). These pages are currently under translation and examination. A preliminary assessment indicates that they do not contain the information sought by the Commission.

    The Commission reiterated its request for the document (the Air Force document) found by an inspection team at the Headquarters of the Iraqi Air Force in July 1998. The Security Council has asked Iraq to return the document to the Commission. This document details Iraq’s consumption of special munitions in the 1980s, and therefore, is directly related to verification of the material balance of Iraq’s chemical munitions. Iraq refused to return the sealed envelope with the document to the Commission and stated that it is ready only to “consider” with the Commission’s experts the relevant portions of this document in the presence of the Special Representative of the Secretary General.

    Iraq stated that the remainder of the request documents either do not exist, could not be found or are not relevant to Commission’s activities.



    As is evident from this report, Iraq did not provide the full cooperation it promised on 14 November 1998.

    In addition, during the period under review, Iraq initialed new forms of restrictions upon the Commission’s work. Amongst the Commission’s many concerns about this retrograde step is what such further restrictions might mean for the effectiveness of long-term monitoring activities.

    In spite of the opportunity presented by the circumstances of the last month, including the prospect of a comprehensive review, Iraq’s conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in either the fields of disarmament or accounting for its prohibited weapons programmes.

    Finally, in the light of this experience, that is, the absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the Commission is not able to conduct the substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council and, thus, to give the Council the assurances it requires with respect to Iraq’s prohibited weapons programmes.

    Accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

    (Signed) Richard Butler

    These two issues remained current right up until early 2003. Hans Blix, in his briefing of the Security Council, 27 January 2003: An update on inspections, stated:

    I would now like to turn to the so-called “Air Force document” that I have discussed with the Council before. This document was originally found by an UNSCOM inspector in a safe in Iraqi Air Force Headquarters in 1998 and taken from her by Iraqi minders. It gives an account of the expenditure of bombs, including chemical bombs, by Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War. I am encouraged by the fact that Iraq has now provided this document to UNMOVIC.

    The document indicates that 13,000 chemical bombs were dropped by the Iraqi Air Force between 1983 and 1988, while Iraq has declared that 19,500 bombs were consumed during this period. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 6,500 bombs. The amount of chemical agent in these bombs would be in the order of about 1,000 tonnes. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume that these quantities are now unaccounted for.


    I turn now to the missile sector. There remain significant questions as to whether Iraq retained SCUD-type missiles after the Gulf War. Iraq declared the consumption of a number of SCUD missiles as targets in the development of an anti-ballistic missile defence system during the 1980s. Yet no technical information has been produced about that programme or data on the consumption of the missiles.

    It must be remembered that at the early stages of the UNSCOM inspection process Iraq did not declare all the Scud missiles it then had in its possession. An assumption was made that this was because they wished to retain a portion of their former arsenal. Perhaps instead part of the true motivation was to disguise the actual numbers and more specifically payload capability (ie conventional or ‘special’ warheads) of missiles launched in 1991 in order to avoid admission of a breach of the 1925 chemical weapon Geneva Convention, as had been signed much earlier by Iraq.

    Another piece in this evidence chain is a document originally released as part of the Fort Leavenworth document ‘dump’ of papers recovered by the Iraq Survey Group as found in Iraq and released to public scrutiny during the Spring of 2006:

    Original URL:

    Reference: ISGQ-2003-M0004666_TRANS.doc (Part only)

    Male 1 (possibly Saddam Hussein himself?)

    Let me talk in details, the 17 Tons you didn’t answer him a satisfactory answer. Which is related to the previous programs, this doesn’t mean that these 17 Tons are maybe hidden! I don’t think so. Then what is preventing you and comrade Tariq before you came, he said we for sure produced Biological, means Biological weapons. So he is really looking in the previous programs. I am telling you, that not all your answers to Ekeus about the Chemical are correct and precise. You gave him numbers to satisfy him, and it seems until now he is satisfied with the total. But at the same time I know that America is looking to prove our use of chemicals against Iran! And we in fact did use Chemical on the Iranians. And we didn’t answer them that we used Chemical on the Iranians. So in all your programs that you present in Chemical there still will be a gap, and whenever he wants to raise it he can raise it with what’s called Leveling, the one you talked about. Between the imported data and the weapons produced and the destroyed, there is going to be a gap a number of weapons used in Iran you guys didn’t cover.

    July 28, 2010 | 6:24 PM

    (Just re-read my post – should have written Geneva Protocol rather than Geneva Convention – actually it was the “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare”. See: )

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