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Vol. 2, No. 1, 2003

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Robert J. Lewis
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by Riad Saloojee

Riad Saloojee is executive director of the council on American-Islamic Relations based in Ottawa.

* * * * * * * * * *

Once bitten. And now many are shy to believe that the Iraq weapons verification process headed by Hans Blix is anything except redundant - immaterial, really - to whether Iraq will be in material breach of Security Council resolution 1441.

As we corner the curve to an imminent war, we run headlong into a story attributed to St. Augustine. He is reported to tell the tale of a pirate who was brought before the emperor. "Why do you molest the seas," inquired the emperor. Retorted the pirate: "When you molest the seas, they call you emperor; when I molest the seas they call me a pirate."

St. Augustine alludes to the fact that retaining control of the seven seas is the reserve of realpolitik, that ultimate end-game of power whose political tools are endless. They range from diplomatic sleight of hand to outright subterfuge. No one's the wiser, usually, until years later when brave souls like Daniel Ellsberg, the former marine who leaked documents that exposed the duplicity of successive US administrations and ultimately ended the Vietnam war, come forward and speak.

Ellsberg, by the way, lists oil as the main reason for the present war and anticipates an 'incident' that will be used as a rationale for the first US strike. His predictions are not entirely improbable either, if the past is taken as a guide. Indeed, the first Gulf War provides a rather mind-numbing benchmark for the capacity of emperors to flip reality on its head. In particular, three gnawing revelations come to mind.

Remember the case of the invisible troops massing on the Saudi Arabian border? Maggie O'Kane, European journalist of the year, reminds us that just before the Gulf war, the Pentagon insisted that Saddam was poised to invade Kuwait with 265 000 troops. Satellite photos were personally conveyed to the Saudis to bring them onside. The ruse worked. The Saudis acquiesced. The world bought it hook, line and sinker. Later, however, declassified documents and satellite photos (bought by 5-time Pulitzer nominated journalist Jean Heller) taken by a Russian commercial satellite, the Soyuz Karta, verified that there were no amassing troops at all. The images were false.

Another forgotten, and gruesome, revelation included the testimony of Nayirah al-Sabah before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. She testified on the eve of the war that she had witnessed Iraqis looting incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital and leaving some 15 babies to die. The story eventually broke apart and was exposed on CBC's Fifth Estate in a program called "Selling the War." The story was also discounted by Amnesty International and Middle East Watch. It turned out that Ms. al-Sabah was the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S. She fabricated the entire story with the complicity of that venerable public relations giant, Hill & Knowlton.

Similar unsubstantiated stories appeared at the UN a few weeks later. "Witnesses," coached by Hill & Knowlton, offered testimony about atrocities in Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the seven witnesses used false names and even identities in one case. In an unprecedented move, the US was even allowed to present a video created by Hill & Knowlton to the entire security council.

Lastly, who could forget the transcripts of that fateful meeting between April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein. Glaspie, then U.S. ambassador to Iraq, met at the behest of Hussein on July 25, 1990. Hussein wanted clarification regarding US intentions should Iraq attack Kuwait. Saddam complained to Glaspie regarding the serious economic conditions facing Iraq and reiterated his grievances regarding Kuwait. For her part, Glaspie indicated to Hussein that the US had 'no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border agreement with Kuwait.' In fact, after the invasion, Glaspie herself admitted in the New York Times that she knew of the Hussein's intention to invade Kuwait, stating, "Obviously, I didn't think - and nobody else did - that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait…" The operative word, of course, being all.

The CIA's former head of counter terrorism recently informed us that "cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements" regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

As you read this, U.N. weapons inspectors continue their work in Iraq while U.S. troops are amassing in distant theatres of the world.

All the world's a stage. But we've seen this plot before. The climax will not be the declaration of war; it will probably be not too distant revelations of more abuse of power. If only this were a play, we might, as concerned global citizens, close the curtain on this ridiculous charade.

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