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Former UN aid coordinator explains why...
"Iraq is not a threat"

August 2, 2002 | Page 5

HANS VON SPONECK worked for the UN for 36 years. He served as humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq from 1998 to 2000, but resigned in protest against U.S.-backed economic sanctions. Von Sponeck spoke to Socialist Worker about his recent visit to Iraq and the Bush administration's buildup for war.

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ONE GETS a daily dose of statements about the danger that Iraq poses not only to its neighbors but to countries as far away as the U.S. For example, [U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz said in Istanbul that every day that passes makes Iraq more dangerous.

Well, if they would explain why they came to this conclusion, it would be helpful. Not doing that makes it a fairly empty statement--with dangerous implications if one is planning to go ahead and attack Iraq.

I think that the U.S. electorate should demand that those that those people who make statements like that show some evidence. For example, there are references to the resumption of the production of weapons of mass destruction. There are references to sites that in the past were alleged to have been involved in biological and chemical weapons manufacturing.

I had the good fortune to visit, with a German television crew, these sites, and to realize that they were defunct, destroyed and disabled--by not only the Gulf War, but also Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and the UN disarmament experts.

You don't need to be an arms specialist to conclude that there's nothing. I went to two sites--sites of my choice, and what I saw was simply the opposite of what one reads in the media. If that's reflective of the total picture, no citizen in the U.S. should worry about the danger that Iraq poses to anybody.

I think statements from responsible government officials in Washington that Iraq is a danger to the international community without any evidence are out of order.

Statements that do show what the reality is on the ground are coming from people like [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter, or my predecessor Denis Halliday, or even my successor, who has spoken out in a low-profile approach. They need to be emphasized.

People like us who have tried to be honest in conveying this information should be taken more seriously--particularly at a time when it's a question of making a very dangerous mistake by attacking Iraq.

After the events of September 11, it was natural that the international community wanted to show support, compassion and understanding for the American decision to declare war on terrorism.

But it didn't take long for the Europeans and others to recognize that Washington was making a very dangerous cocktail here--mixing up a legitimate fight against terrorism with a convenient opportunity to include in that group all those countries and governments that were politically inconvenient to the U.S.

The most extreme example is this rather foolish, if I may say, reference to the "axis of evil" countries--and Iraq was on top of the list. That has created a very strong reaction.

People are backing off now from supporting a Bush administration policy that lumps everything together and, in doing so, has started to erode what the U.S. and other Western democracies stand for. Not only the public, but more governments in Europe and the Middle East think that America's unilateralist approach is going to create more problems than it is trying to solve.

If you have a fire, and you pour gasoline on the forest, you have bigger fire. I have a feeling that what is being contemplated in Washington now will do just that.

There are already fires burning in the Middle East. We have unbelievable carnage in Palestine and Israel. Do we want to add to this fire?

The governments in the Middle East don't want another war. Many will go along with it if it happens. But the price that Washington is willing to pay is enormously high, because ultimately, it will create a very deep and persistent anger against those who are attacking what, at the Arab summit in Beirut last March, was identified as the brotherly country of Iraq.

That's the change. The Middle East is much more willing than the U.S. to now go ahead with a peace process that involves not just Palestine but also involves Iraq. Given this development and the resistance to a military confrontation out of Europe, it would be a very wise approach for the U.S. Congress, in the forthcoming hearing on whether there should be a war with Iraq, to be very wary in taking advice from the group of Gulf War veterans surrounding the president and whispering into his ear that there's only one solution--a military solution.

The CIA and other intelligence organs of the U.S. know very well that what is said in public about the threat that Iraq poses is nonsense. Iraq is not a threat. Iraq is on its knees economically, politically, militarily--and people who know this well, like Scott Ritter and myself on the non-military side, keep cautioning against military action.

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