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The terrible toll of a new war on Iraq

August 23, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7

GEORGE W. BUSH says that he doesn't have a "timetable" for a U.S. attack on Iraq. But it's clear that he has his mind set on war. "Regime change" is now running a close second to "evil" among the favorite catchphrases of the Bush administration.

The Bush gang hasn't actually come up with evidence to justify an assault on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as Phase II of the U.S. "war on terrorism." Try as it might, the Bush administration has failed to link Saddam to the September 11 attacks. But the White House has made it clear that this won't stop them.

One result has been a wave of criticism about Bush's war aims--from some unexpected places. Two of the loudest voices of criticism last week weren't Democrats, but prominent Republicans--George Bush Sr.'s former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Scowcroft, a close friend of the Bush family, played a key role in Bush Sr.'s bloody Gulf War on Iraq in 1991. But in a Wall Street Journal commentary on August 15, he warned: "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counter-terrorist campaign we have undertaken. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq…And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation."

Of course, the likes of Scowcroft and Kissinger are worried about the hows and whens of waging an assault on Iraq, not the ifs. ELIZABETH SCHULTE and NICOLE COLSON explain why we have to oppose a new U.S. war on Iraq, before it begins.

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A RECIPE for more misery where misery is already the order of the day. That's a good way to describe what the Bush administration has in store for Iraq.

Over the last few months, several battle plans have been "leaked" through the press to prepare the U.S. public for war. The latest scenario, released earlier this month, is called the "inside-out" or "Baghdad first" plan--in which the U.S. would strike the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to "decapitate" Iraq's military capability and cause Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse. The scheme would require "only" 80,000 to 100,000 U.S. troops, compared to the previously leaked plan for an all-out invasion requiring a quarter of a million.

The target of the strike, Baghdad, is the home to some 5 million Iraqis. Military officials envision U.S. troops engaging in street battles. Some analysts are already drawing the comparison to bloody U.S. assault on Mogadishu during the 1993 invasion of Somalia.

Other "experts" speculate that U.S. troops might not have to enter Baghdad, arguing that advances in precision-guided weapons could enable the U.S. to hit any important target by air. But Iraqi civilians already know about the "precision" of U.S. bombs.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the U.S. conducted 43 days of bombing. The Pentagon purposely targeted civilian infrastructure, wiping out, for example, power grids across Iraq. Some 400 civilians were killed instantly when one "precise" 5,000-pound bunker buster blew apart the Amiriya underground bomb shelter in Baghdad.

And the reality is that the bombing never really stopped. In northern and southern Iraq, where the U.S. and Britain declared "no-fly zones" after the Gulf War, warplanes fly patrols and drop bombs on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the strict regime of economic sanctions kept in place by the United Nations (UN)--under pressure from the U.S.--continues to take a devastating toll, despite supposed "reforms" like the oil-for-food program, under which Iraq is allowed to sell some of its oil in return for basic goods like food and medical supplies.

The UN estimates that the war and sanctions together have taken a country that was once on the same economic level as Greece--and driven it down to the level of the poverty-stricken African nation of Mali.

The U.S. war on the "evil" Saddam Hussein has been paid for with the blood of Iraqi civilians. It's hard to imagine how Bush could make the carnage worse.

But worse isn't just possible, it's probable. During Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq last week, military expert Anthony Cordesman offered a chilling possibility. As reported in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, Cordesman wrote in an intelligence document that if Iraq strikes Israel, Israel would likely retaliate--potentially with nuclear weapons. Such an attack would destroy Iraq as a state, Cordesman concluded.

But this chance--like the certainty of even greater instability in Middle East--is a scenario that Bush is willing to accept in order to go forward with his bloody war. We have to oppose him every step of the way.

When Rumsfeld liked Saddam

THERE'S NO doubt about it--Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is the Bush administration's Public Enemy Number One.

Of course, things were different a few decades ago. Maybe Dubya doesn't remember, but when his father was vice president under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the U.S. government supported Saddam Hussein and his regime.

As journalist Jeremy Scahill pointed out in CounterPunch magazine, Reagan's envoy to Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s was none other than the current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Now one of the loudest voices calling for a "regime change," at the end of 1983, Rumsfeld carried a handwritten letter for Saddam and "a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations."

After his visit, Rumsfeld told the New York Times that "[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world…It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems."

"Solving problems" for the Reagan administration meant making sure that the U.S. had enough allies among Arab regimes in the region to ensure American control over oil. A few months after Rumsfeld's visit, the Washington Post reported that the U.S., "in a shift in policy, has informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the three-year-old war with Iran would be 'contrary to U.S. interests' and has made several moves to prevent that result." Even if that meant propping up Saddam, a brutal dictator who the U.S. knew had used chemical weapons.

In March of 1984, for example, United Press International reported, "Mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers in the 43-month Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a team of UN experts has concluded…Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, U.S. presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz on the Gulf War [with Iraq] before leaving for an unspecified destination." Apparently, it didn't matter to Reagan and Rumsfeld that their new friend was using "weapons of mass destruction."

Later in 1984, the State Department approved the sale of 45 U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters to Iraq. In 1988, Saddam's regime used those helicopters to attack Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas.

What a difference a few years makes. "In 1984, Donald Rumsfeld was in a position to draw the world's attention to Saddam's chemical threat," Scahill writes. "He was in Baghdad as the UN concluded that chemical weapons had been used against Iran…But Rumsfeld said nothing."

Rumsfeld's history of buddying up with Saddam proves that the Bush gang doesn't give a damn about the people of Iraq or anywhere else--just safeguarding U.S. interests around the globe.

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