Best available critique of the West’s plans for war against Iraq

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Laila Juma

Ramadan 26, 1423 2002-12-01

Book Review

by Laila Juma (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 19, Ramadan, 1423)

War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons against War on Iraq by Milan Rai (with a chapter by Noam Chomsky). Pub: Verso Books, London, UK / New York, USA, 2002. Pp: 240. Pbk: UK£10.00.

A few weeks ago this author reviewed two very different books, both aiming to reintroduce basic historic facts to the current debate on the US’s planned war on Iraq (Crescent International, November 1-15, 2002). The two took very different approaches, but complimented each other well.

William Rivers Pitt’s book War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know, based on an interview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, directly addressed specific elements of the Bush team’s case against Iraq, highlighting both the falsehoods on which it is based, and the numerous contradictions within it. Geoff Simons’ Targeting Iraq: Sanction & Bombing in US Policy takes a much broader overview of events over the last decade, providing invaluable background information, in considerable detail, rather than addressing the immediate issues.

The book now under review has a very similar-sounding name — War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons against War on Iraq. However, it is quite distinct in its style and approach, balancing the strengths of both the above books, directly addressing the issues, and their immediate background, with the detail and depth offered by Simons. The result is that Milan Rai, a prominent British dissident researcher and activist, has written perhaps the single most useful book on the current Iraq situation.

One interesting feature of the book is that it is written from the perspective of the Western pacifist movement that Rai represents. Rai acknowledges that it is based largely on research done under the auspices of ARROW (Active Resistance to the Roots of War), a London-based "non-violent direct action group," and the UK branch of the prominent American protest group Voices in the Wilderness, which Rai heads. This perspective is reflected in the style and approach of the book, which is explicitly aimed at providing material to support the arguments of opponents of the war in their debates with its advocates.

The book opens, therefore, with a collection of quotes from prominent opponents of war of different backgrounds, from Church leaders to former politicians and intelligence activists, and also links the Iraq issue directly to the war against terrorism by highlighting the anti-war positions of some of the relatives of those killed on September 11.

This is followed by the first section of the book, headed ‘After September 11’, which includes a chapter by Noam Chomsky called ‘Terror and Just Response’, which places the September 11 attacks and the American reaction to them in historical context, pointing out some of the reasons that the attack’s perpetrators might have had for hating America, and some of the hypocrisies and realities behind the West’s response. This section also includes a chapter by Rai called ‘The Smoking Gun — The Taliban Agreed to Extradite Bin Ladin’, in which he argues that the attack on Afghanistan was not in fact necessary to achieve the US’s stated aim of bringing bin Ladin to justice.

The main part of the book, however, is of course focused on the arguments being put forward to justify the US’s planned war on Iraq. This section can be divided into two parts: one highlighting the realities behind the US’s Iraq policy to date, and one focusing on ‘Ten Reasons Against War on Iraq’.

The first of these parts consists of substantial chapters on specific themes and episodes, in each of which Rai brings forward convincing and well-referenced arguments exposing the realities of US policy and the lies the US tells to justify them. It starts with two chapters on the UN weapons inspection regimes, the first on how the US abused, manipulated, exploited and undermined the UNSCOM inspectors who operated in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and the second on the US’s manipulation of the UNMOVIC inspectors who have just been granted permission to resume inspections in order to provide the UN with a pretext for its war.

The first of these chapters is typical of Rai’s approach, as he provides both a detailed account of the background to UNSCOM’s mission, to fill the gaps in people’s knowledge, complete with quotes from the relevant UN and other legal documents, before going on to give details of its work, drawn from various different sources, including its own reports, the memoirs of inspectors, and the statements of officials at various stages.

He pays particular attention to the final months of UNSCOM’s mission, as relations with the Iraqis broke down, pointing out that the UN agency was used for spying by the US, and as a conduit for communication with Iraqi dissidents planning to overthrow the Saddam Husain regime. He also shows that the inspections crises were deliberately provoked in accordance with US foreign policy imperatives; the provocative inspection of the Ba’ath headquarters in Baghdad, for example, which led to the withdrawal of the inspectors in late 1998, was postponed several times earlier in the year as the US government pressured the inspectors to wait "for a more opportune time". Rai quotes official documents to show that the dispute over the inspection was provoked not by Iraqi refusal to co-operate, but by the inspectors’ deliberate refusal to abide by the agreed conditions for inspections.

Rai takes a similar forensic approach to discussing numerous other elements of the US’s Iraq policy, from its changing policy objectives, its manipulation of public opinion, and its lying to the UN and other governments, to the realities and effects of the 1990 bombing and the UN sanctions regime. The rigour of arguments and the thoroughness of his referencing are among the most impressive and useful parts of his work throughout.

The precise same strengths also characterize his ‘Ten Reasons Against War On Iraq’. These include the hollowness of the argument that Husain threatens the region or the West; the fact that there is no demonstrable link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (Rai effectively deconstructs the allegation that Mohammad Atta, the alleged leader of the September 11 hijackers, met an Iraqi official in Prague earlier in the year); that the US has no objection to brutal dictators, and in fact would prefer to have one in Iraq, albeit a different one; and that the consequences of war, on the Iraqi people, on regional peace and stability, and on the world economy, could be disastrous.

Of all the books on the current Iraq crisis, this is perhaps the best, in that it is passionately but clearly written and argued, it successfully balances recent history with current events, and it is remarkably comprehensive in the sources and references it provides to support its arguments and help others to convince even sceptics of the case against war. It deserves to be recognised not only as an invaluable tool of current political activism, but as an excellent reference on the realities of Iraq’s tragic and deliberate destruction.

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