By Robert Fisk (18 January 2003)
I was sitting on the floor of an old concrete house in the suburbs of Amman this week, stuffing into my mouth vast heaps of lamb and boiled rice soaked in melted butter. The elderly, bearded, robed men from Maan - the most Islamist and disobedient city in Jordan - sat around me, plunging their hands into the meat and soaked rice, urging me to eat more and more of the great pile until I felt constrained to point out that we Brits had eaten so much of the Middle East these past 100 years that we were no longer hungry. There was a muttering of prayers until an old man replied. "The Americans eat us now," he said.
Through the open door, where rain splashed on the paving stones, a sharp east wind howled in from the east, from the Jordanian and Iraqi deserts. Every man in the room believed President Bush wanted Iraqi oil. Indeed, every Arab I've met in the past six months believes that this - and this alone - explains his enthusiasm for invading Iraq. Many Israelis think the same. So do I. Once an American regime is installed in Baghdad, our oil companies will have access to 112 billion barrels of oil. With unproven reserves, we might actually end up controlling almost a quarter of the world's total reserves. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
The US Department of Energy announced at the beginning of this month that by 2025, US oil imports will account for perhaps 70 per cent of total US domestic demand. (It was 55 per cent two years ago.) As Michael Renner of the Worldwatch Institute put it bleakly this week, "US oil deposits are increasingly depleted, and many other non- Opec fields are beginning to run dry. The bulk of future supplies will have to come from the Gulf region." No wonder the whole Bush energy policy is based on the increasing consumption of oil. Some 70 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the Middle East. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
Take a look at the statistics on the ratio of reserve to oil production - the number of years that reserves of oil will last at current production rates - compiled by Jeremy Rifkin in Hydrogen Economy. In the US, where more than 60 per cent of the recoverable oil has already been produced, the ratio is just 10 years, as it is in Norway. In Canada, it is 8:1. In Iran, it is 53:1, in Saudi Arabia 55:1, in the United Arab Emirates 75:1. In Kuwait, it's 116:1. But in Iraq, it's 526:1. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
Even if Donald Rumsfeld's hearty handshake with Saddam Hussein in 1983 - just after the Great Father Figure had started using gas against his opponents - didn't show how little the present master of the Pentagon cares about human rights or crimes against humanity, along comes Joost Hilterman's analysis of what was really going on in the Pentagon back in the late 1980s.
Hilterman, who is preparing a devastating book on the US and Iraq, has dug through piles of declassified US government documents - only to discover that after Saddam gassed 6,800 Kurdish Iraqis at Halabja (that's well over twice the total of the World Trade Centre dead of 11 September 2001) the Pentagon set out to defend Saddam by partially blaming Iran for the atrocity.
A newly declassified State Department document proves that the idea was dreamed up by the Pentagon - who had all along backed Saddam - and states that US diplomats received instructions to push the line of Iran's culpability, but not to discuss details. No details, of course, because the story was a lie. This, remember, followed five years after US National Security Decision Directive 114 - concluded in 1983, the same year as Rumsfeld's friendly visit to Baghdad - gave formal sanction to billions of dollars in loan guarantees and other credits to Baghdad. And this forthcoming war is about human rights?
Back in 1997, in the years of the Clinton administration, Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and a bunch of other right-wing men - most involved in the oil business - created the Project for the New American Century, a lobby group demanding "regime change" in Iraq. In a 1998 letter to President Clinton, they called for the removal of Saddam from power. In a letter to Newt Gingrich, who was then Speaker of the House, they wrote that "we should establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests [sic] in the Gulf - and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power".
The signatories of one or both letters included Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, now Rumsfeld's Pentagon deputy, John Bolton, now under-secretary of state for arms control, and Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's under-secretary at the State Department - who called last year for America to take up its "blood debt" with the Lebanese Hizbollah. They also included Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defence, currently chairman of the defence science board, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the former Unocal Corporation oil industry consultant who became US special envoy to Afghanistan - where Unocal tried to cut a deal with the Taliban for a gas pipeline across Afghan territory - and who now, miracle of miracles, has been appointed a special Bush official for - you guessed it - Iraq.
The signatories also included our old friend Elliott Abrams, one of the most pro- Sharon of pro-Israeli US officials, who was convicted for his part in the Iran- Contra scandal. Abrams it was who compared Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon - held "personally responsible" by an Israeli commission for the slaughter of 1,700 Palestinian civilians in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre - to (wait for it) Winston Churchill. So this forthcoming war - the whole shooting match, along with that concern for "vital interests" (ie oil) in the Gulf - was concocted five years ago, by men like Cheney and Khalilzad who were oil men to their manicured fingertips.
In fact, I'm getting heartily sick of hearing the Second World War being dug up yet again to justify another killing field. It's not long ago that Bush was happy to be portrayed as Churchill standing up to the appeasement of the no-war-in Iraq brigade. In fact, Bush's whole strategy with the odious and Stalinist-style Korea regime - the "excellent" talks which US diplomats insist they are having with the Dear Leader's Korea which very definitely does have weapons of mass destruction - reeks of the worst kind of Chamberlain-like appeasement. Even though Saddam and Bush deserve each other, Saddam is not Hitler. And Bush is certainly no Churchill. But now we are told that the UN inspectors have found what might be the vital evidence to go to war: 11 empty chemical warheads that just may be 20 years old.
The world went to war 88 years ago because an archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo. The world went to war 63 years ago because a Nazi dictator invaded Poland. But for 11 empty warheads? Give me oil any day. Even the old men sitting around the feast of mutton and rice would agree with that.
William Rivers Pitt, Author "War on Iraq" Thursday 16 January 2003
My name is William Rivers Pitt. I am the author of the book 'War on Iraq,' which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and has cracked the top ten bestseller lists of the Washington Post, L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle and others. I am also a writer for the publication truthout.org.
I apologize for flouting my resume at you, but I wanted to make sure that you do not dismiss this email as coming from someone not very well versed in this Iraq situation. A correspondent named (name deleted) at CNN gave me your address, so that I might pass a note through you to Mr. Aaron Brown. I am hoping he is prepared to hear what I am saying.
First things first: The warheads.
Let's be clear. These were not 'chemical warheads.' In the Iraqi arsenal, a warhead is a warhead - an empty ordnance space strapped to a missile. What matters is the payload, be it explosive or chemical or nuclear. The item placed in the warhead denotes the designation. These warheads were stone-cold empty, so by definition they are not 'chemical warheads.' They are, in fact, nothing, because they were loaded with no payload. Furthermore, the word 'warhead' is in itself misleading, as these were artillery munitions.
Second. Iraq is allowed by UN resolutions to have a variety of weapons, including the Al Samoud missile. We did not want to pull Iraq's fangs completely after the Gulf War, considering the neighborhood they live in. We allowed them to keep missiles that fly only a certain distance (150km most often). Many people will not know this, and will think the presence of these munitions will represent a breach of the UN resolution. This is not the case.
Third. Scott Ritter informed me today that these munitions were part of Iraq's declaration last December. I await further confirmation of this, and so should the journalism world.
Fourth. This is absolutely a vindication of the inspections regime. They found the stuff, and it will be destroyed, an no American soldiers or Iraqi civilians died in the process. Inspections work.
Fifth. Recall how the UNSCOM inspections were undermined by meddling from the American intelligence community. Understand that this warhead story did not come from Blix, or through the normal channels, but through a Japanese (read: close ally) inspector whop contacted the news media and let rip before the facts were in hand. Why?
Finally, I want to address a comment you made earlier this week. You said on your show that it was unconscionable that viewers were writing in claiming that CNN wants war because war is good for the media business. I understand that this idea offends the core of your professionalism, but I wonder if you have been watching CNN today.
Your station has referred, over and over again, to these discovered warheads as 'chemical warheads.' The debate has not been centered on what the facts are behind these items - when they were made, whether they were loaded with anything, how long they have been there, whether they were declared - and instead has focused on whether the White House can use this as a pretext for war. Calling these things 'chemical warheads' is a gross exaggeration, which I have heard on CNN no less than seven times during the period I have been writing this message. Mull that.
Please, take the data I have given you and air it, for the sake of a reasoned and complete debate. I remind you that CNN's viewership increased by 500% after 9/11 and that your network made its bones on the first Gulf War. I beg you to get this data out to the American people, who desperately need facts and not overheated innuendo.
With great appreciation,
William Rivers Pitt
This is a transcript of AM broadcast at 08:00 AEST on local radio January 17, 2003 8:02
So what will the inspectors now be looking for to clarify the status of the warheads, and whether they constitute a material breach of UN disarmament requirements of Baghdad?
Raymond Zalinskas was a weapons inspector in Iraq in 1994 and is now an analyst at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in the US.
RAYMOND ZALINSKAS: The thing is that we have to find out when they actually contained chemical material in them. If they contained chemical warfare agent last week, then it would be very significant and the Iraqis would be in material breach. If they contained chemical warfare agents in, let's say 1992-93, it doesn't mean anything.
LINDA MOTTRAM: So that's what the inspectors will now be doing, is it, checking for that detail?
RAYMOND ZALINSKAS: That's right. As I read it, they have taken samples and they're being analysed, and I think they will find out pretty quickly if there's anything there that indicates an early origin, or that the chemical warfare agents have been there lately.
Because, see, these things are pretty labile. Even the most hardy or the most persevering chemical warfare agents like mustard gas and DX, they will only last for a few weeks in that kind of environment.
So you would then only find degradation products, but even if you find degradation products, that could be meaningful because actually you would expect to find absolutely nothing after a few months.
LINDA MOTTRAM: So the fact that these warheads are being described by the UN spokesman in Baghdad as being in excellent condition, similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980's, that doesn't actually tell us anything in particular?
RAYMOND ZALINSKAS: No, it only means that they were stored under proper conditions and didn't rust.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay. Do you know whether these eleven are likely to have formed part of the Iraqi's declaration to the UN Security Council?
RAYMOND ZALINSKAS: Well, that's, you know, they had so many of these chemical munitions. When I was there in '94, part of our teams were busy burning the chemical weapons agents in the desert, and part of it was also? they were crushing the shells and so on, so whether or not these are just remnants from that? they were recovered supposedly and in a munitions storage area about 120 kilometres south of Baghdad, so it would just be, I think, something that might have been just overlooked.
LINDA MOTTRAM: The Iraqi's, indeed, are saying that. The head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate General, Hossam Mohammed Amin is saying these rockets are expired, they were in closed wooden boxes, we had forgotten about them. That is in fact possibly an accurate description?
RAYMOND ZALINSKAS: Oh, sure, they had these huge ammunition storage areas in several places, the main one being at Musana, so I would easily imagine that a box of ammunition here and there would be lost and put in some corner somewhere and not known to anybody anymore.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Former weapons inspector in Iraq, Raymond Zalinskas, who's now at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in the US.