Monday, August 9, 2010

Tariq Aziz On Iraq

On Friday, the Guardian published a two-part interview with Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister under Saddam Hussein, who, with his bushy moustache and thick, black-framed glasses, was one of the regime’s most recognizable figures. Aziz is currently sitting in jail in Baghdad, halfway through a 15-year sentence for crimes against humanity for his role in the Hussein regime. While the entire two-part interview is well worth reading – Aziz maintains that Iraq was better off under Saddam than the current regime, that Iraqis are all “victims” of the United States and Great Britain, and that the coalition has undone decades of progress made under Hussein – but past his bluster are two fascinating claims.

The first is that Aziz not only states Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (ostensibly the reason for the 2003 invasion), but that Hussein deliberately maintained a policy of “ambiguity” around Iraq’s WMD capabilities as a hedge against their long-time adversary, Iran. If the “ambiguity” strategy sounds familiar, it is also Israel’s stated policy regarding the existence, or not, of their nuclear weapons program. Israel’s belief is that so long as hostile nations in the region think they have nuclear weapons, none will risk an outright war with them. Aziz explained that Saddam pursued the same strategy against Iran – the two countries spent much of the 1980s involved in a bloody war that saw each launch ballistic missile attacks against the other’s major cities and also the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. Saddam’s belief was that Iran would think twice about starting a second war so long as they thought the Iraqis possessed WMDs.

And while ambiguity seemed to work against them when it came to US-led efforts to enforce UN weapons inspections to certify that Iraq was WMD-free, Aziz claims that the United States was determined to launch a war against Iraq under George W. Bush and was merely looking for an excuse. He accuses the United States of forcing Iraq to try to accomplish the impossible task of “proving a negative”. This goes back to an old story of US weapons inspectors demanding that the Iraqis prove they destroyed WMD stocks the Americans assumed they had rather than just the documented physical stockpiles they disclosed. It works like this: say for example an Iraqi lab produced 800 lbs of sarin nerve gas. The Iraqis would provide the weapons inspectors with proof that they had destroyed 800 lbs of sarin. But it wasn’t uncommon for weapons inspectors to say that they thought this lab could have produced 1,000 lbs, and then demand to see the documentation that the other 200 lbs had been destroyed. When the Iraqis claimed that this additional 200 lbs had never been produced in the first place, the American side accused them of obstructing the weapons inspector’s efforts. The excuse, voiced by Dick Cheney and other administration officials, was that we couldn’t “take Iraq’s word” on these things; of course the fact that seven years after the invasion stockpiles of these phantom WMDs have never been found would seem to bear out the idea that the Iraqis were telling the truth all along.

You can read the whole two-part interview at The Guardian.
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