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US has hidden agenda

16 January 2003

Former Royal Navy commander Robert Green claims that many of the real reasons behind the United States' desire to invade Iraq are receiving little attention.

As the momentum towards a military invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition builds inexorably, my experience as a former British naval intelligence officer and operator of nuclear weapons leads me to warn of some disturbing considerations which seem to be receiving little attention.

Foremost among these relates to the purported objective, forcibly to disarm the Iraqi regime's alleged chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons of mass destruction before they might be used against the US or its allies. Unlike in 1991, President Saddam Hussein knows that this time the actual primary aim is to remove him from power and replace his regime with one which would not oppose the US administration's plan to seize control of Iraq's huge oil reserves. Without the oil factor, the US would be continuing to deal with Iraq as it is with North Korea - which unlike Iraq has openly admitted it is trying to build nuclear weapons, has evicted IAEA inspectors and announced its intention to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty - by diplomacy and economic sanctions.

Even if US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are right that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction, then their avowed intent to replace him by force will provide him with the pretext he needs to use them. Thus the purported primary objective of the invasion will provoke the outcome it is intended to prevent. This is why suspicion of a hidden agenda to seize control of Iraq's oil is justified.

Saddam Hussein could try to attack Israel, Kuwait and Turkey as well as allied forces, using dispersed and concealed chemical/biological weapon delivery systems and booby-trapped oilwells, in order to force allied troops to fight in cumbersome protective suits, and cause enough casualties and environmental damage to undermine US and allied public support for the war.

The US's "own goal" might not stop there. Bush is the first US President to have publicly admitted that nuclear deterrence cannot be relied upon to work against "rogue" states or terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. What is more, it is widely known that both his Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out use of nuclear weapons in the first Gulf War in 1991, when they were key members of the US military command team, because of the uncontrollably indiscriminate destructiveness and radioactive side-effects of nuclear weapons.

Yet instead of sustaining this wise policy, on 11 December last year the Bush administration issued a statement publicly warning that it reserved the "right" to respond with nuclear weapons if US or allied armed forces were attacked with chemical or biological weapons. Set aside the staggering double standards of the US threatening use its own weapons of mass destruction while invading Iraq just on suspicion that it has such weapons, let alone flouting the laws of war about proportionality. What this means is that an Iraqi attack with crude chemical weapons which killed, say, about 100 US troops could expect nuclear retaliation, killing or maiming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi non-combatants and making a huge area, possibly extending to other countries, uninhabitable for years. Indeed, some commentators believe that the Bush administration is prepared to use nuclear weapons in Iraq in order to intimidate the next "rogue" regime in its sights - Iran - into acquiescing to US plans for control of the Middle East and Central Asia. Any such use of nuclear weapons would be a war crime.

What about Israel, which almost certainly possesses at least 200 nuclear weapons - more than the UK's operational nuclear arsenal - and has flouted many UN resolutions about Palestine for years? The Israelis have greatly improved their anti-ballistic missile defence systems since 1991, and no doubt US-allied special forces will try to take out any Iraqi weapon delivery systems. Nevertheless, there is a real risk that, as before, Iraqi military forces could try to attack Israel with mobile Scud missiles.

With a much more belligerent Israeli regime than in 1991, a successful chemical/biological attack against Israel could provoke a nuclear reprisal against Baghdad (population five million), even if the US tried to stop it. Alternatively, the Israelis could carry out a nuclear strike and blame it on the Americans.

Either way, the nuclear taboo which has held since Nagasaki in 1945 would have been broken. The rest of the Arab world would erupt in fury against Israel and its friends. Israel's security could never be restored, and the Middle East would become an unmanageable cauldron of fear and hatred as the US probably tried to take control of the oilfields in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well.

Even if this worst case scenario is avoided, Saddam Hussein could try to repeat, and "improve", in Iraq his 1991 scorched earth policy when he set fire to some 360 Kuwaiti oilwells. A US invasion of the Iraqi oilfields around Basra in the south would risk this, and might be complicated by chemical or biological contamination this time.

A massive air blitz will be targeted against power supplies, bridges, roads, railways and other infrastructure, inevitably causing heavy civilian casualties and threatening epidemics of cholera and dysentery through disruption of electrically powered water and sanitation systems. The need to subdue the elite Republican Guard will involve extensive use of depleted uranium munitions, cluster bombs and even more indiscriminate fuel-air explosives. Iraq's one port of Umm Qasr will be heavily targeted.

Unlike in Afghanistan, most of Iraq's 26.5 million citizens are urbanised and heavily dependent on electricity plus, after years of sanctions, government-controlled distribution of their basic needs such as food and fuel. Some 14 million Iraqis currently receive overseas food aid. A recently leaked draft UN report assesses that as many as 500,000 non-combatants could be killed or injured, but primary health care - already severely weakened - will probably collapse. Over 7 million people could be deprived of safe drinking water, and 3 million could need emergency feeding. Movement of up to a million refugees will complicate US military operations and fan resentment among Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world, to the extent that neighbouring states such as Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait could be destabilised.

Thus, current US plans to deal pre-emptively by force with the recalcitrant Iraqi regime will probably be extremely costly in human and environmental terms.

© Commander Robert D Green, Royal Navy (Retired)

Published in The Press, Christchurch,16 January 2003

Commander Green served in the Royal Navy from 1962 to 1982, navigating Buccaneer nuclear strike aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters and serving in Fleet intelligence. He now coordinates the Peace Foundation's Disarmament and Security Centre in Christchurch with his wife Dr Kate Dewes.

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