Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

No 'Last Resort' -- Air Strikes Pummeled Iraq Months Before

When did the war on Iraq begin? Six months before the United Nations voted to authorize a U.S.-led invasion of that country, and before Congress wrote a blank check to George W. Bush, and before the Pentagon reported the start of the war on March 8, 2003, American and British bombs were already falling heavily in what the Sunday Times of London characterizes as a "full air offensive." (Read the entire article.) Writes correspondent Michael Smith:
The new information, obtained by the Liberal Democrats, shows that the allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001, and that the RAF increased their attacks even more quickly than the Americans did.
The Times -- a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper that is no ally of the antiwar movement -- goes on to say that this essential strategy for the war was formulated in the same briefing paper for a July 2002 meeting involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Published reports in Britain and elsewhere note have established that during this meeting the British were made to understand that the U.S. had already planned for a war on Iraq and the meeting was about coordinating British and American combat efforts. (Read the memo.)

And what an effort! According to The Times:
The new information, obtained by the Liberal Democrats, shows that the allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001, and that the RAF increased their attacks even more quickly than the Americans did.

During 2000, RAF aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq dropped 20.5 tons of bombs from a total of 155 tons dropped by the coalition, a mere 13%. During 2001 that figure rose slightly to 25 tons out of 107, or 23%.

However, between May 2002 and the second week in November, when the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, which [Attorney General Lord] Goldsmith said made the war legal, British aircraft dropped 46 tons of bombs a month out of a total of 126.1 tons, or 36%.

By October, with the UN vote still two weeks away, RAF aircraft were dropping 64% of bombs falling on the southern no-fly zone.

Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has since admitted this operation was designed to “degrade” Iraqi air defences in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf war.
Even to us poor, naive souls here in the wilderness it seems that this article further shreds whatever credibility the Bush administration tried to project about using war as a last resort against Saddam Hussein. But this isn't the only thing we find troubling. True, Bush may have given the order for war, but he wasn't acting in a vacuum.

In The Nation, Jeremy Scahill reports that the "patrolling of the no-fly zone," which was established following Gulf War I in 1991, was actually intended to provoke Saddam into an action that would have led to Gulf War II. And it wasn't just the policy of Bush the Elder. writes Scahill:
During both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Washington has consistently and falsely claimed these attacks were mandated by UN Resolution 688, passed after the Gulf War, which called for an end to the Iraqi government's repression in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. [Former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans] Von Sponeck dismissed this justification as a "total misnomer." In an interview with The Nation, Von Sponeck said that the new information "belatedly confirms" what he has long argued: "The no-fly zones had little to do with protecting ethnic and religious groups from Saddam Hussein's brutality" but were in fact an "illegal establishment...for bilateral interests of the US and the UK."

These attacks were barely covered in the press and Von Sponeck says that as far back as 1999, the United States and Britain pressured the UN not to call attention to them. During his time in Iraq, Von Sponeck began documenting each of the airstrikes, showing "regular attacks on civilian installations including food warehouses, residences, mosques, roads and people." These reports, he said, were "welcomed" by Secretary General Kofi Annan, but "the US and UK governments strongly objected to this reporting." Von Sponeck says that he was pressured to end the practice, with a senior British diplomat telling him, "All you are doing is putting a UN stamp of approval on Iraqi propaganda." But Von Sponeck continued documenting the damage and visited many attack sites. In 1999 alone, he confirmed the death of 144 civilians and more than 400 wounded by the US/UK bombings. (Read the entire article.)
Scahill notes that after 9/11, when the Bush administration had put in motion the plans for war, this pretense disappeared:
Gone was any pretext that they were about protecting Shiites and Kurds--this was a plan to systematically degrade Iraq's ability to defend itself from a foreign attack: bombing Iraq's air defenses, striking command facilities, destroying communication and radar infrastructure. As an Associated Press report noted in November 2002, "Those costly, hard-to-repair facilities are essential to Iraq's air defense."

Rear Admiral David Gove, former deputy director of global operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on November 20, 2002, that US and British pilots were "essentially flying combat missions." On October 3, 2002, the New York Times reported that US pilots were using southern Iraq for "practice runs, mock strikes and real attacks" against a variety of targets. But the full significance of this dramatic change in policy toward Iraq only became clear last month, with the release of the Downing Street memo. In it, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon is reported to have said in 2002, after meeting with US officials, that "the US had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime," a reference to the stepped-up airstrikes. Now the Sunday Times of London has revealed that these spikes "had become a full air offensive"--in other words, a war.
Of course, these revelations are unlikely to provoke any outrage from a public numbed into silence by fear. Or from a news media that has been reduced to retracting accurate stories.

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