Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Road to War

Monaghan is a beautiful rugged county in the North of Ireland. It is in Ulster, but politically part of the Republic of Ireland. That’s about as political as Monaghan gets. Until the Iraqi war, that is. In 2003, the New York Monaghan association decided not to carry its traditional banner in the St Patrick’s Day parade. The reason given was that the banner carried an outline map of Monaghan and it bears a striking resemblance to the map of Iraq. A spokesman for the association said, “it came as quite a surprise to us that Monaghan and Iraq had basically the same outline shape. We had been receiving some jeers and comments as we assembled for the parade in New York and we couldn't understand why.”

Easy to get confused. As one observer noted, “according to the National Geographic Society, most Americans could not find the North Pole on a globe. It comes as quite a surprise to me that they are able to notice the similarity of map shapes.” But perhaps Americans can be forgiven for recognising the outline shape of Iraq. It has appeared on the nightly news in a continuous fashion over the last five years. Not much of note has happened in Monaghan in that time so it’s unlikely anyone outside the county itself is aware of its shape. However a question does have to be asked why were New Yorkers jeering these extremely pale-faced and possibly red-headed Iraqis they thought were marching in the St Patrick’s Day parade?

A clue might be in the timing. These events occurred on 17 March, 2003. The invasion of Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Freedom", was launched three days later on 20 March, 2003. The US had determined that Iraq illegally possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and had to be disarmed by force. They argued these weapons was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Resolution 1441 had been adopted by the UN in November 2002. It was the UN’s 17th resolution on Iraq and it stated that Iraqi WMDs and long-range missiles posed a threat to international security. It gave Iraq a month to comply with a laundry list of demands relating to weapons sites and atomic energy inspections. The inspections were to be carried out by UNMOVIC and IAEA (the atomic energy commission). The resolution offered Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations”. And if they rejected this final opportunity, “serious consequences” were promised.

By March 2003 four months had passed and Iraq continued to prevaricate. The US, supported by Britain felt that 1441 had now given them a mandate to invade. France and Germany disagreed. France, Russia and China planned to use their veto powers to block any resolution allowing military intervention. Of the 10 temporary members, only Bulgaria and Spain were in favour of unilateral military action. The others were intimidated by the US into supporting their position or risk financial sanctions. The Bush administration described a 40 member ‘Coalition of the Willing’ ready to invade Iraq. It can more properly be described as the coalition of the coerced. Countries were badgered militarily, politically or economically into providing support. Bulgaria promised support in return for NATO membership and developmental aid. Guinea and Angola were bribed with ‘preferential access to US markets.’ Mexico was bought with a threat to end tariff reform in the NAFTA market, Chile by a Free Trade Agreement. Pakistan had received over a billion dollars from the US since its support in the Afghan war. The campaign was backed up by a surveillance operation on Security council diplomatic communications.

On 5 February State Secretary Colin Powell presented the case for invasion to the Security Council. The supposed ‘smoking gun’ evidence did not emerge but Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that if the US waited for a smoking gun, it would be too late. UN Chief weapon Inspector Hans Blix reported a week later questioning the interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Powell. The war opposers started to put together an 18th resolution on Iraq. The US did not want this. They argued 1441 gave the war legitimacy. The war started without a further resolution, which was seen by many governments throughout the world as a breaking of international law. There remains considerable disagreement among international lawyers on whether prior resolutions, relating to the 1991 war and subsequent inspections, permitted the invasion.

Baghdad fell two months later.

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