The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The favourite fantasy headline of British comedian Spike Milligan was: “Archduke Franz Ferdinand found alive! First World War a mistake!” We are unlikely to see a similar headline in any American paper soon, but in the rest of the world, the continued failure of the American and British occupation forces in Iraq to find any of the “weapons of mass destruction” that were the alleged reason for their invasion is both a diplomatic disaster and a joke in very bad taste.

Tony Blair ran into both phenomena and came away severely shaken when he visited Moscow last Tuesday. Vladimir Putin is a former intelligence officer, and like his American and British counterparts, he was outraged at the way the American and British governments misrepresented the intelligence they got from their own agencies in order to justify their war. Unlike those at the Central Intelligence Agency and MI5, however, Putin was free to speak.

Putin openly mocked Blair for the failure of the “coalition” to find any of the fabled WMD even weeks after the end of the war: “Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed' Perhaps Saddam is still hiding in an underground bunker somewhere, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction, and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and destroy the lives of thousands of Iraqis.” The Russian journalists at the press conference roared with laughter, but Blair looked distinctly grim.

Shaky evidence

Two months ago, Blair talked a reluctant parliament into supporting the attack on Iraq by warning of Iraqi WMD ready to strike on 45 minutes’ notice, and George W. Bush warned of “mushroom clouds” if the United States of America didn’t invade Iraq. It was all so desperately urgent and dangerous, that Washington and London couldn’t wait for the United Nations arms inspectors to finish their job. So many thousands of Iraqis (2,500 civilians and perhaps 10,000 soldiers) were killed, 137 US and British soldiers died, looters destroyed most of Iraq’s cultural heritage while “coalition” troops stood idly by — and nobody has found any WMD.

The rest of the world never really believed the White House’s justification for war anyway. As the UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said in late April, Washington and London built their case for going to war on “very, very shaky” evidence, including documents that subsequently turned out to have been faked — and with the war now over, Washington isn’t even bothering to insist that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the US any more. “We were not lying,” a Bush administration official told ABC News on April 28. “But it was just a matter of emphasis.”

Still no answers

The real reason for the war, according to the ABC report, was that the administration “wanted to make a statement” (presumably about what happens to countries that defy US power). Iraq was not invaded because it threatened the US, but because “Saddam had all the requirements to make him, from (the administration’s) standpoint, the perfect target.” The assumption, at the White House and the Pentagon, was that everybody else could be bullied into forgetting the lies about WMD and accepting the US control of Iraq.

They probably could be if the occupation turned out to be a brilliant success that produced a happy, prosperous, united and independent Iraq, but that does not seem likely. Instead, it is going sour very fast, with US troops shooting civilian demonstrators, the Shia majority seeking an Islamic state, and the beginnings of a guerrilla resistance to the foreign occupiers. Even if the US were willing to let the UN have a role in occupied Iraq, the desire of other powers to get involved in any way in this proto-Vietnam is waning from day to day.

The post-9/11 patriotic chill still prevents any senior American politician from questioning the existence of Iraqi WMD in public. But, as the situation in Iraq deteriorates and the American body count rises, questions about how America got talked into this mess will keep coming back, and sooner or later, they will have to be answered.

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