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Iraqi Sovereignty Doesn't Pass the Duck Test
June 29, 2004
By Jack Rabbit

There is a saying that if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck. This is sometimes called the duck test. Monday, two days ahead of schedule, Iraq was declared a sovereign state. It doesn't pass the duck test.

The justification given by the Bush administration for the invasion and occupation of Iraq simply doesn't wash. Almost all of the reasons advanced by the administration and its supporters are not true. These generally follow two themes: first, that Saddam was a threat to world peace and a supporter of international terrorism; second, that Saddam was a brutal dictator and that we are doing the Iraqi people a great favor by removing him and allowing them to govern themselves.

The reasons that fall under the first theme have been repudiated often enough. The invasion of Iraq was justified with lies and the occupation continues to be justified with the same lies. These reasons are worth recapping to make one important point about them: These were not honest mistakes, these were deliberate lies.

The charge that Saddam was somehow responsible, partly or wholly, for the September 11 attacks is based on reports that Mohammed Atta, one of the principle hijackers on September 11, met in Prague with an agent of Iraqi intelligence. This report was debunked before the invasion began, and now the September 11 Commission has underscored the fact.

Only Bush, Cheney and conspiracy theorists like Laurie Mylroie continue to push the idea that Saddam even had associations with al Qaida. The secular Saddam saw Islamic fundamentalists as a threat to his hold on power; he was not a natural ally to one such as Osama. Osama, in turn, regards Saddam as a socialist and a secularist who is harmful to the cause of Islam. The only thing they had in common was a hatred of the United States. There is no reason to believe that Saddam had any association with Osama or his network.

Another justification advanced by the administration for invading Iraq was that Saddam was heavily armed and posed an immediate threat to world or regional peace. However, Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, challenged this assumption months before the invasion began. Ritter, who was in a position to know, stated that almost all of Saddam's biochemical arsenal had been destroyed by the time weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 and that any material that had not been destroyed would have lost its potency by the time the administration was building its case for invasion (Autumn 2002).

This should have given pause to those who were stating Saddam was a threat. It certainly goes a long ways in explaining why UN inspectors admitted back into Iraq in late 2002 under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 found nothing of significance and why American authorities have found even less. Saddam did not have any vast biochemical arsenal, let alone one that constituted a threat, immediate or otherwise.

Mr. Cheney was fond of saying that Saddam was rebuilding a nuclear arsenal. This assertion was based on the evidence of a document that was represented as an agreement by the government of Niger to sell Iraq yellowcake uranium for the purpose of making nuclear weapons. The document is a fake. The forgery is crude and easily detected. Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, chairman of the International Atomic Energy Administration, told the UN Security Council two weeks before the start of the invasion that the document was a fake. There was no reason to believe that Saddam was rebuilding a nuclear arsenal.

If these were honest mistakes, the Pentagon would not have commissioned the Office of Special Plans to cull intelligence for facts supporting the rationale for the attack and discarding facts contrary to it. That intelligence was being cooked in this process was known months before the war.

There is more reason to believe that the intelligence community was strongarmed by the White House and Pentagon to make intelligence assessments fit pre-determined policy. A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace showed that there was a "dramatic shift" of intelligence assessments of Iraq's capabilities between those made prior to and those made after October 2002; the authors of the repost say that that this "suggests" that the intelligence community was "unduly influenced by policy makers' views" at that time.

Finally, we know that General Powell in order to support the case for war relied on the testimony of the late General Hussein Kamel given in 1995 in secret to UN weapons inspectors; yet in that same document, General Kamel testified that he had ordered Iraq's chemical weapons destroyed following his nation's defeat in the first Gulf War. Powell omitted any mention of this, although it is certainly an important fact bearing on whether or not Saddam possessed threatening weapons.

This behavior is not consistent with a pattern of making errors in judging facts. This suggests that those disseminating the information were selecting what information to release and what information to withhold based not on its relevance but on whether it was consistent with or contrary to their case for war. In short, the evidence and the pattern of behavior suggest strongly that members of the administration had made up their minds to invade Iraq and employed deceit in order to gain support for the war. To put it more succinctly: they lied.

So much for the first theme. Now on to the second.

One piece of truth was given in the administration's case for war. This was that Saddam was a brutal tyrant. Bush and the neoconservative ideologues in his administration said that this justified the invasion as a needed humanitarian intervention. However, if that had been a fact strong enough to drum up national and international support for the war, then Bush and his lieutenants would not have behaved in the way they did with respect to the other facets of their case.

The fact is that Saddam was not the only brutal dictator in the world. Should we not also engage in military action to overthrow the dictators of Burma, who have never permitted the legally elected president of that nation to assume power? Or Sudan, where President Bashir looks the other way as ethnic Arab militias terrorize and ethnically cleanse the non-Arab population of Darfur?

The situation in Darfur today presents a better reason for humanitarian intervention than the situation in Iraq did in the Spring of 2003. As Human Rights Watch pointed out in its World Report 2004, while Saddam was guilty of many heinous acts and at times in his long reign humanitarian intervention might have been justified, there was no immediate humanitarian crisis in Iraq for which Saddam was responsible at the time the invasion began of the kind that now exists in Darfur.

Thus, the invasion is not justified on either security concerns or any need for humanitarian intervention.

Nevertheless, since Saddam's tyranny is the only reason given for the invasion with a basis in fact, it is that reason upon which those who planned the war elaborate in their further attempts to justify the invasion and continued occupation. This only results in more distortion. As of now, they won't even admit that the occupation is still an occupation, although that is just what it continues to be.

The neoconservatives assert that Iraq was invaded to bring democracy to that country and to make it self-governing. They claim that they care about the Iraqi people and want to make them free and prosperous. According to them, the invasion is a selfless act of American good will and the world should be grateful for their and Mr. Bush's leadership.


Simply overthrowing Saddam will not necessarily lead to a qualitatively better life for the common people of Iraq. The dishonest nature of the Bush administration's case against Saddam should indicate that they don't care about the Iraqi people, but had ulterior motives.

The neoconservatives don't give two bits for the real people of the global South; they care only for artificial persons of the global North. This is a resource war. It is gunboat diplomacy using Cruise missiles. The invasion of Iraq was carried out to place that which rightly belongs to the Iraqi people in the hands of private western interests.

If one wants to believe the fable that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a selfless act, then one should only consider that when American troops entered Baghdad they allowed hospitals and museums to be looted but secured the oil ministry. What does that indicate about their priorities? Even before the invasion, reconstruction contracts were being awarded to the Bush administration's favorite corporate contributors.

If Bush and the neoconservatives were really interested in helping the Iraqi people, they might have given priority to Iraqi businesses. However, that would cut into the business opportunities for firms like Halliburton, Bechtel and DynCorps. One might think that the Iraqi people could solve their own problems better than these clumsy corporate dinosaurs.

Since the invasion, gangs of shiftless young men have taken to kidnapping and raping Iraqi women. The Iraqi people may try to do something about it, but not if the American viceroy has anything to say about it. Any attempt by the Iraqi people to take such concerns as public safety into their own hands is not tolerated. The same can be said about US efforts to get the electric grid working over a year after the invasion. As the oppressive Iraq summer approaches, electricity is unreliable. The US taxpayer is shelling out an awful lot of money to rebuild Iraq, but there is very little to show for it.

The looting of Iraq in the name of liberation continues. According to Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, who was in Iraq recently:

a) US state department funds earmarked for drinking water have been diverted to fund the new US embassy in Saddam's old palace;

b) The US government has withheld $15 billion in reconstruction funds to use a leverage over the interim government and whatever succeeds it;

c) $2.5 billion in Iraqi oil revenues have been diverted to supplement the costs of projects for which funds have already been allocated by the US Congress.

In addition, as Ms. Klein says:

[I]f financial scandals made you blush, the entire reconstruction of Iraq would be pretty mortifying. From the start, its architects rejected the idea that it should be a New Deal-style public works project for Iraqis to reclaim their country. Instead, it was treated as an ideological experiment in privatization. The dream was for multinational firms, mostly from the US, to swoop in and dazzle the Iraqis with their speed and efficiency. Iraqis saw something else: desperately needed jobs going to Americans, Europeans and south Asians; roads crowded with trucks shipping in supplies produced in foreign plants, while Iraqi factories were not even supplied with emergency generators. As a result, the reconstruction was seen not as a recovery from war but as an extension of the occupation, a foreign invasion of a different sort. And so, as the resistance grew, the reconstruction itself became a prime target.

One might think that some democracy or self-government might solve this. Somebody seems to have a problem with that concept and it is isn't Iraqi insurgents.

Under the UN resolution passed June 8 by a 15-0 vote of the Security Council, a multinational force will remain in Iraq. While the resolution throughout calls the force multinational, the fact is that 85% of the foreign troops in Iraq are American. This is unlikely to change. Mr. Bush has been unable to persuade skeptical European leaders to allow a wider participation of NATO forces other than some unspecified commitments for equipment and training for Iraqi security forces.

The resolution notes that the force is there "at the request of the incoming Interim Government of Iraq," which was chosen by the Iraqi Governing Council, which was in turn chosen by the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, which was dissolved with the transfer. Iraq will have enough sovereignty to ask foreign troops to leave. However, the interim government of Prime Iyad Allawi is unlikely to do that. Meanwhile, the multinational force, which is mostly American, "shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq."

Prime Minister Allawi became the Bush administration's choice to lead Iraq after self-proclaimed exile leader and convicted embezzler Ahmed Chalabi lost the credibility and favor he never deserved in the first place. Allawi, a former Baathist, has close ties to the CIA and is believed to be the author of the absurd story about Saddam's ability to launch weapons of mass destruction 45 minutes after giving the order. While an improvement over Chalabi, he can only be seen to be one put in place by a foreign power for the purpose of requesting that foreign troops remain in Iraq.

Unless and until the Iraqi government asks foreign troops to leave, foreign troops will remain in Iraq under foreign command. While under the UN resolution the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq expires at the end of 2005, the Iraqi government could ask troops to remain. There have long been rumors, unconvincingly denied by Mr. Rumsfeld, that the US plans to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.

The resolution states the interim government shall assume "full responsibility and authority" for governing Iraq "while refraining from taking any actions affecting Iraq's destiny beyond the limited interim period until an elected Transitional Government of Iraq assumes office." This in effect leaves the interim government without the power to modify or repeal laws decreed by the CPA.

According to a report appearing in the Wall Street Journal (a real wild-eyed radical left-leaning publication, that) on May 13, "The [interim] government's actions are likely to be heavily influenced by dozens of U.S. and Iraqi appointees at virtually all levels." Even some members of the former Iraqi Governing Council are concerned that the lack of authority given to the interim government will stifle any chance of forward progress for the nation. The Journal quotes on Iraqi official as saying: "If it's a sovereign Iraqi government that can't change laws or make decisions, we haven't gained anything."

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, refers to the arrangement under the UN resolution of June 8 as "sovereignty lite." Mr. Roth is too kind. As sovereignty, this arrangement doesn't pass the duck test.

In the nineteenth century, when a powerful nation invaded a weaker country in order to take control of its resources and force open markets for the stronger nation's business interests, it was called colonialism or imperialism. Foreign troops would enforce the will of the imperial power in the colony. The stronger country would also put in place its own government to serve its interests; sometimes the stronger country would place its own people in direct control of the colony and other times they may allow a native puppet government to rule on their behalf. Under no circumstances were the natives to govern themselves. If they did, they might assert their interests and welfare over those of the imperial power.

Imperialism, like slavery, presumes that some people have a natural right to rule over others. It is inherently anti-democratic and can permit a colony no real self-government.

If imperialism is a good name for this arrangement in the nineteenth century, it is no worse a name for it in the twenty-first. Since Saddam's overthrow, foreign troops under foreign command are in Iraq, western firms conduct most of the business, an American administrator has given orders and the natives have nothing to say about it. As of yesterday, things are different. Foreign troops under foreign command will remain in Iraq, western firms will get most of the business, a puppet regime responsible to the Americans will be in power and the Iraqi people will have nothing to say about it.

Even the descriptions of Iraq since the invasion sound like a by-gone era of imperialism. Naomi Klein describes the part of Baghdad where foreign businessmen and American administrators live:

The contractors have responded by behaving even more like an invading army, building elaborate fortresses in the green zone - the walled-in city within a city that houses the occupation authority in Baghdad - and surrounding themselves with mercenaries. And being hated is expensive. According to the latest estimates, security costs are eating up 25% of reconstruction contracts - money not being spent on hospitals, water-treatment plants or telephone exchanges.

Will yesteday's handover bring democracy to Iraq? No. Is there any government by consent of the governed? No. Is this sovereignty? Don't make me laugh.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Colonial occupation is sovereignty.

No sovereignty has been handed over to the Iraqi people. The occupation and looting of their nation continues. The passing of the resolution in the UN Security Council declaring this to be an end of occupation and recognizing this as sovereignty is one of the UN's most shameful moments.

In terms of the war on terror, invading Iraq has only made a bad situation worse. Bush and his lieutenants tell Americans and anybody else who is still willing to listen that Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror." This is nonsense on it face, since Saddam had no associations with terrorists. Consequently, invading Iraq could not have possibly made Americans safer from the likes of Osama.

On the contrary, since the invasion, al Qaida has regrouped and staged a number of attacks. Terrorists strike not only in Iraq but against western targets in Saudi Arabia. They have become stronger, not weaker. Richard Clarke, the former US counterterrorism chief, pointed out that Osama's propaganda always asserted that the US wanted to invade and occupy an oil rich Arab state. Now it has done so. The Bush administration has provided al Qaida with a good recruiting point.

Invading Iraq has brought no benefit to the American people. While it arguably leaves the Iraqi people marginally better off than they might have been under Saddam's rule, it still does not leave them as well off as they could be under self-government. However, a truly self-governing Iraq is not in the interests of the transnational corporations that support Bush and the neoconservatives; therefore, we should not expect any real moves towards Iraqi sovereignty, only more of the kind of Orwellian rhetoric inherent in the UN resolution passed June 8.

The invasion of Iraq was based on lies and continues to be justified with lies. It has not brought democracy or self-government to Iraq and is not intended to do anything like that, in spite of neoconservative rhetoric to the contrary.

The invasion has brought America into international disrepute. Those few allies who supported Bush in his ill-advised war are being punished at the polls. In spite of the UN resolution authorizing a multinational force, no one is willing to assist. Worst of all, the invasion has made terrorists not weaker, but stronger.

This is a mouthful, but it can be said with a straight face: The invasion of Iraq may be the greatest single foreign policy blunder in the history of mankind. The worst part is that it wasn't even an honest mistake. Among the most outrageous prevarications the Bush administration has made concerning its misadventure in Iraq is that a nation with no control over 160,000 foreign troops on its soil, a head of government whose office depends more on a foreign power than on the people and a legislative body with no authority to change laws imposed on it by a foreign power is somehow sovereign. It neither walks like a duck nor quacks like a duck. This just doesn't pass the duck test.

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