British official resigns over Iraq

News Analysis

The resignation of a top British cabinet member this week spotlighted the sharp struggle over who will control post-Saddam-Hussein Iraq. In a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and subsequent interviews, International Development Secretary Claire Short said the United States and Britain had no authority to install an Iraqi government and called the two countries’ effort to prevent the United Nations from leading that process shameful and indefensible.

Short told BBC News, “The position the UK’s adopting in the Security Council is totally dishonorable and breaches the promises that the UN would have the proper role in bringing into being a legitimate interim Iraqi authority.

“I cannot defend it. It is wrong in international law and for the rebuilding of Iraq and it breaches the promises that the prime minister gave to me.”

She warned that the UK was colluding in a resolution that could perpetuate international divisions, marginalize the UN and make it more difficult to rebuild Iraq.

In her resignation statement to the House of Commons, Short said the British government was supporting the U.S. “in trying to bully” the Security Council into adopting the resolution.

Iraq is engulfed in a humanitarian and civil crisis, four weeks after U.S. forces seized control, with garbage rotting in the streets, sewage polluting the drinking water, daily power blackouts, schools not functioning, and almost total disorder. With electricity outages, a shortage of medical supplies, and personnel afraid to come to work due to the lack of security, hospitals are unable to care for the continuing stream of people wounded or ill as a consequence of the war, including many children severely injured from picking up or stepping on unexploded cluster bombs and landmines. Suspected cases of cholera are appearing.

The U.S. government is widely seen, within Iraq and internationally, as primarily responsible for this crisis. U.S. bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, in addition to killing thousands of civilians, destroyed key parts of Iraq’s infrastructure, including irrigation and water purification systems. For the next 12 years, the U.S. insisted on maintaining economic sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions destabilized Iraq’s civil society, prevented repair of the water and agriculture infrastructure, and denied medicines and other life necessities to the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from malnutrition and disease resulted. Then came the U.S. invasion, wreaking further destruction and thousands more civilian deaths.

Now, the Bush/Cheney corporate crowd sees the rebuilding of Iraq as a fertile source of profits. The resolution that the Bush administration, supported by Tony Blair, is trying to steamroller at the UN would place the U.S. in the driver’s seat in Iraq and lift the sanctions, opening the way for U.S.-based transnational corporations to move in. Numerous U.S. companies are already in line to make big money in Iraq.

Showing no concern for the suffering of the Iraqi people, the resolution would end the UN Oil for Food Program on which 60 percent of Iraqis depended before the war and which even more need now as a result of the war. It would give the U.S. essentially total control over Iraq’s oil industry, which Bush/Cheney are rushing to privatize for the benefit of their oil company backers.

The Iraqi and international progressive movement argues that the lifting of sanctions must be accompanied by establishing UN authority over the formation of a legitimate, democratic, broadly representative Iraqi government that will determine how Iraq is rebuilt and how its wealth is used.

That’s just what the Bush administration is trying to prevent. But it is encountering increasing resistance from the Iraqi people as it tries to install a client regime. The latest protests center around the placing of former Baath Party officials in key positions. In an effort to shore up U.S. control, Gen. Jay Garner – apparently seen by some in the Bush administration as ineffective in dealing with the mounting opposition to U.S. occupation – is being replaced as boss of Iraq by L. Paul Bremer, a former State Department “counterterrorism” chief and Kissinger protegé with close ties to the Pentagon.

Although the supposed Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction was the Bush administration’s chief rationale for its invasion, no such weapons have been found despite months of UN weapons inspections and weeks of U.S.-British occupation. “The White House Lied” was the headline on the ABC News website April 25. According to ABC, “some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war – a global show of American power and democracy [sic].” A White House official told ABC, “We’re not lying. But it was just a matter of emphasis.”

Now the administration is opposing having UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld crowd wants to be the only ones doing inspections. Given their now-exposed use of fabricated evidence before the war, it would not be entirely surprising if they “find” some new “evidence” one of these days.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org