Delegation heads for Baghdad

Rep. Nick Rahall, a 13-term West Virginia Democrat, and former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk left for Baghdad Sept. 13 with an independent American delegation seeking to “cool the war rhetoric.”

“I’m going as an individual who’d like to cool this rhetoric and act in a calm matter, and show the Iraqi people that the American people are not warmongers,” Rahall said.

Rahall, who backed the 1991 Gulf War, said he has “serious questions” about current U.S. policy, and asked why the Bush administration is “ratcheting up the war rhetoric at this particular time.”

“Why now, two months before an election? Why was the threat so serious now that it wasn’t a year ago? I’ve seen certainly no link of Iraq to Sept. 11 ... I just don’t see a linkage there,” he said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said there is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or is trying to manufacture them. He urged Iraq to allow U.N. inspections.

If Baghdad cooperates, he vowed he could recommend that the Security Council suspend sanctions within a year. And in a powerful Sept. 5 Washington Post op-ed, former President Jimmy Carter strongly opposed a U.S. attack.

Rahall, a descendant of Lebanese peddlers who made their way to West Virginia to sell their wares to coal miners, said he wants to “help illuminate the plight of the Iraqi people.”

The delegation to Iraq also includes James Jennings, president of Conscience International, an Atlanta-based humanitarian organization; and Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA). The trip is “hopefully the beginning of a dialogue,” IPA communications director Sam Husseini told the World.

Ed Peck, former chief of mission to Iraq and deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan administration, said, “This delegation is much needed. The U.S. government is constantly saying that it wants dialogue between conflicting parties … So why don’t we talk to Iraq? … Not only is this outright hypocrisy, it is unwise … Our government is proclaiming that Iraq is such a threat, but if you make a list of bad things Iraq has actually done to the U.S., there are none. But if you make a list of bad things the U.S. has done to Iraq, they are numerous, painful and costly.”

Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter addressed Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad Sept. 8, saying it would be a “historical mistake” for the U.S. to attack Iraq.

“The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government, has not, to date, been backed by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for Sept. 11 attacks on the United States,” Ritter said.

Ritter, a former Marine who served for seven years with the Concealment Investigation Unit of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), says the U.S. killed the weapons inspection program by attempting to use it to spy on Iraq. “Iraq has legitimate grievances regarding the past work of the weapons inspectors,” Ritter told the Iraqi parliament. “But I also know that there will be no peaceful solution of this current crisis unless Iraq allows their return.”

Blix said he was ready to hold discussions on practical arrangements for resuming inspections to avoid the conflicts that arose during past inspections.

As the Bush administration tries to sell its war drive, observers are warning of a possible repeat of the kinds of fraudulent “evidence” used by the first Bush administration to justify the 1991 Gulf War. A Sept. 6 Christian Science Monitor report notes that justification for that war included satellite photos supposedly showing up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks massing on the border with Saudi Arabia, threatening a key U.S. oil supplier.

But when the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times acquired two Soviet satellite images of the area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible there – just empty desert. “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist,” the Times reporter said.

The Monitor quotes former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), who served on numerous foreign affairs and intelligence committees, as saying the Bush administration “will look for any kind of evidence to support their premise. I think we have to be skeptical about it.”

An unnamed U.S government source with some two decades of intelligence experience told the Monitor, “This administration is capable of any lie ... in order to advance its war goal in Iraq.” One reason Bush-Cheney don’t want weapons inspections, the source said, is “they might actually show that the probability of Iraq having [illicit weapons] is much lower than they want us to believe.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org