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February 2003
Straight From Baghdad
Statement by Denis J. Halliday


The obscene haste of Bush to go to war, beside his friend Tony Blair, is very hard to understand. In the absence of any immediate threat to the Middle East, or to the United States, from Iraq, one has to seek another rationale. Is it the messianic fervor driving the kind of simplistic thinking that gave us the Bush concept of the ‘axis of evil’? Or is it a determination to enhance Israel with total disregard for the well-being and human rights of the people of Palestine?* Or is it about oil? I believe it is primarily the latter.

Since 9/11 the relationship between Washington and Saudi Arabia has become fragile... And this comes when Venezuelan oil is all but stopped and the future of large Mexican supplies is in doubt... The Bush administration’s perception is that Iraq constitutes one very large [oil] reserve tank—a ‘tank’ of some 120 billion barrels. And control of that tank has become paramount for American economic superiority. Control also would represent leverage over Europe and Japan—an important part of U.S. ambitions for empire in the coming years.

UN Resolution 1441, for all its drama and careful wording, amounts to little more than theatre when we know that U.S. intelligence undoubtedly is aware of what, if any, remnants of weapons of mass destruction Iraq possesses. After all, America is the leading arms dealer of the UN permanent five of the Security Council, and together they formed the weapons source leading up to and during the Iran-Iraq war. U.S. impatience with the UN inspections—despite cooperation by the Iraqi authorities—would seem to underline the charade. Resolution 1441 was designed to provide UN cover and respectability for a war that Bush wants so badly. This cover now seems more and more remote as most other permanent members of the Council remain unconvinced that war is justified.

And now Bush is facing an appreciable turning of the tide with respect to American public opinion against unilateral aggression by Washington. Despite the jingoism of the last 18 months, Americans are questioning the priorities of Bush vis-a-vis both domestic and foreign affairs—and also questioning the contrast of his diplomatic-dialogue approach to North Korea, with nuclear capacity, with his aggressive stance towards Iraq without. Angry over the loss of major allies, concerned by the change in public opinion, rejected by UN Security Council friends—Bush has become even more dangerous and anxious to take his country to war. Is it patriotism? Or irresponsibility? That is for Americans to determine, just as it should be for Iraqis to determine what is right for their country.

If UN sanctions were terminated—and if the lives of the people were to be restored and the economy rebuilt and society and culture restored—the capacity to go forward with change via a multiparty democracy, as foreseen in the constitutional change under consideration, could become viable. The United Nations has cruelly damaged the social, economic and cultural rights of the Iraqi people under sanctions for over 12 years. We have allowed massive loss of life. We have allowed a state of war to stand ever since 1991. Rather than initiate massive new aggression, we should reach out to the people of Iraq and offer our assistance. We should fully recognize the sovereignty of the country and the unique qualities of its ancient people. We should focus on stopping the war of Bush now, and starting the process of restoring the well-being of the children, the families, the people of Iraq. Iraq is for the Iraqis—they and only they can determine what and when is best. And they can only begin when the U.S. withdraws its forces and ends its interference; when the UN terminates its deadly embargo; and we as individuals take responsibility for demanding that our respective governments act within international law.

* Satya asked Halliday to clarify this comment and how Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq is determined by the Israel/Palestine issue. Halliday replied: “I don’t think it is directly related. I’m talking about human rights. My concern grows out of the fact that basically no one in the Middle East—besides Israel—feels at risk by Iraq. And no one in the Middle East or Europe, for that matter, believes that Bush’s war against Iraq is about weapons of mass destruction. My interest is to protect the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. Anyone who is looking can see the angst the people of both lands suffer over the Occupied Territories and I think most people recognize that violence hasn’t been productive—or is the answer.”

Denis J. Halliday is a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. In August 1997, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Halliday to the post of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, where he headed the UN’s oil-for-food program. He resigned the following year in protest of the UN sanctions. Prior to that, Halliday served in the UN for 34 years. This statement was given by Halliday at a press conference in Baghdad on January 26, 2003, and is reprinted in full with kind permission.


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