July 19, 2004

Some Thoughts About Iraq and Saddam Hussein

It troubles me that the main justifications our leaders have used for going to war with Iraq have proven to be unsubstantiated.

Justification #1: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has WMDs and is a threat to his region and maybe even to America. We have not found any WMDs. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. military so quickly and easily overthrew Saddam’s government tells us that his military was quite weak and not a threat to the region, let alone the U.S.

Justification #2: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam was possibly behind 9/11 and might aid terrorist groups in the future.
There is absolutely no evidence that any connection ever existed between Saddam’s government and al-Qaeda. In fact, there is actually evidence that Saddam and al-Qaeda have been long-time enemies—e.g., Osama bin Laden has referred to Saddam as an "infidel" and a "bad Muslim" and even threatened to form a mujahedeen to fight Saddam when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

(For more on these points, click here or here.)

Justification #3: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.

This last claim has been made by numerous government officials. For example, appearing on Meet the Press the other week, Senator Pat Roberts (Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) stated: "I know I stood on a gravesite at Hillah in Iraq and looked at 18,000 bodies being unearthed, you know, one at a time; 500,000 were dead." Similarly, in a 12/11/00 article for the New York Times, Barbara Crossette cited certain American officials as stating that Saddam Hussein’s government gassed to death 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds from 1987 to 1988.

What I find disturbing about this last justification is that it isn’t supported by any credible evidence. Yes, we know that Saddam did many atrocious things and killed many people, but we have absolutely no proof that he killed hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands. And we have no proof that he ever gassed the Kurds.

Jude Wanniski (associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, 1972-78) has done an excellent job illustrating this:

* He writes that, although there have been reports that as many as 200,000 Iraqis were killed in the Anfal campaign of 1987–88, "so far no mass graves have been found in Kurdistan, none at all." This, despite the fact that several journalists have gone to Kurdistan specifically searching for them.

* Wanniski notes that the "original charge of mass murder by gassing of the Kurds was made by then Secretary of State George Shultz on September 8, 1988, but when the Iraqi foreign minister asked Shultz for proof, Shultz said he could not do so as it would compromise his sources."

* Regarding the claim reported by The New York Times, Wanniski notes that in 1988, although the Iranian government accused Saddam of using mustard gas and cyanide against the Kurds in Halabjeh, they only estimated that around 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed. But even this figure is exaggerated. As U.S. officials later learned, the Kurds had been killed by cyanide, a gas that only the Iranians possessed. Although some claimed that Iraq gassed the Kurds in subsequent attacks, "Turkish doctors treating ailing Kurds could not verify the use of poison gas on them, and the U.S. Army War College study in early 1990 also found it impossible to determine if gas had been used by the Iraqis in further attacks."

* Regarding Senator Roberts’ claim that 18,000 people were killed at Hillah, Wanniski notes that the "latest number after 14 months of counting before the forensic experts left the area was 2,200." Wanniski further notes that these Iraqis were "encouraged to overthrow their government by our CIA." He continues: "Kind of like the Bay of Pigs, yes? We can't really accuse Fidel Castro of genocide when he put down the rebellion, or we would have to file charges against Abraham Lincoln."

* Wanniski cites a recent 400-page report released by the Senate Intelligence Community that admits: "According to comments from IC analysts who spoke to Committee staff, a large part of the information available to the IC concerning human rights abuses was from refugees, defectors and opposition groups. The IC also depended on the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). In all cases, verification of the reporting on human rights abuses was difficult… Unfortunately, the immigrant/refugee reporting usually could not be verified on the ground in Iraq." Of these comments, Wanniski writes the following in a letter to Senator Roberts [italics mine]: "The IC is telling you the same people who supplied the erroneous intelligence about WMD and Al Qaeda connections to Iraq are the people who cooked up the genocide stories."

Now maybe Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. Maybe he gassed as many as 100,000 Kurds. (The world is filled with maybes.) But until such evidence is brought forward, what right does anyone have in making such assertions?

So why have our leaders used these wild, unsubstantiated claims to justify the war? The reason, I think, is that, when we consider the credible evidence we have against Saddam, we must admit that Saddam isn’t nearly as bad as we’ve been led to believe, that he’s just one of many unjust world leaders—worse than some, not near as bad as others. And, I think, if the American people knew this truth about Saddam (i.e., that he’s not the most evil ruler since Hitler), then most of them would conclude that this war was not justified.

One more disturbing fact. It seems to be the case that the U.S. military has killed far more Iraqis than Saddam’s government ever did. (For more on this, click here or here.)

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