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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Blair and Bush went to war in Iraq despite South Africa's WMD assurances, book states

Blair and Bush went to war in Iraq despite South Africa's WMD assurances, book states
  • New book God, Spies and Lies details Mbeki’s attempts to stop invasion
  • SA experts worked with Saddam in 1980s; Mandela also tried to warn Bush
Monday 30 November 2015 08.00 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 1 December 2015

Tony Blair went to war in Iraq despite a report by South African experts with unique knowledge of the country that showed it did not possess weapons of mass destruction, according to a book published on Sunday.
God, Spies and Lies, by South African journalist John Matisonn, describes how then president Thabo Mbeki tried in vain to convince both Blair and President George W Bush that toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 would be a terrible mistake.
Mbeki’s predecessor, Nelson Mandela, also tried to convince the American leader, but was left fuming that “President Bush doesn’t know how to think”.
The claim was this week supported by Mbeki’s office, which confirmed that he pleaded with both leaders to heed the WMD experts and even offered to become their intermediary with Saddam in a bid to maintain peace.
South Africa had a special insight into Iraq’s potential for WMD because the apartheid government’s own biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s led the countries to collaborate. The programme was abandoned after the end of white minority rule in 1994 but the expert team, known as Project Coast, was put back together by Mbeki to investigate the US and UK assertion that Saddam had WMD – the central premise for mounting an invasion.
Mbeki, who enjoyed positive relations with both Blair and Saddam, asked for the team to be granted access.
“Saddam agreed, and gave the South African team the freedom to roam unfettered throughout Iraq,” writes Matisonn, who says he drew on sources in Whitehall and the South African cabinet. “They had access to UN intelligence on possible WMD sites. The US, UK and UN were kept informed of the mission and its progress.”
The experts put their prior knowledge of the facilities to good use, Matisonn writes. “They already knew the terrain, because they had travelled there as welcome guests of Saddam when both countries were building WMD.”
On their return, they reported that there were no WMDs in Iraq. “They knew where the sites in Iraq had been, and what they needed to look like. But there were now none in Iraq.”
In January 2003, Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president, sent a team to Washington to explain the findings, but with little success. Mbeki himself then met Blair for three hours at Chequers on 1 February, the book relates.
He warned that the wholesale removal of Saddam’s Ba’ath party could lead to a national resistance to the occupying coalition forces. But with huge military deployments already under way, Blair’s mind was clearly made up. When Frank Chikane, director-general in the president’s office, realised that the South Africans would be ignored, it was “one of the greatest shocks of my life”, he later wrote in a memoir.
Matisonn adds: “Mandela, now retired, had tried as well. On Iraq, if not other issues, Mandela and Mbeki were on the same page. Mandela phoned the White House and asked for Bush. Bush fobbed him off to [Condoleezza] Rice. Undeterred, Mandela called former President Bush Sr, and Bush Sr called his son the president to advise him to take Mandela’s call. Mandela had no impact. He was so incensed he gave an uncomfortable comment to the cameras: ‘President Bush doesn’t know how to think,’ he said with visible anger.”
Nelson Mandela was left fuming after being rebuffed by President George W Bush. Photograph: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
On 19 March, airstrikes on Baghdad began, triggering a conflict that has dragged on for more than a decade, killing hundreds of thousands of people and contributing to the rise of Islamic State.
Mbeki’s spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, confirmed that Mbeki met Blair at Chequers to advise against the war and the UK’s involvement in it. Blair disagreed, Ratshitanga said, insisting that he would side with Bush.
“President Mbeki informed the prime minister that the South African government was about to send its own experts to assist and encourage the Iraqis to extend full cooperation to the UN weapons inspector, Dr Hans Blix,” Ratshitanga said. “He urged the prime minister to await the report of the SA experts before making any final commitment about going to war against Iraq.
“The prime minister responded to this information and suggestion by telling President Mbeki that the SA experts should operate knowing that relative to the decision-making process about the then impending war, ‘it is two minutes to midnight’.”
Mbeki also had a phone conversation with Bush in 2003 and tried to discourage him from going to war, the spokesman said. “President Bush said he would rather not go to war but needed a clear and convincing signal that the Iraqis did not have WMDs to enable him to avoid the invasion of Iraq.
“President Mbeki informed him about the report of the SA experts which by then had already been sent to the UN secretary general, Dr Hans Blix and the UN security council. He informed President Bush that the report of the SA experts said Iraq had no WMDs. President Bush said he did not know about the report but would obtain a copy from the US ambassador at the UN, New York.”
It is not known whether Bush did obtain a copy of the report.
Mbeki later contacted Blair to ask him to find out from the US president what would constitute a “convincing signal” from Saddam, promising that he would contact Saddam to persuade him to send such a signal, according to Ratshitanga. “President Mbeki understood from his sources and was convinced that Prime Minister Blair received his message as reported above, but did not convey it to President Bush.”
Blair’s office did not deny the meeting with Mbeki or the specifics of what was said. A spokesperson said: “All such information, including that based on limited and controlled access, would have been scrutinised and assessed by our intelligence agencies. Other intelligence agencies agreed that Saddam had weapons, the disagreement in the international community was what to do about it.
“We did not brush anything aside but of course had to act on the information of our own and other agencies. However, as we now know the outcome was that although he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people and others, the programme did not exist in the way that was thought.”
In an interview last month, ahead of the release of the Chilcot inquiry, the former prime minister apologised for the intelligence he received being wrong, and for mistakes in planning, but said he found it hard to apologise for removing Saddam.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

From Pol Pot to ISIS: "Anything that flies on everything that moves"

From Pol Pot to ISIS: "Anything that flies on everything that moves"

2 November 2014
by John Pilger

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a "massive" bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, "Anything that flies on everything that moves". As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery - including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields - I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of "fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders". Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of "Operation Menu", the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.
The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors "froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told... That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over."
A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the "first stage in a decade of genocide". What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.
ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people - in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.
Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda - like Pol Pot’s "jihadists" - seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. "Rebel" Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, "The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy - and in particular our Middle East wars - had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here."
ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. WikiLeaks cables (see below) show that the US has been tracking, and exploiting, the rise of ISIS since 2006, when the organisation first appeared in Iraq as a direct result of the Bush-Blair invasion. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in "our" societies.
It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive "sanctions" on the Iraqi population - ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, "blocked" - from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.
Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. "The children’s vaccines", he said, "were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction". The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq - much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office - blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.
Under a bogus "humanitarian" Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. "Imagine," the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, "setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable."
Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. "I was instructed," Halliday said, "to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults."
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 "excess" deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, "Is the price worth it?" Albright replied, "We think the price is worth it."
In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as "Mr. Iraq", told a parliamentary selection committee, "[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live." When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. "I feel ashamed," he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. "We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence," he said, "or we’d freeze them out."
On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: "Faced with the horror of Isis we must act." The "we must act" is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an "apologist for Saddam". In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a "fringe issue".
Now Hain is demanding "air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support" for those "facing genocide" in Iraq and Syria. This will further "the imperative of a political solution". Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the "restrictions" on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia - as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.
The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.
Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called "perpetual war" has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants "boots on the ground" now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their "coalition of the willing" - notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott - as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:
"In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces... a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals... a necessary degree of fear... frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention... the CIA and SIS should use... capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension."
That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that "two years before the Arab spring", he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. "I am going to tell you something," he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, "I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria... Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate... This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned."
The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west - Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an "ally" and a member of Nato, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian "rebels", including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.
A truce - however difficult to achieve - is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as "morally questionable" (the Guardian) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.
Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.
More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, "World Order". In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a "key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century". Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his "statecraft". Only when "we" recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.
Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger

READ a 2007 State Department cable published by WikiLeaks about the 2006 declaration of the "Islamic State of Iraq", the forerunner organisation of ISIS.
READ two US Congressional Research Reports on the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (the predecessor of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), following the death of the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, in 2006. See here and here.
READ a 2007 cable showing Islamic State presence in Iraq during 2007, and how demographic shifts in response to sectarian Shia-Sunni tensions, directly provoked by the US invasion and installation of a Shia-dominated government, were already playing into the hands of the group.
VIEW 113 Iraq War Logs documenting US forces encountering ISI in Iraq from 2007 onwards.
BROWSE nearly 3,000 documents published by WikiLeaks which mention the Islamic State of Iraq.
READ three US Congressional Research Report on the history of the US-backed "Sons of Iraq" Sunni militias, formed to oppose Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The failure by the US-backed Shia government to integrate the Sunni militias into the Iraq army later led to many "Sons of Iraq" returning to the jihadi insurgency, swelling the ranks of modern-day ISIS. See here, here and here.
READ a 2009 cable on AQI/ISI in Mosul.
READ in a 2010 State Department cable how Syria’s head of intelligence Ali Mamlouk discussed with US diplomats the migration of foreign "takfiri" fighters, such as the Islamic State, into Syria from war-torn Iraq, and offered the US a military and intelligence partnership to address them. Declining, the US later lent support to jihadi groups as Syria’s "opposition" during the Syrian civil war.
READ a leaked 2010 STRATFOR email containing a private intelligence product documenting the transition of Islamic State leadership to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after the killing of former-ISI leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in 2010.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Obama's Inequality Claims Hypocritical

It was supposed to be a bit different, about the future not the past. His final State of the Union address was going to look forward, give Americans confidence in their own strengths to face the challenges of domestic and global change.But it did not sound too different from so many speeches he has delivered over the past several years.
Obama did mention the past - mainly his own successes – saving financial capitalism, creating 900,000 manufacturing jobs, making GM profitable again, healthcare reform, etc… He bemoaned political polarisation and partisanship – indirectly attacking Republicans who deny climate change, the Trump’s shrill intolerance and bigotry.

But the main point is that though he invoked the name of Martin Luther King, jr., he failed to do very much to uplift African-Americans’ lives, improve living standards across the middle class, or stop the triumph of Wall Street interests over "Main Street". 

He bemoaned the greater concentration of income and wealth at the top of the US social system but failed to mention that it increased during his tenure and under his leadership. In 2008 and 2012, he raised millions from Wall St banks for his election campaigns, and appointed several such corporates to the Treasury to oversee the bailout of the banks after the Great Crash – men such as Timothy Geithner who had been head of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York – overseeing Wall St banks etc… as they built up steam and collapsed in 2007-8. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that as he spent more and more time with corporate donors during 2007-8, he began to see the world through their eyes and not through those of ordinary people. And that “class” – Obama used that term in relation to corporate executives etc – do not see anything wrong in amassing as much income and wealth for themselves as possible and at the expense of US society. Cutting big government and taxes on the highest income groups, for that "class", is the principal purpose of government. Alongside bailing out banks that bring the financial system to its knees to the tune of trillions of dollars.

The complaints Obama makes, all reasonable, are ones about which he did little or actually helped make worse – especially income and wealth inequality. And that has had significant knock on effects on election financing – with just 158 wealthy families contributing 50% of all election funding in the primaries up to this point. The wealthy hold on political power – especially among Republicans, but also over the Clinton campaign – leads directly to the selection of the most conservative candidates who support tax cuts for the rich, cuts in welfare and benefits for the elderly, and oppose gun control.

Obama's address was a pretty shameless example of 'newspeak' - Orwell would have been proud.