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Run up to Iraq, 2002 to 2003

In mid-February 2001, twenty-four US and British warplanes attacked Saddam Hussein radar stations and air command centers. It was a response to Saddam's military targeting US and British warplanes in the "no fly zones" (zones created by the United Nations and forbidden to Iraqi aircraft. President Bush (in office one month) announced that "Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm [in 1991]."

Seven months later came the murderous September 11 terrorist attacks with hijacked airliners. President Bush said the US was at war. The Democratic Party Senate leader Tom Daschle cautioned the President that the word "war" had powerful implications. Bush disagreed and was to ask: if the attack was not an act of war, then what was it? But he was to claim some caution:

I woke up every morning thinking about the danger we faced and the responsibilities I carried. I was also keenly aware that presidents had a history of overreaching during war. (Decision Points, p 155)

Just after September 11, the Bush administration implemented a flurry of new security measures: air marshals on airplanes, hardened cockpit doors, a tightened process for granting visas and screening passengers.

In October, letters with anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two US Senators (Daschle and Patrick Leahy), killing 5 people and infecting 17 others. Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were suspects (the Hussein regime having acknowledged possession of anthrax back in 1995). The FBI began conducted diligent investigations. (In 2008, DNA evidence would lead federal prosecutors to declare Bruce Edwards Ivins as the culprit, a bio-defense researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.)

Also in October, Bush approved the Terrorist Survellience Program (TSP), Bush saying that he "wanted to ensure there were safeguards to prevent abuse, to prevent the National Security Agency from turning into an Orwellian Big Brother." Bush said that listening illegally to the conversations of innocent people (during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations) had been "a sad chapter in our own history, and I wasn't going to repeat it."

Waterboarding was an issue, and Bush would approve it after reassurance that it wouldn't leave the interrogated person with physical injuries. Bush was to write: "I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real."

In December, a British passenger named Richard Reid tried to blow up an American Airlines flight carrying 197 people from Paris to Maimi by detonating explosives in his shoe. He was subdued before he could light the fuse.

In his State of the Union address on 29 January (2002), Bush spoke of the US invasion of Afghanistan back in November and described Afghanistan as having been freed "from brutal oppression." He said that "Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay." And he added:

While the most visible military action is in Afghanistan, America is acting elsewhere. We now have troops in the Philippines, helping to train that country's armed forces to go after terrorist cells that have executed an American, and still hold hostages. Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy. Our Navy is patrolling the coast of Africa to block the shipment of weapons and the establishment of terrorist camps in Somalia.

In this same speech, President Bush spoke of an "axis of evil." He described North Korea as "arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens." Iran, he said, "aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."

Some in Iran had been pressing for improved relations with the United States. But, following Bush's "Axis of Evil" comment, Iran's Supreme Leader since 1989, Ali Khamenei, dismissed negotiating with the US, saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will never succumb to America's bullying."

Regarding Iraq as a member of the "axis of evil," Bush said in his speech that it,

continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens — leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

Two days after his State of the Union speech, kidnappers in Pakistan executed a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, slitting his throat after he said: "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish."

In March, CIA and FBI agents in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence services, raided several safe houses in Pakistan searching for a big-name al Qaeda operator, Abu Zubaydah. Pakistani intelligence service had paid a small amount for a tip on his whereabouts, and a CIA source was later to say "We paid $10 million for Zubaydah." (Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, 2008, p 141)

Bush by now had signed an executive order establishing military tribunals for captured terrorists. In March the US Supreme Court upheld the legality of such tribunals. Authorities at Guantanamo were not allowing foreign detainees access to attorneys or materials supporting the charges against them. The detainees were being treated like prisoners of war: outside the reach of due process under habeas corpus.

Writing about the US incentivizing the taking of prisoners of war, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch wrote of Pakistanis turning men over for $5,000 per head. Persons in Pakistan were making money from a program that involved picking up suspicious persons and delivering them to the US military. A German-born Turkish citizen, Murat Kurnaz, was pulled off a bus in Pakistan, turned over to US forces and sent to Guantanamo, an innocent man it would be said, caught in a web of greed. The Pentagon was arguing that those held in Guantanamo were "the worst of the worst," and it is alleged that there were CIA officials who knew better, who thought that a number of detainees had no link to terrorism. A former chief of staff to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, was to speak of the reluctance of men of rank who feared exposure of their incompetence.

Murat Kurnaz, an ethnic Turk, returns to his home in Germany from Guatanamo Bay. Persons in Pakistan made money from a program that involved picking up suspicious persons and delivering them to the US military. From Pakistan, Kurnaz was taken to Afghanistan and thrown together with captured Islamic militants.

Options and Opinion regarding Iraq

Saddam Hussein had been at war with Iran from 1980 to 1988. And in 1991, and after being driven out of Kuwait and in conflict with the US and its allies, he had been looking for support among his fellow Sunni Muslims hostile to Israel. He had been providing $10,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and in April 2002 he increased it to $25,000.

Following the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam wanted to avoid leaving his old enemy Iran the impression that his regime was weak militarily, giving Iran an opportunity for revenge. He wanted potential enemies to believe that he still had fearsome weapons. So rather than fully comply with UN demands, he chose to destroy his weapons of mass destruction surreptitiously. But in what was to be known as the Duelfer Report, it would be suggested that in 1991-92 Hussein destroyed his biological and chemical weapons.

Facing what it considered a Saddam's reluctance to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, President Bush could have chosen to pressure Saddam with a continuation of economic sanctions enforced by air power, limiting Iraq's exports, especially oil. On June 2, 2002, President Bush spoke of another option. In a speech to the military academy at West Point he spoke of defense that is proactive rather than reactive. In some instances, he said, the US must strike first against another state to prevent a potential threat from growing into an actual one. And, at his press conference on July 8, Bush was asked whether it was his "firm intention to get rid of Saddam Hussein." He answered that it was "a stated policy of [his] government to have a regime change. And it hasn't changed. And we'll use all tools at our disposal to do so."

Meanwhile, a straight-talking former Marine Corps Major and ballistic missile technology expert, Scott Ritter, was employed by the United Nations as a weapons inspector. He was creating a stir by expressing doubts that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Ritter wrote on 20 July:

While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced by Iraq. (Click for more.)

The UN's chief weapons inspector was Sweden's Hans Blix. On August 1, Saddam's regime announced that Blix was welcome in Baghdad for "technical talks." Saddam Hussein appeared to be trying to hold off another all-out war with the US. The Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal was living in an exclusive neighborhood in Baghdad, and on August 16 he was assassainated. Nidal had been expelled from Libya when Qaddafi was trying to distance himself from terrorism, and to some observers it would appear that Nidal had become an ambarrassment for Saddam.

By now, Czech officials were backing away from the claim that in April 2001, before the September 11 attacks, Mohamed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi agent — the so-called Prague connection. In 2007, George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence from 1996 to 2004, would tell 60 Minutes: "We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period."

On August 27, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and said: "...there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

On 12 September, President Bush at the United Nations spoke of Iraq's violations of promises made to the UN Security Council by continuing "to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments." He spoke of Iraq's attempt to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and Iraq's plan to assassinate his father during the latter's visit to Kuwait after the war in 1991. He accused Iraq of targeting Iraqi dissidents abroad.

On October 2, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the president to use the US military as he deems necessary and appropriate against Iraq provided that the president declares to Congress that "diplomatic efforts to enforce the UN resolutions have failed."

On October 8, three writers for Knight Ridder Newspapers, Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, wrote that "a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his [President Bush's] own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration's double-time march toward war." Later in October the three wrote that the "dispute pits hardliners long distrustful of the US intelligence community against professional military and intelligence officers who fear the hawks are shaping intelligence analyses to support their case for invading Iraq."

On October 28, Paul Reynolds of the BBC expressed doubts about a serious link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. He pointed to Hussein's secularist background and his hostilities toward the religious extremism of al Qaeda and that he must know that to link with al Qaeda would be fatal for him.

In early November, Bush's job approval was around 68 percent, disapproval at 26 percent. Americans went to the polls for the mid-term elections and Bush's Republican Party picked up 2 Senate seats in what had been a 50-50 split, and it increased its majority in the House with a gain of 8 seats.

On December 7, Iraq submitted a 12,000-page declaration to the UN denying that is had weapons that were banned.

According to Bush's memoirs, it was around this time that his father told him: "You've got to try everything you can to avoid war. But if the man won't comply, you don't have any other choice."

On January 13th, Bush summoned Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Oval Office and told him that he had decided to go to war against Iraq. On the 28th, in his State of the Union speech, Bush spoke of intelligence reports that described Saddam Hussein as not disarming and that he, Bush, was ready to attack Iraq with a United Nations mandate.

Following Bush's State of the Union address a nationally televised debate took place between Mark Danner and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, occasionally described as a leftist, had been in Iraq and was close to some there who have been fighting Saddam's regime. Hitchens argued that going to war was the right thing to do. Danner favored strengthening the "containment policy" and described Bush's doctrine of preemption as "extremely dangerous." Danner argued that a prolonged occupation would be needed to stabilize Iraq and that this would be fraught with complications and could result in more terror attacks against the US. Some in the audience opposed to Hitchens's arguments described the conflict with Saddam's regime as simply about oil.

On February 5, Powell made his presentation to the UN Security Council and accused Iraq of hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction. The evidence he said is "irrefutable and undeniable." He stated that the UN "places itself in danger of irrelevance if it allows Iraq to continue to defy its will without responding effectively and immediately."

Few journalists in the United States questioned Powell's presentation. (One who did was Katrina vanden Heuvel, published in USA Today. She wrote of minor violations being offered to justify a major war. Polls in the US showed that Powell's presentation increased support for an invasion of Iraq. Only 27 percent of those polled opposed military action against Iraq.

In mid-February, more than 10 million people in over 600 cities worldwide protested against an invasion of Iraq. On March 5, the foreign ministers of Germany, Russia, and France said they would oppose any Security Council authorization of war against Iraq. On the 7th the UN's weapons inspector, Hans Blix, reported that Iraq had accelerated its cooperation but that inspectors needed more time to verify Iraq's compliance.

On March 16, 2003, President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar met in the Azores. At the end of the meeting, President Bush stated: "We concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world."

The next day, the Bush administration sent an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: either he and his sons leave Iraq or their refusal to do so "will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing." On the 20th, US, British, Australian, and Polish troops invaded Iraq, and on the 22nd the US and Britain begin their "shock and awe" air strikes against targets in Baghdad, and President Bush spoke to nation:

Good morning. American and coalition forces have begun a concerted campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In this war, our coalition is broad, more than 40 countries from across the globe. Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.

CONTINUE READING: War in Iraq, 2003-08

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