US propaganda will fuel this war

  • From: "" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 31 Jan 2003 23:52:48 -0000

US propaganda fuelled the first Gulf war. It will fuel this one too -
and the risks are even greater 

Maggie O'Kane 

I have a picture from the last Gulf war. It was taken in the basement of
the Al Rashid hotel, the night the war started. The look on my face is
one you might expect of a 28-year-old reporter at the centre of one of
the biggest stories of my lifetime: earnest, excited and thrilled to be
in Baghdad. 

Eleven years later, I'm on maternity leave and the news of an impending
second Gulf war follows me around the kitchen. This time, I feel only a
sense of intense danger as the Middle East lurches towards a possible
chemical and biological war. 

The chances of Saddam Hussein using chemical and biological weapons if
attacked are, according to the testimony of the CIA to the US Senate
intelligence committee on October 7, "pretty high" - a scenario that
even one of greatest hawks in US history, Brent Scowcroft, former
national security adviser to George Bush senior, says would lead to
meltdown in the Middle East. As of December 7, when Iraq is expected to
produce its definitive dossier, there should be no illusions: no matter
what Baghdad discloses, America and almost certainly Britain are going
to war. The "material breach", if it does not happen by itself, will be
manufactured, so wringing consent for the second Gulf war just as
consent was manufactured with breathtaking cynicism in 1991. 

There were two glaring examples of how the propaganda machine worked
before the first Gulf war. First, in the final days before the war
started on January 9, the Pentagon insisted that not only was Saddam
Hussein not withdrawing from Kuwait - he was - but that he had 265,000
troops poised in the desert to pounce on Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon
claimed to have satellite photographs to prove it. Thus, the waverers
and anti-war protesters were silenced. 

We now know from declassified documents and satellite photographs taken
by a Russian commercial satellite that there were no Iraqi troops poised
to attack Saudi. At the time, no one bothered to ask for proof. 

No one except Jean Heller, a five-times nominated Pulitzer prize-winning
journalist from the St Petersburg Times in Florida, who persuaded her
bosses to buy two photos at $1,600 each from the Russian commercial
satellite, the Soyuz Karta. Guess what? No massing troops. "You could
see the planes sitting wing tip to wing tip in Riyadh airport," Ms
Heller says, "but there wasn't was any sign of a quarter of a million
Iraqi troops sitting in the middle of the desert." So what will the fake
satellite pictures show this time: a massive chemical installation with
Iraqi goblins cooking up anthrax? 

The US propaganda machine is already gearing up. In its sights already
is Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector. He's too much of a softie for
Saddam, the former CIA director James Wolsey told the Today programme
last week. His work is of "limited value". He was Kofi Annan's "second

What next? Blix's granny is Iraqi? He has a drugs problem? 

Meanwhile, in Britain, Jack Straw's new human rights dossier on Iraq is
timed to coincide with the build-up. Convenient, eh? The second tactic
used to get consensus for war in 1991 was another propaganda classic:
dead babies. Then, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington,
Nijirah al-Sabah, tearfully described how, as a volunteer in the Al
Adnan hospital in Kuwait City, she had watched Iraqi soldiers looting
incubators to take back to Baghdad, pitching the Kuwaiti babies on to
"the cold floor to die". 

Except it never happened. The Filipina nurses, Frieda Construe-Nag and
Myra Ancog Cooke, who worked in the maternity ward of the Al Adnan
hospital, had never seen Ms al-Sabah in their lives. Amnesty admitted
they had been duped. Middle East Watch confirmed the fabrication, but it
was too late: a marginal US congress had been swung to vote for war.
George Bush senior mentioned the "incubator babies" seven times in
pre-war rallying speeches. It was months before the truth came out. By
then, the war was over. 

This time, we have yet to see what propaganda will be used to rally
consensus for the second Gulf war by proving a "material breach". It is
highly likely that Saddam Hussein maintains at least some chemical and
biological capacity. In a war in which his own survival is unlikely (and
already rumoured to be ill with cancer) Saddam Hussein has nothing to
lose. If he knows his fall is imminent, what terrible legacy might he
choose to leave behind? What better present to his extremist Arab
brothers than an attack on Israel? And how will the US, Britain or
Israel respond if their troops or cities come under chemical or
biological attack? 

I n 1995, the Washington-based Defense News reported on the outcome of
the then highly classified Global 95 Wargame, a high-level military
exercise enacted at the US Naval War college. Global 95 played out a
simultaneous threat from North Korea and Iraq. The North Korean
situation was diffused, but Iraq attacked US troops in the region with
biological weapons. Washington replied with a nuclear bomb on Baghdad.
The main observation during the Global 95 experiment was just how
quickly the situation escalated. 

But the greatest irony, and most important issue, is that although the
war on Iraq may indeed get George Bush re-elected, it will not win the
war on terrorism. It will instead fuel it. 

In 1998, I spent an afternoon with Abu Ziad, an elderly accountant in
Baghdad. He recounted how, at 2am on February 13, 1991, two bombs had
hit the Amiryia bomb shelter near his home. The first pierced the roof,
slicing into the central heating tank and sending gallons of boiling
water pouring over the women and children below. The second bomb, 15
minutes later, exploded with such force that he never had the chance to
identify the bodies of his wife and four of their five children:
Zena,14, Fuad, 12, Lena, seven and Sadaad, six. He remembers standing
outside the shelter in the early morning and noticing the ankles of dead
women and children marked by the red hot mattress springs they had
fought to climb over to get out of the shelter before the second bomb

The Abu Ziads of the second Gulf war will be seen on al-Jazeera TV
giving their heartbreaking testimony to a new generation of disaffected
and dispossessed young Muslim men from Palestine, Indonesia, the Middle
East and Africa. And we can all hear the death chant of a hundred
suicide bombers: Allahu Akbar. It's a high price to pay for another four
years in the White House. 

I am not some naive pacifist. I supported intervention in Bosnia, the
war in Kosovo and military intervention in East Timor. Baghdad is a city
where terror hangs in the air in every home. Iraqis literally dare not
speak Saddam Hussein's name. But now he is cornered, dangerous and
possibly dying. Provoking him is criminally irresponsible and provoking
him in order to secure a second presidential term is unforgivable. 

Remember the words of JFK to his brother Bobby, spoken in the ante-room
of the Oval Office the night before the Cuban missile crisis, now
declassified. "I have to do it, Bobby," said John Kennedy, explaining
why he was facing up to the Soviets. "I'll lose the presidency if I
don't." Krushchev had a way out. He ordered the Soviet ships to turn
around. What would have happened if he had nowhere to turn?.


You can choose whether you prefer to receive regular emails or a weekly digest 
by visiting


You can subscribe by sending an email to request@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word 
"subscribe" (without quotes) in the subject line, or by visiting

You can unsubscribe by sending an email to request@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx with the 
word "unsubscribe" (without quotes) in the subject line, or by visiting

You are welcome to submit any relevant news story to submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

For regular Islamic cultural articles by email, send email to 

Other related posts:

  • » US propaganda will fuel this war