is going to be a bloodbath"
British journalist Felicity Arbuthnot speaks on Iraq
By Barbara Slaughter
18 March 2003
Felicity Arbuthnot is a freelance journalist who has visited Iraq
26 times since the 1991 Gulf War. She worked as senior researcher on the
film Paying the Price—Killing the Children of Iraq, which
investigated the devastating effect of United Nations sanctions on
people of Iraq.
Arbuthnot was interviewed by Barbara Slaughter just before she
returned to Iraq.
The US and the UK accuse Saddam Hussein of non-compliance with UN
resolutions, but the US and the UK don’t even have any mandate from
the Security Council to comply with. There is no mandate from the United
Nations for them to be patrolling the no-fly zones or indeed for the
no-fly zones themselves. The continuous bombings of Iraq by American and
British forces is illegal.
I personally am convinced that this will be a nuclear war. I think
that Bush and Blair are prepared to break that sacred vow on the
Hiroshima memorial, which says, “Rest in peace. The mistake will not
happen again.” And I’ll give you one of the reasons why. In 1991 in
Tel-Aviv, just before the Gulf War, the Israeli military gave a press
conference, and one of the questions was, “What will happen if Iraq
lobs anything into Israel?” And the spokesman replied, “We will turn
Baghdad into a sheet of glass.”
Israel has the fifth largest nuclear arsenal on earth, with two
hundred nuclear warheads. Also US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and
his British counterpart Geoffrey Hoon have made it clear that they
won’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons.
Nobody has really looked at what Britain and America are rather
chillingly referring to as “the day after”. We all remember that
film in the 1980s about nuclear war called The Day After. Who is
going to take over?
There is going to be a bloodbath that the British and the Americans
have not thought through. Not because these are a warlike people but
imagine if the Iraqis or anyone else said “OK, we’ll come in and
sort out Tony Blair.”
One needs to look at the hue of the people outside Iraq who call
themselves the Iraqi opposition—the men George Bush says he can do
business with—quite apart from the fact that they get a great deal of
money from the CIA. Take Ahmed Chalabi for example, who is the spokesman
for the Iraqi National Congress (INC). He has been sentenced to 34 years
and to 32 years in Jordan to run concurrently for allegedly bringing
down, virtually single handedly, the Petra Bank. This is a bank that was
set up on the basis that there wasn’t a Shia bank in Jordan and the
Lebanon. So Shia small businessmen, including market gardeners, farmers
and others put their money into his bank. The central criminal court in
Jordan found him guilty of siphoning off money into a bank in Geneva and
the Petra Bank just bottomed out and went bankrupt. Many of those
investors have committed suicide.
This story didn’t see the light of day in the West. In the early
nineties there was an international arrest warrant out for him for
years. I don’t know if it has been rescinded because of his
relationship with Washington and Whitehall. But would you give $97
million, which is what the CIA are doing, to this man? I don’t think
Another one is Alaawi, who was once Saddam’s chief speechwriter. He
now edits the INC weekly newspaper, The Congress. He was
interviewed on German state television two months ago and basically said
that when the opposition takes over any Iraqi exile who is against this
war will never be allowed home. Those inside Iraq who have ever worked
for the regime will be brought with their hands and ankles in chains to
Baghdad to meet justice and their maker. About 70 percent of the
population worked for the regime in one way or another—in the
nationalised industries and the civil service, etc.
A couple of months ago I did a documentary for Channel 4 interviewing
Iraqi exiles here who are against the bombing. I thought it would be
easy since I have known the Iraqi community for a long time and been
trusted by a great many of them. Many of them said to me, “Felicity,
no, sorry, not this one. Saddam is over there but they are over here.”
They were talking about the INC.
A recent article on the World Socialist Web Site talks about
Saddam being accused of deliberately placing military hardware near
mosques and crowded places. Iraq is full of mosques and crowded cities.
Here in Britain, air force bases and missiles can be near to big cities.
Look at Faslane.
I’ve visited many of these places. In 1999 we were
going down to Basra, an area where there had been an entire area wiped
out by cruise missiles. A Pentagon spokesman said at the time that this
was because they were hiding tanks and missiles in civilian areas.
We got to this poverty-stricken little area, where 47 houses were
wiped out and most of the people in them. We were travelling in two
Overlander type cars and had to park about half a mile away and lug all
our equipment with us because the streets were so narrow. You certainly
wouldn’t have got a tank down there and as for missiles; the houses
were so close together you couldn’t put a bicycle between them. When
our clips were shown to someone at the Pentagon, they just said it had
been a mistake.
When we arrived people came running from all over, with lots of
children. Suddenly a door of one of the houses that had been rebuilt
opened and this man came out, about 30 years old. The crowd fell silent
and parted. He produced three battered, fingered photographs from his
pocket. They were these three beautiful laughing little girls, all under
seven, who had been killed in the “mistake”. Later I managed to find
a photograph of one of them after she had been pulled out of the
rubble—this lovely little blonde girl, with pigtails and her face all
covered with ash.
In over 26 visits to Iraq, I have visited many sites of bombings.
Most of them have turned out to be in the middle of nowhere in the most
poverty stricken little villages or actually not even villages. In 19
months there were 11 bombings of flocks of sheep with child shepherds on
the plains in the middle of nowhere. It is just terrorising the
population. There are just too many examples that have no other possible
UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission weapons inspectors) has
said that they now have spy satellites that are so sophisticated they
could see a Coca-Cola can in a trash bin. These satellites will also
pick up gamma radiation emitted if nuclear weapons are being
manufactured. They also say that if chemical or biological weapons are
being manufactured they throw out what is described as an “ether”,
which sophisticated satellites will also pick up. They haven’t picked
up anything whatsoever.
When you look at the enormous facilities that are needed to
manufacture nuclear weapons—Los Alamos in the US for example—these
are towns half the size of Memphis. They can’t just spring up on the
flat Iraqi plain without being noticed. As for this nonsensical claim
about the mobile laboratories that make chemical, nuclear and biological
weapons, you know you can’t manufacture the stuff in the back of a
wagon with a couple of washed out coffee jars. You have to have really
Two of the plants that allegedly produced chemical and biological
weapons are located at a place called Ardour on the outskirts of Baghdad
and at Malouja, which is west of Baghdad. Most people believe they were
veterinarian medicine factories. In October last year I went to visit
both sites with Hans von Sponeck, who is the former UN coordinator in
Iraq who resigned in February 2000. These were sites that UNSCOM had
completely trashed in 1996. They went in with fire-axes and they smashed
the doors, windows, equipment, light switches, ventilation shafts.
We asked for permission to visit and when we got there the gates were
so rusty we couldn’t open them. Then we had to fight our way through
the undergrowth and there was nothing, no electricity, nothing. At the
end of last year the Americans were saying these factories had been
rebuilt and that they were again making chemical and biological weapons.
I rang von Sponeck and asked him about it. He said, “Felicity, they
are just in the same state as when you and I visited in 1999. The only
difference is that the undergrowth is higher.”
While we are on the subject of lying, when Baghdad was bombed in that
four day blitz in 1998, Tony Blair stood up in the House of Commons and
he talked about legitimate targets. He said that the Ministry of Defence
had been bombed. I got in there two days later and found the Ministry of
Defence had not been bombed. What they had bombed was a most beautiful
Ottoman building on the banks of the Tigris, which had been the Ministry
of Defence at the time of the Ottomans and hadn’t been used for that
purpose for 60 years.
In the same statement Blair said they had bombed Saddam’s
sister’s palace. But no they had bombed the Abbasid Palace, which was
nearly 1,200 years old and has been used as a museum for about 70 years.
It doesn’t even have electricity or heating.
Despite all the anti-Saddam rhetoric, we know this war is about oil
and the strategic position of Iraq in the Middle East, as a kind of
bridge to the Far East, where America and Britain can pursue their oil
and gas policies and their political policies.
We are told that these two are Christian leaders, but they forget
that this is Mesopotamia. This is where Abraham, father of three of the
great religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, was born at Ur. The
great ziggurat is still there. This is the first major city on earth and
it still gives you goose pimples, it’s so beautiful. This where the
land of milk and honey came from. Just down the road there is another
ancient site at Qurna where the Garden of Eden is supposed to have
flourished. Nearby is Babylon, where you can still visit the sites of
the Hanging Gardens and you can see part of the original site of ancient
Babylon from 6, 000 or more years ago, where Hammurabi devised the first
domestic laws to protect women and children, their safety and their
rights to property. You can go further south to Basra, known as the
Venice of the Middle East where the two biblical rivers, the Tigres and
the Euphrates meet at Shatt al Arab, where Sinbad left for his magical
St. Matthew is believed to have been buried at a monastery named
after him, which in Arabic is Deirmatti. It’s a very ancient
thirteen-century monastery on top of a mountain. Nearby there’s
another monastery called St. George’s, where every spring Christians
of all denominations have a festival.
Are these two Christian leaders really going to wipe out this
extraordinary land of Mesopotamia? Are they going to wipe out Christian
history? The whole country is a world heritage site.
We are also told about Saddam’s huge reserve army. But if you see
it, it is so pathetic. Twenty years of war, a total of a million dead in
the Iran-Iraq war, then the terrible losses in the Gulf War in which it
is estimated that 250,000 Iraqis died. And after that all the subsequent
bombings, including the 1998 bombings, when there were thousands killed.
Iraq is a country where 46 percent of the population are 16 years old
or less. So the embargo was imposed when these 16 year olds were three.
These youngsters have had their entire childhood snatched away from
them—no toys, no books, no pencils, and no normality. Nothing but
These are children like those in every war zone who shake in front of
storms, because they think the bombers are coming again and time and
again they do. They know their parents can’t protect them. These
children grew up very young. They know that all the normal almost
primeval things like kissing them better or taking them to bed with you
when they are frightened just don’t work. And they are going to end
their days as cannon fodder in George Bush’s war for oil. The only
people left to go into the army, with a few exceptions, are these kids
who have lost their childhood. So this is a war against children.
And the women. It’s no secret—you can go to any schoolyard after
three o’clock and you will see the young girls being trained up, with
school teachers, doctors. Women, as well as these 16 year old kids is
all they’ve got left to fight with. A friend of mine is a professor at
the university in Baghdad. At the time of the 1998 crisis, her daughters
were 16, 17 and 18. The 16 year old weighed about 84 pounds and she was
going off from home in tears because they had been called up for
training after school. She was given this old AK 47 rifle and was taught
how to load it and so on. But she could hardly lift it.
This is what the US and British troops are fighting against and we
are sending in cruise missiles that have “Love to Saddam,” written
on the side.
Everyone had always told me that Iraqis were a late night people. It
had been a very secular country and you could sit out in the evening and
enjoy a glass of wine until the embargo. Then in 1996 Saddam tried to
get the Islamic countries on board and it was all stopped. You never
really saw anyone out after dark; there was a kind of collective
depression. They just went home and struggled to live with the embargo.
Suddenly last October it was as if it was a new country. Every little
side street was filled with people playing board games, and people were
selling food off battered old tin plates, and people promenading around
the squares till late at night. It was as if they were saying, “Oh to
hell with it, let’s just get on with life.” When you asked what they
thought was going to happen, a number of people just said, “We don’t
care anymore. We are just too tired. We are going to live for the day
and let them come and bomb us. We just don’t care.” But others would
say, “Every time I think of another bombing I just die inside.”
I know there has been a lot of disquiet privately expressed by some
US and UK soldiers that this a war that does not have public support.
You only have to look at the extraordinary demonstrations, from one end
of the globe to the other on the February 15 to know that the world is
not behind this war. But the soldiers are being sold the idea that when
they go into Baghdad, or Basra or Mosul or anywhere else, when they
cross the border from Jordan or Turkey, they will be greeted with flower
petals and garlands. I don’t think so.
If you are trusted enough, you get to speak to people. If you ask the
most rabid anti-Saddam families whether they will be happy when the
Americans and British come and get rid of him, they say, “Over my dead
body. We have been occupied by different forces for 700 years and it’s
not going to happen again.”
I think these poor kids in the US army are being sold a pup, because
once they get over there you’ll see an uprising against the British
and American troops. They have to sleep somewhere and eat something in a
completely alien culture they know nothing about. What are young kids
from Cincinnati going to know about Iraqi culture? The situation is very
complex. You have the Shia in the south with allegiances to Iran.
You’ve got the Kurds in the north. You’ve got the Azeris, the
Turkomans and the Christians, plus a huge number of tribal complexities.
You cannot compare Iraq with Afghanistan. The only parallel I’d draw
is with 1990/1991, when the US encouraged rebellion in the north and the
south and then they were abandoned.
There will be a settling of old scores, with an awful lot of blood
letting that has nothing to do with Saddam. These young troops who do
not even speak the language are going to be in the middle of the old
civil unrest that haunted the Middle East in the 1850s, the 1920s, the
1930s and again in the 1950s. It should never be forgotten that the last
British imposed prime minister was dragged through the streets of
Baghdad, not that long ago, and that all that was left of him was
compared to the Arabic expression for a shish kebab. We are going to go
back to that.
The country has been held together, not perfectly, but more
cohesively than at any other time in its history. Had we allowed
normality to return by lifting the embargo, it would progress and sort
itself out. Saddam is a flicker in the eye of history. Iraq is highly
educated, highly sophisticated, highly urbanised. Along with the
Palestinians, it has the highest number of PhDs per capita on the globe.
When the British left only a little over 30 years ago, the average life
expectancy in Iraq was 26 years and the literacy level was just a little
over 10 percent. By the time of the Gulf War the life expectancy was 74
for women and a little less for men and literacy was around 90 percent.
There was also 93 percent access to clean water and the same for access
to very sophisticated modern health care. These are World Health
They are very political people. Everybody has a radio, they listen to
the BBC World Service, and they listen to the Arabic services and know
everything that is going on. They might get wall-to-wall government
stuff on the TV, but they still know what is going on. It fascinates me
when you get foreign correspondents, including the BBC, coming on and
saying these poor people don’t really know what is going on in the
outside world. Like all the Middle East, the Iraqis live under a very
repressive regime. But you to have the ability to separate the people of
countries from their leaders.
Those young American and British soldiers are going into a poisoned
land. Look what happened to the Gulf veterans, and what is happening to
the Iraqis. Among the Gulf veterans, the field hospital people who were
there for about three months were the worst affected even though they
were in Saudi and Kuwait because of the prevailing wind. This time the
American troops will be there for much longer. They are going to have
the same deformities amongst their children. They will share the same
Nobody has addressed the problems of the Gulf veterans, or the
nuclear test veterans of the Pacific, or the Vietnam veterans, or the
people in Vietnam who suffered from Agent Orange. Now kids are being
sent as a different kind of cannon fodder to have their whole genetic
integrity impaired by being in Iraq.
We should remember too, that although there have been surveys done in
Basra in the south, Baghdad was the most heavily bombed and there has
never been a survey done to check the radiation levels in Baghdad. [In
Basra] some of the weapons used were tipped with depleted uranium, some
had a core coating and some had the actual core of the weapons.
According to Jane’s some of the weapons they are going to use
at the moment have as much as two tons of pure uranium in one
bunker-busting bomb. What has also been discovered now is that it is not
even depleted. That was bad enough—with a four and a half billion year
half-life, chemically toxic and radioactive. In Basra they have found
the bombs that were used had enriched uranium in them—neptunium. It
had everything you would expect to find in the nuclear fuel cycle,
including three different kinds of plutonium. Anyone who knows plutonium
knows it is more lethal than enriched uranium. The weapons experts
estimate that if it were possible to distribute just one teaspoonful of
plutonium 239 across the face of the globe, everybody at some point
would get cancer. And we are just dumping huge quantities on Iraq.
Israel will use the opportunity to clear out Gaza and the West
Bank—in other words ethnic cleansing. According to many people, they
have chosen a place in the eastern quarter of Jordan near Iraq—a
completely empty quarter—called Ashraq. I was initially quite
dismissive but I have heard so many well informed Jordanians, including
newspaper people, saying there is a lot of, a lot of American activity
up there. I know that a whole 1,200 kilometre stretch between Jordan and
Baghdad and suddenly there is this huge new army camp that has been
built slap on the Jordanian side of the border. I asked my driver whom I
always use what it was. He said that is the new American base for when
they ship the Palestinians out.
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