Iraq: US threatens “nuclear option”

The US administration is discussing the possible use of nuclear weapons against the people of Iraq, according to William M. Arkin, a military affairs analyst writing in the Los Angeles Times (26 January 2003).

Arkin comments, "One year after President Bush labelled Iraq, Iran and North Korea the ‘axis of evil’, the United States is thinking about the unthinkable: It is preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq."

"At the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in Omaha and inside planning cells of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, target lists are being scrutinized, options are being pondered and procedures are being tested to give nuclear armaments a role in the new US doctrine of ‘pre-emption’."

The journalist then quotes "multiple sources close to the process" on the possible use of nuclear weapons in Iraq. ‘Option one’, is to attack Iraqi facilities located deep underground and ‘option two’, is to "thwart" Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction.

Arkin comments that the Bush administration’s plans represent a "significant lowering of the nuclear threshold" and that it "rewrites the ground rules of nuclear combat in the name of fighting terrorism". Ironically, STRATCOM "owes its existence to previous post-Cold War policy makers who considered it vital to erect a great firewall between nuclear and conventional forces". Now, the White House and Rumsfeld are merging the weapons under one command structure.

Yet, the truth is that the US has overwhelming superior firepower with conventional weapons, including against a country like Iraq. According to Arkin, "The US military has the capability of disabling underground bases or destroying biological and chemical weapons without uncorking the nuclear bottle, through a combination of sophisticated airpower, special operations and such 21st century capabilities as high-powered microwave weapons and cyber warfare."

He goes on to say that most US military officers consider the likelihood of using nuclear weapons to be low and indeed some of them [the more sober strategists] worry about the increased importance placed on them. Although the possibility of ‘limited nuclear weapons’ being used cannot be entirely ruled out, it is highly unlikely they would be employed against Iraq, because of the enormous consequences (human, environmental, political, social and economic); a result that must even impact on the thinking of George W Bush Jnr and his coterie.

This would indicate that the threatened use of nuclear weapons has wider considerations. The unnamed military sources tell Arkin that the nuclear option is being discussed in case US forces become embroiled in a longer war and start to lose many of their soldiers. The nuclear option has in fact been previously raised by the US and Britain as a means to try to pressurise Saddam Hussein, as well as other so called ‘rogue states’. Furthermore nuclear weapons are today held up as an instrument of mass terror and intimidation against the poor and oppressed of the world.

"Global disaster"

The range of "strategic" warfare options against "terrorist states and organisations" pursued by Bush has massively increased in recent months. A memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times, outlines how STRATCOM should plan everything from "the use of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear strikes to covert and special operations to cyber warfare and ‘strategic deception’."

With this approach, Arkin says, the use of biological or chemical weapons against the military could be seen as worthy of the "same response as a Russian nuclear strike." He accurately points out the consequences of a nuclear Armageddon in Iraq:

"If Iraq were to use biological or chemical weapons during a war with the United States, it could have tragic consequences, but it would not alter the war’s outcome. Our [the US administration’s] use of nuclear weapons to defeat Hussein, on the other hand, has the potential to create a political and global disaster, one that would forever pit the Arab and Islamic world against us."

But Iraq is not the only target on the White House radar. The Theatre Planning Activity set up by STRATCOM has "seven priority target nations" according to Arkin, which are the "axis of evil" states of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, along with Syria, Libya, China and Russia.

Moreover, the development of a new doctrine by Bush that allows for the unprovoked use of nuclear weapons, is a view, that "sooner or later" Arkin warns, will "spread beyond…Washington and London to New Delhi and Islamabad, to Pyongyang and Baghdad, Beijing, Tel Aviv and to every nuclear nation of the future."

‘Rapid Dominance’

Even without the use of nuclear arms by US imperialism in a war against Iraq, the promised conventional arms onslaught will cause a holocaust for the working people and poor of Iraq. Over 220,000 US and British troops are already surrounding Iraq, as well a huge array of military hardware. The International Herald Tribune (IHT, 3 February 2003) reports that the Pentagon plans to unleash 3,000 so-called ‘precision-guided’ bombs and missiles in the first 48-hours of the opening air campaign. This initial bombardment would use ten times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Gulf War in 1991.

The air campaign, according to the IHT, would be carried out by 500 air force attack, radar jamming and support planes flying from bases throughout the Gulf region. About 300 US warplanes are already based at airfields north and south of Iraq and the air force has also stockpiled 6,700 satellite-guided bombs, as well as 3,000 laser-guided bombs.

As with the Gulf War, we are already being treated to the myth of a ‘clean’ war, in which relatively few civilians would be killed or infrastructure damaged. The Pentagon claims that the figure for precision-guided bombs would be in excess of 75%, "allowing more effective bombing".

However the same sort of claims were made prior to operation Desert Storm in 1991. But that war left hundreds of thousands of Iraqi conscript soldiers dead (many were killed while fleeing the US and its allies) and bombed much of Iraq into ruins (the UN embargo has enormously worsened the rebuilding attempts). Despite all the claims at the time, the advent of the supremacy of so-called ‘smart bombs’ during war was just a myth. Even by the Pentagon’s estimates, only 9% of the weapons dropped in 1991 were ‘precision-guided’ (it appears the military hierarchy no longer like to use the expression ‘smart bombs’). Unfortunately for the people of Iraq, the same indiscriminate slaughter and widespread destruction will be the outcome of another US-led attack, whatever euphemisms the bombings go under.

Other US military strategists dub their monstrous battle plans for Iraq, ‘Rapid Dominance’. The purpose is to "shock and awe" the enemy. One of the authors of the plan said that within a week the Iraqi people would be psychologically, physically and emotionally "exhausted" and compared the effect to the atomic bomb horrors of Hiroshima in Japan, in 1945

This callous attitude is echoed in Britain, where Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, remarked last year that Saddam Hussein "can be absolutely confident that in the right conditions we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons."

Of course one of the main reasons for the US aggression is to ‘shock and awe’ the masses of the entire region and indeed all the world’s oppressed, so that they do not dare to stand up against the interests of imperialism.

The Bush administration wants to wage war for a number of reasons, all of which are in the interests of the big corporations and financial giants and in pursuit of US imperialism’s global domination. An important factor of course is that imperialism wants to secure reliable oil supplies. US oil production has fallen by 15% from 1990 to 2000. Yet over the next twenty years, world oil demands are expected to rise by as much as 40-50%. In this context, the Middle East, which accounts for 66% of all known oil reserves, assumes huge importance. After Saudi Arabia, which is no longer a safe US client regime, Iraq is the next major supplier of oil in the region (holding 10.8% of all known reserves).

The human and environmental results of the planned ‘blood for oil’ war on Iraq are incalculable. Not only would many tens of thousands of civilians die outright from missile attacks, the population would also quickly be without electricity, clean water, infrastructure etc. Dennis Halliday, the previous head of the UN ‘food for oil’ sanctions programme in Iraq from 1997-1998, who now campaigns against the war, has accused the US and Britain of planning to "annihilate Iraqi society". This comes after years of cruel UN imposed sanctions ("weapon of mass destruction of a special kind", as one commentator termed them). These inhuman blockades are estimated to have killed 500,000 children (mainly babies) due to a lack of medicines and other essential supplies and facilities. Overall, various agencies have estimated that the effects of this have led to the deaths of anywhere between 900,000 to 1,200,000 Iraqi people.

For international mobilisation against war

A US war on Iraq will enrage working people and youth the world over. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, the unprecedented horrors caused by US conventional warfare will provoke the masses onto the streets across the Middle East and the Muslim world. In the Middle East this can cause social explosions and threaten the existence of regimes in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Already the working class in the West has shown its overwhelming opposition to Bush’s war aims. The magnificent mass demonstrations that have taken place in the last few months will be dwarfed by the immense street protests planned on 15 February, the international day of action. This act of international protest may well mark the largest single day of protest action in world history.

But will this be enough to stop the warmongers in Washington or London? Bush and Blair, it seems, have set their course on a bloody conflict.

Now is the time to step up the anti-war campaign. CWI supporters in many countries are helping to organise school strikes around the 15 February and other actions, as well as building for the planned mass demonstrations. It is also vital for the working class to take decisive action in one country after another, especially organised labour, including blocking arms shipments and military flights, and even strikes involving wider sections of the population.

Only the international mobilisation of working people to oppose imperialist war aims in the Middle East can put an end to the horrors inflicted on the people of the neo-colonial world by the richest countries, and the planned war crimes of Bush against Iraq.

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February 2003