As war is becoming more and more of a reality, surrealism and madness characterise the pro-war lobby just as they continue to characterise the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In the midst of heightened passion, political debates that have turned personal, not to forget the plagiarism by British officials, Milan Rai's Book War Plan Iraq: 10 Reasons Why We Shouldn't Launch Another War Against Iraq comes as a relief.
The book provides well-researched background information, clear arguments against an illegal war and compassionate reflections. It is a useful read for people knowing deep down inside that a war is not right, but who sometimes lack the background information to make a clear case against it. The book is also a resource for anti-war activists who already have the arguments, but lack detailed background information about the history and context of the current situation with an emphasis on an examination of US and British policies towards Iraq over the past twelve years.
Milan Rai starts out by outlining the breadth of opposition against a war, quoting a number of public figures, describing dissent within cabinet, the Labour party and, most importantly, the general public. Reflections by relatives of victims of 11 September 2001 add yet another dimension to the widespread opposition to war, strongly condemning the cycle of violence. These are moving and powerful voices that should be heard more loudly. Yet, we know that there are many who want to see revenge for the atrocities committed on 11 September. In fact, the perceived need for “revenge”, and the assertion of its superpower status, constitute major motivations behind the enthusiasm for war in the Bush administration. Noam Chomsky's chapter “Terror and Just Response” critically analyses the so-called “war on terror”.
The war on Afghanistan was at the centre of Phase I of the “war on terror”, as Milan Rai structures his arguments. Phase II is all about Iraq. By looking at the history of the conflict with Iraq - starting with the imposition of economic sanctions, the beginning and first breakdown of UN weapons inspections (UNSCOM) and the US opposition to a resumption of inspections (this time by UNMOVIC) - the author reveals that war would not be fought primarily because of failed UN inspections. In other words, the main reason is not the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It is useful to see some evidence for a notion that many of us sense and suspect. Yet, it would have been equally useful to point out more clearly that the undermining of UN weapons inspectors was not only a prerogative of the US but also the Iraqi government.
The next myth challenged by the author relates to the issue of regime change. In a convincing section that includes US policies during the uprisings in 1991 and in the aftermath of the Gulf war, the author argues that the US is pursuing leadership change but not a regime change. In other words, human rights, democracy and nation-building are not priorities in a post-war scenario. Rather, the US is looking for “another man on a white horse” who will be able to keep Iraq together in good dictatorial fashion. Next in line is the significance of oil, which is addressed briefly and somewhat superficially by Milan Rai, and might have deserved more analysis.
In the next section, the author provides 10 reasons not to launch war against Iraq: 1) There is no evidence that Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction; 2) There is no link between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001; 3) This is not a war for democracy; 4) A war on Iraq would trigger a humanitarian disaster; 5) A war on Iraq would demolish Iraqi Kurdistan; 6) A war on Iraq would be illegal; 7) Iraq's neighbours oppose the war, and fear its consequences; 8) Generals on both sides of the Atlantic oppose the war; 9) A majority of people in Britain oppose the war; 10) A war on Iraq could trigger a world recession.
The arguments are well-documented and ample background information and explanation is provided. I personally would not have started out my list of arguments by stating that there is no hard evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Although it is certainly true that no one, including Colin Powell, not to speak of Tony Blair, has provided hard evidence, the truth is also that Saddam Hussein is not to be trusted and that any starting point against the immorality of war should not be the innocence of the Iraqi regime but the humanitarian disaster that would affect the Iraqi people.
Quite rightly, the author includes a brief discussion of the impact of economic sanctions in his overall treatise on the threat of war. Although brief, this section lays out the most important developments of the sanctions regime and its impact on the civilian population. The final brief sections address various related issues, such as the threat by the US and British governments to use nuclear weapons if “needed” and the need to resist and challenge the war propaganda of the US and the British governments, as well as debates within the US and Britain about the strategies and nature of a war.
Moving photographs of ordinary people on the streets of Iraq and art work by Emily Johns add a powerful visual dimension to the clear arguments and concise information provided in this book. The book is a must for anyone trying to make sense out of current debates and to strengthen her or his case when arguing against a war.