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Sign the Pledge of Resistance against an attack on Iraq
 
 

16 December 2002

MOMENT OF DECISION
Blair Forced To Choose War Or Inspections
WAR PLAN IRAQ Update Number 4



THE CRITICAL, 'POLITICALLY DIFFICULT', DECISIONS


On 14 Dec. 2002, the newspaper closest to Britain's Armed Forces reported, "Defence chiefs have told the Prime Minister that he must decide within 10 days whether British forces should be sent to the Gulf if they are to be a credible threat to Iraq." (Telegraph, 14 Dec., p. 1) The newspaper continued, "Despite publicly stating that he will stand alongside America in any action against Iraq, Mr Blair has delayed ordering troops to the Gulf to give diplomacy a chance."

An earlier report had revealed certain more pressing reasons behind the British delays: "Senior Government sources" said Blair had been reluctant to order the deployment of forces to the Gulf because "it is politically difficult": "The reasons include the 'overstretch' in the Army caused by the firemen's strike, the Treasury's reluctance to release the money for a major deployment and the strong opposition in the Labour Party." (Telegraph, 11 Dec., p. 14)

This is a little disingenuous: the 'strong opposition' which is making the war 'politically difficult' extends well beyond the Labour Party - into the military and the right-wing Establishment, as well as into the general population and the massive grassroots mobilisation of the anti-war movement.


BUDGET PROBLEMS

As for the Treasury's reluctance to release funds for the war - "The Ministry of Defence estimates the cost of a war at around 1.5 billion", but "The Treasury has put aside only 1 billion and said that anything more must come from the existing defence budget." (Telegraph, 14 Dec., p. 1)

In Aug. 2002, the Treasury estimated that the war could cost the UK up to 4bn all told. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, was reported to have had 'blistering' arguments with the Prime Minister over the war, pointing out that paying for the war could be a body blow to New Labours spending plans for health, education, and transport - with highly damaging consequences for the Government's re- election campaign, as well as for the quality of life for the people of Britain. (Sunday Mirror, 11 Aug., p. 6)


DELAYS COULD SCALE DOWN BRITISH PARTICIPATION

British military commanders have said that, "whether the troops are to go to war with or to be used only as a threat to coerce Saddam Hussein into giving up his weapons of mass destruction, the same equipment needs to be in place. That includes a lighly armoured division." As any war would need to be fought before the weather turned too hot, "such a division has to be in Kuwait by late February to present a credible threat." "That means that preparations to move tanks must be made within 10 days [by 25 Dec.]. Otherwise, Saddam could be given the impression that Britain is reluctant to go to war." (Telegraph, 14 Dec., p. 1)

Britain is reluctant to go to war. The British people are reluctant to go to war: a News of the World/ICM poll found 42 per cent of Britons opposed to war if there is no proof Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, with only 38 per cent supporting war in such circumstances. (15 Dec., p. 11) (If Iraq is proven to have acquired new weapons of mass destruction, however, the poll found a majority in favour of 'a military attack on Iraq' - 61 per cent against 25 per cent opposed.) British soldiers are reluctant to go to war, as they have made clear repeatedly (see Milan Rai, War Plan Iraq, 'GI Joe Says No' chapter). And even the British Government has got cold feet, as we shall see.

Returning to the issue of Britains participation in any US invasion of Iraq, "British contingency planning in Iraq has envisaged deploying a 'light' armoured division of up to 23,000 men. But the Governments delayin deploying troops to the Gulf means it is now virtuallyimpossible for such a force to fight a campaign before February": "An early war in January means Britain would only be able to contribute lighter forces such as the SAS, 16 Air Assault Brigade and the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade - numbering at most several thousand troops, as well as combat aircraft and a naval force." (Telegraph, 11 Dec., p. 14)

There will be a sizeable British naval contribution - the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal will lead a 2,600-person, six-vessel task force that includes a submarine capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles. This is much smaller than in 1991, when Britain sent 19 vessels to the Gulf. "Nevertheless, the dispatch of the Naval Task Group... contrasts with delays in sending the armoured division" which could take eight weeks to refit for desert warfare. (Sunday Telegraph, 15 Dec., p. 1) Troops will also require 'several weeks' to deploy and acclimatise - "Under current contingencies, troops earmarked for Iraq are likely to be allowed to spend Christmas at how with their families before beginning the move to the Gulf." (Times, 14 Dec., p. 1)

Says the Observer, "Although a large force of between 10,000 and 20,000 troops has not been ruled out, defence officials said a smaller force was more likely": "An elite force of 2,000 [Royal] Marines with air support and medical back-up is being planned as Britain's initial contribution to possible military action against Iraq, according to Ministry of Defence sources". A 'senior Whitehall figure' told the Observer, "If it were a smaller force, then it would only be a matter of weeks before they could be made ready. It is true that February is the most likely window for attack, [but] we must remember that we are still inthe planning stage, [and] all options are being considered." The small, 2,000-strong force is, according to this source, now the 'preferred option' by British military planners. (15 Dec., p. 2)

This contrasts with the reports in the Telegraph. It is likely that the Chiefs of Staff are pressing for an armoured division to be deployed, despite the delays and costs involved - and the increase in the number of British lives put at risk in the war - while lower-ranking planners are accommodating to the financial and political realities imposed by the Prime Minister and Chancellor. "Well- placed sources said the Government is now considering the option of sending a much smaller force than originally envisaged": A 'senior British source' said, "The United States needs us politically, not militarily. They can do this by themselves, with a few Brtiish troops for the cameras." (Telegraph, 11 Dec., p. 14)


TONY BLAIR'S COLD FEET

"A senior Whitehall source said the Prime Minister still hoped to avoid a war": "Tony Blair has fought hard to go down theUN route and wants it pursued as vigorously as possible. If there is any chance of avoiding a war he will make every effort to seize it." (Telegraph, 11 Dec., p. 14) War is 'politically difficult', and the Prime Minister is reluctant to pay the political price involved.

" The resumption of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq raised hope among some British officials that the process would stretch out over several months and that America would revert to a policy of containment rather than 'regime change' through military force." (Telegraph, 11 Dec., p. 14) "According to authoritative sources, the Prime Minister [delayed decisions on military deployments, because he] wanted to ensure that the UN had a free rein to exploit all diplomatic efforts and to give weapons inspectors a reasonable period to do their work." (Times, 14 Dec., p. 1)

Diplomatic Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Anton La Guardia: "The resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq puts in place another element of Britain's unspoken diplomatic strategy: the 'dual containment' of Saddam Hussein and Americas hawks". "Some senior British officials now talk of a prolonged inspection period that puts off the war indefinitely. 'Iraq is not a global threat. Its a regional threat', said one senior Whitehall source. 'The policy of containment, if done properly, is the most desirable. If Iraq can be contained, the risks of war will outweigh the benefits' ". Britain is "less concerned than Washington by the prospect of allowing Saddam to play for time while inspectors search". While US hawks see Resolution 1441, which imposes tough new conditions on Iraq, as a 'trigger' for war, "British officiails, who never liked the idea of regime change, hope it will be a 'safety catch' that will establish their preferred policy of containment." (Telegraph, 28 Nov., p. 18)


THE STEAMROLLER AND THE SECURITY COUNCIL

If there is 'proof' that Iraq has failed to make a full and complete weapons declaration, and if a confrontation can be engineered over inspections - probably over demands to fly Iraqi scientists out of the country (see Briefing 23), the US will return to the Security Council and demand a new Resolution which can be interpreted as authorising the use of force. Washington will make it clear that it intends to launch a war with or without a new resolution, hoping to bounce the Security Council into granting some form of authorisation to use force against Iraq.

"Washington believes the Iraqis will be seen either trying to conceal weapons material or will be caught out. The UN Security Council will be allowed a short time to debate, but the Pentagon will already have launched the final, brief countdown to war." (Sunday Telegraph, 17 Nov., p. 35)

A US source said, "the key word in the resolution is 'assess'. The UN has to assess whether it agrees Iraq is in material breach of its obligations, but it does not have the power to decide this issue. That gives the President the freedom he needs." (Observer, 8 Dec., pp. 20/21) True, Resolution 1441 does not explicitly say that only a new Resolution from the Security Council can authorise the use of force, but nothing in the Resolution actually authorises the use of force. No permission has been granted for a US/UK war on Iraq. (See Briefing 25 Material Breach for more on legality and the Resolutions.)

John Simpson of the BBC comments, "The possibility that the United Nations will not give Mr Bush its support for an attack on Iraq certainly exists, and the choice which would then lie before Tony Blair would be distinctly awkward: if he joins in the bombing without UN support, it will break the Labour Party apart." (Sunday Telegraph, 15 Dec., p. 14) The political costs threatened by the anti-war movement has created reluctance and delay at the highest levels of the British Government, and may have scaled down British participation in the planned war effort.



BOOK


War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Why We Shouldnt Launch Another War Against Iraq
by Milan Rai

'An excellent weapon for all those opposed to Bush's war
'. Tariq Ali
'Excellent'. Alice Mahon MP
'Required reading for anyone concerned about the risk of war'. Professor Paul Rogers, Bradford School of Peace Studies
'Timely and important'. Hilary Wainwright

£10 plus £1.80 p&p.
Please make cheques to ARROW Publications, and send with your address to 29 Gensing Rd, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex TN38 0HE.

For more analysis on the UK Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, view the Counter-Dossier on the Labour Against the War website.

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