Thursday, 6 February 2003
Iraq Crisis: Statements.
I am happy the House is having this debate and I am anxious to hear what Members have to say. I will be happy to respond if they have particular queries they want addressed.
Yesterday the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, presented to the Security Council the evidence which President Bush had promised in his State of the Union Address at the end of January. A considerable volume of material was put before the international community and it would be premature to attempt to put forward an assessment of it this morning. We have been given a lot to consider. Equally, the weapons inspectors have been given information which will assist them in their work and Iraq has been put on notice of the pressing areas in which its co-operation with that work must be improved if it is to meet its obligations under international law.
The current crisis has been a long time in the making. The international community has given Iraq every possible opportunity to comply with its obligations. For more than ten years Iraq has been under sanctions intended to compel it to comply. When it became clear that these sanctions were causing undue hardship to the population of Iraq without having the desired effect on the regime, the system of sanctions was reformed so as to minimise the hardship on the civilian population of Iraq and focus the impact as closely as possible on Saddam Hussein's administration and its military support.
A key area where Iraq has failed to meet its obligations is that of weapons of mass destruction, in particular chemical and biological weapons. These weapons have been prohibited under international law for almost 80 years and Iraq's Government bears the distinction of being the only regime to have used chemical weapons since the prohibitions were put in place.
Conscious of Iraq's unique record in this matter and the terrible consequences which might follow if it continued to flout international law, the international community put special measures in place to ensure Iraq renounced these weapons once and for all. In the end, after many years of obstruction and partial co-operation, Iraq refused to co-operate with the UNSCOM inspectors, accusing them of bias and espionage. In response the UN Security Council created a new structure, UNMOVIC, and a new framework for its operation. Iraq was offered an opportunity to co-operate with an inspections process which had taken its grievances into account and offered a clear incentive for co-operation in the prospect of the suspension of sanctions. That was in 1998. It is only now, in 2003, after repeated threats of dire consequences that Iraq has finally begun to co-operate with UNMOVIC and permit the inspections with which it has been long obliged to co-operate.
Iraq has been given every opportunity to meet its obligations as a responsible member of the community of nations. The international community has tried every possible means of peaceful compulsion. Even at this late stage, in what we all recognise as a gathering crisis, it is still open to Iraq to resolve its problems by complying with its obligations.
Ireland very much wants to see a peaceful solution to this crisis. The use of military force must only be a last resort when all other means have been exhausted. Recognising this, Ireland, with our fellow members of the Security Council, worked hard to ensure the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441 on 8 November last. As the Government has repeatedly stated, the purpose of Resolution 1441 was both to place fresh pressure on Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations and to give a final opportunity for the matter to be resolved within the UN framework and without resort to military force. In the months before Resolution 1441 was adopted there was a widespread expectation that the United States would resort to the unilateral use of force. Today, by contrast, the Security Council is dealing with the issue and efforts are still under way to ensure a peaceful outcome.
The possible consequences of a war are dreadful to contemplate. Quite apart from the terrible suffering to which the ordinary people of Iraq would be exposed, there would be a serious risk of destabilising an already volatile region. The sense of victimisation felt by many in the Moslem world would be deepened, support for terrorism could grow and economies would suffer. The Government does not wish to see war take place. In every forum available to us we have spoken out and used our influence to urge the parties to find a peaceful solution. We will continue to pursue this approach.
It is a matter of deep regret for the Government that the people of Iraq have suffered such terrible hardship as a result of their Government's deliberate and persistent violation of successive UN Security Council resolutions aimed at preserving international peace and security. In every way open to it, Ireland has worked to ensure UN sanctions are administered in such a way as to ensure the humanitarian and long-term economic interests of the people of Iraq are secured, while ensuring the necessary controls are in place to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.
During its term on the Security Council Ireland was active in developing Resolution 1409 which was adopted in May 2002 and seeks to target sanctions against the Iraqi regime while minimising their impact on the civilian population. In particular, the provisions of Resolution 1409 were intended to ensure continuing availability of medical supplies for the most vulnerable sectors of the Iraqi population, including mothers and children.
In addition to the work which it has done at the United Nations, the Government has also sought to assist the vulnerable sectors of Iraq's civilian population. In 2002 Ireland allocated €150,000 in assistance. This money is being channelled through the Irish NGO, Trócaire, for an emergency programme targeting children and mothers in an emergency nutrition intervention. Ireland has provided €467,500 in bilateral humanitarian assistance in 2001-02.
I also emphasise that from the outset the sanctions regime did not seek to impose restrictions on the importation of humanitarian supplies. The actual implementation did, however, involve some very undesirable results which Ireland has worked to remove. With the adoption of the Oil for Food Programme in 1996 Iraq was given a workable mechanism by which it could trade unlimited quantities of oil in exchange for humanitarian goods for its civilian population. The UN Secretary General has confirmed on a number of occasions that the improved funding level for the Oil for Food Programme means that the Government of Iraq is in a position to address the nutritional and health needs of the Iraqi people, especially those of children.
The head of the Office of the Iraq Programme, Mr. Benon Sevan, has repeatedly advised the Security Council and, in November last, visiting members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, of the obstacles the Iraqi Government has put in the way of the effective operation of the Oil for Food Programme. By withholding effective co-operation from the Oil for Food Programme, through such means as politically motivated embargoes on oil sales and refusals to prioritise purchases under the programme, the Iraqi administration has contributed in large part to the shortfalls in the provision of essential supplies to the Iraqi people.
The fact remains, however, that the most effective way of easing the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people and avoiding any escalation in the current situation would be for the Iraqi Government to act immediately to meet its obligations under the UN charter by complying fully with the demands placed upon it by the Security Council. So far, Iraq has shown little sign that it truly intends to do so. It has failed to give a believable account of its production and acquisition of chemical and biological weapons material and, most importantly, a believable account of what has become of it. It is time that it did so. It is not the inspectors' job to search for evidence of Iraqi non-compliance. It is for the Iraqis to prove that they have, in fact, done what they claim to have done. It is for them to set the record straight once and for all.
I now wish to address the issue of use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft and personnel, in particular, US aircraft and personnel. A comprehensive account of the Government's position on this matter was provided for the other House by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, on 29 January. It remains the case that the Government is acting to ensure full compliance with all relevant Irish legislative provisions. In summary, these are the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, as amended in 1989 and section 317 of the Defence Act 1954.
The 1952 Air Navigation Order sets out specific stipulations by which foreign military aircraft are permitted to overfly and land in the State. It is in accordance with these stipulations and on the basis of advance clearance requests that US military aircraft have been granted permission by successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs to refuel at Shannon Airport over a period of decades. Arrangements concerning US overflights date from 1959 and were put in place by then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken. Reflecting security considerations which prevailed during the Cold War years and which have since been upheld by successive Governments, these arrangements require that such overflights be unarmed. Moreover, in the vast majority of cases, they relate to ordinary supplies and equipment. The US Embassy supplies post hoc statistics of the overflights on a monthly basis.
The 1973 Air Navigation Order, as amended, governs transiting military personnel on board civilian aircraft and falls under the responsibility of the Minister for Transport. In summary, any civilian aircraft seeking to overfly or land in the State requires the permission of the Minister for Transport to carry military weapons or munitions.
In order to ensure all of these provisions were being fully complied with, a full review of their day-to-day implementation was initiated under the direction of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. Improvements to the existing arrangements have been introduced with the full co-operation of the US authorities. It should be recognised that the Government has done more than all its predecessors put together to ensure the practices and arrangements built up over many years are operated in strict compliance with the precise legal requirements.
While not wishing to comment on any individual cases currently before the courts, it would be remiss of me not to reiterate the Government's serious concern at the recent violent incidents at Shannon Airport which I condemn unequivocally. A line must be drawn between peaceful protest and acts of trespass and the infliction of wanton damage to property. Violent acts in the name of pacifism are surely a contradiction in terms.
The recent breaches of security at Shannon Airport have been taken with the utmost seriousness by the US authorities. It now seems as though these irresponsible acts may have economic implications for the people of the Shannon region. US World Airlines has decided, as an initial reaction, to redirect some flights. The reality is that the practice of US aeroplanes landing at Shannon Airport, maintained for decades under successive Governments, has brought employment and income to the wider Shannon region and generated revenue for Aer Rianta.
Following the Government's review of security arrangements at Shannon Airport, appropriate security measures have been taken to make sure there is no repetition of such events. The use of Army personnel in support of the Garda Síochána is a measured response intended to ensure security. We want to maintain Shannon Airport as a safe, secure and reliable destination for all its users. I hope the carriers involved will now be assured that there will be no repeat of the recent security breaches.
These steps, together with the improvements made by the Government in full co-operation with the US authorities to ensure full compliance with relevant legal requirements, should also assure Irish citizens that our responsibilities are being taken seriously. In the meantime, the Government stands by its commitment to allow for further debate on all aspects of the unfolding situation in the event of military action being initiated against Iraq.
Yesterday's discussions have given us a great deal to think about. However, some things are as clear now as they have been from the outset. The Government has the highest confidence in the UN inspectors and they may be assured of our wholehearted support. We look forward to their return to the Security Council on 14 February to report on how Iraq has responded to the issues put forward in their report of 27 January. As they carry their work forward from today, we expect they will be put in a position to take full advantage of the new information which the United States has made available and hope all countries with such information will now come forward to assist in the tasks which lie ahead.
The international community, acting collectively, must continue to put pressure on Saddam Hussein to comply with his obligations. It must continue to be clear to him that no other options are open to him. This is the only way in which conflict can be averted. I place great stress on the need for collective action. The Government is committed to supporting the authority of the Security Council. Resolution 1441 states the Security Council will consider the question of whether Iraq is in material breach of its obligations and decide what further steps may be needed. We believe this is the course which will be followed. On behalf of the Government, I strongly urge Saddam Hussein to respond immediately and without further delay or evasion to the demands of the Security Council. There is still one last opportunity to ensure peace will be preserved.
I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this debate as it is important for Members of the Oireachtas to express a view on the issue about which there has been much discussion in the media as well as political discourse and activity outside the Oireachtas. It is, therefore, opportune for us to express our views also. Any semi-literate student of international politics would want to see a regime change in Iraq, thus providing the Iraqi people with a fresh start, free from the control of the dictator, Saddam Hussein. However, no one in Europe or the United States wants a war in Iraq. We all realise the suffering and loss of life that would result from such a conflict.
The best summary of a case against war was made by the former US President, Jimmy Carter, when he accepted the Nobel peace prize. He stated: "Sometimes war is the lesser of two evils, but war is still always evil." That is a good starting point. In our natural opposition to military conflict we can sometimes become so blind that we fail to see the wood for the trees. We are currently in danger of allowing ourselves to believe the conflict over Iraq is little more than a macho trip by President Bush or some sort of American bid to secure additional oil resources. This view is both wrong and dangerous. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Iraq, or between the elected President Bush – unsatisfactory as his electoral success may have been – and the mercilessly savage dictator, Saddam Hussein. We should not speak of both in the same breath.
We do not have to be on the side of war but if the choice is between an American view of the world or Saddam Hussein's view, then I know what side I am on. Ireland has major historical, political, economic and social links with the United States. We owe a huge historical debt of gratitude to the American people. We should use our friendly political links with the United States to good effect in this international dispute to try to ensure calm is maintained for as long as is practically possible.
We cannot ignore, however, what the United Nations has reported about Iraq. In 1999 the United Nations reported that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to kill several million people. It also found that Iraq had produced over 25,000 litres of anthrax and had over 40,000 litres of other biological toxins. I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and fear that, unchecked, he is exactly the type of tyrant who would be willing to use them.
Let us not forget that this is the man who has kept an evil grip on his own country for many years, a grip strengthened by fear and torture. Let us not ignore the stories from Iraqi refugees and defectors who have told us of the forced confessions obtained by torturing children while their parents watched helplessly. Let us not ignore what has been reported by international human rights groups. The Iraqi people have been tortured by this unelected dictator by means of electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping of acid on their skin, mutilation with electric drills, having their tongues cut out and being raped. We have all read about the 100% support for Saddam Hussein during the recent election; we know the value of that election – nil.
Saddam Hussein is the cause of the current conflict. He is the person who invaded Kuwait in 1990 and the person who has used poisonous gas on his people—
Senator Norris will have an opportunity to reply.
Saddam Hussein was not forced to use poisonous gas against his people. He has played ducks and drakes with the United Nations since 1991. I have no doubt that his regime is not fully co-operating with the current weapons inspection in Iraq.
Colin Powell presented an assessment to the Security Council yesterday. I am sure it will not satisfy everybody. Any reasonable student would have to concede many questions remain to be asked and answered. If it is a question of credibility, I would tend to take the words of Colin Powell rather than those of Saddam Hussein who has raised a smokescreen over his activities and plans since 1991.
We must concentrate, at this stage, on what the United Nations must do. It must be centre stage in resolving this dispute. It is paramount, not only to the current dispute but to future conflicts worldwide, that the United Nations does not lose its nerve or purpose. The demands made of the United Nations regarding Iraq have, clearly, not been met. I am in favour of giving the weapons inspectors more time to come up with the answers but the international community must send out a clear and strong message that Iraq must disarm and must do so now.
The relevance and value of the United Nations will be judged not by its ability to keep the United States from going it alone but by its ability to enforce on Saddam Hussein the checks and restrictions sought since 1991. It is important for us that the United Nations remains a powerful vehicle for progress and peace. It must not be white-washed by Saddam Hussein on a continual basis, as has happened since 1991.
We have experienced too much unwillingness in the 20th century on the part of the international community to deal with dictators and tyrants, resulting in war and strife on a savage scale. If the United Nations is to keep the peace and restore order it must operate from a position of unity and strength. The international community, which in the last century did not deal with tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others would be making a very dangerous start to the new millennium by failing to deal with the Iraqi dictator.
We must look at where we go from here. A second UN resolution must be sought if the Iraqi response to the weapons inspectorate is not sufficiently clear. It is important from the United Nations point of view that a second resolution is agreed. The European Union has a key role to play in this and it would be helpful if it had a united voice. The difference between European countries is one of emphasis rather than major policy and that was evidenced last week when a number of them signed a letter – we were not asked to do so – in that regard.
It is important that the Minister and Government forge a single voice at European level. We are a neutral country but we should not be neutered on this issue. We must hold a strong view on it. The genesis of our view must be to bring about what the United Nations and international community have tried to achieve since 1991, the removal from Saddam Hussein of the ability to hold and use weapons of mass destruction.
The people of Iraq need a new start. The middle east peace process needs fresh emphasis. We must recognise that the consequences of war in Iraq and the Middle East will be serious. We must send out a message from this House and the community that Saddam Hussein, the person at the core of the problem, must respond immediately to the UN demands to disarm.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to debate this important issue. I encourage people to speak their minds in this debate. There has, over the last month or so, been a reluctance on the part of people who hold different opinions to speak out because of a significant weight of media pressure and media opinion which takes a very anti-American position on this issue. That is unfortunate.
I speak as someone who is independent on this issue but who has reached a conclusion which I would like to see regarding international affairs. We have spent too much time talking about President George W. Bush, against whom there is an unfortunate prejudice.
I respect Senator Norris's right to speak and he should permit me to do so also. We must speak about tolerance and respect it in what we say. There is an unfortunate prejudice, not just in the area of policy, against the President of the United States. There is something near racial in the comments I have heard in recent times against the American people and their President.
The debate on Shannon has been a distraction from the core issue, resolution 1441 and those resolutions passed in 1991 of which Iraq has been in material breach for the past decade. That is the core issue, not our predisposition or otherwise towards the American administration or what takes place in Shannon. We must concentrate on that issue, as pointed out by Senator Bradford.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain two colossal blocs have tried to administer a form of security and control in the world. Dangerous weapons of mass destruction, some of them produced for the West – Senator Norris is right to point that out that appalling contradiction – may fall into the hands of terrorist organisations or rogue states. Rogue states do exist and Saddam Hussein's regime is one of them.
We must be conscious that everything has changed since the events of 11 September. The United Nations has a specific responsibility to ensure that such rogue states disarm quickly and to the full competence of the United Nations. That is why we must get back to resolution 1441 and the resolutions passed in 1991. That is the key issue in terms of bringing some form of stability to the region and international relations.
Disarmament is an issue which goes to the heart of whether global terrorist organisations can possess this weaponry and we must concern ourselves with it. Senator Bradford rightly put on the record of this House some of the characteristics of this regime. The Iraqis are a proud people. They are at the heart of civilisation. The historical architects there have made an astonishing contribution to world civilisations throughout the centuries. In many respects they are a democratic people. The Iraqis stood with the allies, unlike us, during the Second World War. There are many examples of the Iraqis as a very civilised people who want the opportunity for democracy, but as long as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein exists, such an opportunity will not be presented to them. I ask the United Nations, through the Government, to take action to ensure its own resolve on this issue is enforced.
I read yesterday resolution 1441 and I would encourage others to do so before speaking on the issue. It is clear, in terms of the commitment it puts on the United Nations Security Council, what we want to see happen before we are satisfied the Iraqi regime is competent to have such weapons. The key aspect is the final paragraph which states that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations. How long will this issue continue? Whether or not one believes the substantial evidence put before the Council yesterday by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, how long can we continue to allow this regime to be in possession of such weapons? Senator Bradford referred to anthrax and all kinds of other biological warfare material.
This is a security issue on which we must concentrate. I await with anticipation Dr. Blix's report to the Council on 15 February. The world must take action against these states, particularly against these regimes, where a continued diplomatic effort has been unsuccessful in depriving these regimes of the weaponry in question. I say that from an independent perspective, having recently studied the matter.
Like my colleagues on the other side of the House, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House and thank him for his elucidation of the current situation as he sees it. I will not dwell too much on yesterday because it has been fairly well aired by the Minister and by the contributions so far, other than to say there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that the Saddam Hussin regime is being economical with the truth. Like Senator Brian Hayes, I await the Blix report on 14 February.
I compliment the Minister of State on repeatedly restating the Government's position in regard to possible conflict in the region. He said in his speech that the possible consequences of a war are dreadful to contemplate, that Ireland very much wants to see a peaceful solution to the crisis, Iraq has so far shown little signs that it intends to co-operate and that it has failed to give a believable account of its production and acquisition of chemical and biological weapons material and, more importantly, a believable account of what has become of it.
The current crisis over Iraq is creating dissent across the world. There is a consensus, however, that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. He has been responsible for personally directing the execution of thousands of his citizens, using chemical warfare against the Kurdish minority, laying waste to the most fertile land in southern Iraq, persecuting religious minorities, developing biological weapons and, worst of all, manipulating the UN sanctions to deprive innocent babies and children of essential medical assistance. These are the facts of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The Iraqi people live in terror of this despot whose intelligence services are reported to employ more than 20,000 personnel. They supervise every aspect of life. The result of the recent election, when 100% of voters supported Saddam, sent a powerful message to the rest of the world of the embracing totalitarianism of Saddam's regime. The Iraqi people cannot get rid of this man on their own. The various peace groups and anti-war activists, who agree he should be removed, cannot get rid of this man on their own. If he refuses to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors, and the United Nations Security Council passes a second resolution finding Saddam Hussein in material breach of UN Resolution 1441, sadly military action will inevitably follow. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, spoke in the Dáil last week and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has spoken here today, restating that the Irish Government does not wish to see war take place. I believe that is the overwhelming view of the people of this country and many other concerned democracies across the world.
He does, however, go on to state that we as a country are determined to discharge our international obligations both in trying to avert conflict and in carrying out the decisions of the Security Council. Membership of the United Nations and the primacy of the Security Council have been a central plank of Irish foreign policy since 1946 when Ireland first applied for membership. It was the continuation of a foreign policy position, initiated at the League of Nations in the 1930s, when Ireland had a distinguished and proud record of participation in that now unfairly maligned body. Eamon de Valera was a former president of the League of Nations and the last secretary general of the League of Nations was another Irishman from Belfast, Seán Lester. Both men did more to establish Ireland's independent foreign policy than they have been given credit for even to this day. It is particularly relevant, in light of the criticism levelled at the Government over its interpretation of the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, on which the Minister went into some detail, that under this order the Minister for Foreign Affairs has full discretion in the granting of permission to foreign military aircraft to fly over land in this State. I believe he has used that discretion wisely.
There is a famous philosophy attributed to a British diplomat who stated that in foreign policy matters his country did not have friends but interests. I would not go so far as to describe Irish foreign policy in such stark terms, but we have a special relationship with the United States. It would be folly in the extreme, damaging to our economic interests and a source of hurt to the millions of Irish Americans if we were to refuse to help America in its time of need. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, leaders of industry and those operating services in the Shannon region have all spelt out the consequences of turning our backs on our American cousins. The United States is a good friend to Ireland.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising, the Irish poet, W.B Yeats, wrote, "All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born." That quote could have been written following 11 September 2001. The events of that awful day have entered the psyche of the American people from the President down. I suggest that we in Europe have not fully grasped the impact of 11 September on America and its people. It is a country at war. Every utterance of President Bush since then is full of the imagery of a wounded nation determined to exact a terrible revenge, hence the war against terrorism, the axis of evil speech and many other such speeches by the President since 11 September. The mindset of President Bush is best understood in his answer to a question at the Blair-Bush press conference in Washington last Friday. When asked why he wanted war, the President replied, "After September 11, the strategic vision of our country shifted dramatically. We now recognise that oceans no longer protect us, that we are vulnerable to attack and that the worst form of attack could come from somebody acquiring weapons of mass destruction and using them on the American people or on our friends in Great Britain." The President continued, "I realise that the world has changed and my most important obligation is to protect the American people from further harm, and I will do that."
As Senator Brian Hayes said, the President is much maligned. When one looks at his profile, one sees that he is a committed Christian. He says a prayer before the start of his Administration's Cabinet meetings and he holds Bible studies in the White House. He has denied funding to agencies that are directly or indirectly involved in abortion.
These facts do not indicate that he is intent on wreaking destruction and havoc on innocent women and children in Iraq.
Despite America's hurt and awesome military might, the Bush Administration needs to understand that unilateralism has had its day and that the rule of law among civilised states supersedes all other considerations. A set of rules must be established and accepted before military intervention can proceed. UN Resolution 1441 sets the framework for how to proceed. If the US Administration believes it has the right to launch a military invasion of a sovereign country without a second resolution, the view of America's friends and foes – that the US believes might is right and American interests take precedence over civilised world order – will be confirmed. I cannot, however, accept the view that inaction on Iraq will ultimately see the situation resolved or will lead to Saddam Hussein going into exile, thus paving the way for a new democratic regime.
When I hear calls for non-intervention at any cost, I remember what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda less than ten years ago. The course of Balkan history, with its record of intolerance among its constituent entities, influenced the decision of the West not to get involved in military action in the early 1990s. The collective failure of resolve on the part of western Europe, including Ireland, led to the evil of Slobodan Milosevic. Who remembers the long trail of peace brokers, temporary ceasefires, sanctions and international mediators?
The declaration of six safe areas for Bosnian Muslims, protected by lightly equipped UN troops, was followed by the events of 11 July 1995. The world watched in horror as the Bosnian Serb army, led by the war criminal Ratko Mladic, entered the safe haven of Srebrenica, disarmed the Dutch UN force and separated men and boys from women and small children before taking them away to their deaths. A small UN force was brushed aside a year earlier in the tragic country of Rwanda. The world turned its back as millions were slaughtered there.
We share a collective blame for the failure to provide a strong UN mandate that may have averted such genocide. During those terrible times, however, some people advocated inaction and objected to the use of force. In recent days, we saw the smiling face of Tony Benn as he sat across from Saddam Hussein and reported that the dictator did not have any weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Benn's claim that Saddam Hussein is telling the truth reminded me of the comments of another respected peace activist, Neville Chamberlain. When Mr. Chamberlain returned from Munich in 1938, he smiled and famously promised that there would be "peace in our time". Chamberlain believed Hitler, just as Benn believes Hussein. Such memories make resolute opposition to military intervention aimed at removing Saddam Hussein's regime difficult to accept for me and others with have faith in the United Nations.
On an international level, the UN is the only game in town. The role of the UN as a world moral police, and as an enforcer of civilised order when necessary, must be strongly supported by a small country like Ireland. Despite its size, this country has always punched above its weight internationally. Ireland received an overwhelming vote of confidence in 2000, during the election to the UN Security Council. I pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Cowen, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, Ambassador Ryan and our diplomatic staff at Iveagh House and the United Nations. During Ireland's two year term on the Security Council, we rewarded those who showed confidence in us by taking a firm stance in relation to human rights issues and by placing an emphasis on Africa and the developing world.
The recent election by a huge margin of an Irish woman to the International Criminal Court is another indication of Ireland's standing in the eyes of the world, particularly at UN level. I wish Ms Maureen Harding Clark every success in her difficult job. The principled and statesmanlike position taken by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the Government in insisting on adherence to the primacy of the UN as the final arbiter on this difficult issue is to be applauded and supported. It is in keeping with the majority view in this country and reflects an abhorrence of war as a means of resolving conflict.
The consequences of war in Iraq would be devastating not only for the long-suffering people of that country, but also for the Middle East as a whole. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, amplified this concern in his contribution. In this respect, I applaud the regional initiative on Iraq that has been taken in the Middle East. A joint declaration was signed by the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey in Istanbul on 23 January last. The Ministers expressed their common resolve to attain a peaceful solution to the problems in Iraq and called on the Administration in that country to make irreversible and sincere attempts to fulfil its responsibilities in relation to peace and stability in the region. They also called on Iraq to conform with UN Resolution 1441 by demonstrating a more active approach to providing an inventory of information and material concerning its weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The Ministers further called on Iraq to adopt a policy that will unambiguously inspire confidence among its neighbours and to take firm steps towards national reconciliation to preserve that country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Arab leaders share the Irish view that the Iraq issue is a multilateral one that affects the entire region. They reaffirmed that the actions to be taken by Iraq will represent a step towards the goal of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 687. I understand that individual Arab countries are in regular contact with Baghdad, conveying the seriousness of his position to Saddam Hussein. I hope these initiatives and those of other peace-minded countries will ultimately bear fruit and so help to avoid conflict.
The Minister of State has outlined that as a small country, all we can do is to continue to press for the supremacy of the Security Council and the United Nations. The UN is the bulwark against totalitarianism, unilateralism and any designs on war that the Administration of the world's only superpower may have. I am sure the Government will agree that the stabilising influence of our close friend and neighbour, Tony Blair, has been considerable in terms of ensuring that the elements of this debate are not lost in the war rooms of Washington. I am sure certain elements in the US Administration would have taken action by now, but for the restraining influence of Mr. Blair and countries like Ireland that are friends of the US and that wish to ensure that unilateral action is not taken.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt. I am glad that he is here because he is a decent man with firm liberal principles. It is dangerous to use the word "liberal" in the United States of America at present. It was not with surprise but with cynicism that I discovered that a motion I tabled last week under Standing Order 29 was not regarded as an urgent matter by the Seanad. Such rulings need to be questioned.
Many people who have spoken against the looming war in Iraq have been challenged to place their credentials on the record and perhaps I should do so before I give reasons for my opposition to it. Unlike the overwhelming majority of those who place themselves in the camp of the warmongers, I have opposed Saddam Hussein from the beginning. I believe that I have locus standi in relation to this issue. For example, I was the only Member of the House to oppose selling beef to the Iraqi army in the early 1990s. While Senators on the Government benches at the time told me that my position might have been a moral one, they asked whether Ireland could afford to adopt it. As it turned out, we did the immoral thing and when Saddam Hussein welshed on the deal, the taxpayer ended up with a bill of more than £100,000 to add to the immorality of the Government's actions.
I went to Baghdad two years ago as a member of an all-party delegation and had a stand-up row, face to face, on human rights issues with the former Foreign Minister, Dr. Tariq Aziz. I pointed out to him that his regime was not exactly virginal in terms of aggression but I also pointed out that when they fired their Scud missiles across the borders at Israel, the only good thing about it was that they could not shoot straight and most of the out-of-date and ineffective missiles landed in the sand. It is absolutely absurd to suggest, when ten years ago at the height of his military strength he could not even land a missile in Israel, that Saddam could attack New York. It is nonsense. I also smuggled into Baghdad over £2,000 worth of drugs for the children's hospital in Baghdad. Therefore, I have earned the right to speak with some sympathy for the Iraqi civilian population.
Saddam Hussein is a monster, something on which we can all agree. I know he tortured people. There is plenty of evidence that he is psychopathic. He murdered his two sons-in-law after guaranteeing them safe passage back from Switzerland but who put him there? It was the Anglo-American axis which inflicted him on the unfortunate Iraqi people in pursuit of their own foreign policy aims. It was also they who armed him with chemical and biological weapons which were used on the Kurds in 1988. Moreover, those of us with clear political memories will recall that after this – in full knowledge of Saddam's crimes against his own people – Mr. Donald Rumsfeld – the Dr. Strangelove of the present American Administration – actually went to Baghdad and embraced Saddam, knowing him to be a mass murderer.
Senators may recall the notorious incident of the "Supergun", which was actually capable of landing chemical, biological and nuclear warheads on Tel Aviv. It was built by a British firm, Matrix Churchill, with the connivance of the then British Government, as was subsequently proved in a series of law cases. In other words, the very forces posing today as advocates of human rights, the American and British Administrations, are clearly complicit in Saddam Hussein's crimes against his own people and his neighbours, although now, opportunistically and with revolting hypocrisy, it suits them to attempt to play the moral card.
Saddam was given the green light for the invasion of Kuwait. Let us be frank about Kuwait also: looking for its border, one finds a line starting at the coast, going straight up, turning at right angles, turning again at right angles and hitting the coast. It was drawn by a British cartographer in 1919, neatly enclosing massive oil reserves for the benefit of European and American oil interests. It is not a naturally occurring border. Kuwait was historically part of Iraq, about which there is no question.
Although their hands are already drenched in the innocent blood of Iraqi children, Messrs. Bush and Blair seem to want more. I say now from the Upper House of the Irish Parliament that if they really want to know whether Saddam Hussein still has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, let them look at the invoices of their own commercial industries in their own countries where they will find the records of what they sold to him. In this sentiment I am joined by a fellow Dubliner, a very remarkable man, Mr. Nelson Mandela, on whom we were honoured to confer citizenship of the city. That is what he has to say about it and he knows something about imprisonment, torture and international injustice.
Who is the real terrorist? Saddam Hussein's evil wings have been clipped to such an extent that he can no longer realistically be regarded as a threat. The record, however, of the Bush regime is interesting. It welshed on the International Criminal Court, the very court to which Senator Mooney correctly drew our attention and to which we were honoured to have a senior judge appointed from this country. The Bush Administration did not want any part of it, which suggests that it wants Americans to be allowed to commit war crimes with impunity – they will not subject themselves to its operations.
The Bush regime welshed on the Kyoto Protocol in order that American industry could continue to pollute the world. It welshed on the agreement negotiated under President Clinton that sought to contain the development of chemical and biological weapons in order that America could continue their manufacture. Anthrax is being manufactured at 70 sites in the United States. It indicated in recent weeks its readiness to use low-yield nuclear bombs in the attack on Iraq. Most certainly, this regime inspires terror.
Are the people of Baghdad not terrified as they wait, helpless and afraid, for the thing they know they cannot stop? They are terrified even to use municipal bomb shelters in the light of the fate of those unfortunate civilians incinerated in the Amiriyah shelter during the Gulf War. I found it astonishing to hear a self-styled expert on RTE radio the other day referring unchallenged to "some civilian casualties" in this incident. Four hundred people, including seven members of one entire family, were incinerated by one of the "bunker-buster" bombs that landed on the shelter.
Let us have no more Orwellian newspeak. If we are to commit filthy acts, let us acknowledge the filth of what we are doing. Leaks in recent days from US sources indicate that the first assault, even before the waves of hundreds of missiles directed at Baghdad, will consist of intense microwave radiation intended to interrupt military communications. In view of what it does to machinery, what will it do to the civilian population? How would the population of Dublin feel if they were about to be microwaved? We are aware of the intense public campaign against electricity pylons and mobile phone masts. Are we to regard the Iraqi people as less than human?
After yesterday's performance at the United Nations, it is clear that there is no smoking gun. The USA has, in fact, shown itself to be in contravention of both the letter and the spirit of Resolution 1441 because it did not provide evidence of mobile laboratories or the alleged infection and death of 12 technicians to the monitoring team under Dr. Blix. This requirement is contained clearly and specifically in Resolution 1441: "All Member States [are requested to] give full support to UNMOVIC and the IAEA . including by providing any information related to prohibited programmes or other aspects of their mandates.". The Americans have not done so. It would be useless to apologise afterwards to the estimated 500,000 civilian casualties who will be affected almost immediately, most of them children. Moreover, the fourth Geneva Convention, which is also part of international customary law and which, therefore, cannot be derogated from, requires the proper protection of children in circumstances of war. This is about to be flouted once more in a myriad of ways.
I am not anti-American. I love what decent Americans stand for and know there are many millions of decent Americans who are strongly opposed to the waging of this war. It is worth noting that the democratically elected representatives of more than 40 cities throughout the USA have already passed resolutions against it. Moreover, every major religious denomination in the USA – except for the Southern Baptists – has issued a proclamation questioning unilateral action by the USA, including the United Methodist Church, a religious affiliation claimed by both President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Let us look at America's foreign policy record of recent years. Let us recall the covert involvement of sinister American forces in the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Chile and the murder of its head of state, the late Dr. Allende. Let us remember the unprincipled use of drug money to destabilise the neighbouring state of Nicaragua. Let us remember the aggression against the people of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs incident. Let us call to mind the fact that in recent months we have once more had the spectacle of the CIA attempting the overthrow of a democratically elected South American Head of State, President Hugo Chavez, in the interests of American big business. To paraphrase a former American President – it is the oil, stupid. That is what this is about – not human rights.
Vietnam is now acknowledged generally as a huge mistake which caused great loss of both American and Vietnamese life. What use is that acknowledgement to the dead? In Kampuchea, up to 500,000 civilian citizens of a neutral country were done to death by illegal bombing raids and the architect of this, Henry Kissinger, has in recent days had the gall to pop up as an expert on Iraq.
With regard to American expertise on Iraq, I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of the Bush Administration's advisers. A charming gentleman, I asked him when he had last been to Baghdad. He acknowledged that he had never been in Iraq. I assumed he read the Iraqi newspapers, only to discover that he could neither read nor speak Arabic. That is a big help.
The other allegation used to justify war against the defenceless people of Iraq is that the regime is complicit with the al-Qaeda network. This, as anyone who knows anything about the Arab and Muslim world, is complete nonsense. However repulsive Saddam Hussein's regime is to us in the West, it is, at least, equally repulsive to Muslim fundamentalists precisely because of its secular nature.
It is imperative that this war is stopped. I acknowledge the courage of those in the peace camp at Shannon and, in particular, their apparent willingness to go to Baghdad to act as human witnesses by placing their own lives in jeopardy. If I thought that action such as that of Mary Kelly would help to stop the war or prevent the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians, I would drive to Shannon airport this minute with a hatchet on the back seat of my car. I remind the House of the judgment in the Trident Ploughshare case in Liverpool some years ago when a woman peace activist who disabled a Hawk fighter, that was being sold by the British to the Indonesians so they could paste the unfortunate East Timorese into the ground, was held by a jury to be worthy of acquittal because what she did, although technically illegal, was calculated to prevent an infinitely greater crime.
Mr. Bush has ignored the basic message of the arms inspectors – that they need more time. They have indicated that the Iraqi regime is now co-operating. Mr. Bush derides this as passive co-operation. What precisely does he expect? Is it realistic to expect a creature of the CIA such as Saddam Hussein willingly to incriminate himself? Would this not in itself be a violation of one of the anchors of the American Constitution, the 5th amendment, under which no American citizen can be required to incriminate himself or herself?
What of the aftermath of the war, when the UN has once more been subverted and bypassed? It is understood that depleted uranium is to be used, as it was in the Gulf War, with disastrous consequences for many ordinary Iraqi citizens. I have seen the effects of this in the unusual rates of cancer among women in the Basra region. I have also visited hospitals where scores of children were dying of leukaemia and simultaneously deprived of the necessary treatment which might give them a change of survival.
General Colin Powell, that apostle of human rights who, although black himself, helped to institutionalise discrimination against gay people in the American army, has indicated that the United States will "administer the Iraqi oil fields in the interests of the Iraqi people." I will believe that when I see it. One can bet one's last dollar that the oil fields will be administered in the interests of American business and the American economy. We will have a situation just like Afghanistan where, having installed a criminal regime to terrorise the people, Americans took against it and tried to squash the monster they themselves had created, but in fact merely left the unfortunate civilian population worst off except for a small area around Kabul. Do any of us here know about the human rights of the ordinary Afghans or of the continuing abuse of women in all centres outside Kabul? This is the kind of fate that awaits the Iraqi people and this is yet another among the many reasons why all decent people must oppose this war.