Opinion: Fear was the key in Iraq (and Norwich)

The Washington Post reports that Saddam Hussein’s interrogations by the FBI have been released, under US Freedom of Information laws, to the ‘National Security Archive’, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University. The NSA’s website has
“Twenty Interviews and Five Conversations with “High Value Detainee # 1”, should anyone still be interested.

Fortunately, the Post has done the hard work for us. There is of course the usual, now unsurprising, confirmation that Saddam had no link to, nor even any sympathy with, Al Qaeda:

Piro raised bin Laden in his last conversation with Hussein, on June 28, 2004, but the information he yielded conflicted with the Bush administration’s many efforts to link Iraq with the terrorist group. Hussein replied that throughout history there had been conflicts between believers of Islam and political leaders. He said that “he was a believer in God but was not a zealot . . . that religion and government should not mix.” Hussein said that he had never met bin Laden and that the two of them “did not have the same belief or vision.”

“When Piro noted that there were reasons why Hussein and al-Qaeda should have cooperated — they had the same enemies in the United States and Saudi Arabia — Hussein replied that the United States was not Iraq’s enemy, and that he simply opposed its policies.”

But the key point of interest – for Western observers, at least – is probably the unaccustomed regional perspective. The erstwhile Iraqi dictator was afraid not so much of the US disapproval but of another war with Iran. As the Post reports:

Hussein’s fear of Iran, which he said he considered a greater threat than the United States, featured prominently in the discussion about weapons of mass destruction. Iran and Iraq had fought a grinding eight-year war in the 1980s, and Hussein said he was convinced that Iran was trying to annex southern Iraq — which is largely Shiite. “Hussein viewed the other countries in the Middle East as weak and could not defend themselves or Iraq from an attack from Iran,” Piro [the interrogator] recounted in his summary of a June 11, 2004, conversation.

“The threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of UN inspectors,” Piro wrote. “Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq.”

So there you have it. Fear of others is the key to all human evil.

Incidentally, the conduct of the debate about the Iraq war in Norwich may be of interest to voters and campaigners in the Norwich North by-election. The current Green Party candidate in the by election, Rupert Read, bizarrely stripped naked and put a brown paper bag over his head as a protest.

He also disrupted a 2004 visit to Norwich’s market place – newly, but controversially, refubished by the then Lib Dem administration – from then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy by dancing excitedly around him, demanding to know why Kennedy was in favour (sic) of the war in Iraq – and drawing allegations of assault from some aggrieved Lib Dems who got bumped in the ensuing melee. Current Lib Dem by-election candidate, April Pond, at that time a senior Norwich city councillor – and who had played a prominent role in the market refurb – was one of the most livid. Eventually no court case ensued, the various parties presumably concluding that it was case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.

But the point to remember is that, in the tortuously philosophical mind of Dr Read, support for troops sent by a democratically elected Parliament to fight in a war is to be equated with support for the war itself, which Lib Dem MPs (lest we ever forget, Gawd Bless ‘Em) voted solidly against.

And he accuses us of ‘fibbing’

* Terry Gilbert is a former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate, and has been a Lib Dem member since 1983.

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  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jul '09 - 9:20pm

    “He also disrupted a 2004 visit to Norwich’s market place – newly, but controversially, refubished by the then Lib Dem administration – from then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy by dancing excitedly around him, demanding to know why Kennedy was in favour (sic) of the war in Iraq …”

    Although of course Read says he asked Kennedy “why he hadn’t consistently opposed the war on Iraq”, which is rather different.

  • Liberal Neil 2nd Jul '09 - 9:27pm

    Although Kennedy did consistently oppose the war on Iraq, which weakens Read’s point somewhat.

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jul '09 - 9:47pm

    Liberal Neil

    That would have been my first reaction too.

    But you may be interested to read some of the discussion about that on the web page I linked to – including the comments of James Graham, not known as a fervent supporter of Rupert Read…

  • It’s amiss to hint, even in dark jest, that “fear of others” accounts in any way for the profound evil of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jul '09 - 10:09pm

    And even after the other stuff that’s been levelled at Read, I was surprised to see that he had “bizarrely stripped naked and put a brown paper bag over his head” as a protest.

    I suppose it was inevitable that this story would turn out to have been “improved” somewhat. After a little Googling I found a report from the Norwich Evening News, dated 22 May 2004, according to which Read “removed most of his clothes and put a hood over his head to reflect the abuse of prisoners in Iraq”.

    Though not something I’d have done myself, the action does become a bit more comprehensible in the context of the storm of publicity that had broken the previous month, over the abuse of prisoners at Abu Graib, who were stripped, hooded and worse.

  • Liberal Neil 2nd Jul '09 - 10:36pm

    Herbert – I am familiar with James’ views on the matter – in brief he would have preffered Kennedy to have been luder and clearer about our opposition. But his posts on that thread and elsewhere make it clear that Kennedy (and the Lib Dems) were consistently against the war.

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jul '09 - 11:27pm

    Liberal Neil

    “But his [James Graham’s] posts on that thread and elsewhere make it clear that Kennedy (and the Lib Dems) were consistently against the war.”

    Well, perhaps he’ll speak for himself, but I think that is over-stating it. At the least he accuses the party establishment of not being at all clear about their opposition to the war – and even at one point of “[seeming] to suggest that our opposition to the war would end the moment a British troop set foot on Iraqi soil”.

    On the other hand, I see Rupert Read on that discussion thread does accuse the Lib Dems of “backing the war”. I don’t think that is at all fair (though of course his excuse is the awkward line pursued by the party of “supporting the troops” but not “supporting the war”).

    One thing I do think, though, is that if the other parties and the local press devote as much “air time” to Rupert Read as the Lib Dems are doing at the moment, it will give a big boost to the Green campaign. Probably Oscar Wilde’s dictum about “being talked about” is even more valid in 21st-century by election campaigns than it was in Victorian society.

  • Daniel Bowen 3rd Jul '09 - 12:56am

    Herbert Brown is Rupert Read and I claim my £5. Sounds like a fruitcake to me.

  • Herbert Brown 3rd Jul '09 - 1:09am


    I suppose it was only a matter of time before mindless personal abuse made its appearance.

    Why do people hold politicians in such low regard, I wonder?

  • Why do we need to believe that troops are heroes? Why should everyone in society be compelled to defend troops, even when they have been found accused of abusing their delicate job role? After all, it is a job, it’s what they do, they get paid for it, and so thus is a choice. My understanding of a hero is thus, “hero

    • noun (pl. heroes) 1 a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage or outstanding achievements. 2 the chief male character in a book, play, or film. 3 (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities.”

    The first part can be applied to nearly anyone who believes they have courage or achieved something outstanding. I gained a 2:1 in my degree by completing a dissertation in five weeks alone (15,000 words), I consider that pretty outstanding, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to call myself a hero.

    I think what angered many of those anti-war activists was the Lib Dems quick shift to a ‘wartime consensus’ in which they failed to scrutinise the troops and the military, after all, they’re the ones on the ground. For myself, that is why I left the party back in 2004, I felt the Lib Dems didn’t pull enough wait, nor galvanise the support they would have had from a strong anti-war movement, and thus appeared inconsistent on the issue after a year.

  • Liberal Neil 3rd Jul '09 - 9:21am

    Herbert – “One thing I do think, though, is that if the other parties and the local press devote as much “air time” to Rupert Read as the Lib Dems are doing at the moment, it will give a big boost to the Green campaign” – that I agree with.

    Luke – I happen to agree with you that the party should and could have been louder and stronger in its opposition to the war.

    However I still think the Lib Dem leadership were right to make a distinction between criticising the decision, by politicians, to go to war, and criticisng the individual troops, who have been sent to war by others.

    I don’t think the leadership has said that all troops are ‘heroes’. They are, however, people who accept a significant risk to themselves in the service of their country, and that, in my view, deserves due credit.

    It is not the case that the Lib Dems failed to scrutinise the way the war was waged, and the decisions that were taken. far from it, they have been vocal in scrutinising all aspects of the war.

  • Liberal Neil, thank you for your decent response. I do appreciate it.

    I fear that by going along with a ‘war consensus’, we are endanger of elevating soldiers and troops to a position that is above the law. One of things I do fear is that justice will not be bought against soldiers who have been found of abusing civilians in Iraq, or indeed any prisoner of war. We are quite happy to condemn US abuses at Guantanamo Bay, but when it comes to ‘our own boys’, we scourn any criticism or scrutiny, and blame it upon the lack of support from the Government. This is a ‘war consensus’ and one that is prevelant at the moment.

    I know my opinion may be seen on the ‘fringes’, but I would stress as someone who has ascertained a degree in War Studies, that we cannot treat soldiers as being defenders of the great and the good. In most towns housing barracks, many locals complain about racous and violent behaviour from squaddies, however this rarely gets reported. I think we all should remember that training in violence, however disciplined that training might be, would occassionally create bouts of violent temper in volatile or pressured environments, and this would lead to abuses in both their job capacity, and also in the capacity as a civilian.

    I would really quite like to see the Liberal Democrat leadership raise the issue of Armed Forces Day in the House of Commons, and to pose bolder questions to the Government and to the Conservatives on their ‘beer goggled’ opinion of the ordinary soldier.

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