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What I Heard about Iraq
By Eliot Weinberger
In 1992, a year after the first Gulf War, I heard Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, say that the US had been wise not to invade Baghdad and get ‘bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq’. I heard him say: ‘The question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is: not that damned many.’
In February 2001, I heard Colin Powell say that Saddam Hussein ‘has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.’
That same month, I heard that a CIA report stated: ‘We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programmes.’
In July 2001, I heard Condoleezza Rice say: ‘We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.’
On 11 September 2001, six hours after the attacks, I heard that Donald Rumsfeld said that it might be an opportunity to ‘hit’ Iraq. I heard that he said: ‘Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.’
I heard that Condoleezza Rice asked: ‘How do you capitalise on these opportunities?’
I heard that on 17 September the president signed a document marked top secret that directed the Pentagon to begin planning for the invasion and that, some months later, he secretly and illegally diverted $700 million approved by Congress for operations in Afghanistan into preparing for the new battle front.
In February 2002, I heard that an unnamed ‘senior military commander’ said: ‘We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.’
I heard the president say that Iraq is ‘a threat of unique urgency’, and that there is ‘no doubt the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised’.
I heard the vice president say: ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.’
I heard the president tell Congress: ‘The danger to our country is grave. The danger to our country is growing. The regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.’
I heard him say: ‘The dangers we face will only worsen from month to month and from year to year. To ignore these threats is to encourage them. Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX nerve gas or, some day, a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally.’
I heard the president, in the State of the Union address, say that Iraq was hiding materials sufficient to produce 25,000 litres of anthrax, 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin, and 500 tons of sarin, mustard and nerve gas.
I heard the president say that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium – later specified as ‘yellowcake’ uranium oxide from Niger – and thousands of aluminium tubes ‘suitable for nuclear weapons production’.
I heard the vice president say: ‘We know that he’s been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.’
I heard the president say: ‘Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.’
I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent. I would not be so certain.’
I heard the president say: ‘America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.’
I heard Condoleezza Rice say: ‘We don’t want the “smoking gun