Iraq’s agreement to unconditional weapons inspections is a significant step forward, but the Bush administration’s negative reaction shows it wants to start a war regardless, former senator James Abourezk (D-S.D.) said Sept. 17.

“It’s obvious the Bush administration can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Abourezk told the World, speaking by telephone from Damascus en route home from Iraq, where he met with top Iraqi officials. The administration doesn’t want weapons inspections and is pursuing a war for its own reasons, including a desire to get public attention off Enron and its failure to apprehend Osama bin Laden, and an interest in controlling the region’s oil, Abourezk said. “Bush’s poll ratings have been down low enough that he needs a war,” he commented.

Abourezk, who was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War when he served in the U.S. Senate in the 1970s, said he hopes Democrats in Congress have “the guts” to oppose the administration’s drive to war. “In my view, any member of Congress who votes for war unprovoked will have a lot of explaining to do when the body bags start coming home,” he told the World.

Abourezk was in Iraq as part of a U.S. delegation including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) executive director Norman Solomon and James Jennings, president of Conscience International, an Atlanta-based humanitarian group.

In a phone interview from Baghdad, Solomon said he considered the Iraqi agreement to accept inspections “very significant.” An important task now for progressive Americans is to prevent the U.S. government from destroying the agreement and launching a large-scale military attack, he told the World.

“The worst nightmare for George W. Bush” is for weapons inspections to go forward unimpeded, Solomon said. The administration’s next goal, he warned, is to destroy the inspections in order to pursue its real objectives related to asserting geopolitical power in the area, controlling access to oil, projecting the military might of the U.S. around the world, even though it would mean killing many innocent people.

He urged redoubled efforts to restrain the Pentagon and to get sanctions against Iraq lifted. The sanctions, which have been in place since 1990, have wrecked Iraq’s economy and caused a humanitarian crisis for the Iraqi people.

Solomon emphasized that there is no current evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and it is important to ensure that there is no repetition of the use of weapons inspectors as spies for the U.S., which destroyed the inspection program in the 1990s.

Rahall said in Baghdad Sept. 15, the delegation’s meetings with senior Iraqi officials, including the deputy prime minister and a speaker of the national assembly, left him with the impression that the Iraqi government was “very interested” in allowing inspectors to return unconditionally, “but when Bush talks of regime change, they [the Iraqis] don’t want to hear my message. They say, ‘What’s the point of letting the inspectors in?’ They feel that whatever they do, they’re going to get hit.”

“I feel the Iraqis want to give peace a chance, and I’m convinced the majority of Americans want the same,” Rahall told The Washington Post.

He said he told the Iraqi leadership that “in order to give this opening for peace a chance, there has to be total, unconditional and unfettered access” for U.N. inspectors.

Rahall, who supported the 1991 Gulf War, said he opposes the current Bush administration’s war policy. “It’s a continuation of a vendetta of 12 years ago,” he said. “It appears strange to me that a year ago this was not an imminent threat to the United States, but now, six weeks before an election, it is.”

In an address to the Iraqi National Assembly Sept. 15, Rahall said, “ I am concerned about the effects that a new war would have on both our countries. For that reason I come as an advocate of peace through dialogue.”

Saying the U.S. delegation was in Iraq to “help open doors,” Rahall told Iraq’s parliament it is “far past time that American and Iraqi officials talk to each other without threats.”

War on Iraq would be greatly damaging, he said. It would be “a war against public health, and also against the environment,” he said.

“Iraq is the cradle of civilization. We do not wish to see civilization strangled in its cradle,” Rahall told the assembly.

Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Sept. 17, “The issue does not end with Iraq’s acceptance of the return of the inspectors. The aim of the American policies is the oil in the Gulf.”

Aziz, who met with the U.S. delegation for about two hours, suggested that, if weapons inspectors return to Iraq, countries other than the U.S., such as Canada and South Africa, be asked to serve as independent arbiters of any disputes that might arise between Iraq and the U.N. Security Council, which oversees the inspectors, Rahall said.

The IPA is seeking to get other members of Congress to travel to Iraq to continue the dialogue and movement toward peace.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.