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Labour dossier on gas threat is misleading

By Patrick Cockburn

THE INDEPENDENT 11/13/1998
 

Even by the standards of the First World War it is crude propaganda. A briefing dossier produced by Downing Street entitled Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction was issued to Labour MPs yesterday.

The paper is a curious mixture of understatement and exaggeration, whichever seems politically convenient. It states: "Chemical weapons casualties from the Iran-Iraq war number more than twenty thousand." Indeed they do.

In fact 50,000 Iranians are still being treated for mustard gas poisoning.

The understatement may stem from the fact that Britain broadly supported Iraq in its war against Iran. The Iraqis were schooled in the use of poison gas against the Kurds by the RAF in the 1920s and its deployment was recommended by T E Lawrence.

The dossier says Iraq is "capable of regenerating a CW [Chemical warfare] capability within months." This is true, but a small Japanese religious sect was also able to produce sarin gas, which was dispersed in the Tokyo metro system. Unmentioned in the document is the fact that Iraq had a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction during the Gulf War, which it did not use.

There is a frightening paragraph about Iraq's nuclear programme. It says Iraq could build a crude air-delivered nuclear device "in about five years". But it adds that this would only happen if Iraq were "to procure the necessary materials abroad". By this standard Samoa and Iceland also pose a nuclear threat.

The dossier is misleading and calculated to deceive because it does not explain that simpler poison gases, such as mustard, are not hard to make. Britain had few problems in imitating Germany in manufacturing it after it was first used in the Battle of Ypres in 1916.

The document also glosses over the point that the real difficulty in gas warfare is delivering the weapon to the target in a lethal form. References to "3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals" have littlemeaning. Every large army in the world has enough bullets to wipe out the world's population, but the real point is delivery.

The paper says Saddam will rebuild his weapons of mass destruction unless he is stopped, but Unscom has been unable to find them and air strikes would bring us no nearer to destroying them. This could only be done by the military occupation of Iraq, which the government is not proposing.



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