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Baghdad, Autumn 2002: City of Doom


BAGHDAD — When Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz described the box that Washington has meticulously constructed for Iraq, he put it this way: “Doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t.”

It would be difficult to argue the point with Aziz, and I didn’t try. Instead, during a Sept. 14 meeting here in Baghdad, I joined with others in a small American delegation who argued that the ominous dynamics of recent weeks might be reversable if — as a first step — Iraq agreed to allow unrestricted inspections.

Despite Iraq’s breakthrough decision that came two days later to do just that, I’ll be leaving Baghdad tonight with a scarcely mitigated sense of gloom. While the news from the Iraqi capital has been positive in recent days, the profuse signs of renewed acquiescence to war among top Democrats on Capitol Hill are all the more repulsive.

Boxed in, the Iraqi government opted to accept arms inspectors as its least bad choice. Gauging the odds of averting war, Iraq chose a long shot — appreciably better than no chance at all, but bringing its own risks. Several years ago, Washington used UNSCOM inspectors for espionage totally unrelated to the U.N. team’s authorized mission. This fall, new squads of inspectors poking around the country could furnish valuable data to the United States, heightening the effectiveness of a subsequent military attack.

Aziz, a very analytical man, hardly seemed eager to grasp at weapons inspections as a way to stave off attack. Instead, he told our delegation — which included Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and former Sen. James Abourezk — that a comprehensive “formula” would be needed for a long-term solution.

Presumably the formula would include a U.S. pledge of non-aggression and a lifting of sanctions. No such formula is in sight. Instead, the White House remains determined to inflict a horrendous war. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s “leadership” in the Senate, pursuing some sort of craven political calculus, is lining up to put vast quantities of blood on its hands.

I would like to take Tom Daschle to visit a 7-year-old girl, suffering from leukemia, who I saw in a Baghdad hospital a few days ago. He might spare a few senatorial moments to look at the I.V. connected to her wrist, the uncontrolled bleeding from her lips, the anguish in the dark eyes of her mother, seated on a bare mattress. Years of sanctions, championed by moralizers in Washington, have left Iraq without adequate chemotherapy drugs.

Now we’re hearing about a resolution that — unless people across the United States mobilize in opposition — will sail through the House and Senate to authorize a massive U.S. military attack on Iraq.

I can hear the raspy and prophetic voice of Sen. Wayne Morse, who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, roaring 38 years ago: “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right.”

After leaving Tariq Aziz’s office, our delegation met with Sa’doun Hammadi, speaker of Iraq’s National Assembly. “We are now a country facing the threat of war,” he said. “We have to prepare for that.”

Hammadi is an elderly man. While he’s now in frail physical health, his mind and articulation remain acute. If the U.S. invaders come, Hammadi said, “the Iraqi people will fight.” As those words settled in the air, the gaunt old man paused and then added: “I will fight.” And for a moment I thought that I could see the dimming of light in his eyes, like embers in a dying fire.

During the current heavy dance of death, the U.S. government leads with every major step. And the sky over Baghdad seems to foreshadow new horrors; unfathomable and avoidable.

With an all-out war on Iraq shadowing the near horizon, what are Americans to do if they want to prevent such carnage from happening in their names with their tax dollars? For one thing, they — we — can speak up. Now. The fact that the odds are dire should spur us into creative action, not anesthetize us into further passivity. “And henceforth,” Albert Camus wrote, “the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”


Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (, which sponsored the U.S. delegation to Baghdad in mid-September.

Original Author: Norman Solomon

Original Publication: Baltimore Sun