Sunday, July 02, 2006

The truth about Al Muthana

Some time ago, in February 2005 actually, I wrote that I didn't think the world was being told the entire whole truth about what the co-alition "of the willing" were doing in Al Muthana. The claim, at the time, made through mainstream media outlets in highly questionable press releases, was that non-combatant Japanese forces, supported by Australian troops, were conducting civilian engineering projects in the province.

At the time, this seemed highly curious to me. Because Al Muthana is a rural area. Why the big deal about engineering projects in the restive province of Al Muthana, which at that time hadn't seen much of the bombing and things that were going on in other areas. Surely Baghdad would have been the engineering priority, with it's infrequent electricity supply, near non-existent telecommunications network, and water purification concerns. After all, there are a lot of people in Baghdad and we hear frequently how disgruntled it's bloggers are by lack of power and intermittent net connection.

Back then, a bit of a research told me everything I needed to know, but not quite everything I wanted to know. I found out relatively easily that Al Muthana was the site of one of Saddam's biggest weapons production plants. A factory that was built in 1975 and had been active through out the eighties, was severely bombed during the 1991 gulf war** and had produced nothing through out the nineties but a health hazard. No one need much of an imagination to picture the environmental mess a former weapons factory oozing chemicals would be after an allied bombing.

What were, I wondered, non-combatant Japanese troops assisted by Australian troops, up to. What were they up to in the place where Saddam had built his weapons.

I dropped the hints. But no-one in the mainstream seemed to pick it up. Paul McGeough ran a piece about there being oil in the south, and this he concluded might be a plausible explanation. I was not satisfied. True, there is oil in the south and every man and his grain merchant is interested in it. But Iraq's southern oil fields are to the east, and Al Muthana is south-south. The supergiant oil fields Paul talked about are in Basrah and in Maysan - not Al Muthana. I know, I think some of us went off on a tangent at the time. Perhaps we were imagining roads being built to truck oil from Basrah through Al Muthana in a detour around Kuwait to get to Saudi Arabia (we would not be without reason, in entertaining these ideas).

What I mean, is, the oil explanation didn't totally convince me, in this particular case. There must be some other reason and, I was fairly sure, it had something to do with a defunct and toxic weapons site. No, I did not think Japanese troops would be tidying up the place and doing an environmental clean-up. A cursory one had already been done, in 1992-94 according to some sources. Besides, had an environmental cleanup been the reason, it would have been all through our headlines and Bush, Blair, Koizumi and especially John Howard would have been hypocritically pillocking on about how green they were being and how green Saddam was not.

Something fishy was certainly going on.

But I didn't have enough information at the time to support my suspicions, I couldn't get into Iraq to check it out myself and all the independent journo's in Iraq were hanging about Baghdad avoiding car bombs and looking for "human interest" stories. As far as I could make out, there were no embeds with the Al Muthana coalition military team. At least, there are no mainstream news reports about Al Muthana from embedded reporters. Hmm.

So what has happened now is, I have just coincidentally read Rod Barton's book about his role in UN weapon's inspecting and am observing that Australian mainstream media is reporting that Australian forces are moving out of Al Muthana, and that the Japanese "engineering" non-combatant forces are moving out too (which is why Australian military support is no longer needed there).

I am also reading that a batch of "old" chemical weapons have been recently uncovered. Which the blogosphere loves of course - all the rightwingers can weakly rant "Saddam had WMD" and all the Scott Ritter fans can happily proclaim "they were OLD weapons and UN-USEABLE".

Sooo. Anyway. When I read Rod Barton's book, I got the impression that while UN weapons inspectors had thoroughly inspected quite a lot and gotten to basically riffle through all the files they could find, and had concluded that Saddam's weapons program was basically over and that there was no way he or anyone else could restart it as long as sanctions were imposed while weapons inpectors were present, I got the impression that there was more that intelligence wanted to know. (Intelligence, always wants to know everything). There was more intelligence wanted to know, specifically, there was more intelligence wanted to dig up. That is, there was more buried intelligence. Pre-war inspections fairly much came to an end in 1998, two short years after the oil for food program began, so no further digging could be done, None of much consequence anyway.

In 2005, the occupation provided the perfect cover to go and do the forensic excavations that could not of been done before. And now those excavations seem to be over, in Al Muthana anyway. Australian troops were deployed from about May 2005 for two rotations of six months (one year) in Al Muthana. And, almost as timetabled, they are now leaving the area. While the rest of Iraq is still full of troops.

Evidence is suggesting to me that Australian and Japanese troops were stationed in Muthana to check out an old inoperable weapons facility. And seeing as they are the only troops withdrawing from any area in Iraq at all, I would say there is nothing more to be found there.

What did they find in Al Muthana

The most, it seems, anyone could find was a bunch of old casings and some degraded chemicals. The most anyone could find, is exactly what a lot of people have been saying all along: Saddam had no WMD . The weapons that he did have, at one point, long ago, were fairly poor and supplemented by a lot of bluffing and pretending he had more cards in his pack then there actually were.

What they wanted to hear

What has come out of the war in Iraq is not what everyone who wanted war, wanted to know. Or hear.

A lot of Americans probably wanted to hear about liberation. Some Iraqis probably wanted to hear Saddam choking while he swung from a pole. Oil monopolies, would have liked the sound of oil gushing.

Intelligence wanted to hear (it does seem they rely on hear-say) about Iraq's history; weapons, dissidents, politics, how Iraq's military history connected with other histories. It seems, the war has been a fairly fruitless exercise for intelligence operatives. All there is to know was always fairly plain; the war was went to on a lie.

Nobody found any WMDs. Instead, what has been revealed by the war is a global network of extraordinary renditions, abduction and torture. A network in which western governments and their intelligence operatives collaborated with eastern governments and their mukharabat.

Is the war over it yet

Some press releases are being bandied about at the moment, plugging the withdrawal from Muthana as a "handover" to Iraqi forces. As I have mentioned before, Al Muthana is a low population area. There was no fighting there from the start. The area was declared, 16 months ago, by Howard, before his troops even got there, to be a "benign" area. The idea that a formerly benign area is now suddenly restive enough for a "handover" is ridiculous.

Anyway. What this also means is that while some sectors may take an Australian military exit from Muthana as a signal that Australia is backing out and the war might be over soon, no such thing, unfortunately, is really happening. Britain is certainly saying that British troops leaving Al Muthana may be redeployed in other areas rather then returning home.

Basically, Australian troops have now been freed up by some 450 (the 450 that were in Al Muthana) and those "spare" troops may shift to more populated areas now. There were, at the time those 450 troops were stationed in Al Muthana , 900 other known troops operating in Iraq. And there is no word, of any of them returning.

**Footnote. I won't call it gulf war one as others do in jest, because there are too many gulf wars that preceed 1991 to turn a blind eye on. Just because 1991's gulf war was the first our generation experienced, does not mean it was the first other generations had to endure.

Related links

My first article about it.

Navigate to here to read an archived copy of the February 2005 "rebuild" article that I referred to as dubious. In it, Howard says troops are to stay for about a year and are to "to assist Japanese forces engaged in the rebuilding process, such as constructing new roads and schools." Note he doesn't say they will actually be building roads and schools, only engaged in some sort of a building process "such as roads and schools". Which gives him the normal wriggle room he requires when he is telling a whopper. Anyway. One year sounds like a pretty good length of time to do some excavations and things, on an old weapons facility site.

Maps

Click here to see a map of Iraq and it's provinces.
Click here to see a map of Iraq and it's oil fields.
Click here, for a map of Iraq airports.

Other interesting facts: a new defense airbase was opened March 07, 2006 next to Iraq's international airport, it has been named "Al Muthana". It is miles away from the province Al Muthana. Two military "building" projects that were going on at the same time with the same name. HMM.

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