EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, MR ROBIN COOK, LONDON, SATURDAY, 19 DECEMBER 1998
I have called this press conference because I want to spell out to the people of Britain why our forces are bravely risking their lives destroying Saddam's threat to humanity. Our objective is to achieve by military action the disarmament that Saddam will not allow the UN inspectors to carry out on the ground. In particular, we have struck at his capacity to produce missiles or to deploy aircraft without pilots but with chemical and biological weapons. We are aiming to set back by years his capacity to threaten his neighbours with those weapons of mass terror.
But to understand why it is so important that we stop Saddam possessing weapons of mass terror, it is necessary to understand Saddam's proven history of the systematic use of terror for his own ends. I want to remind the British people of what kind of man it is that our bomber pilots are flying against and what kind of regime it is that Britain is fighting. It is too easy for the public and for ourselves having seen so many photographs of Saddam to become familiar and by becoming familiar with him to lose sight of the extraordinary evil that he represents. In the case of Saddam, familiarity must not be allowed to breed indifference.
That is why today I am releasing a check-list of the many crimes which Saddam has committed. The source of many of those crimes listed here come from the defectors, from Saddam's own prisons and from his own terror state, some others come to us through our own secret intelligence service through sources that we cannot compromise but the picture from them details a systematic use of terror throughout his state and against his enemies. Let me try and pick up some of the persistent features of his regime which these crimes illustrate.
First, the persistent use of torture to terrorise anyone who had the courage to speak up against him. A speciality of his torture is the beating of the soles of the feet, indeed last year his son Udai ordered this punishment for the entire Iraqi football team after they lost a match to qualify for the World Cup. A repeated horror story from those who escaped from Saddam's jails is the exposure of prisoners to ravenous dogs. A second repeated feature of his regime has been the routine use of the death penalty to deter opposition.
It is an article of the Ba’ath Party that all members accept that it is an offence punishable by death ever to transfer their support to another political perspective. All staff in the programmes of the weapons of mass destruction have to sign their acceptance that they will incur the death penalty if they leave the programme without authority. There are many instances of mass executions under Saddam's regime. In November of last year, 568 people were executed in one prison. A week later in the same month, 80 officers from Saddam's own Iraqi army were executed. In his period in power, Saddam has executed also 40 of his own relatives and where he cannot obtain his enemies for execution in his own country, Saddam has shown that his reach can stretch beyond Iraq to murder his opponents in foreign lands. One of his opponents was discovered murdered in Stockholm in two separate suitcases.
Nor does he respect in any way those who are religious leaders in his own land. A number of Shiite scholars and leaders have been assassinated solely for representing an alternative to Saddam's regime. In June of this year, a Grand Ayatollah was assassinated in a car and all four others in the car with him were killed. The Iraqi authorities had him buried with no funeral rites and with no investigation of the murder.
There are other features of his regime. For instance, there is the use of genocide against minorities within Iraq. The Amphal (phon) campaign against the Kurds in Northern Iraq killed somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 Kurds. The order given for the campaign by one of Saddam's close relatives provides an order for free and unrestricted fire and for the execution of all males between 15 and 70 years of age. Over 1200 villages were destroyed. It was during that campaign that Saddam employed chemical and biological weapons against the village of Alaja (phon) where he killed some 5,000 people, overwhelmingly women and children, because the men were working in the fields.
He has also practised genocide against the marsh Arabs of the south where he has drained the marshes and forced 150,000 marsh Arabs forcibly to relocate. As well as genocide against minorities in his own country, Saddam has of course practised repeated aggression against his own neighbours. Saddam had only been in power for 12 years before sanctions were placed upon him and his regime. Of those 12 years in power without sanctions, his country was at war for 9 of them. If there had been no sanctions for the past 8 years, Saddam would have been at war again and Saddam knows only too well the enmity which he has earned across the length and breadth of Iraq through his brutality.
That is why he maintains an extravagant number of military forces which are not there to protect the Iraqi people but are there to protect him from the Iraqi people. There are 75,000 armed personnel in the Republican Guard forces command. It is the elite of the Iraqi army, is better trained and better armed than the rest of the Iraqi army but in addition to the Republican Guard there is the Special Republican Guard which is there to protect Saddam and Saddam alone - 8,000 men drawn overwhelmingly from Takriti (phon) where Saddam himself originated and in case that is not sufficient to safeguard him against any uprising or internal rebellion, Saddam also maintains a special security organisation of 2,000 men from his own tribe, the Abunaza (phon), whose sole function is to make sure that the Special Republican Guard, the Republican Guard and the other forces of the army stay loyal to Saddam and that any hint of dissent is snuffed out.
He runs a terror state. As and when Saddam goes and when evidence of that terror state becomes more widely known and will be publicised by those who replace him, the world will ask why it was that they were in any doubt about the nature of the regime or why there was any hesitation about standing up to it.
So long as Saddam remains in power, so long we will remain vigilant to make sure he is denied the capacity to threaten his neighbours or humanity beyond his region. We will be pursuing a strategy to contain that threat first of all to make sure that we maintain a credible threat against any attempt by Saddam to reassemble the military war machine or the weapons of mass destruction which have been destroyed during this military campaign. Secondly, we will maintain vigilant and effective monitoring to make sure we know exactly what Saddam is doing in military preparations. Thirdly, we will seek to isolate Saddam and his regime whilst wherever possible giving encouragement, support, contact and dialogue to those who oppose his regime.
As soon as the military campaign has ended, we will be launching a diplomatic campaign around that strategy of containment. It will have two clear aims: the first is to build a consensus to stop Saddam which is as broad as possible in the international community; and the second is to make sure that Saddam remains as isolated as possible both in the world community and also within Iraq.
Are British planes in action at the moment - we have heard of activity in Kuwait? Secondly, by cataloguing the evil and why it must be fought are you preparing the British public for a lengthy campaign against Iraq?
First of all, on the question of whether our planes are in action out there, I will defer to the Ministry of Defence on the release as is appropriate of operational details. Secondly, we have made it perfectly clear that the military action will continue until we have secured our objectives, those objectives clearly established as degrading the military capacity of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. We will continue until that objective is achieved. It is of course something that Saddam desperately wants to know, which is when will it end, and I am not going to tell him.
I notice in your opening statement an absence of sensitivity for Ramadan which is in the first day now. Is the purpose of the hand-outs and the catalogue of Saddam's practice a way of showing that this sensitivity is overruled by the necessity of finishing the job?
No. We remain extremely sensitive to the importance of observing Ramadan. We do understand indeed the importance of that to all our friends in the Arab and the wider Islamic World. I have to say Saddam himself has often failed to observe Ramadan when he himself had military objectives to pursue but we are not going to follow his example, we will be showing that sensitivity.
Foreign Secretary, are you at all in touch with members of the Iraqi opposition here in London as to how you will achieve the diplomatic objective at the end of the military operation now in progress?
We have indeed had repeated contact with the Iraqi opposition and indeed they were in this building quite recently when they met my Minister of State who urged them to show unity among themselves and unity against Saddam Hussein and we will continue with that dialogue. I would stress we are well aware of the brutal character of the Iraqi regime and how merciless Saddam is to any who dare oppose him. For that reason, it is not us to suggest that anyone in Iraq should risk their lives in taking up arms, it is for them to make their own decision, we cannot encourage people to risk their safety against such a ruthless regime.
Foreign Secretary, what do you think should be the future of the oil-for-food deals with Iraq?
Britain has been strongly committed to the oil-for-food programme, indeed it was Britain that took the initiative at the United Nations in order to double the volume of oil which Saddam can expert to buy food and medicines and other humanitarian goods. He can export $10 billion of oil every year and that is more than enough to buy all the food and medicines that the people of Iraq could need and there are no sanctions against the import of food and medicines. If the people of Iraq are going hungry and if their hospitals are short of medicines, the reason for it is not sanctions, it is Saddam. The Iraqi harvest this year is up 15 per cent and yet we have discovered Saddam using that food not to feed his own people but to export whole convoys of grain to Syria and to Jordan because he would rather have the money to maintain himself in comfort than feed his people. As part of our diplomatic effort when the military action stops, we must look at the humanitarian programme in order to see how we can make it effective despite the constant obstructions and delay of Saddam himself.