In recent weeks, the Bush administration has stepped up efforts to destabilize the Iraqi government, while aggressively deploying troops and ships in a manner that could provoke an attack from Iraq — and provide an excuse to start a war.
Over the weekend of December 14 to 16, the U.S. hosted a conference in London of Iraqi exiled opposition groups. The 300 delegates, closely monitored by U.S. diplomats and advisors, chose a council of 65 people to function as a liaison between the U.S. and the Iraqi people after Saddam Hussein is deposed. The conference was led by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who shepherded the Afghani conference in Bonn that set up the new government in Kabul. Clearly, the Bush administration is gearing up to do in Iraq what they’ve already done in Afghanistan (never mind that the UN inspectors haven’t finished their job yet).
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has set up a special radio station to broadcast anti-Saddam propaganda to the Iraqi people. The station went on the air December 12, after U.S. planes dropped half a million leaflets over Iraq with the name of the station and the five frequencies where it can be heard. Between bursts of Arabic music, the station intones: “People of Iraq …. the amount of money Saddam spends on himself in one day would be more than enough to feed a family for one year.” The station also directs messages at the Iraqi military in an effort to spur a military coup.
The CIA has been up to its own dirty tricks, too. Earlier this year, Congress and the Bush administration allocated $200 million to the CIA to “fight the War on Terrorism.” The CIA has been using a lot of that money in Iraq, giving sacks of cash to tribal leaders in rural areas near Baghdad, in an effort to buy the loyalty of Sunni tribal leaders who have backed Saddam Hussein in the past. Of course, the CIA is assiduously avoiding the Shiite tribes in southern Iraq, who haven’t forgotten how the CIA sold them out after the Gulf War, promising to help them rise up and overthrow Saddam, but then abandoning them to be massacred.
Turkish TV has also reported the movement of U.S. trucks with supplies into northern Kurdish regions of Iraq. The U.S. supported the Kurds soon after the Gulf War by establishing the Northern No-Fly Zone, which prevented Saddam from bombing rebellious Kurdish factions. But U.S. support goes far beyond that: supplies are now being moved into the Kurdish regions, and U.S. personnel are helping to train Kurdish rebels, while scouting the best sites for landing strips and operational bases for the upcoming war.
In addition, the CIA and the Pentagon are recruiting Kurds and exiled Iraqis to serve (ostensibly) as interpreters, guides, and support staff for an invasion. Hungary has agreed to host a new $9 million training facility for some 3,000 Iraqi exiles. Some of these men may be trained to fight. While the Pentagon has fiercely denied that any weapons training will be done, they haven’t explained, however, why the training has to be done in Hungary and not on U.S. soil. Considering that the Pentagon and CIA have kept captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters isolated at “secret” bases in foreign countries to avoid scrutiny by the Red Cross, the U.N., and human rights advocates, the fact that Iraqi exiles will be trained in an Eastern European country is suspicious, to say the least.
In the meantime, U.S. troops and warships are being deployed in a way that could draw Iraqi fire. Some 12,000 U.S. troops have been conducting long-running military exercises in Kuwait; over the Christmas holiday, they spent 5 days engaged in live-fire exercises just a few miles from the border with Iraq. At the same time, U.S. and British warships participating in the sanctions blockade have become more aggressive in recent weeks, moving into Iraqi territorial waters, even into the mouth of Khor Abd Allah estuary. The danger here is that a warship may collide with an Iraqi mine or meet an Iraqi vessel and begin a shooting war — which may be just the excuse the Bush administration needs in order to start an all-out war.
Certainly, Bush has quietly given the order to step up the bombing campaign over the no-fly zones. In the past, U.S. planes targeted only Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft weaponry. But now the pilots are “being given a more ‘meaningful’ list of targets,” according to Reuters reporter Peter Graff. The list includes command bunkers, communications equipment, and unspecified “other targets” (presumably infrastructure or military posts that would be bombed in the upcoming war). In addition, the planes are hitting their targets more frequently and with heavier bombs.
And so the air war has already begun, on the sly, ramping up slowly so no one will notice right away. This is, after all, the preferred modus operandi for the Bush administration. The U.S. press has largely overlooked the increased bombing in favor of printing quotes from Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell about the Iraqi weapons declaration, and Dick Cheney’s reassurances that the U.S. is not interested in overthrowing Saddam.
But U.S. actions are telling a different story. Just two days after Christmas, George Bush called up 2 aircraft carrier battle groups, 2 amphibious assault teams, and several dozen Air Force jets to serve in the Gulf — an additional 25,000 troops to add to the 50,000 U.S. personnel already there. The timing of his order is in keeping with Bush administration moves to hide the pace and details of its war planning from both the U.S. public and the international community.
Colin Powell, asked by an AP reporter about current U.S. efforts to oust Saddam Hussein, replied: “It remains our policy to change the regime until such time as the regime changes itself.” Indeed.
The Bush administration is deeply involved in destabilizing the Iraqi government. In effect, the air war has already begun, in secret, without a formal declaration and without a vote from the U.N. Security Council. And the U.S. is attempting to spark a ground war with its provocative military exercises and violations of Iraqi territory.
Meanwhile, the only English-language press coverage has been in the form of wire service articles that U.S. newspapers are largely ignoring. Without critical media coverage here in the U.S., the Bush administration is free to play out its hand, which is intended to spark a military response from Iraq that will make it easy to shift U.S. opinion in favor of a ground war. It could be the Gulf of Tonkin, all over again.