Iraq in the Crossfires

Though no connection between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11 has been found, the Bush administration has raised expectations significantly that it will again bomb Iraq as it extends its “war on terrorism” into new countries.

“For better or worse, a bipartisan consensus has emerged in the Bush administration and Congress alike that the United States can no longer tolerate an Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein” Todd S. Purdum wrote in New York Times “Week in Review” on February 17.

“We still believe strongly in regime change in Iraq,” explained Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Al Gore, groveling further before Bush, said in a highly publicized speech that if the U.S. government seeks to topple the Iraqi government, “Failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit.”

Despite small murmuring from European and Arab governments that they do not support U.S. efforts to make Iraq the next target in the “war on terrorism” — a war which, we are to believe, is not targeted at Arabs or Muslims — the debate in Washington is primarily about how to attack Iraq, not whether or not to do so.

The U.S. also has discussed broadening its official doctrine on the “right to intervene” in Iraq to reflect its real philosophy: “The Bush administration — warning of time-bomb terrorists and the spread of deadly mass weapons — proposes a far more open-ended, sweeping use of preemptive force…. [T]he administration is making a stark argument for striking first,” the Christian Science Monitor on February 7.

“Twenty-first century threats may well require that we take the war to the enemy,” Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of war, told an audience at the National Defense University.

The Boston Globe reported February 14 that “The CIA recently received a $1 billion increase from the White House to conduct covert operations in a war on terrorism. Some of that money, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named, will be focused on the ‘Iraq problem.’”

The Bush administration recently renewed financial ties with the Iraqi National Congress, after the State Department had temporarily suspended payments to the group because it had failed to account for millions off dollars the United States had already delivered. The INC was invited for another high-profile visit to Washington in January to peddle the illusion that they can be the force that will topple the Iraqi government.

Encouraged by the war in Afghanistan, the “bomb Iraq” crew in the media and Washington have been let off their collective leash to call for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Hussein by whatever means the U.S. military has at its disposal. Drawing an absurd analogy to the war in Afghanistan, some of Bush’s coterie are urging that the “Afghan model” be applied to Iraq.

In this scenario, the INC, the divided Kurdish opposition groups in the North, and Shiite insurgents in the south will collaborate to march on Baghdad and overthrow the government, with assistance in the air and perhaps on the ground from the U.S. military. Some 100,000 to 200,000 ground troops would be needed for such an operation, military analysts estimate.

Richard Lowry, the editor of the National Review, suggests an even bolder proposal: occupying Iraq. “An American occupation would not last years, on the model of a MacArthur regency in Japan,” he wrote.

“Instead, the U.S. would quickly — say, after less than a year — hand control over to a U.N. protectorate, with some Arab input to soothe feelings and a non-American — some anodyne European, such as a Swede — running the show. He would in effect act as Iraqi dictator, but without the brace of pistols.”

“After five years or so … the baton could be passed off to an Iraqi government. The entire effort would represent a return to an enlightened paternalism toward the Third World, premised on the idea that the Arabs have failed miserably at self-government and need to start anew….”

“The goal would not be perfection, but a pro-Western and reasonably successful regime, somewhere between the Shah of Iran and the current government of Turkey. It would guarantee the West’s access to oil, and perhaps help break up OPEC…. And it would be a nice economic benefit to the United States: If the Teamsters like drilling in ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], they should love occupying Iraq.”

Lowry’s asides about oil and economic benefits reveal what his strategy is really about: religitimizing the “white man’s burden” for the twenty-first century so U.S. imperialism can continue to control the oil profits of the Middle East and the geostrategic power that stems from this. It is no accident, either, that the repressive regimes of Turkey and Iran under the Shah serve as his model.

How will the U.S. get into Iraq? The most likely scenario is that the Bush administration will seek to create a stand-off over sending United Nations weapons inspectors into Iraq sometime in the next few months.

(Never mind that the Bush administration denied international inspectors access to U.S. chemical and biological weapons-related facilities — almost certainly source off the so-called Ames anthrax strain that has killed five people in the United States — because it might violate “proprietary commercial interests”).

“The inspectors have to go back in under our terms, under no one else’s terms,” Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ignoring Iraq’s concerns over the well-documented fact that the last inspection team in Iraq passed on intelligence information to the U.S. government in violation of its mission.

The people of Iraq continue to suffer the deadly impact of the sanctions, which have been in place for 11 years, and the lingering effects of the Gulf War and continued U.S. bombing. The impact of another invasion from the United States, which would likely rely heavily on aerial bombardment of Iraqi infrastructure and civilians, would bring even more devastation.

The “war on terrorism” is unfolding on many fronts, with significant consequences for millions of people abroad, those at home who will be asked to pay the ever growing bill, and the future of the planet.

Antiwar work has taken on a new urgency internationally. It’s hard to exaggerate the stakes. As Noam Chomsky observed in his talk at the 2002 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, “Either we will have a world without wars, or we will not have a world.”

Anthony Arnove is the editor of Terrorism and War, a collective of interviews with Howard Zinn published by Seven Stories Press.

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