The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
In-depth article on how the Arabic world perceives the implications of the "undeclared war". From the London-based Mideast Mirror, a daily digest of news and commentary from the Arabic world (http://www.mideastmirror.com/). This article thanks to a US-based discussion list. ******************** Mideast Mirror - Tuesday 2 March 1999 U.S. AND BRITAIN ESCALATE THEIR UNDECLARED WAR ON IRAQ As airstrikes intensify and oil installations are targeted, Arab commentators fear the buildup is underway for a major offensive aimed at toppling the regime in Baghdad, even if that means dismembering Iraq and plunging it into civil war. Intensified airstrikes by U.S. warplanes over northern Iraq-which have reportedly disabled the country's main trans-Turkey oil export pipeline-prompt warnings in Tuesday's Arab press that Washington is steadily escalating an undeclared war aimed at weakening Iraq's defenses and further crippling its economy that could culminate in a major military offensive aimed at bringing down President Saddam Hussein's regime. American aircraft are reported to have fired some 30 missiles at various targets in northern Iraq on Monday alone, a day after bombing a repeater station on the pipeline some 40 km southwest of Mosul, killing a watchman and stopping the flow of oil. Baghdad said U.S. jets launched fresh raids later on Monday against other parts of the pipeline control system, as well as the Ain Zala oil complex in Mosul. Washington has denied intentionally attacking the pipeline, while acknowledging that it might have been inadvertently bombed by its pilots while targeting Iraqi air defense sites and "command and control and communications centres." Defense Secretary William Cohen reiterated that American pilots had been given "greater flexibility to attack those systems that place them in jeopardy" while operating over northern Iraq. But the Iraqi oil ministry said the oil facility attacked on Sunday was not located near any military installations, and said that "proves the falsehood of [Washington's] claims of confining raids to military targets." It also noted that the pipeline had been the main outlet for Iraqi crude exported under the UN's oil-for-food program, without which proposals to raise the amount of oil Baghdad is allowed to sell under the scheme would amount to nothing. Earlier Baghdad accused the U.S. and Britain of trying to cripple its battered oil industry in other ways. In an interview with al-Hayat published on Saturday, Oil Minister Amir Rashid charged that the U.S. and Britain were deliberately holding up approval by the UN sanctions committee of 140 contracts for the supply of equipment needed to repair Iraq's oil production facilities. He also said that during Operation Desert Storm last December, U.S. and British warplanes bombed the oil refinery at Basra in the south and a number of pumping stations on the pipeline linking in northern and southern Iraq-thus making it impossible to export crude produced in northern Iraq via the Gulf, or crude produced in the south via Turkey. Tuesday's Arab papers report that Sunday's U.S. airstrike effectively cut Iraq's oil export capacity by half, and quote Iraqi officials as saying the damage is expected to take four weeks to repair fully but could be partially mended sooner. ATTRITION: Pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi sees the escalation of U.S. and British airstrikes against northern and southern Iraq as a virtual repeat of Operation Desert Storm, albeit a slow-motion one so as to deflect media attention and avoid an Arab public backlash like that which followed last December's blitz. It notes that while Cohen-who on Friday begins a tour of the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Israel to discuss Iraq and regional security -- acknowledged that U.S. pilots may have inadvertently destroyed sections of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, he expressed not the slightest regret. On the contrary, he intimated that such attacks would continue. "The astonishing thing about the matter is that the world has grown accustomed to news of skirmishes over the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, and equally accustomed to news of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured by airstrikes-as though the victims are not human beings, and as if the United States of America has the right to kill them and to destroy Iraqi air defenses whenever it pleases," the paper says. "Everyone seems to forget, including the Arab states who are supposed to be Iraq's brethren, that these no-fly zones in which the battles occur are Iraqi-not American-territory, and that they were established by unilateral American fiat without any resolution from the UN Security Council." The Arab governments are well aware of that, and are equally aware of the motives behind Washington's escalation. "But they look the other way, that is if they don't participate directly or indirectly in these attacks." It is no secret that the U.S. and British warplanes that enforce the no-fly zones operate out of bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and use the two countries' air space in all their sorties. "Iraq is being targeted by a war of attrition that it is developing into a second Desert Fox, albeit in a gradual manner as part of Washington's considered plan for bringing about the anticipated American change in Iraq," al-Quds al-Arabi writes. The U.S., having passed the Iraqi Liberation Act and earmarked money for Iraqi opposition groups, has appreciated that the regime in Baghdad is strong and firmly in control, and cannot be overthrown by means of an intense one-off air attack. So it has resorted to this war of attrition. It would not be a surprise to learn that certain Arab regimes who are complicit in Washington's plans in Iraq advised it to adopt such an approach in order to avoid provoking an Arab public backlash. Those regimes did their part by initiating propaganda wars against Baghdad in an effort to pre-empt any reaction among their citizens in solidarity with Iraq. "This war which is bleeding Iraq without any legal justification must stop, in order to preserve what remains of this Arab country and its people's dignity," al-Quds al-Arabi says. "If some Arab regimes are colluding in America's plans, either through direct participation or silence, the Arab public needs to protest and expose their objectives if we are to avoid an Arab disaster which makes the Palestine catastrophe pale in comparison." IMMINENT DANGER: Egyptian columnist Assayed Zahra sees Washington's behavior as vindication of his contention (see below) that the U.S. is not only intent on carving Iraq up along ethnic and sectarian lines and triggering a civil war there in its quest to depose Saddam, but that it has begun translating its plans in that regard into practice. And it is doing so with the utmost contempt and cold-bloodedness, he writes Tuesday in the Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej. He points to an interview carried by the Turkish daily Milliyet on Monday with the U.S. diplomat in charge of "transition" in Iraq, Frank Ricciardone, "the man appointed as trustee of the affairs of the mercenary groups labelled as the Iraqi opposition and to take charge of the plan to topple the Iraqi regime." When asked by the Turkish paper if the U.S. plan wouldn't lead to the partition of Iraq and civil war there, Ricciardone didn't rule that out entirely, says Zahra. He went on to remark that Iraq could hardly be considered a unified country today, given the no-fly zones over the north and south, and that he hadn't met an Iraqi Kurd who wants a united Iraq in future. In other words, the U.S. official declared frankly that the division which the U.S. itself imposed on Iraq by force through the no-fly zones is set to be a permanent state of affairs, says Zahra. And he intimated that Iraq has no future as a united country in Washington's mind and its schemes. And with the utmost arrogance, Ricciardone went on to say that carrying out a plan that might lead to the dismemberment of Iraq and trigger a civil war was "better than doing nothing." "In other words, because America cannot think of anything else to do to achieve its objective of overthrowing the Iraqi regime, it has no qualms at all about destroying an entire country, dispossessing an entire people, and putting the fate of the entire region on the road to perdition." The danger is real and imminent, warns Zahra, so much so that there is no more time for the Arab countries to waste before acting quickly and actively to avert it. SAUDI: The Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat and other Saudi-owned papers highlight another remark Ricciardone made in his Milliyet interview-namely, that Saddam Hussein is most likely to be deposed suddenly by means of a military coup. Asharq al-Awsat devotes its front-page headline to the news that "Washington expects surprise coup in Iraq," and also stresses that Ricciardone said he thought the chances of Iraq breaking up as a country after the overthrow of the regime were minimal. The Saudi paper quotes U.S. officials in Washington as saying that Ricciardone did not mean to intimate that the Clinton administration "insists on the military coup option alone," but if a coup did take place, resulting in the overthrow of the Iraqi president, it would be pleased. The official said that U.S. strategy toward Iraq since December has been aimed at "weakening and isolating Saddam Hussein and his regime by bombing his air defenses, military communications systems, elite forces which he relies on to stay in power, military air bases and research centers, missile repair facilities, and other props that help him remain in power." The paper notes that broadcasting and communications facilities were among the targets struck by U.S. warplanes in northern Iraq on Monday. DISMEMBERMENT: Assayed Zahra argues in a two-part article published in Akhbar al-Khaleej on Sunday and Monday that if Washington is allowed to get its way in Iraq that will lead to bloody civil war and the irreversible break-up of the country-putting the neighboring Gulf states at grave risk of going the same way. One could maintain that the idea of dismembering Iraq in order to force a change of regime in Baghdad is just one of many being considered by the U.S. administration, he says. But on reflection, it transpires that in practice this scenario is the only one available to Washington, which has stopped looking for alternative options for dealing with Iraq. The goal of bringing down the regime has become the sole declared objective of the U.S. administration's Iraq policy. It has committed itself to it, and no longer has any other policy aims in Iraq. But it cannot bring down the regime by merely maintaining sanctions accompanied by occasional military strikes like last December's aggression. It has tried that for years without either weakening the regime or provoking a revolt against it. All that policy earned it was mounting Arab public anger and growing international opposition to sanctions and military action. Nor does it realistically think it can arrange President Saddam Hussein's assassination. Such an operation would be more likely to result in the killing of the hit-squad sent to do the deed, as well as causing an international scandal. Even if it were to succeed in eliminating the Iraqi leader, there's no guarantee that it would be able to control subsequent developments in Iraq. Deposing the regime by mounting a land-based U.S. invasion of Iraq is a non-starter, as that would put the lives of large numbers of U.S. troops at risk, and Washington wouldn't be prepared to court domestic opposition or pay the enormous political costs of such a campaign. The fourth option is to help the Iraqi opposition depose the regime, but Washington knows full well that the Iraqi opposition factions it has taken under its wing have little or no weight inside Iraq, and are little more than groups of mercenaries incapable even of mounting organized opposition to the regime let alone bringing it down. Thus by a process of elimination, the U.S. is left with just one scenario for changing theleadership in Baghdad-that of separating the south from the rest of the country and turning it into a sectarian mini-state. SCENARIO: From various moves and statements made by U.S. officials one can conclude that administration is planning to take the following practical steps, while creating a propaganda climate conducive to their success: ... First, to persuade Iraq's neighbors to establish bases for Iraqi opposition forces from which they can launch cross-border attacks. ... Simultaneously, to intensify air strikes over the northern and southern no-fly zones in order to gradually inflict the maximum damage on any facilities that could be used by the Iraqi army in those areas. ... Once that is completed, to launch airstrikes of unprecedented intensity against northern and southern Iraq, particularly the south, with the aim of bringing an end to all central government authority over the two areas and cutting all communications between them and Baghdad. Presumably, that is to be followed by the entry of Iraqi opposition forces-a 10,000-man force has been mentioned-into Iraq under U.S. air cover, as well as some opposition political figureheads currently based overseas. ... Then, a government is declared in the "liberated south" and another in the north, which Washington hastens to recognize. ... The north and south are subsequently relieved of sanctions, and their "governments" are granted Iraq's frozen overseas assets and control over the oilfields and other revenue sources in the two zones. ... The opposition forces-or "liberation army" as some U.S. documents already refer to them-then presumably stage attacks against government forces and sabotage operations and attract army units to defect to their side until, Washington hopes, the regime in Baghdad collapses. IMPLEMENTATION: "Regardless whether such a scenario can succeed or not, the one direct outcome would be the de facto partition of Iraq into at least three mini-states-a Kurdish one in the north, a Shiite one in the south, and a Sunnite one in the middle," says Zahra. And developments in the region since the latest Anglo-American aggression suggest this scenario is actually in the process of being implemented, in other words that the U.S. has already embarked on its bid to dismember Iraq. For one thing, it must be appreciated that Operation Desert Fox, whatever its declared justifications, was launched to achieve one specific objective in particular: to bring a complete end to UNSCOM's mission in Iraq and the entire UN role in the country. To make doubly sure that would happen, the military offensive was followed by Washington's leaking of information about how UNSCOM had been used to spy on Iraq. Washington deliberately set out to end the role of UNSCOM and the UN so that dealing with Iraq would henceforth be its own private business, in other words to block the development of any international policy for dealing with Iraq and enabling it to concentrate on trying to depose the regime in the manner it deems fit. In pursuit of that objective, it proceeded to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, designate Iraqi opposition groups eligible for its aid. and appoint an official charged with supervising those groups. But the greatest evidence that the dismemberment scenario has begun being implemented is that since the December blitz, American and British warplanes have been bombing Iraqi air defenses in the north and south almost every day. The aim is both to gradually destroy Iraq's defensive capabilities and try to establish the "principle" that such attacks are a routine matter, thus getting public opinion accustomed to them ahead of stage two of the plan-namely, the anticipated all-out assault on the north and south. In recent weeks, there has also been a proliferation of American reports talking of things like mass executions in southern Iraq. The timing seems designed to set the stage for future talk of the need to "liberate" the south in order to free it from the regime's oppression. The Turkish press has meanwhile spoken of a U.S. offer to Turkey to "administer" northern Iraq, in an apparent bid to overcome Ankara's long-standing opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish state there. Add to that the many tours of Gulf and other Arab states that have been made by various U.S. officials in recent weeks in an attempt to persuade them to subscribe to Washington's plans for Iraq. Although none of them have given details of what their American visitors proposed to them, two things were notable. First, immediately after the latest Gulf tour by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk, a number of Arab states whose official media had been furiously attacking the Iraqi regime and talking of the need for it to be toppled ordered a complete halt to such calls, or at least toned them down. The only explanation for that is that they considered Washington's plans to be too risky and reckless. Secondly, those countries began repeatedly insisting in public on their opposition to the dismemberment of Iraq. Most striking was the way the defense minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) warned, after his talks with Indyk, that Washington's plans for bringing down the Iraqi regime would dismember the country and plunge it into civil war. That then, is what Washington seems to be planning and it has taken the first steps down that road. We will know that it considers time is ripe for stage two when we start hearing U.S. officials mouthing rhetoric about "freeing of the south," "liberated areas," "safe havens, "the Iraq liberation army," and the "government of Free Iraq." ARABS: But the success or failure of Washington's plans depends to a great extent on how the Arab states react. What the Americans want from them is first of all their agreement in principle to the idea that the U.S. has the "right" to depose the regime in Iraq, followed by a green light to go ahead with its plans. The U.S. also wants specific Arab countries to participate actively. For example, it has asked Egypt and Saudi Arabia to receive exiled Iraqi opposition leaders in an attempt to bestow legitimacy on them in the Arab world and erase the image everyone has of them as mere stooges of the United States. It has also asked Iraq's neighbors to establish training camps for Iraqi opposition forces on their soil, which would later be used for staging cross-border incursions. And naturally, Washington is bound to ask some Arab countries to help pay the bill for the entire operation. Yet the U.S. administration knows that the Arab states oppose the partition of Iraq or intervention in its internal affairs, so how has it been trying to persuade them to go along with its plans? The evidence indicates it has been using four main arguments: (1) That the U.S. is not proposing to depose the Iraqi regime or install a new one in power from outside the country, but merely to "assist" the Iraqi people in doing that themselves from within. This is said in the expectation that, if things go to plan, the opposition forces that topple the regime will be operating from inside the country. Hence Indyk's remark that he agrees with the Gulf states that change from Iraq must come from within. (2) That it's wrong to think that survival of the current Iraqi regime means keeping Iraq in one piece as a country. Indyk said in Kuwait that the claim that Saddam's regime was the sole guarantor of Iraq's unity was just an unacceptable pretext for keeping it in power. (3) That what the U.S. is planning does not entail the permanent partition of Iraq, but merely its temporary dismemberment in order to bring down the present leadership, whose successors will be committed to reuniting the country. (4) That deposing Saddam is the only way of ending the Iraq crisis once and for all after all other options failed. CIVIL WAR: In reality, says Zahra, these are deliberately misleading arguments by which the U.S. hopes to persuade its Arab allies to endorse its plans which if implemented would be catastrophic not just for Iraq but the entire Arab world. Even accepting the premise that Washington is entitled to try to bring about a change of regime in Iraq would set a dangerous precedent. Its declared justifications for seeking to depose the leadership in Baghdad-that it is undemocratic, repressive, threatens its neighbors etc. - - could be invoked against virtually any other Arab regime. And if the U.S. scenario sees the light, the outbreak of a bloody civil war in Iraq would not be a mere possibility but an actual reality. For the scenario is all about triggering civil war by encouraging various religious and ethnic groups to take up arms with the promise of being granted "independent" fiefdoms. And like every civil war, such a conflict would take on a momentum of its own, making the combatants vulnerable to exploitation and encouragement by outside players that were not in on the game from the outset. In other words, once a civil war breaks out, containing it, let alone ending it, would be of the utmost difficulty. And though the U.S. may argue to the Arabs that the resultant partition of Iraq would be an interim measure, it knows better than anyone else that the dismemberment of the country would probably prove irreversible. "The reason is simple and obvious. Once a sect or minority or any kind of group seizes power, forms a government, and controls financial resources, an armed force and an independent entity... it would be most unlikely to abandon all that-even at the cost of a bloodbath," says Zahra. "And it goes without saying that if Iraq were actually dismembered the risk of other Arab countries fragmenting would become serious," he warns. It is an open secret that fragmentation of the Arab world and redrawal of its political maps, especially in the Gulf region, has for decades been an Israeli strategic objective, which at times emerges in public debate in the United States itself. And it is no secret that Israel and Jewish pressure groups in the U.S. have been at the forefront of those pressing the U.S. administration to press ahead with plans to partition Iraq. Thus allowing the U.S. to carve up Iraq would be tantamount to giving the green light to the Balkanization of the entire Arab world. If sectarian mini-states are established in Iraq, that would obviously intensify sectarian strife throughout the region, particularly in the Gulf states. "And is there any need to remind everyone that many Arab states already suffer from sectarian problems which they have tried to contain by every means available?" Moreover, if the U.S. gets its way in Iraq that will ensure that the country becomes "fertile ground for nurturing new generations of Arab extremists," Zahra adds. The Arab states are currently paying a high price for having heeded U.S. calls to join the jihad in Afghanistan and sent waves of young Arab volunteers there to train under CIA supervision, who have since returned to plunge several of their homelands into whirlpools of violence, extremism and terrorism. "That is exactly what will happen again if the Arab states allow the U.S. to implement the scenario it is planning in Iraq," says Zahra. "What else could we expect to emerge from a battlefield in which sects, CIA agents and everyone else are fighting it out? What could we expect it to nurture other than a generation of extremists, sectarians and even mercenaries? If that happens, the Arab states will have to brace for their arrival on their soil to lead acts of violence, extremism and terror. They will arrive well-trained, well-connected to American and Israeli intelligence, and ready to carry out instructions." Thus from every perspective, what the U.S. is planning for Iraq is a catastrophe not just for that country but for the Arabs in general, says Zahra. "Implementation of that scenario would entail not just the dismemberment of Iraq, but the decapitation of all the Arabs." WHAT'S TO BE DONE: To avert that threatened catastrophe, the Arabs states have first of all to categorically reject Washington's plans firmly and decisively, as well as the principle of U.S. intervention to depose the leadership of Iraq or meddle in its affairs. Most Arab states, including Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, have clearly announced their rejection of both the principle of U.S. intervention in Iraq and any proposals that would lead to the partition of the country. "But it remains for all the Arab states without exception to declare such a stand in an audible and unequivocal manner." But rejection in principle is not enough. The Arab states must refuse to have anything to do in practice with the U.S. plans or promote them in any way. For example, they must avoid receiving the so-called Iraqi "opposition leaders" the U.S. is sponsoring or bestowing any kind of legitimacy on them; refuse to allow the establishment of training camps for Iraqi opposition groups or lend any assistance in that regard; and refuse to provide any funding or political and media backing to Washington's schemes. And as the no-fly zones set up by the U.S. and Britain over northern and southern Iraq in defiance of international law are central to their plans for dividing Iraq into sectarian mini-states, it is imperative for the Arab states to do everything they can to get them dismantled. For example, they could go to the UN Security Council with a request to issue a resolution declaring the no-fly zones illegal. The U.S. would veto such a resolution, but at least the Arabs would have turned the illegality of its behavior into a global political and media issue. No less important is for the Arab states to withdraw immediately any practical support for the no-fly zones. Some Arab countries foot a large part of the bill for policing them, and that must cease forthwith. But that would still be insufficient. Seeing as the U.S. argues that its scheme is the only way of ending the Iraq crisis and the threat Baghdad poses to its neighbors, why don't the Arab states take the initiative toward ending the crisis themselves by adopting the proposals UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin-Sultan Al Nahayan has repeatedly made: i.e. launching a real, practical and serious initiative aimed at bringing Iraq back into the Arab fold. The precondition for the success of such an initiative is for the Arab states immediately to start a large-scale and serious campaign to get sanctions against Iraq lifted, says Zahra. Those sanctions have by any gauge become a crime against a defenseless people, and it is not acceptable for the Arab states to continue supporting them or committing themselves to enforcing them. Such an anti-sanctions stance would in itself do a lot to promote a reconciliation with Iraq, to which the Arab countries could attach whatever terms and conditions they want, provided their aim is sincerely to rehabilitate Iraq in the Arab world before it is too late. "In general, the important thing is for the Arab states to realize that Iraq in its entirety will be threatened with perdition and we will all be threatened with perdition along with it if the U.S. succeeds in getting its way," says Zahra. "The Arab states are therefore called upon to act, as quickly as they can and with all the resources at their disposal, to block the road to the implementation of this catastrophic scenario." BAGHDAD: But while it is incumbent on the Arabs to act, it goes without saying that Baghdad too must shoulder its responsibility and raise its discourse and policies to the level of the threat facing it, says Zahra. Washington's chances of success may depend on what the Arab states do, but Iraq must help them and give them the opportunity to perform that role. Above all else, Baghdad must put an end, once and for all, to its blustery rhetoric and reckless statements. It is neither acceptable nor reasonable for Iraq to hint from time to time that it might withdraw its recognition of its border with Kuwait. This is a chapter Iraq must close for good, affirming that to Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world by whatever means it can. Neither is it acceptable nor reasonable for Iraqi officials and newspapers to mouth threats against the ruling regimes in the Gulf or call on their subjects to overthrow them. Such statements have a destructive effect. They provoke all the Arab states without exception and encourage no one to support Iraq strongly or stand up to the United States. And they serve in practice to furnish a pretext for the U.S. to press ahead with its plans. when they are portrayed as proof that Iraq poses a threat to the region which must be ended by all means. Thus however much Iraq may feel letdown by the Arab states, or angered by their policies, hostile rhetoric against Arab governments must be completely eliminated from Iraq's political and media discourse. And Iraq ought to do everything it can to demonstrate that it is serious about turning the leaf on the invasion of Kuwait and seeking an inter-Arab reconciliation. "Iraq has to appreciate that the disaster we're all in today began the day that it proceeded to invade Kuwait. Accordingly, Baghdad has to respond to the Arab states' terms for reconciliation even if it has reservations about some of them and sees others as unjustified. If an apology to Kuwait, for example, could remove a major obstacle to its return to the Arab fold, it should apologize to Kuwait," says Zahra. "We say this because the threat which will face Iraq and all of us in the Arab homeland, if the U.S. manages to get its way, is so grave and appalling that it requires the Iraqi leadership in particular to demonstrate the utmost sense of responsibility, and to behave accordingly," he writes. "This is the moment of truth for all the Arab states. They must wake up. Arab leaders are dutybound, before God, before history and before their peoples, to act immediately to foil the American scheme... that is threatening Iraq's perdition and ours." -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html