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Stratfor analysis: comments on US motivation

There are some factual errors in what follows (i. the claim that the
no-fly zones have UN support; they are never even mentioned in Security
Council Resolutions; and ii. the claim that December's bombings were
triggered by Iraq's refusal to let UN inspectors "in": the inspectors were
in the country; their report, available on the UN website, mentions a few
incidents of non-cooperation, the significance of which depends on the
opinion solicited).  Nevertheless, there is some thinking on US

Colin Rowat                            
Coordinator, Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq

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Global Intelligence Update
Weekly GIU August 30, 1999

The War That Time Forgot


The war in Iraq, the war that time has forgotten, appears to be
shifting into a mildly higher gear.  The policy put into place
after the December bombing has generated constant sorties and
frequent air strikes, the reasoning behind them forgotten in the
mists of time.  This makes the apparent shift in focus over the
past week difficult to understand.  In order to understand things,
it is necessary to think through the foundations of U.S. policy in
the region.


More than nine years after Operation Desert Storm, U.S. aircraft
continue to patrol the skies over Iraq, carrying out regular air
strikes against targets within the northern and southern no-fly
zones.  Last December, U.S. aircraft conducted several days of
intense bombing, called Operation Desert Fox.  Since the end of
that series of strikes, we estimate that U.S. aircraft have flown
over 10,000 sorties in Iraqi air space, including strikes at about
400 targets.  The air strikes are carried out from Prince Sultan
air base in Saudi Arabia, Incirlik in Turkey, and from U.S.
aircraft carriers rotating through the Persian Gulf.  Officially,
the strikes are in response to attempts by Iraqi anti-air systems
to lock on to U.S. aircraft, in preparation for attempts at
bringing down U.S. aircraft.  Since not a single aircraft has been
shot down, one would think that the Iraqis would have learned not
to turn on their radar by now.  They are either extraordinarily
dense or U.S. air strikes are not actually being triggered by
aggressive Iraqi actions.

Under U.N. resolutions, Iraq contains two no-fly zones in the north
and south of the country.  Iraqi aircraft are not permitted to
operate in these zones.  U.S. aircraft are permitted to operate
there in order to make sure that the Iraqis are in compliance.  It
follows that U.S. aircraft on patrol in these areas are permitted
to defend themselves against the Iraqis.  Thus, if Iraqi anti-air
systems try to shoot them down, the U.S. is permitted to protect
the aircraft by attacking the systems.  This has been the
explanation for the ongoing air campaign.  It was, at least, an

However, this sleepy little war has had a significant character
change in the past few weeks.  On August 19, U.S. aircraft bombed a
target outside of the no-fly zones, inside the central region where
Iraq retains clear sovereignty.  At about the same time, the U.S.
openly shifted its targeting from responsive attacks against
aggressive Iraqi moves, to attacks on fuel and ammunition dumps.

So, about 10 days ago, the war shifted. About a week after that,
an Agence France-Presse report out of Amman claimed that an
unnamed Western diplomat had stated that the U.S. and U.K. were
preparing a "large-scale" operation against Iraq.  Simultaneously,
Arab leaders started to condemn Saddam Hussein ostentatiously.
The Jordanians, after an opening to Saddam following the death of
King Hussein, cooled their relations with Saddam.  Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak was reported to have "washed his hands" of
Iraq.  Bashar al-Assad, son of the Syrian president, called Saddam
a "human beast."  All told, it appears that the war is shifting
from its sleepy phase.  The question, of course, is what it is
shifting to and why it is shifting now.  To figure that out, we
need to understand what U.S. policy was from December 1999 until
now, a topic which is itself confusing.

When immediate policies don't make sense, we find it useful to go
back to first principles and try to understand what the underlying
American interests are.  That takes us back to oil and the British.
The U.S., like Britain before it, has had two interests in the
Persian Gulf.  The first has been to make certain that no global
rival could take control of the region and deny the U.S. and its
allies access to the oil.  The second interest has been to make
certain that no power native to the Persian Gulf could impose
hegemony on the region, control all of the oil and be in a position
to manipulate the supplies and prices of petroleum on a global

A huge amount of the region's oil is on the western shore of the
Persian Gulf.  Aside from petroleum, this is inhospitable country
that is relatively under-populated.  Britain worked very hard to
transform the existing tribes and clans into administrative units
that could claim control of oil deposits as nation-states.  The
largest of these entities was, of course, Saudi Arabia, but they
included smaller principalities like Kuwait, the emirs of the
United Arab Emirates, Oman and so on.  Each of these had vast
amounts of oil under their control.  They were also too small and
weak to defend their wealth.  There was therefore a natural
affinity between these states and Britain and then America.  The
latter were interested in seeing the oil producers divided,
competitive and dependent on them for security.  The former were
interested in maximizing returns on oil production within the
framework of a foreign guarantor of their security.

The British task was to keep German influence out of the region -
and to keep the Wehrmacht far away as well.  The region was later
subject to the same policy, with different actors: the U.S. wanted
to keep Soviet influence out of the region and the Red Army far
away.  There was a secondary policy derived from this: no regional
power could conquer the western shore of the Persian Gulf.  Now,
none of the western Persian Gulf powers, Saudi Arabia included, was
in a position to act militarily.  But the two northern powers, Iraq
and Iran, were each alone capable of invading and occupying the
western shore.

Fortunately, from the American point of view, the two were mortal
enemies since the days of Babylon and Persia.  This relieved the
U.S. of the need to insert massive forces into the region to
protect the western shore.  Instead, the United States engaged in a
balance-of-power strategy, playing Iraq against Iran, fostering
conflicts that forced each to focus on the other, leaving no forces
remaining to invade the western shore.  This policy neatly
intersected the U.S. policy of containing the Soviet Union.  By
allying with Iran, the U.S. simultaneously tied down the Iraqis
while blocking the Soviet Union's aspirations in the Gulf.

When the shah fell, the U.S. was forced to shift policy.  On the
one hand, it was forced to settle for an Iran neutral to the U.S.
and Soviet Union.  But the real U.S. concern was the security of
the western shore of the Persian Gulf.  Therefore, the U.S. quietly
encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade Iran.  This served two
purposes.  First, it gave the U.S. leverage with Iran, which now
needed access to spare parts and material (remember Iran-Contra).
It also kept the Iraqis occupied, which secured the western shore
of the Persian Gulf while opening channels to Iraq and limiting
Soviet influence to some extent.

Now, it is important to understand why Iraq agreed to play this
role.  It was not for Saddam's health nor was it because Saddam
coveted Iran.  Rather, Saddam wanted to dominate the Persian Gulf's
western shore and he understood, rightly or wrongly, that if Iraq
were willing to invade and defeat Iran, it would be permitted to
take its place as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.  This, of
course, was not something that the U.S. wanted to see, but the U.S.
did want to motivate Saddam.  The U.S. expectation was that the war
would go on interminably and that the U.S. would be in a position
to prevent any clear victor.  The war did go on for nearly a decade
with countless casualties, but it was not inconclusive.  Iraq won.
If not an absolute victory, there was still no question that Iraq
could act for a time without concerning itself with Iran.

Iraq turned fairly quickly to gather the fruits of its victory-
fruits that it believed were its rights under implicit agreement
with the U.S.  Indeed, Saddam informed the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
that he was about to invade Kuwait as if it were understood that
this was a logical and necessary evolution.  Indeed, with the
effective neutralization of the Soviet Union, one of the dimensions
of U.S. policy in the region no longer existed.  Saddam thought
that he had not only an understanding, but that events had evolved
to ease U.S. concern.  When the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad was
informed of the impending invasion, she didn't even protest.  It
was an expected evolution of policy.

But obviously, given the underlying U.S. interests in the region,
any promises made to induce Iraq to bear the burden of the war were
not actually made with the intention of allowing Iraq to collect
the fruits. The U.S. did not intend that Iraq dominate the western
shore of the Persian Gulf.   The U.S. reacted by re-invading Kuwait
and securing the western shore of the Persian Gulf.  However, the
U.S. did not invade Iraq, nor did it topple Saddam.  There were
three reasons for this.  First, the U.S. did not have the military
resources to reach all the way to Baghdad without a massive
buildup, which would take several more months. Taking a major city
would mean substantial casualties and the U.S. was casualty-averse.
Second, the U.S. did not want to destroy Iraq.  It needed Iraq to
counterbalance Iran, which was still a long-term threat.  Finally,
the United States expected Saddam to fall because of his failure.

Therefore, the U.S. instituted a policy that was designed to
preserve the Iraqi nation-state and simultaneously bring down
Saddam.  It succeeded in the first and failed in the second.  The
U.S. simply underestimated Saddam's ability to maintain his
position.  Saddam's intelligence services detected and blocked
every coup attempt.  Saddam combined terror and politics to
maintain a degree of control over the Kurds and the Shiites.
Saddam manipulated the military so that any potential threat - and
several non-existent threats - were destroyed.

>From a strategic standpoint, this was not an unsatisfactory
outcome.  The western shore remained fragmented and dependent on
the U.S. for its security.  Iran remained hemmed in on its western
flank, unable to expand, unable to drop its guard.  Iraq remained
unable to move south.  At low cost relative to the prize, the U.S.
achieved what it wanted strategically.

Politically, however, the survival of Saddam posed a challenge.
The inability to destroy Saddam represented a severe limit on U.S.
power.  As with Milosevic, Saddam's survival communicates that the
personal risk involved in challenging the U.S. may not be so great.
This increases the willingness of others to take risks. The
survival of Saddam is also a major problem domestically.  Having
worked to convince Americans that Saddam is the reincarnation of
Hitler, the U.S. has a great deal of trouble negotiating with him.
Since strategic interests dictate that the U.S. maintain relations
with Iraq, it is politically necessary to remove Saddam.

Now, it is important to understand that the sanctions against
Saddam have collapsed.  Since neither Russia nor China is likely to
honor them, Saddam can get what he wants when he wants it.  He can
also sell his oil, especially at recent prices.  Moreover, with a
Sino-Russian alliance in the offing, the security of the Persian
Gulf from outside forces - a non-issue since 1989 - might once more
be on the table.  Getting rid of Saddam so that the U.S. can create
a working policy in Iraq is a strategic imperative.  More
precisely, politics is getting in the way of strategy.

This was the point of Desert Fox and its aftermath.  The U.S.
bombed Saddam after he refused to let UN inspectors in, on the
grounds that they were spying for the CIA.  Since then, it has been
revealed that Saddam was pretty much right.  This information left
the U.S./UN fig leaf in tatters.  The second phase of the bombing,
from the beginning of the year until August 19, seemed to have been
driven by some strange theory that Saddam was utterly insane and
that bombing him would push him over the edge.  He may be bonkers,
but it is a stable insanity.  He did not collapse under the strain.
The bombing continued without any apparent effect or purpose.

We are now in a new stage, of which the purpose is clear: to deal
once and for all with the Saddam question so that we can move on to
more important strategic issues in the region.  But there is a
problem: why should a strategy that has failed to unseat Saddam
since 1991 succeed today?  There is no reason to believe it will,
and U.S. policy makers are fully aware of that.  It appears to us
that the U.S. has a two-tier policy.  Tier one is a final attempt
to crack his regime, followed by the much more important tier two-
positioning the U.S. to be reconciled not so much to Saddam
himself, but as to Saddam being a feature of the Middle East.

The U.S. and UK are going to be submitting proposals to the UN next
month on renewing inspections of Iraqi facilities for weapons of
mass destruction.  Since the last round ended in a complete and
utterly embarrassing foul up, getting approval will not be easy.
Indeed, since the proposal needs Security Council approval, passage
is more than a little doubtful with China and Russia in the mood
they are in.  If that resolution fails, the post-1991 regime will
have collapsed.  But if it collapses because of the UN, the U.S.
will have the political cover needed to deal with Iraq.  In other
words, if the U.S. hangs tough and the policy collapses anyway, the
politics might shift a bit.

There is a lesson in the U.S. Iraq strategy: do not personalize
strategic interests.  The U.S. must drive strategy in Iraq
according to its interests on the western shore of the Persian
Gulf.   These interests should not be held hostage by the survival
of a particular personality.  The constant identification of U.S.
enemies as the reincarnation of Hitler's absolute evil may help
solidify public opinion during war, but it makes the conduct of
foreign policy in the post-war world extremely difficult when the
personality in question refuses to go quietly.  This is a lesson
for U.S. dealings with Milosevic as well as Saddam Hussein.
Demonizing the enemy is fine, if you can crush him.  If not, you
are left negotiating with the devil, which is not only politically
embarrassing but reveals underlying strategic weaknesses for all to

Dear GIU Subscriber: The August 27th GIU on the Czech Senate
elections contained a significant error, incorrectly saying that 27
seats are being decided and that Communist representation could
double; only one seat is up for grabs. As the article stated,
communists are rising in public opinion polls. While we stand by
our analysis, Stratfor profoundly regrets this error and strives to
prevent such mistakes in the future.



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