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]
>From today's Daily Star (Lebanon) What are the Americans up to in Iraq? US delegation visits opposition groups in the north Najm Jarrah Special to The Daily Star LONDON: While this week’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by a ranking US delegation has triggered much speculation about possible American plans to engineer the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad, a former head of Iraqi military intelligence believes that it is for the most part misplaced. General Wafiq al-Samarai, a former director of Iraqi military intelligence who served during the Gulf War and defected in 1994, told me the notion of the United States enlisting the Kurds in a campaign to topple the central government using aerial bombardment, ground forces, guerrilla warfare, economic and political pressure, or a combination thereof was far-fetched, and inconceivable under present circumstances. Iraqi dissidents, Western analysts and Arab commentators alike have seen the visit as evidence that Washington is making active preparations to line Iraq up as the next target of its “war on terror” after Afghanistan, and to use the country’s three Kurdish-controlled northern provinces for that purpose. The American delegation, led by Undersecretary of State for Near East Affairs Ryan Crocker, spent four days in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, meeting separately with Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan chieftain Jalal Talabani as well as representatives of other minor Iraqi opposition groups based in the area, including an ethnic Assyrian party and the Turkish-sponsored Iraqi Turcoman Front. Baghdad protested against the visit, which the head of the Iraqi Parliament’s Arab and international affairs committee, Salem Kubaisi, described as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and an act of blatant interference in the country’s internal affairs. “It is a new link in the chain of repeated aggressions which American administrations have committed against Iraq,” he said, urging the UN to put an end to such violations of international law. US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the aim of Crocker’s mission was “to demonstrate continued US engagement with the Iraqi opposition” and “consult with key players on issues in northern Iraq,” as well as mediating between the KDP and PUK on long-standing disputes between them. Each party controls a sector of the Kurdish enclave, which has been off-limits to Baghdad and policed by Turkish-based American warplanes since 1991. Political rivalry between the two main Kurdish parties led to bouts of fierce fighting, particularly in 1996, when Iraqi government forces intervened on the KDP’s side to eject the PUK from Arbil, and in the process put an end to the presence in the enclave of the American-backed opposition group known as the Iraqi National Congress. Since peace was established between them, the two Kurdish parties have gone some way toward resolving their quarrels over power sharing and the allocation of revenue from taxes levied on external trade, prompting observers to question the assertion that Crocker’s mission is to mediate between them. “To be sure there are still many unresolved issues between the two sides, but they do not require American mediation any longer, and one would have thought the Americans had other priorities at the moment,” one independent Kurdish politician remarked to The Daily Star. That perception was shared by non-Kurdish Iraqi exiles, who pointed to the recent stream of high-level statements from Washington threatening military action against Baghdad, either on grounds of sponsoring “terrorism” or developing weapons of mass destruction. “This visit is a serious move,” one well-connected opposition figure said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Americans have a ready-made plan for military action in Iraq, but they’re sounding out the Kurds about the possible options and gauging their response. This is the preparatory work,” he said. He pointed out that Britain, which a few weeks ago was publicly opposing an American offensive against Iraq, has become more guarded in its statements on the subject, declining to rule out the possibility. He noted that the INC, though lacking any real presence on the ground in Iraq, is strongly favored by many hawks in and close to the Bush administration. Under the Clinton administration, they lobbied in favor of its proposal that the US carve out and extend military protection to a “safe haven” in southern Iraq from which it could organize a guerrilla campaign aimed at eventually seizing power in Baghdad. “The thinking then was that they would use Shiite rebels, but the countries of the region would have none of it and the Clinton administration was not interested. The thinking now may be to try and do the same in the north, using the Kurds rather than Shiites,” perhaps under the auspices of an alternative opposition umbrella to the INC. The Bush administration’s apparent eagerness to project US military might, especially after success in Afghanistan by using heavy aerial bombardment to pave the way for local guerrilla forces to overrun and oust the Taleban regime, may tempt it to try to repeat the scenario in Iraq. But Samarai said the formidable practical and political difficulties of such an enterprise render it a non-option, at least in the foreseeable future. “I do not believe they intend to apply the Afghanistan experiment to Iraq,” he told me. “I think the visit (of the US State Department delegation led by Crocker) is a routine one in every respect, apart from its timing. In my estimation, the timing is deliberate, intended to exert strategic pressure on Baghdad in the current climate, but I don’t see a major military campaign against the regime ensuing,” he said. For one thing, he said, the Kurds who maintain a modus vivendi with Baghdad under which it leaves them more or less to their own devices in their American-protected enclave provided they do not “provoke” it have too much to lose from such a venture going wrong. Iraq’s neighbors, especially the Gulf Arab states, also oppose US military action against Iraq unless it deals a fatal blow to Saddam’s regime and at the same time does not lead to Iraq’s dismemberment neither of which could be guaranteed beforehand. Samarai said the Iraqi military also retains considerable capabilities, and any attempt to oust the regime by American-backed force would inevitably inflict “tremendous destruction” on the country, far in excess of what many of its advocates appear to assume. While not ruling out US air strikes against Iraq in the coming few months, especially if Baghdad does not move on the disarmament issue, Samarai said a concerted campaign aimed at changing the regime was not viable. Rather, it is more likely that the status quo in relations between Baghdad and Washington will be maintained for a while longer, particularly if the UN arms inspectors, who were pulled out of Iraq ahead of the December 1988 Anglo-American bombing campaign against the country, are allowed back in. While the Iraqi government is sticking to its refusal to readmit them, Samarai said there had been indications that it might change its stance in the six months before the UN Security Council next discusses the issue. The former military intelligence chief said he believed the most feasible way of changing the regime in Baghdad was at the hands of the Iraqi armed forces themselves. A coup could be encouraged by external powers, but much work would have to be done. “It would require an evaluation of the situation, detailed plans, declarations of intent, and the appropriate climate,” he said. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/15_12_01/art30.htm -- _______________________________________________ 1 cent a minute calls anywhere in the U.S.! http://www.getpennytalk.com/cgi-bin/adforward.cgi?p_key=RG9853KJ&url=http://www.getpennytalk.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.