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[casi] Prospects for war on Iraq

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The following feature article appears in today's Financial Times. It provides a useful overview of 
the current state of preparations for the coming war, and the obstacles still to be overcome. One 
factor left out of the picture is the most unpredictable of all, and for us the most important: 
what are the masses, the workers and farmers, the poor and exploited, the 'ordinary people' of the 
Middle East, the US and here in the UK going to do?

Prophesying war

By Roula Khalaf and Richard Wolffe

Financial Times  July 17 2002

Saddam Hussein is feeling the heat. Capping days of defiant rhetoric from Baghdad, he delivered a 
fiery speech on Wednesday lambasting the US and pledging that he would repel any attempt to topple 
him from power.

"You will never defeat me this time," he said in an address marking the 34th anniversary of the 
coup that brought his Ba'ath party to power. "Never! Even if you come together from all over the 
world, and invite all the devils as well to stand by you."

As the US multiplies its warnings to Iraq and military planners study their options, the Iraqi 
regime has become convinced of the inevitability of military action. Wednesday's speech followed 
Monday's largely symbolic decision by Iraq's rubber-stamp parliament to give the go-ahead for 
military preparations to stand against a US campaign. Uday, Mr Hussein's son, told the assembly 
that the US attack would be "more cruel" than the Gulf war.

Iraq may be correct to prepare for a US attack but one of the many factors delaying that attack is 
fear of retaliation. In Washington, senior administration officials concede they have little idea 
how Mr Hussein will respond with the very weapons of mass destruction that they suspect him of 
having. "If you go after the weapons of mass destruction and you miss half, at that point the other 
side could really feel there is no point in holding back," says one official.

That in part helps to explain the broad range of military plans being studied inside the US 
administration - from a full-scale invasion, involving up to 250,000 soldiers, to an Afghan-style 
mixture of US air support and local rebels. However, there appear to be as many frustrated parties 
inside the administration as there are military plans under debate. Wayne Downing, a retired army 
general who was one of the leading proponents of an Afghan-style operation in Iraq, quit his post 
as a White House official last month. Colleagues say he was frustrated by the slow pace of action.

Administration officials rule out one factor that might explain the difficulties in settling on a 
plan of action: the United Nations. Senior officials have made clear that they will not wait for 
further conflict between UN weapons inspectors and Mr Hussein to claim justification for an attack 
on Iraq. Iraq's talks with the UN on the return of weapons inspectors failed earlier this month. 
"This is a charade," said one state department official as the talks collapsed. "They have their 
obligations. They are not meeting them and they are giving no indication they will meet them."

A far more important delaying factor is divisions within the exiled Iraqi opposition. The disparate 
groups have little influence inside the country and, aside from the Kurds in northern Iraq, they 
are unlikely to play any role in a military campaign. But Iraq appears to have been rattled by the 
London meeting of 80 former military and civilian opposition members to discuss hastening the 
removal of Mr Hussein.

Analysts say the fact that the meeting was held in public and the international attention it 
attracted marked a US propaganda coup against the Iraqi regime. "We're in the phase of 
psychological pressure on the Iraqi regime by a steady build-up of forces and meetings of the 
opposition," says Christopher Langton, head of defence analysis at London's International Institute 
of Strategic Studies. "But there is no sign of unity between Iraqi factions, which the US wants 
before it gets involved in anything major."

Even as it attempts to organise its internal Iraqi support, the Bush administration is seeking 
external support from allies in the region. Military experts estimate that there are already about 
200,000 US soldiers in the Gulf, a build-up that was part of the preparations for the war in 
Afghanistan. The US can count on the help of Kuwait, a key country that owes the US for its 
liberation in the Gulf war.

Analysts suggest the US military is also moving some assets out of Saudi Arabia, which is unlikely 
to allow its territory to be used as a launch-pad for attacks on Iraq, and into its base in the 
small Gulf state of Qatar. With Kuwait and one of the smaller Gulf states on board, the US would 
require only the support of Turkey for a full military strike, according to Michael O'Hanlon of the 
Brookings Institution. Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy defence secretary, met Turkish officials in Ankara 
this week to press the government, now facing a domestic political crisis, to focus on Iraq. 
Turkey, however, has little appetite for involvement in a war on Iraq and fears that any 
strengthening of Iraq's Kurdish population would boost the ambitions of its own Kurdish minority.

Washington also faces an uphill battle in persuading other key neighbours of Iraq to facilitate a 
campaign. The difficulty was illustrated last week by Jordan's reaction to reports that it will be 
used as a launch-pad for attacks on Iraq. Frantic denials were issued by officials. Journalists 
were taken to a desert air base near the Iraqi border on Monday to see that it was not being 
prepared for operations.

The use of bases in Jordan would be essential if the US were to create a buffer zone in western 
Iraq that would provide security guarantees to Israel - the most likely target of Iraqi 
retaliation. But the continuing Palestinian- Israeli conflict has put huge pressure on King 
Abdullah in a country where most of the population is of Palestinian origin. "The US has to 
understand the destabilising effect a war on Iraq would have in Jordan. We have the Palestinian 
intifada which has tested people's patience. The economy is not doing great. We can't add another 
provocative element," says Ayman Safadi, editor of the Jordan Times.

The reaction of Iran, which backs Iraq's largest Shia opposition group, is also unclear. Some 
officials have indicated that Tehran would stay on the sidelines in a US-led war and there are 
signs that the Iraqi opposition it hosts is now co-ordinating its policies with the Kurds. However, 
Iran is included in President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" and fears becoming the US's next 
target after Iraq. Iranian officials argue that co-operation with the US in Afghanistan has only 
led to stronger anti-Iran rhetoric from Washington, giving them no incentive to help the US in Iraq.

Even Iraq's Kurds, long persecuted by the regime and thus most enthusiastic about its removal, have 
concerns. According to sources close to the Kurds, the leaders of the two main factions - Jalal 
Talabani and Massoud Barzani - were secretly flown to Virginia in April for high-level meetings 
with US officials. They were told that the Central Intelligence Agency wanted to re-establish a 
base in the area. Sources say the Kurds asked for iron-clad guarantees that the region would get US 
protection should any plot backfire. They have bitter memories of the failure of past alliances 
during two previous uprisings.

As the administration weighs its options in Iraq, Mr Bush has given the green light to the CIA to 
conduct covert operations in Iraq. But few expect those operations to produce a change of regime. 
"The main problem has always been putting together something co-ordinated enough to work without 
its being penetrated by Iraq's very efficient security services," says a western diplomat with 
experience of Iraq.

Some dissidents who have had contacts with the US administration say the covert operations are part 
of a larger plan aimed primarily at unnerving the regime and gradually seizing power from it. The 
clandestine work will be useful in identifying weapons sites as well as tribes and military 
officials that could be persuaded to act either before or when military operations begin. "What's 
being done now by the US is intelligence-gathering. If a coup works, that's good - but a coup is 
difficult. It's been tried before. It failed," says a leading dissident. "So whatever is under way 
now is likely to end up with a big military campaign."

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