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This article was originally published in CASI's July 2002 Newsletter (View full contents)
The United States’ reassessment of threats in response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last September has seen it adopt a more aggressive approach towards Iraq. In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush named Iraq as a regime that sponsors terror:
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. […] States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. […] [T]he price of indifference would be catastrophic. [State of the Union address, 29 January 2002]
The speech sparked renewed speculation over US plans to take on Iraq as part of the second phase of its ‘war on terrorism’, and signalled the Bush administration’s frustration with the policy of containment. In recent months, a prolonged public debate has revealed domestic political support for military action, amid significant international concern.
Leading Democrats have expressed their support in principle. "If Saddam Hussein’s around five years from now, we’ve failed," Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS television [Face the Nation, 16 June 2002]. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt was more explicit: "I share President Bush’s resolve to confront this menace head-on," he said. "We should use diplomatic tools where we can, but military means where we must to eliminate the threat [Saddam] poses to the region and our own security" [‘Gephardt backs offensive against Iraq’, Associated Press, 4 June 2002].
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a tour of the Middle East in March, found Arab leaders far more concerned about Israel’s response to Palestinian suicide bombings than the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. European leaders have also expressed concern over US plans (see ‘Middle East’ and ‘Europe and Russia’, below).
US policy, however, remains very much one of ‘regime change’. Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction programmes are felt to have been slowed, but not eradicated, by twelve years of sanctions. As a result, the Bush administration favours a more pre-emptive method of dealing with the threat (see ‘Non-conventional weapons, sanctions and the threat of war’, page 9). In an interview on 5 April on ITV, Bush told Trevor McDonald: "I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go."
Relations between Iraq and other Arab states have improved markedly in recent months, with Iraq formally pledging to respect boundaries with Kuwait, and Arab leaders expressing public disapproval of US plans for military action.
The Arab League summit in Beirut at the end of March approved a landmark agreement between Iraq and Kuwait, achieved through the mediation of Oman and Qatar, seeking to end disputes between the two countries. The summit’s final communiqué stated: "Arab leaders welcome Iraq’s confirmation to respect the independence, sovereignty and security of the state of Kuwait and guarantee its safety and unity of its land to avoid anything that might cause a repetition of what happened in 1990" [‘Iraq and Kuwait strike reconciliation deal’, The Guardian, 29 March 2002]. Iraq has recognised the territorial integrity and political independence of the state of Kuwait since 1994, when it agreed to the boundaries laid out in UN Security Council Resolution 833. This, however, was the first direct Iraqi-Kuwaiti agreement without UN mediation, and the first to receive Saudi support. Iraq’s presidential envoy Izzat Ibrahim and the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah sealed the deal with a handshake, whilst Ibrahim and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah hugged and kissed in front of television cameras and to applause from the assembled Arab delegates.
The statement by Arab leaders also voiced their "total rejection of any attack on Iraq" [‘Iraq and Kuwait strike reconciliation deal’, The Guardian, 29 March 2002], saying they considered it "a threat to the national security of all Arab states" [‘Leaders embrace Iraqi attempt to return to the fold’, The Independent, 29 March 2002]. It also for the first time called unconditionally for the UN sanctions to be lifted. Previous declarations could have been interpreted as conditional upon Iraq fulfilling its other obligations.
The summit marked the formalising of Arab opposition to US military action, after a series of comments from various leaders over the previous two months. The Saudi Arabian Interior Minister said in February that his country would not support an attack on Iraq "in any circumstance", whilst the United Arab Emirates Minister for Foreign Affairs said there was "no justification to strike Iraq" [‘Saudi, UAE oppose action against Iraq’, Times of India, 17 February 2002]. At the same time, Syria’s President Assad warned that an attack against Iraq would result in "a popular fury" across the Arab world [‘Assad warns US against attacking Iraq’, Voice of America, 17 February 2002]. The Egyptian Foreign Minister suggested that instead it was "time to reassess the sanctions" [‘Egypt urges rethink of sanctions against Iraq’, Reuters, 18 February 2002].
In March, after Vice-President Dick Cheney had visited eleven Middle Eastern countries in ten days, The Daily Telegraph reported that Saudi Arabia had told Cheney: "American forces will not be allowed to use the kingdom’s territory to launch military strikes against Iraq" [‘Saudis ‘refuse to let America use bases for attacks on Iraq’’, 18 March 2002]. Other bordering countries have given equal assurances. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told reporters at an EU summit in Barcelona: "We feel that Iraq should not be the subject of military attacks because it would upset the whole Middle East" [‘Turkey says Iraq no threat, should not be attacked’, Reuters, 15 March 2002]. In the Los Angeles Times a week after Cheney’s visit to Jordan, King Abdullah II warned: "A strike against Iraq, the potential fragmentation of Iraq, the potential nightmare of a civil war as a result of an American strike, is something that I don’t think the region can handle" [‘Jordan’s King sees pitfalls in a strike on Iraq’, 17 March 2002]. Even Kuwait refused to offer Cheney its support, with Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah saying after Cheney’s visit: "The Iraqi regime will not be harmed but the Iraqi people will" [‘Kuwait opposes strike against Iraq’, Australian Herald Sun, 18 March 2002]. Iran recently added its voice to the opposition. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said: "Iran is firmly opposed to any attack against any country, particularly Iraq, aimed at changing governments or the regime in place". Such an attack would be an "absolute violation of international conventions and does not contribute at all to calming crises", he said [‘Iran "firmly opposed" to any military attack on Iraq: Asefi’, AFP, 1 July 2002].
Iraqi opposition groups have also expressed concern. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the spiritual and political leader of Iraq’s exiled Shi’ite community said in March: "We don’t agree with an American attack on Iraq. It will cause great damage and suffering to ordinary people." Any military action should be authorised by the UN, he said, "on the pattern of Bosnia", to prevent Saddam using heavy weapons against Iraqi people [‘Saddam enemy warns against war’, The Guardian, 18 March 2002]. In June, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic party in northern Iraq, Massouf Barzani, also spoke against a military approach: "The Iraqi issue won’t be solved by military action or covert action", he said [‘Kurdish leader shuns US move to oust Saddam’, The Guardian, 19 June 2002].
Payments to Palestinians
The Iraqi government has made extra efforts, during the recent period of increased Israeli-Palestinian violence, to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause. This has involved both statements of support from Saddam Hussein and an increase in the size of payments made to Palestinian families.
The Iraqi government claims to have paid $10,000 to the families of all Palestinians killed since the start of the second intifada, including suicide bombers. It also claims to grant $5,000 to those whose homes have been destroyed by Israeli forces, and lesser amounts to Palestinian fighters who have been injured. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald reported Rakad Salem, the secretary-general of the Arab Liberation Front, as confirming that "since late 2000, more than 800 families had received martyr payments of $US10,000 […] and that $US1000 had been given to Palestinian fighters with serious injuries and $US500 to those with light injuries" [‘A sea of blood… a sip of coffee’, 26 March 2002]. The Guardian reported in April that Iraq was also "offering $25,000 (£18,000) to the Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed in the Israeli assault on Jenin refugee camp" [‘Saddam’s £14m gesture’, 22 April 2002].
In March, Tareq Aziz announced that $25,000 would now be paid "to each family of the martyrs of the Palestinian uprising" [‘Iraq raises aid to Palestinian uprising victims’, Reuters, 11 March 2002]. An Associated Press report at the start of April stated: "Saddam Hussein has increased money for the relatives of suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000, drawing sharp criticism from Washington. […] The families of three suicide bombers said they have recently received payments of $25,000" [‘Iraq Raises Suicide Bomber Payments’, 3 April 2002]. The increase seems to have been an incentive to recruit more suicide bombers.
Ironically, the payments have been publicised by both the Iraqi and US governments. They have probably increased the Iraqi government’s standing in parts of the Arab world, with Saddam being seen to be taking action while others talk. Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 1 April: "Well, as I’m sure you’ve read, the Iraqis, Saddam Hussein, have announced that they’re offering stipends to families of people – of suicide bombers. They’ve decided that that’s a good thing to do, so they’re running around encouraging people to be suicide bombers and offering – I think I saw something like $10,000 per family" [News Briefing, US Dept. of Defense]. The recent increase adds to the validity of this portrayal. Yet as the Associated Press article reported on 3 April: "Saddam is not the only one giving money. Charities from Saudi Arabia and Qatar – both U.S. allies – pay money to families of Palestinians killed in the fighting, including suicide bombers."
Europe and Russia
European governments, given the lack of convincing evidence connecting Iraq to the al-Qaeda network, have expressed significant concern in recent months at the prospect of the extension of the US ‘war on terrorism’ to Iraq, preferring instead to highlight the importance of a multilateral approach through the UN.
Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Ludger Vollmer, said in February: "We Europeans warn against it. There is no indication, no proof that Iraq is involved in the terrorism we have been talking about for the last few months […] this terror argument cannot be used to legitimise old enmities" [‘Bush warned over ‘axis of evil’’, The Guardian, 5 February 2002]. The EU’s external affairs chief, Chris Patten, suggested that the United States should curb its "unilateralist urge" [‘Patten assails ‘unilateralist’ U.S.’, Reuters, 16 February 2002]. The previous week he had told The Guardian he thought the Bush administration took an "absolutist and simplistic" stance towards the rest of the world. "I find it hard to believe that’s a thought-through policy," he said of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, adding that the phrase was "unhelpful" [‘Patten lays into Bush’s America’, 9 February 2002].
The then French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine agreed, describing Washington’s attitude as "a ‘simplistic’ approach to foreign affairs" [‘Allies should respect U.S. leadership – Powell’, Reuters, 12 February 2002]. Later that month Francois Bujon, the French Ambassador to the US said: "We would not pledge support. They (the United States) would be on their own" [‘France won’t back U.S. attack on Iraq’, The Washington Times, 22 February 2002]. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had told a conference of the Green Party in Berlin in January: "There has been a lot of speculation but there would be no majority in the Bundestag for a military intervention in Iraq" [‘Saudis ‘refuse to let America use bases for attacks on Iraq’’, Daily Telegraph, 18 March 2002]. A spokesperson for the Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in March that Germany would only join in a broadening of the ‘war on terror’ to Iraq if the action had UN approval. "It’s a position of principle of which our American partners are also aware," she said [‘Britain isolated over Iraq war threat’, The Guardian, 16 March 2002]. Of EU leaders, only Tony Blair expressed support for military action "if necessary" (see ‘Concerns over military action’, page 13).
The Russian leadership also expressed its concern. In January, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said: "The struggle against terrorism should be based on a firm legal basis and the U.N. should play a coordinating role in the joint international effort […] That is why Russia sees as unacceptable a mechanical spread of the anti-terrorist operation to any other country, including Iraq" [‘Russia warns U.S. against military strike on Iraq’, Reuters, 24 January 2002]. Ivanov also reiterated Russia’s support for lifting sanctions against Iraq, which he called "counterproductive". In February, The Guardian reported President Putin as saying: "We know which nations’ representatives and citizens were fighting alongside the Taliban and where their activities were financed from. […] Iraq is not on this list" [‘US split with allies grows’, 15 February 2002].
Ivanov said in March that Russia was "against any attack on a country, be it Iraq or any other country, which bypasses the UN Security Council", at which it has a veto [‘Russia says action on Iraq must not bypass UN’, Financial Times, 20 March 2002]. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported in June that Ivanov had commented: "We are doing everything so that the events develop in the framework of a political settlement" [‘Russia trying to prevent use of force to resolve Iraq issue – minister’, 11 June 2002].
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