A military attack by the USA against Baghdad outside the auspices of the UN Security Council would be disastrous for Washington, leading to a complete collapse of its influence in the Gulf and divorcing the USA from its allies at a critical moment in world history.
Such a strike would be illegal, its negative effects at a regional level would be catastrophic, the diplomatic fall-out against Washington would be massive and whatever little authority the UNO enjoys would be further emaciated.
A strike on Iraq outside the forum of the UNO would be illegal under international law unless firm evidence could be supplied which proved that Iraq was placing the USA, or any of its allies, at risk. This evidence would have to show that there is reasonable suspicion to believe that Iraq is about to carry out an imminent attack with WMD.
To date, there is no such evidence. The last time an inspection was made in Iraq was in December 1998, when UNSCOM was expelled after being accused of spying for Washington. Earlier that year, the US State Department had drawn up a report which stated that Iraq had the “potential” to develop WMD and that it was thought that Baghdad had “a small stockpile of chemical and biological munitions”. This falls a long way short of providing unquestionable evidence that Baghdad has, and is about to use, WMD while at the same time there is not a shred of evidence linking Iraq to international terrorism. All attempts have been made to make a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11th, but diplomatic sources at the highest levels deny that any evidence has been found to this effect.
The regional knock-on effect from a military strike on Iraq would be tremendous and would lead to an exacerbation of the Kurdish and Shi’ite questions, an increased virulence of Islamist extremism, a regional instability which would strike to the core of the already unsteady Gulf regimes and an economic fallout which would place even greater stress on cash-strapped systems at a time of economic slowdown.
The Kurdish question involves not only Iraq but also Iran, Syria and Turkey, none of which would cherish the increase in Kurdish nationalism which would be the inevitable result of the US using these rebels as a Northern Alliance against Baghdad. This would destabilise the regimes of these neighbours of Iraq, leading in turn to social and political turmoil.
A similar use of the Shi’ite rebels in southern Iraq, which was attempted during the Gulf War, would give rise to an “Iranian effect”, drawing the influence of Teheran into the Gulf, something the Iran-Iraq war (1981-1989) managed to prevent.
A military strike by the USA would throw more wood onto the Islamist fire, already raging in many areas, which would explode into a region-wide wave of outrage. This would create added tensions for the unstable Gulf oligarchies, would be potentially disastrous for the Saudi regime and would give rise to an increase in violence against Washington’s ally, Israel and a possible spate of attacks which would make September 11th the beginning, and not the end.
2002 is not 1990, the world has changed in the last decade and George Bush seems not to be able to read the signs. The signs are there and they are crystal clear. Not one of Washington’s allies in the region which fought during the Gulf War are supportive of an attack. Traditionally friendly regimes in the area, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have vehemently displayed their total opposition to such a venture, at a time when Al-Riyadh, a newspaper close to the official Saudi regime, has stated that “We must question those who think that America is our strategic option that cannot be substituted”.
Turkey has complained that the economic situation in the region is unsteady and that the impact of a military strike which may well envisage a prolonged conflict would place its institutions under added stress and would lead to a social crisis. For Turkey, one can read the region as a whole, and this in turn would be translated into political pressure on the regimes, especially when taking into consideration the other issues mentioned above.
At a diplomatic level, this form of attack would take away whatever authority the United Nations Organisation has, authority which Kofi Annan is trying to build for the Organisation and for which he was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize this year. In perpetrating such an attack, with the aggravation that it would be illegal, Washington would manage to undo everything Kofi Annan and his organisation have done, at a stroke.
It is patently obvious that world public opinion is against the notion of a military strike against Iraq by Washington, although George Bush seems to have convinced himself that this will change. It will not and this is reflected in the array of political heavyweights who have declared quite categorically that they are opposed to any action outside the UN Security Council. The voices of Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany have been added to those of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Kofi Annan himself. The support of Washington’s staunchest ally in recent years, the UK, cannot be taken for granted: the grass-roots members of Tony Blair’s party, including a substantial part of his Labour MPs, have stated that they will rebel against any military action by British armed forces in this campaign.
Tony Blair would be as isolated inside his own party as Washington would be in the world community. Recent history has taught the lesson that regimes which isolate themselves are doomed to lose influence. Not only would Washington manage to drive a stake through the heart of the coalition against international terrorism, but also, its influence in the region, which it has carefully nurtured over the last two decades, would be irreparably damaged, as would the credibility of the USA for years to come.
The “morality issue” is not an issue while there are undemocratic regimes in the Gulf which receive support from Washington but which make Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime look like a social paradise and while Israel continues to flout UN Resolutions. The “morality issue” is not an issue at all, especially since it was Washington which supported Iraq during the war with Iran, providing secret logistic information during crucial battles, battles in which WMD were deployed, giving the victory to Baghdad and not Teheran, which at the time was threatening to sweep into the Gulf. This support was given by the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan, whose Vice President was George Bush Senior, along with 60 officials working for the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Finally, George Bush would place unnecessary tensions on the relationship of friendship which has blossomed naturally between Washington and Moscow, which would not see an end to its increased trading contacts in the region with good eyes.
With Saddam Hussein growing older, it would be wiser to consider the diplomatic option while nature takes its course under natural processes which are always less risky than hair-brained schemes planned thousands of miles away for regions which are not very well understood. Kosovo was the teacher. It remains to be seen whether the student has learnt his lesson.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru
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