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December 2001

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In America’s New War – IS IRAQ NEXT?

By Suresh Jaura

Now that the Taliban have been routed in U.S. President George W. Bush's "first war of the 21st century," targets inside Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are seen as the most likely focus for US-led action. The US has made clear it will not necessarily restrict its anti-terror campaign to Afghanistan.


President Bush warned, on November 26, that Saddam Hussein (President of Iraq) must allow United Nations weapons inspectors to re-enter Iraq or else face military consequences.


On November 29, all 15 Security Council members agreed to toughen the military sanctions on Iraq, beginning June1, unless the weapons inspectors are allowed to go back. Previously, Russia had not supported the American and British proposals for better-targeted "smart sanctions" - to tighten the squeeze on Iraq's defence industry, while easing the hardship for civilians.


However, military sources affirm that if testing from the 40 sites results in any links to Iraq that could provide Bush the “evidence to link Iraq with Al Qaida” military action against Iraq can be justified.


"We should declare victory in Afghanistan now and take the war to Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a far bigger threat than the Taliban," says Laurie Mylroie, an adjunct fellow at American Enterprise Institute and publisher of the online newsletter Iraq News.


Earlier, on November 20, in Geneva at the opening of an international conference designed to toughen the 1972 ban on germ warfare, John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary for arms control and international security, accused Baghdad of breeding biological weapons in violation of a treaty outlawing germ warfare.


Iraq, he said, has "developed, produced and stockpiled biological warfare agents and weapons" despite signing the 30-year-old treaty.


Mr. Bolton, regarded as the most hawkish senior official in the State Department, added Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and probably Iran are defying the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.


USA Today reported that Pentagon strategists are building a case for a "massive bombing attack" on Iraq as the next phase in the war on terrorism.


Senior U.S. officials are increasingly mentioning Mr. Hussein as the Taliban collapse in Afghanistan.


He's a very dangerous man," Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said of Saddam Hussein.


U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Baghdad is known to "have harboured terrorists".


After defeating the Taleban and Mr. bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, "we will turn our attention to terrorism throughout the world, and nations such as Iraq, which have tried to pursue weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Powell November-end.


In 1998, a group of 40 conservatives wrote an open letter to President Clinton calling for the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Today many of the signers of that letter hold important government posts, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his chief deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle.


Wolfowitz and Perle, the two names most closely associated with the Get Saddam crowd, are anxious to get rid of Hussein. They remain angry that the United States didn't finish off Saddam after driving his troops from Kuwait. "It grates on them that Saddam is still in power," says one retired military officer who is well plugged into conservative circles.


Having freed Afghans from the scourge of Taleban, it is time to free Iraqis from the “scourge of Saddam Hussein”, said Richard Perle, a defence official under former president Ronald Reagan and currently chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, recently, in an interview with As It Happens on CBC Radio One, Toronto.


In Iraq itself, Perle said, Mr. Hussein's ouster would produce "the same kind of joyous reaction that you're seeing in Afghanistan as we free Afghanistan from the grip of the Taliban."


"One reason they want to get him so badly is so they can set their own records straight."


During a CNN interview six weeks before the September 11 attacks, Wolfowitz called Hussein a primary threat to national security and said the U.S. should go after him as soon as "we find the right way" to do so.


The right way presented itself with the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Within the week, Perle's Defense Policy Board had sent the Pentagon a proposal that suggested that Iraq be targeted by U.S. forces.


A letter to President Bush, released last September 20, signed by 37 endorsers, called for the death or capture of Osama bin Laden, an all-out attack on the Taliban, a large increase in defence spending, and expanding the war to Iraq even if no evidence emerges to link Hussein directly to the September 11 attacks. "Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism," the letter says.


Edward Peck, a former ambassador to Iraq, has suggested that some of the charges being tossed about are reckless. Of Mylroie (of Iraq News), Peck recently said on Crossfire, "If she possibly could, she would accuse [Hussein] of being responsible for male pattern baldness in the United States."


Andrew Cockburn, co-author of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, is equally dubious. "Until September 11 everything had been going his way," Cockburn says. "The anti-sanctions movement was gaining ground and U.S.-Iraq policy was in shambles. There's no coherent rationale for him to have been involved in this."


The Get Saddam faction commands significant, though not necessarily majority, support. Despite its efforts, the Get Saddam lobby still confronts significant political opposition. Perhaps more important is quiet opposition from military officers, who believe it will require at least 500,000 U.S. troops to topple Hussein.


"Some day I'd love to get Saddam Hussein but right now we have bitten off more than we can chew in Afghanistan," says a retired military officer. "The stupidest thing we could do right now is add Iraq to our menu."


Perle, on the other hand, argues that a military strike on Hussein would be a relative cakewalk, and sees it as only the first expansion of the current war. Other possible targets on his list include Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah units operating in southern Lebanon. "In some cases, the example of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein might be enough to convince these people not to support terrorism," he says. "In cases where someone doesn't get the message, we would have to seek other means."


Iraq is long perceived in the Arab world as the West's favourite punching bag. Ten years of sanctions have already exacted a severe toll on Iraq's 23 million people. So has the imposition of the twin no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq; U.S. and British warplanes attack anti-aircraft installations regularly, sometimes killing Iraqis in the process.


Several Arab leaders have warned Washington not to attack another Arab country. Alarmed by the rising rhetoric about Saddam from Washington, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, reiterated his warning that "any military strike on any Arab country will lead to serious consequences and will be considered an aggression against Arab states.''


The coalition assembled by the U.S. against al-Qaeda, however, is not one that would stick together against Iraq.


Speaking on a visit to Bulgaria, on November 28, the French defence minister, Alain Richard, said: "There is no other nation whose leaders have been active accomplices of terrorist actions. So we do not believe that it is necessary to take military action against other sites."


In a speech to parliament, German Chancellor Gerhard  Schroeder said Germany was not "simply waiting to intervene militarily elsewhere in the world, in countries such as Iraq or Somalia."


If the U.S. moves against Saddam Hussein, it is likely to do so alone. The great worry of any such campaign would be its impact on the Arab world, where regimes might not like him but the man in the street might consider him a hero for standing up to the United States, as it happened during the Gulf War.


How about the economic effect of an attack on Iraq?


Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister during 70s and 80s, in an interview with Oliver Morgan of The Observer on September 30, said, “so much depends on political factors. There are many variables - military action, interruption in the supply of oil. We hear that Iraq may be targeted. Now, if that is a fact, the attacks will remove Iraqi production [2.8 million bpd, of which 2.2 million is exported]. There could be knock-on effects.” Under such circumstances we could be looking at $30 a barrel or above.


The soaring oil prices may lead to a longer and deeper recession in the US. All three industrialized regions of the world, North America, Europe and Japan, for the first time in 30 years, are entering a recession together.


How long the recession will last and how deep it will be? How will it affect Republican Party in the US mid-term Congressional elections in 2002, or Bush’s own hopes of re-election in 2004? Will Bush over-ride the hawks in the administration or sanction an attack?


The world is watching!