WAR WITH IRAQ-The case against
(First published in ‘Overland Magazine’ in Autumn 2003 before the intervention in Iraq)
What matters could have been raised in federal parliament if Howard’s promised parliamentary debate on Australia’s participation in a war on Iraq had been allowed to take place?
A starting point in the debate should be that the US and Britain have already commenced a war against Iraq. US and British bombing of Iraq has never completely ceased since 1991.
Many bombs have fallen on populated areas, where civilian deaths are unavoidable. According to British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, between August 1992 and December 1998 UK aircraft released 2.5 tonnes of ‘ordinance’ over the no-fly zone. Between December 1998 and May 2000 UK aircraft released 78 tonnes, about 20 per cent of the total released. In other words, during this period the US and UK combined released some 400 tonnes of bombs and missiles on Iraq. The increase in bombing during this period was justified on the basis that Iraq had not complied with UN sanctions. But there was no Security Council resolution justifying the action.
The bombing has escalated again over recent months. The pretext for the bombing has been the policing of ‘no-fly’ zones declared by the US and Britain after the Gulf War.
The US and Britain claim that the bombing has been aimed at Iraqi air defences. But Iraq has virtually no air force and no modern air defences. The US and Britain have been dropping bombs or firing missiles at infrastructure already laid to waste by the previous war or the twelve-year-old embargo.
These nations claim that the creation of the no-fly zones is supported by UN Security Council Resolution 688. But there is no reference to ‘no-fly’ zones in the resolution.
The Australian-born English-based journalist John Pilger asked Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1992, when Resolution 688 was passed, about the no-fly zones and resolution 688. He told Pilger:
“The issue of no-fly zones was not raised and therefore not debated: not a word. They offer no legitimacy to countries sending their aircraft to attack Iraq . . . They are illegal”.
Not even the Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein is more heavily armed now than he was during the Gulf War of 1991. During that war Saddam did not use weapons of mass destruction. He dispatched Scud missiles against Israel. They contained conventional warheads, not chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Yet prior to the Gulf War, Saddam had used chemical weapons in his war with Iran and against the Kurds. Why then didn’t he use them in the Gulf War?
The answer is simple. Saddam has only ever used chemical weapons when he has known that their use would not incur the wrath of the USA. Saddam knew that any attempt to use weapons of mass destruction during the Gulf War would lead to a retaliatory response by the US and its allies and determination to press the war beyond Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait to the removal of his regime. Nothing significant has changed in relation to this balance of terror since the first Gulf War. All that has changed is that Iraq has been weakened economically and militarily, and that a bunch of murderous religious fanatics, completely unrelated to Saddam, have attacked the US. The attackers did not use weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam’s Baathist regime is and always has been secular. As such it is the subject of scorn from Islamic extremists. This is why Simon Crean is correct when he states that a war against Iraq is not part of any war against terrorism. Not only is there is no proof of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda. There is no reason to assume such support.
Iraq’s previous support from the US was because Iraq was viewed as a bulwark against Iran’s revolutionary Islamic fundamentalism in the region. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, his country’s former intelligence chief, has noted how Bin Laden views Saddam Hussein as “an apostate, an infidel or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim”.
Much of the money trail for al-Qaeda comes from US ally Saudi Arabia; none has been traced to Iraq. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi; none was Iraqi.
Al-Qaeda appears to possess a well-resourced network of Islamic extremists prepared to give up their lives in a holy jihad against the USA, which it claims is engaged in a “war against Muslims”. If Al-Qaeda were trenchantly opposed to US intervention in Iraq, it could create a potential political crisis for the Bush administration by kidnapping and holding hostage half a dozen or so US citizens, perhaps children, and threatening to kill them if the US invades Iraq. No such action is likely as a US invasion is itself likely to serve the political ends of al-Qaeda.
This ‘war’ will assist al-Qaeda to reinforce its propaganda, portraying the US, with its supporters and potential supporters, as an agent of Satan. It also has the potential to rid Iraq of the heretic Saddam while creating the tensions, crises and political spaces for the growth of Islamic extremism.
On 7 October 2002, George Bush delivered a speech in which he made his case against Iraq:
“Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism and practices terror against its own people. Some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone—because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant, who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people. This same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East, has invaded and brutally occupied a small neighbour, has struck other nations without warning, and holds an unrelenting hostility towards the United States.”
Let us analyse President Bush’s propositions.
His first statement, regarding the requirement that Iraq cease production of all weapons of mass destruction, is true. It is also selective. Resolution 687, made following the Gulf War, also refers to establishing a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. If Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD) then it is not alone. Israel possesses nuclear weapons and the US has also presumably created nuclear capability in the region. Syria and Egypt possess chemical weapons.
Scott Ritter, for five years a senior UNSCOM weapons inspector, has stated:
“By 1998, the chemical weapons infrastructure (of Iraq) had been completely dismantled or destroyed by UNSCOM or by Iraq in compliance with our mandate. The biological weapons program was gone, all the major facilities eliminated. The nuclear weapons program was completely eliminated. The long-range ballistic missiles program was completely eliminated. If I had to quantify Iraq’s threat, I would say (it is) zero.”
If Iraq were to produce or deploy nuclear or chemical weapons, these would almost certainly be detected by satellite and air reconnaissance and destroyed in air strikes. According to Ritter, following the job done by UNSCOM after the Gulf War, in order to produce weapons of mass destruction, Iraq would have to procure the complicated tools and technology required through front companies, which would likely be detected. The manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits vented gases that would have been detected by now if they existed. The manufacture of nuclear weapons emits gamma rays that would also have been detected by now if they existed. The US has been watching, via satellite and other means, and has seen none of this.
“If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof,” Ritter has said.
In relation to biological weapons, both Stephen Zunes in his article ‘Fallacies of US Plans to Invade Iraq’ and Ritter, reported in the Weekend Australian, have emphasised the problem of delivery systems. Zunes cites Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, as having stated:
“There is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero”.
According to Ritter:
“Iraq never perfected the means to aerosolise anthrax. What they produced was crude. The only way an Iraqi biological agent would kill you is if it landed on your head.”
There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is a murderous tyrant, as murderous and tyrannical as they come. He is up there with US allies Pinochet, Somoza, Marcos and Suharto. And like all of those Saddam was assisted by the USA and sustained in power by them. In the case of Saddam this even occurred at the time when he was using chemical weapons against Iran and Iraq’s own Kurdish population.
The harsh fact is that, to date, Saddam has only ever used chemical weapons in situations where he knew that the West would tolerate it.
Saddam’s Baath Party came to power in the midst of the Cold War. The most significant social force in the country at the time was the Iraqi Communist Party. The US-backed gangster wing of the Baath Party decimated first the communists and then the oil workers’ trade unions. From this time, Saddam Hussein was rewarded by the West with arms and trade contracts until he invaded Kuwait in 1990.
A comprehensive discussion of US support to Iraq during the Iraq–Iran war is contained in ‘Oil, politics and the military in the US “war on terror”’ by Irene Gendzier (<www.zmag.org/meastwatch/gendzieroil. htm>). She states:
“The Iran–Iraq war coincided with a period, 1980– 1988, that the US Department of State (DOS) identified as one in which the Iraqi regime committed ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. In this period, according to the DOS, the Iraqi dictator “ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces in the 1980–1988 Iran– Iraq war, and against Iraq’s Kurdish population in 1988.”
The 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq war left 150,000 to 340,000 Iraqi and 450,000 to 730,000 Iranians dead. In the same terrible years, both Iran and Iraq received arms from foreign sources, including the United States, the Soviet Union and France, with North Korea and Israel providing arms to Iran. Assessments of this arms traffic demonstrate, however, that between 1981 and 1988 Iraq received 77 per cent of the arms delivered to the two belligerents (in dollar terms) while Iran received only 23 per cent.
Between 1985 and 1992, according to Henry Gonzalez, Republican former Chairman of the House Banking Committee, the US Commerce Department “approved at least 220 export licenses for the Iraqi armed forces, major weapons complexes, and enterprises identified by the Central Intelligence Agency as diverting technology to weapons programs.”
Former Deputy Defence Undersecretary Stephen Bryen reported on the same occasion that the US administration encouraged:
“US companies to go to Iraq and do business there, and a lot of that that was sold was going right into the military programs .The [Bush] administration’s policy was to support Saddam Hussein, and not to look backwards, not to look sideways, look straight ahead and give him what he wanted. We coddled him, we supported him, he was ‘our guy.’ And just because he was building missiles, or just because he had a nuclear potential—the CIA warned about that, we know that now for sure— didn’t matter. They simply didn’t care.”
Details of the “US Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Gulf War” were issued in a report known as the Riegle Report on May 25, 1994, 103rd Congress, 2nd Session.
According to the Riegle Report:
“Records available from the supplier for the period from 1985 until the present show that during this time, pathogenic (meaning ‘disease-producing’), toxigenic (meaning ‘poisonous’), and other biological research materials were exported to Iraq pursuant to application and licensing by the US Department of Commerce.”
More recently, in August, 2002, ‘The New York Times’ reported on previously undisclosed aspects of the covert US program carried out under the Reagan administration. The Times report indicated that the program “provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran–Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.” These sources further revealed: “Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq’s employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, the American military officers said President Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defence Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.”
Criticism of Saddam’s treatment of the Kurds by the Bush administration represents the ultimate in hypocrisy. After being presented with evidence that Iraq had used chemical weapons to attack the Kurds in 1987–88, the Reagan administration blocked a Senate resolution imposing sanctions on Iraq, and continued to pursue good relations with the regime.
Moreover, the Kurdish rebellion is directed not only against Baghdad but also against one of Washington’s principal allies in the region—Turkey. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sought to justify the no-fly zones as a protective measure for the Kurds against incursion from Saddam’s forces. But the no-fly zones have seen repeated incursions by Turkish forces into Northern Iraq with attacks on the Kurdish population. In December 2000 Turkish forces attacked Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. Britain and Washington said and did nothing apart from suspending their flights into the area.
Why did Saddam invade Kuwait? Is he likely to again? Kuwait was ruled from Baghdad for two thousand years prior to 1922 and every Iraqi government since has laid territorial claim to it. An oil dispute arose between Baghdad and Kuwait but Saddam did not move against Kuwait until after he had met with US ambassador April Glaspie. To this day the Iraqi regime claims that Glaspie was informed of Iraq’s plans, and made no effort to dissuade the regime from executing them. So Baghdad considered that it had been given the ‘green light’ from Washington.
The scenario depicted by the Iraqi regime is essentially that of Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. A regional military power invades a small neighbour believing that there will be no opposition from the superpower. In the case of Indonesia, the Suharto regime was correct. There was no opposition to its invasion of East Timor. In the case of Iraq it seems that the Iraqis were either misinformed by the US or they misread the signs from Washington.
It is of course also possible that Saddam simply did not care about the military reprisals that the US indicated it would take in response to the invasion of Kuwait or is lying about having consulted Glaspie. But that Saddam would have invaded Kuwait knowing that this would lead to war with the US and its allies seems unlikely.
Far from Iraq’s occupation being brutal, as was Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, Kuwait fell without a struggle. Kuwait’s feudal monarchs left immediately.
Of course none of this justifies the invasion. But in terms of the ongoing threat posed by Iraq to regional security, the real issues are whether Saddam would have invaded if he understood the repercussions that would follow and whether his now weakened regime poses a threat, either to his neighbours or the US?
It is certainly not the case that Iraq’s neighbours are militating for a war to remove Saddam. On the contrary, apart from Israel, most are reluctant players in a war whose primary movers are the US and Britain. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have all urged the US not to go to war.
Neither is Iraq likely to attack its neighbours, given the huge and ongoing military presence of the US throughout the Gulf, a military presence that is unlikely to be removed even if the US achieves its goal of regime change in Iraq. The Institute for National Strategic Studies, a right-leaning US think-tank, has indicated that US military presence in the Gulf will be ongoing even if Saddam is removed.
Two aspects ignored by President Bush in his speech are the human and economic costs of military intervention in Iraq.
The most significant attempt to analyse the human cost of a war in Iraq has been conducted by the global health organisation Medact, the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War—winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. It released a report entitled ‘Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq’ in London on 12 November 2002 (‘the IPPNW report’). It was released on the same day in the US by IPPNW and its US affiliate Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well by other affiliates in various countries including Australia.
The report is available at: <www.ippnw.org/Collateral Damage.html>. It bases its estimates on data from the earlier Gulf War, from comparable conflicts and crises elsewhere, and from the most reliable recent information on the health status of Iraq. It hypothesises a credible war scenario from current US military strategy. This envisages four different elements:
- sustained and devastating air attacks on government and military facilities and infrastructure in Baghdad and other major urban centres;
- landing of ground forces to seize oil-producing regions in the south east;
- gaining control of north Iraq; and
- rapid deployment forces backed by air attacks to take Baghdad.
The report concluded:
- Credible estimates of the total possible deaths on all sides during the conflict and the following three months range from 48,000 to over 260,000. Civil war within Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths. Additional later deaths from post-war adverse health effects could reach 200,000. If nuclear weapons were used the death toll could reach 3,900,000.
- In all scenarios the majority of casualties will be civilians. It could also damage the global economy and thus indirectly harm the health and well being of millions more people across the world.
- The aftermath of a ‘conventional’ war could include civil war, famine and epidemics, millions of refugees and displaced people, catastrophic effects on children’s health and development, economic collapse including failure of agriculture and manufacturing, and a requirement for long-term peacekeeping.
- Destabilisation and possible regime change in countries neighbouring Iraq is also possible, as well as more terrorist attacks. Global economic crisis may be triggered through trade reduction and soaring oil prices, with particularly devastating consequences for developing countries.
The IPPNW report stated that the US is likely to spend $50–$200 billion on the war and $5–$20 billion annually on the occupation. The report points out that $100 billion would fund about four years of expenditure to address the health needs of the world’s poorest people. The US Congress itself has attempted to estimate the economic costs of the war. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provided an estimate of the economic costs of military intervention in Iraq to Congress on 30 September 2002. It stated that the cost of the war depended on a number of variables not currently known. However it also stated:
“CBO estimated that the incremental costs of deploying a force to the Persian Gulf (the costs that would be incurred above those budgeted for routine operations) would be between $9 billion and $13 billion. Prosecuting a war would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion a month— although CBO cannot estimate how long such a war is likely to last. After hostilities end, the costs to return US forces to their home bases would range between $5 billion and $7 billion. Further, the incremental cost of an occupation following combat operations could vary from about $1 billion to $4 billion a month.”
The finding in the IPPNW report that the US is likely to spend $50–$200 billion on military intervention and subsequent occupation does not seem unreasonable.
Most opponents of the war believe it to be related to Western, and particularly US, oil interests. Conversely, most who support military intervention state that oil is at least not the principal motive.
Scott Ritter is an opponent of military intervention who says that the war is not about oil. Having voted for Bush as a compassionate conservative he now says that Bush has allowed hubris into US policy and that he has “far right ideologists running US national security policy”. Ritter says: “This war is nothing to do with oil, this war is about ideology”.
On the other hand, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman argues that despite President Bush not wanting to admit it, the war is at least partly about oil.
Friedman says concerns about Saddam obtaining weapons of mass destruction are not based on fears that he might attack the US but on fears that he might acquire “excessive influence over the Persian Gulf”, the “natural resource that powers the world’s industrial base”. He states that North Korea already has nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them and a record of selling dangerous weapons to anyone who will buy them, and that North Korea is even more cruel to its own people than Saddam. He says the reasons Bush is going for Saddam first are because it’s easier and because of oil.
Friedman claims that a moral argument can be made out for a war fought to protect Gulf oil. This is provided that the US also adopts policies to limit its own excessive domestic oil consumption and that it helps Iraqis build the first democratic and progressive Arab regime, rather than merely installing a pro-US autocrat.
The politics of oil in the Middle East are extremely complex and cannot be covered in any detail here. Gendzier’s essay contains a comprehensive analysis. A few remarks, however, can be made.
- Iraq is a significant oil producer with the world’s greatest untapped oil reserves. The USA has an insatiable appetite for oil. Gendzier cites the 2001 report of the US National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPD), ‘Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future’ which indicates that the US consumes “over 25 per cent of the oil produced worldwide, slightly more than half of which it imports”. Without a shift in policy “the share of US oil demand met by net imports is projected to increase from 52 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2020”. Two thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves are located in the Middle East.
- Transport alone accounts for 66 per cent of US oil consumption. US car producers have the technology to produce automobiles that get 45 miles per gallon and vans that get 35 miles per gallon, but there are no signs of a change in US oil-consumption policies.
- Bill Clinton promised that cars would be getting 40 miles per gallon at the end of his Presidency. He did not deliver his promise. The average miles per gallon for vehicles went down during his presidency from 26 miles to 24.7 miles per gallon.13
- Dependency on oil imports has even led the Bush administration to push for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Preserve.
There is really nothing to suggest that one of Friedman’s conditions for a ‘moral war for oil’, namely policies to lessen US oil consumption, will be forthcoming from the pro-oil Bush administration. In any event, Pulitzer Prize or not, the notion that one country’s adoption of policies to reduce domestic oil consumption can somehow bolster a moral argument in support of military intervention in another country seems extraordinary.
Saudi Arabia is by far the world’s largest oil exporter. Gendzier’s essay states that in November 2001 it exported an estimated 7.8 million barrels per day (mbd), followed by Venezuela at 2.7 mbd, Iran at 2.6 mbd, United Arab Emirates at 2.2 mbd, and Iraq at 2.1 mbd. The strategic importance of Saudi Arabia to Western oil interests is paramount. The Saudis export a little under three times the amount of their nearest rivals.
The Saud family, from whom the country derives its name, governs Saudi Arabia. It is a monachal system of government without a constitution, run by the King who is the undisputed chief of state and head of government and who administers ‘justice’ in accordance with Islamic law. The state religion of Saudi Arabia is Whabbism, a puritanical sect of Islam that supports punishment beatings, the stoning to death of adulterers, the amputation of thieves’ limbs, public executions and administration of corporal punishment. Adherence to other religions is forbidden. Religious Courts preside and base all decisions on Islamic law with no regard to precedent. The system has been harshly criticised by Amnesty International.
Women do own property in Saudi Arabia but they cannot leave the country without written permission of a male relative. They cannot drive a car or appear unveiled within the country. Whabbism is also the religion of the Saudi royals, its bureaucracy, its army and air-force and of Osama Bin Laden.
Saudi Arabia, together with Turkey and Israel has long been the US’s most reliable ally in the region. Saudi Arabia helped bankroll the religious schools in Pakistan, where the Taliban was created, as well as Iraq’s war against Iran.
However, tensions now exist in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the USA. Gendzier states:
“There is little question that US–Saudi relations entered a difficult phase in the aftermath of 9/ 11. The Saudi identity of the majority of the hijackers, along with that of Osama bin Laden, increased Washington’s pressure on Riyadh. Washington demanded the arrest of supporters of al-Qaeda and the backers of bin Laden, but matters did not stop there. The Saudi Kingdom was subjected to an unprecedented level of public criticism in the US, its protected status increasingly open to question. Riyadh responded with evident frustration, mounting publicity campaigns and taking more pointed actions, such as the alleged withdrawal by Saudi private investors of some $200 billion from US markets. Within a year of the September attacks, the Saudi regime moved to close off its natural gas fields to US and Western companies, a step that “appeared to all but end a year long plan by the companies to invest $25 billion in Saudi Arabia, in what was billed as a historic reopening of the kingdom’s petroleum sector”.
In the view of some observers it is difficulty in the US–Saudi relationship and the need to diversify the sources of oil imports that account for rekindled US interest in Iraq. Although Iraq exports far less oil than Saudi Arabia it possesses two of the largest untapped oil and natural gas reserves in the world. Iraq has stated that it could nearly double its oil production in the next three years. It certainly has the greatest capacity to extend oil production in the Middle East.
These factors led John Pilger to the view that the US desire for war in Iraq is principally about oil. He has stated in an article posted on ZNET:
“At present, America depends on Iraq’s neighbour Saudi Arabia, not just for oil but for keeping the price of oil down . . . The grievance against the Americans for their imperial interventions in the Middle East is said to be deepest in the country that was invented by British imperialism and has since been maintained by the US as an oil colony. If America installs a colonial regime in Baghdad, certainly its dependence on Saudi Arabia will be dramatically eased, and its grip on the world’s greatest oil market will be tightened. This is the hidden agenda of the ‘war on terrorism’—a term that is no more than a euphemism for the Bush administration’s exploitation of the September 11 attacks and America’s accelerating imperial ambitions. In the past 14 months, on the pretext of ‘fighting terror’, US military bases have been established at the gateways to the greatest oil and gas fields on earth, especially in Central Asia, which is also coveted as a ‘great prize’.
Gendzier analyses the work of mostly right-wing think-tanks in documenting links between oil and the war on terror. She cites the report of the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), issued in 2002, unambiguous about the role of oil, the US military in the Gulf, and the high risks of reform to US interests.
The report concluded that the US military build up in the Gulf would have to be maintained even if Saddam’s regime was removed: “removing Saddam Hussein is no panacea. There is no escaping the US role as a guarantor of Gulf stability”.
Gendzier also examines Iraqi overtures made to French and Russian companies to exploit its two untapped oil and natural gas fields—something that has not transpired due to US sanctions and pressure. She refers further to a Washington Post article of 15 September 2002. The article cited oil industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition suggesting that:
“a US-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition.”
Friedman’s other pre-condition for a ‘moral oil war’ is that the US not merely install a pro-US autocrat “to run the Iraqi gas station”. He says moral intervention requires that “the Bush team and the American people, prove willing to stay in Iraq and pay the full price, in money and manpower, needed to help Iraqis build a more progressive, democratising Arab state”.
But how likely is this? Friedman himself acknowledges that in past interventions the US has installed autocrats. Even if the US genuinely wished to stay and help build democracy, how possible is this? If calculations in the IPPNW report are even nearly correct, will the Iraqi people, three million of whom belong to the ruling Baath Party, welcome US efforts to impose democracy from the ruins of a war that it has wreaked upon them?
There are at least three other important facts that need to be considered in relation to democracy and Iraq:
- Saddam is a Sunni Muslim who has from time to time repressed Shiite Muslims within Iraq.
- A majority of Iraqis are Shiite.
- Iraq’s neighbour Iran has a fundamentalist Shiite regime in power.
Tariq Ali postulates that, despite rhetoric to the contrary at the time, democracy in Iraq was never a priority of the US, or its authoritarian ally Saudi Arabia, after the 1990–91 Gulf War. On the contrary, Washington did not press on to remove Saddam because, although it wanted to teach him a lesson and reverse the ‘Vietnam War syndrome’ by having a win, an iron-fisted regime was still required in Iraq. Ali says that the US reasoned that without such a power Iraq may become another Lebanon, torn apart by ethnic and sectarian rivalries; and if the Shiite majority were to prevail Iran would be provided with a sister Shiite republic.
In the wake of the Gulf War, says Ali, the US and its allies averted their eyes as Saddam crushed popular uprisings. Instead, they punished the people of Iraq through sanctions hoping that this punishment would encourage them to overthrow Saddam.
According to Ali and to Scott Ritter the sanctions have had the opposite effect. Ritter says of Saddam:
“He is more popular than at any time since the Gulf War. Hussein cynically manipulated the economic sanctions…transferring blame from himself to the US. The Iraqis don’t like him but they have rallied around him and his regime because they hate us more.”
And of the war, Ritter says:
“If Hussein fortifies his cities with Republican Guard troops, especially in his Sunni heartland the fight will resemble Grozny. The Russians had no choice but to level that city. That’s the kind of fight we are talking about…We could win but we will kill tens of thousands of Iraqis—not just military but civilians.”
It is interesting to contrast Friedman’s call for democracy as a pre-condition of a moral oil war with his previous statements about the role of the US as a world superpower. In his New York Times column of 28 March 1999 he wrote:
“For globalisation to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.”
Can democracy be imposed via the ‘hidden fist’?
While there may well be attempts to portray a post-Saddam regime as a democracy, there are a number of factors that militate against the notion that the US can or will foster a genuine democracy in Iraq in the aftermath of military intervention. Some of these factors include: ethnic and sectarian rivalries; divisions within the Iraqi opposition; the problem of neighbouring Iran and Iraq’s Shiite majority; the problem of autocracy in Saudi Arabia; the devastation that will have been wreaked during the war; opposition by Iraqis to their country’s oil reserves (controlled largely by the French and British colonies prior to 1958) again being ransacked by foreign powers; and anti-US feeling within Iraq that will only be aggravated by war.
In summary, then, the looming ‘war’ represents a radical escalation of a US and UK preoccupation with Saddam’s Iraq, which dates from the Gulf War and is at least partly connected to strategic and economic interests. Despite the defensive rhetoric of Bush, Blair and Howard, there is no evidence that Iraq presently possesses the capability of effective offensive action against other nations. There is no direct link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, except the historical one of US support.
Any war with Iraq would have massive human, economic and, in all probability, political costs. It is at least possible that the US and UK are presently motivated by a desire to gain control of Iraqi oil, and this, along with other factors, will undermine, perhaps terminally, the putative ‘democratic’ benefits of military action.