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Attack Iraq - unleash chaos
3 October 2002
Nothing testifies to the widening gulf between the popular sentiment in Western Europe against an unprovoked war against Iraq, and craven elite support for it as powerfully as the 350,000-strong protest rally in London last Saturday. This was a landmark for the European peace movement, which shows it in revival mode after the immediate post-Cold War lull.
This comes on top of Germany's electionsin which the anti-war popular mood buoyed up the Greens and Social Democrats, and growing discomfort with the US in France, Italy and Spain. There is no way that George Bush and Tony Blair can claim a US-European 'consensus' on war. In the US, there is a visible hiatus within the Establishment on Iraq and a growing public campaign against war.
Recklessly disregarding this, Bush is trying to drum up support for a tough new resolution in the UN Security Council using crudely muscular diplomacy. Going by its current draft, this will contain unreasonable conditions - e.g. seven-day deadlines and unlimited inspections - which Baghdad might find impossible to fulfil. But Iraq's non-compliance is exactly what Washington wants. Because then, it can get the Security Council to authorise an armed attack on Iraq on which it has already set its mind!
This is not the first time Washington is turning the Security Council into a rubber-stamp or figleaf for its narrow agenda. But it is probably the first time the Council is being asked to virtually mandate a 'regime change' in a UN member-state through war - on pain of becoming 'irrelevant', like the League of Nations.
War on Iraq lacks moral or legal sanction. Under international law, there can be only two grounds for war: self-defence, and Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in the event of 'threats to' or 'breach of' the peace. Neither applies to the present case. Iraq is not about to attack the US or any other state. It has attacked none since 1990. It has no connection with Al-Qaeda, which loathes all secular regimes, including Saddam Hussein's.
Iraq is being accused of 'defying' UNSC resolutions. In reality, it has complied with them, in particular the all-pervasive Resolution 687, which mandates the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) under international supervision. This is repeatedly confirmed by reports of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM and its successor UNMOVIC) and International Atomic Energy Agency, which carried out thousands of intrusive inspections under history's toughest-ever multilateral sanctions.
The IAEA verified in 1998 that Iraq had compiled a 'full, final and complete' account of its nuclear projects; there was no evidence of prohibited activity. UNSCOM-UNMOVIC's present and former chiefs Hans Blix and Rolf Ekeus too endorse this.
To argue against war on Iraq is neither to endorse Saddam's tyrannical regime nor deny his foul intentions. He had WMD-acquisition programmes and actually possessed chemical weapons decades ago. Indeed, he used them in the late 1980s against Iran. Then, the US, obsessed with defeating Iran, indulged him. His residual WMD preparations can be fairly reliably dismantled through inspections.
The US's anti-Iraq tirade would have sounded less hypocritical if America were not the world's biggest possessor of WMDs, with their gruesome human and environmental consequences. The US in fact is guilty of opposing treaty after arms control treaty, including the Biological Weapons Protocol, Landmines Ban, Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty, International Criminal Court, not to speak of the CTBT. It not only wants to maintain its WMD arsenals, but also build and test new nuclear weapons.
The US de facto condones many states' WMDs, including the P-5, Israel, India and Pakistan. So long as they possess WMDs, others will seek to do likewise. The singling out of Iraq is explained by other reasons.
First, this is America's election year, with the entire House of Representatives, a sixth of the Senate and 36 state governorships up for contest. War is more popular than Bush's ill-thought-out domestic policies. The Republicans' success depends on war.
Second, Bush's one-year-long war against 'global terrorism' has produced few results barring a (welcome) 'regime change' in Afghanistan. Four-fifths of Al-Qaeda/Taliban top leaders remain unaccounted-for. Bush has to show SOME kind of 'victory' in this so-called 'historic' war. Hence Iraq.
Closely tied to America¹s Iraq plans are larger designs to restructure the entire West Asian region by installing slavishly pro-Western regimes. Vice-President Dick Cheney has spelt out the grander purpose of 'regime change' in Iraq: "Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jehad. Moderates would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestine peace process would be enhanced."
The third factor at work is oil. US energy companies have reacted sharply to a recent RAND Corporation report terming the world's biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, 'the kernel of evil', a likely prey to Islamic extremism. They want Iraq's huge reserves - 112 billion barrels, the world's second largest - to be opened up, and production raised from the present 2.4 million barrels/day to 4 mbd. Bush takes the oil business seriously. No US cabinet has been closer to the oil industry than his.
The US's NATO allies will support war on Iraq only with deep reservations - unlike in 1991. America's major Arab allies too are unwilling to contribute troops. Bush lacks a coherent plan for a new regime. The anti-Saddam parties/factions in Iraq are too weak and internally divided to provide a viable alternative. Post-Saddam, Iraq could well break up into a Kurd-dominated north, a largely-Shia south (Shias are 60 percent of the population), and a Sunni centre. That would be worse than the status quo - even for US oil interests.
War without a genuine casus belli will unleash powerful resentment among Iraq's neighbours. It will negate whatever gains have been achieved in the so-called 'war on terror'. The Palestinian crisis will further worsen (if that's still possible). The Middle East could plunge into unprecedented violence.
The US' 'Might is Right' action in Iraq will greatly weaken multilateral institutions. These have evolved over two centuries through nation-states gradually, grudgingly, abridging 'absolute' sovereignty. The undermining of multilateralism spells anarchy, chaos and brigandage.
War on Iraq spells mayhem in South Asia both via Iran and Afghanistan, and directly - through popular resentment against the US, and not just among Muslims. Our already enfeebled, malperforming states will find it hard to cope with this and higher oil prices. Their own interests lie in resisting war.
India enjoys good relations with Iraq, its single-biggest oil supplier, and opposed past sanctions. The Gulf's 3.1 million Indians annually remit $6 billion, about twice the country's FDI flows. Pakistan too would be affected through turmoil in the Gulf and strengthening of domestic jehadi forces.
Yet, so desperately do the two governments woo the US at each other's cost that they will be hard put to act even in self-interest. Thus, India has diluted its opposition to war on Iraq. Vajpayee totally skipped any reference to Iraq at the UN. And Musharraf has declared his 'hands are full' - fudging the issues of US bellicosity and 'pre-emption' doctrine. Silence or ambiguity on Iraq could be a recipe for disaster - even if Washington doesn't drag India and Pakistan into the war.