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Iraq's uncertain future
April 10, 2003
As the American-British onslaught on Iraq enters its final phase one can arrive at some initial conclusions about the conflict unleashed by President Bush on the Saddam Hussein regime.
There is no parallel in the history of modern warfare where a numerically small force comprising around two divisions has moved with such speed, across inhospitable desert terrain, while leaving its supply lines exposed, in the face of a professional army defending its own homeland.
Large sections of the Iraqi armed forces deserve high praise for the tough resistance offered to a force that totally dominated the skies and possessed overwhelming superiority in firepower.
The conflict has seen horrifying images of civilian casualties. It has resulted in erosion of the credibility of the American media and particularly channels like CNN. The Americans have encountered a population that feels it is faced with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The British and Americans have made little, if any, progress in winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The United States is going to find that winning the war was far easier than winning the peace. It seems determined to ignore symbolism that are essential to correct the image that this war is being fought primarily in order to gain control of Iraq's oil and gas resources.
The Iraq Liberation Act passed by the US Congress on October 31, 1998 stated: 'It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime of President Saddam Hussein from Iraq and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.' The Act also authorised the president to provide military, humanitarian and broadcasting assistance to secure the ouster of the Saddam Hussein government and allocated $97 million for the first year of this effort.
The Clinton administration designated seven Iraq Opposition groups for bringing about a 'regime change' in Iraq. These included the Pentagon's current favourite the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi National Accord, the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, three Kurdish groups and the Shia-dominated and Iranian-supported Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Tehran-based Ayatollah Baqir al Haqim.
While two of the Kurdish groups designated by Washington enjoy popular support in the Kurdish areas, other groups like the Iraqi National Congress lack both credibility and support. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, has been in exile for 45 years and is widely perceived as being an American stooge.
The popular support of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council is, as yet, untested. In any case, the Americans are not going to allow circumstances to be created wherein a pro-Iranian religious party plays a dominant role in Iraq. There are even now serious differences between the US and Iran on the role being played by the Al Badr Brigade, the Supreme Council's armed wing. Even today the only organisation that enjoys grassroots presence in Iraq is Saddam Hussein's Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party. And, lest one forgets, the coups staged by the Ba'ath Party in 1963 and 1968 enjoyed CIA backing.
The United States has decided that as the victor it should call the shots in post-war Iraq. The country is to be governed by Lieutenant General Jay Garner who has for years been a representative of the American arms industry specialising in missile and space defence systems, including missile sales to Israel. He is to be assisted by a number of serving and retired American diplomats, military officials and security experts including perhaps former CIA director James Woolsey. While Iraqis at large may accept such an arrangement as being inevitable during a short transition period, their resentment could quickly turn into widespread violence should the impression grow that the main American aim is to secure a long-term toehold in the country and to profit from its oil resources. Efforts to promote people like Chalabi in an interim set-up would only strengthen this impression.
It is evident that the United States would like to assume a significant, and indeed dominant role in Iraq's oil industry. While an investment of $5 billion would be required to update Iraq's dilapidated oil infrastructure, a further investment of around $40 billion would be necessary to raise its production from the present levels of 2 million barrels per day to 6 million barrels per day. Strategists like Woolsey have long cautioned against allowing Saudi Arabia to play the dominant role that it plays today in world oil markets. Thus expanding Iraq's production capacity makes sound strategic sense. There are indications that the Bush Administration has already reached an agreement with Iraqi Opposition leaders in London that Iraq will privatise its oil industry and 'establish a conducive business environment to attract investment in its oil and gas resources.'
The United States will soon find that it will lose whatever little goodwill it has in Iraq if a perception grows that its main interest has been to put together a government in that country that is guided and dominated by American oil interests.
The Americans will soon have to resort to imaginative diplomacy to ensure that the legitimate and often competing interests of Iraq's neighbours like Iran and Turkey are accommodated. While the current emphasis on giving a marginal role to the United Nations may seem attractive, the US will have to recognise that it cannot indefinitely function in Iraq without a measure of international legitimacy.
There has naturally been a rising tide of public opinion in India against the conflict in Iraq. It is important for the Vajpayee government to take steps to see that Indian public opinion is persuaded that moralistic posturing is no substitute for a measured policy based on a realistic appraisal of our national interests. The loudly moralistic German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer later proclaimed that he hoped that the Saddam regime would collapse as soon as possible, and President Putin avers that he has no desire to see the US lose in the Iraq conflict!!
We should not forget that in prosecuting its war against Iraq the United States has enjoyed either open or covert support from nine of Iraq's neighbours. While all these neighbours are Islamic countries, eight of them are members of the much-touted Non Aligned Movement.
As British forces approached Baghdad on March 28, 1917 after defeating the armies of the Ottoman Empire, British commander General Sir Stanley Maude issued the following proclamation to the people of Baghdad: 'Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as your conquerors, but as liberators.' Maude assured the people of Iraq a 'future of greatness.' Within six months Maude died of cholera and the British faced an Iraqi uprising that ultimately forced them to leave Iraq. There is much that Generals Tommy Franks and Garner can learn from the British experience.
History then, need not repeat itself.