FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bombing Iraq

by Patrick Cockburn

The long snouts of anti-aircraft guns are again protruding from the tops of tall buildings in Iraq. Tank units have been deployed around oilfields. Special committees drawn from local leaders of the army, security forces and the ruling Baath party will try to ensure that any rebellion is quickly crushed. President Saddam Hussein himself has told people to store food in case of a new American air war as prolonged as that of 1991.

President Saddam says that war with the US will come, but he knows that it is likely to be delayed until next year. Washington is no longer in quite the confident mood that it was after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan in December.

The differences between the situations in Kabul and Baghdad have become more apparent in the past few months. Britain, hitherto America’s sole ally in its bid to overthrow President Saddam, is becoming increasingly nervous of the political opposition at home to military adventures with the US against Iraq.

Above all, Ariel Sharon’s bloody invasion of Palestinian cities on the West Bank has made it more difficult for the US to recreate the alliance that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait more than a decade ago.

“Saddam knows that Washington does not have the appetite for a war this year,” said one Iraqi source.

It is a very different situation from the Gulf War. Then the alliance against President Saddam was surprisingly easy to create. The Arab states were terrified by his conquest of Kuwait. The rest of the world was never going to let Iraq become the dominant power in the Gulf. The problem seemed to be overcoming the military strength of the Iraqi army, tested by eight long years of war with Iran.

Today nobody doubts that the Iraqi army is a shadow of its former self. Aside from its losses in the Gulf War, it has not been able to import tanks and other heavy equipment. But politically it is a far harder task now to create an alliance with the aim of overthrowing the Iraqi leader than it was 12 years ago.

Then, the purpose of the US-led coalition was to restore the status quo by evicting Iraq from Kuwait. It was a conservative war. What Washington intends today is far more radical. It is in fact the first attempt to replace a government by armed force in the Middle East since President Saddam took the disastrous decision to send his troops across the Kuwaiti border.

Baghdad will do its best to ensure that it does not provide the US administration with a pretext for war. It has softened its line over the return of UN weapons inspectors, who left in December 1998 just before the US and Britain last bombed Iraq. In talks with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, in New York last week, Iraqi officials were notably conciliatory. Naji Sabri, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, did not rule out the return of the inspectors but wanted other issues, such as the no-fly zones and sanctions, to be discussed.

It is all very frustrating for militant members of the US administration, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who would like to overthrow President Saddam immediately. They do not want to become caught up in a diplomatic minuet in which they have to dance to the same tune as the UN.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence and an impatient hawk, even instructed the CIA to investigate Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who is the chief UN arms inspector. Mr Wolfowitz was visibly enraged when the CIA came back with nothing that would have discredited Mr Blix and, by extension, the UN weapons inspection team.

These diplomatic manoeuvres are important because the US task is far more difficult than it was in Afghanistan. It needs to be able to launch not only a prolonged air offensive but to build up an army estimated to number between 70,000 and 250,000 troops. In Afghanistan, the Taliban was overthrown by the opposition Northern Alliance, US air strikes and the defection of many commanders. The Taliban was also gravely weakened by the withdrawal of Pakistani and Saudi Arabian support.

The situation is different in Iraq. It has a powerful centralised state. Only the Kurds, controlling the three northern provinces of Iraq, would be able to play the role of the Northern Alliance. Betrayed by the US twice in the past, in 1975 and again in 1991, the Kurds will not want to go to war against Baghdad unless there is a US army in place to protect them.

There are two other ways of removing Saddam Hussein, but Washington has concluded that neither is likely to work effectively. It could, as it often has in the past, hope that a coup led by by dissident army officers in Baghdad will remove the Iraqi leader. But President Saddam has shown that he is a master at detecting and eliminating such plots, with horrific consequences for those involved.

A further option might be to build a guerrilla army, supported by US air power and special forces. Something like this worked in southern Afghanistan, but President Saddam is likely to counter-attack more effectively than the Taliban.

Washington is shifting towards the idea of a ground invasion, with an army based in Kuwait and Turkey. An attack would be preceded by a prolonged bombardment by bombs and missiles. The Iraqi army is still strong enough to fight the Kurdish or Iraqi guerrillas, but it is even less capable of stopping the US army than it was in 1991. Even confirmed fence-sitters such as the Kurds do not want to be marginalised by failing to join an American effort to get rid of President Saddam which succeeds.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for President George Bush to walk away from his militant rhetoric about toppling President Saddam. If he does not overthrow the Iraqi leader then his failure will damage him in the next presidential election. But already Mr Bush is discovering how much more complicated it is to change a government in Baghdad than it was in Kabul.

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
Paul J. Ramsey
What Trump’s Travel Ban Reveals About His Long-Term Educational Policy
Norman Pollack
Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago
Michael Brenner
The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
Sam Gordon
Falling Rate of Profit, What about Some Alienation?
Jack Random
Sidetracked: Trump Diaries, Week 8
Julian Vigo
The Limits of Citizenship
James Graham
French Elections: a Guide for the Perplexed
Jeff Mackler
The Extraordinary Lynne Stewart
Lee Ballinger
Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”
Binoy Kampmark
Romancing Coal: The Adani Obsession
Nyla Ali Khan
Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir
Chad Nelson
The Politics of Animal Liberation: I Can’t Quit You Gary Francione
Weekend Edition
March 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Reynolds
Israel and the A-Word
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail