A Game of Chess with Many Lives at Stake
As Washington does a soft shoe shuffle to appease its detractors in the United Nations Security Council and agrees to changes in the wording of the proposed new Iraq resolution, American President George W. Bush considers an Israeli proposal to destroy Iraqi missiles in Iraq’s western desert.
The proposal involves a joint U.S.-Israel mission whereby American Special Forces would be used, backed by Israeli intelligence, and is said to have been put to the U.S. administration by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his recent visit to the American leader in Washington.
Israel is actively encouraging the U.S. to invade Iraq and has threatened to retaliate should it be the recipient of Iraqi missiles as it was in the 1991 Gulf War. But, unlike his father, who managed to restrain the Israeli government of the day, Bush junior appears to have given Sharon the green light to enter the fray.
At the same time, Bush has approved the training by the U.S. military of 5,000 would-be combatants selected from Iraqi opposition groups, an exercise expected to run to the tune of $92 million. This could indicate that the Pentagon is contemplating a similar model for warfare as the one used in Afghanistan where the Pentagon used the Northern Alliance as a proxy army.
On October 16, the American President signed a Congressional resolution, which sanctions his authority to use any necessary force to dismantle Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction. Said Bush soon after: “This nation will not live at the mercy of any foreign power or plot”.
These aggressive measures by Washington are hardly conducive to optimism that peace will win through. Will the U.S. back off from its stated intentions to effect a regime change even if the UN Weapons inspectors return to Baghdad? Will it allow itself to be guided by the restraining hand of the UN member states?
Both George Bush and U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have said repeatedly that America will not shy away from a unilateral approach if it deems that Iraq still poses a threat to its interests.
Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, has urged Baghdad to cooperate fully with the UN and warned America that any strike on Iraq would be likely to ignite Mid-East public opinion, which is already angry and frustrated.
The ubiquitous Arab street is infuriated at seeing Palestinian children being gunned down in the West Bank and Gaza on a daily basis; angered by the attacks on Islam and the Prophet by U.S. television evangelists, such as Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson, not to mention being outraged at the racial profiling targeted at Arabs entering the U.S.
Starting this month, most Arab visitors to the U.S. will be fingerprinted, photographed and even interrogated by immigration officials at U.S. airports and border crossings. Saudi Arabia seems to have decided that enough is enough and has introduced a reciprocal policy applicable to Americans entering Saudi, as well as to those already resident in the kingdom.
Jordan doesn’t appear to be putting much stock in the return of the inspectors dissipating the clouds of war, and believes that conflict may still be on the cards. King Abdullah told the German magazine Der Spiegel that while peace has a chance, Jordan is taking steps to protect itself from exposure to chemical and biological weapons.
Wedged between Israel on the one side and Iraq on the other, Jordan is in a precarious position. If the U.S. were to go it alone, Jordan would no doubt face a huge influx of Iraqi refugees fleeing the conflict along with anti-U.S. demonstrations in the streets of its capital.
There is also the scenario that Ariel Sharon could use any U.S.-Iraq conflict to further his long time dream of a greater Israel and force the West Bank Palestinians across the Jordan River, under the pretext that as allies of Saddam Hussain, they posed a threat to Israel’s security.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt believes that the United States would be better employed working on ways to stop Israeli aggression in the Occupied Territories than preparing to attack Iraq.
Mubarak faces the spectre of dwindling tourists, a worsening economy and growing anti-Western feeling among his people if an attack were to take place. Such an unhealthy set of circumstances could represent a breeding ground for religious extremism, which the Egyptian government has been fighting for decades.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain, has urged the Arab world to hold an emergency summit, saying that suggestions that Iraq poses a threat are ‘mere exaggerations”. Sheikh Khalifa represents the view of most of the Gulf States, with the possible exceptions of Kuwait and Qatar.
Nobody is more sceptical of Washington’s attempt to mollify members of the UN Security Council than Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz who said resignedly: “The U.S. will act unilaterally and not consult with anyone”.
In an emotional public acceptance of a new seven-year term of office, shown in its entirety by CNN, the Iraqi President said: “Our friends everywhere. You are facing the U.S. policy of hegemony, which seeks the path of blood and violence as well as the means of destruction.”
Judging by Saddam’s recent actions he is likely to be a master chess player. In recent months he has thwarted every American ploy in his direction by agreeing to almost every UN demand, showing groups of Western journalists around facilities suspected by Washington, and hosting a group of U.S. Congressmen.
Further, amid Washington’s allegations that the Iraqi people would be delighted with a regime change, Saddam called a national referendum on his continuing presidency and has apparently received the full backing of his people to continue for another seven years.
Under intense provocation, the Iraqi leader has managed to refrain from the use of threatening rhetoric towards the U.S. and has made it clear that although he does not relish the thought of war, he is prepared to face whatever comes.
In a further show of good faith on the part of Iraq, Kuwaiti and Iraqi officials met at the border of their two countries on Saturday, under the auspices of the UN, to organise the return of tonnes of Kuwaiti archives, which were taken from Kuwait during the Gulf War.
In fact, Saddam is beginning to appear positively benign after Sunday’s strategic release of most of the prisoners in his jails, including political prisoners. Yet another move which pulls the rug from Bush’s personal attacks on the Iraqi leader.
While the American administration’s motives for a proposed attack on Iraq are already suspect, they have been further highlighted by last Friday’s announcement by North Korea that it is developing nuclear weapons, despite an earlier agreement not to do so, brokered by ex-President Jimmy Carter.
While perturbed by the North Korean statement, both Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser, and Rumsfeld have seemingly shrugged off the North Korean threat, preferring to keep any response on the backburner while still focusing on Iraq.
Rumsfeld went as far as saying that North Korea only has two or three (nuclear missiles) in a tone implying that these were a mere drop in the ocean and hardly worth worrying about. The Defence Secretary is also strangely comfortable with Israel’s 300 or so nuclear warheads even though the region is highly volatile.
Since North Korea also forms part of Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil” it is surely surprising that the US considers the invasion of Iraq, which is now intent on cooperating with UN demands, as its highest priority. Simply put, why is Iraq a greater threat to world peace and security than North Korea?
When it comes to North Korea, the U.S. administration is quick to point out that problems with North Korea’s nuclear proliferation can be sorted out diplomatically – an option, which it is reluctant to offer Baghdad.
Right on the button
In this light, perhaps Sheikh Khalifa was right on the button when he recently said: “The continuous threats to wage war in this vital region are not intended to enforce the return of the UN weapons inspectors to Iraq but to dominate this Arab country”.
The bottom line is Saddam is not a threat to world peace or American lives but to America’s ambitions.
A report, compiled by the Baker Institute for Public Policy and commissioned by American Vice President Dick Cheney, who also heads the White House Energy Policy Development Group, lends transparency to the true intentions of Washington’s Hawks.
The report, entitled Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century, concludes: “The United States remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma… Saddam Hussain has also demonstrated a willingness to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets.
“Therefore, the US should conduct an immediate policy review towards Iraq, including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments”.
Bush’s earlier statements of wishing to democratise Iraq and free the Iraqi people from their “evil dictator” ring hollow too, since America’s plan for Iraq after Saddam was leaked.
Confirmed by Colin Powell as one of the options on the table is the insertion of an American military government in Iraq with someone like Brigadier General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief of the US Central Command, at its head.
In this lengthy game of chess with people’s lives as the pawns, Saddam is currently emerging as the victor. World opinion is on the side of the Iraqi people.
On the other hand, if the United States engineers an invasion of Iraq, the black ‘knight’ will have moved and the entire world checkmated.
LINDA HEARD is a writer, editor and Arabist, who has lived and worked for most of her life in the Middle East.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org