OK, so we are going to kill Saddan Hussein. America wants it. And if America wants something, we want it, too. Right?
After all, there can be no doubt. The last time, Saddam threw Scuds at us, just in order to win popularity in the Arab world. (At that time somebody invented the story that “the Palestinians are dancing on their roofs”‘ and Yossi Sarid wrote his article “From now on, the Palestinians can search for me”.)
Now all this has become topical again. George Bush Jr. wants to start a war, the same war that George Bush Sr. stopped in the middle. The son wants to finish the job begun by the father. How touching.
Also urgent. Bush Jr. is deeply involved in the financial scandal that is exciting the American public, and his Vice President (Vice is the right word) is involved even more. In times of government scandals, there is always a tendency to start a little war. A war makes people forget everything else and rally around the leader.
So we are going to have a war. America leading, we following in step, listening to the same drummer.
In spite of everything, I suggest that we think about it for a moment. True, Saddam is abominable, and so is his regime. But will killing Saddam and overthrowing his regime be good for Israel?
Let’s pose another question first: why did Father Bush stop that war? The Iraqi army was beaten, the way to Baghdad open. So why did Bush order his army to stop?
To solve this riddle, one has to know a little more about the country called Iraq.
It is an artificial state, created by the British for their own ends. In practice it is a nearly accidental conglomeration of three different states, merged into one by a distant empire.
Schematically, one can divide Iraq into three components: north, middle and south.
In the north there are the Kurds, who are different from the Arabs in every respect, except religion. They have their own language and their own culture. Their homeland is Kurdistan, a country arbitrarily cut up and divided between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They are oppressed by all of them. From time to time they rebel, at one time in one state, another time in another.
In Iraq the Kurds constitute something like a quarter of the population. They are Sunni Muslims and religion plays a big role in their lives. One of the greatest warriors of Islam, Salah-al-Din (Saladin), who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, was a Kurd.
The Iraqi Kurds dream of independence and the unification of all Kurdistan. When they rose up under Mustafa al-Barzani, the Israeli army sent officers and equipment to assist them. For the time being they enjoy some sort of autonomy under the protection of the American air force, which prevents Saddam’s from getting near them.
If the Iraqi State falls apart, the Kurds in the north will declare their independence. That may kindle the fire of Kurdish irredentism in Turkey, too. That’s why the Turks asked Bush Sr. to stop the war.
In the south there are the Shiites. They are Arabs in every respect, but religion divides them from their brothers in the north and connects them with neighboring non-Arab Iran.
The Shiite version of Islam was born in Iraq, where the dramatic events of its inception took place. There the holiest places of the Shia are located. There, generations of Shiite scholars and revolutionaries were brought up – including the Ayatolla Khumeini, the father of present-day Iran.
The Shiites are not a small minority. They make up something like half the population of Iraq.
Between the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south there are the Arab Sunnis. They are a minority in their country, but they control practically everything. Baghdad is their city, the army is their army. Saddam Hussein, who is, of course, a Sunni Arab, has manned many of the key position with people from his home town, Takrit. (Since all of these, like himself, bear the family name al-Takriti, Saddam has forbidden the use of family names in Iraq, on the grounds that this is a Western habit.)
Even the Americans admit that in Iraq they have no local opposition worth its name. Unlike Afghanistan, where they used local forces to their good advantage, there are no such forces to assist them and to keep a unified Iraq intact after the fall of Saddam.
Therefore, upon the elimination of the tyrant, one of two things will happen:
Either – Iraq will break up into three components. In the north, a Kurdish state will emerge, in the center a Sunni-Arab statelet, and the south will join Iran, opening before it the whole Middle East. Iran will become the dominant state in the region, directly threatening the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Or – Iraq will continue to exist as a unified country but will turn, in reality, into an Iranian protectorate, with the same results.
Both cases will pose an existential danger to the Arab states. A rekindled, fanatical fundamentalist fervor will engulf them. That is why the Arab rulers panicked at the time and cried SOS. Bush the Father, who is an intelligent person (and a former intelligence chief to boot) called the war off. But Bush the Son is not known for his exceptional intelligence, and his advisers have other agendas. They don’t really care.
But we should care. From the point of view of our national interest, this is an existential danger: the whole region may turn into one gigantic Hizballah.
URI AVNERY has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation. Avnery is featured in the new book, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent.