In the red/blue corner we have ‘Dr. Spin’ Tony Blair, managed by ‘Dubya’ Bush and in the blue/red corner the ‘Lion of Old Europe’ Jacques Chirac and his manager, Gerhardt ‘The Peacemaker’ Schroeder. If the Bush/Blair team has its way, the starter bell will ring at any minute.
Not so for Chirac and Schroeder who want to see the game cancelled without having to accede the title. In this game the Prize is the future of Iraq – peace or war? Israel and Australia are cheering on the <U.S./U.K>. combo, while Russia and Belgium applaud for France and Germany. Drs. Blix and El Baradei are the referees. If only it were that simple.
Chirac and Putin said at a joint press conference on Monday in Paris that they saw war only as a last resort, that their stance was a moral one and that they insisted on adhering strictly to international law. Putin stressed that the vast majority of countries represented in the UN General Assembly wanted to see a peaceful solution to the Iraq problem.
On Monday evening, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN put a spoke in the American wheel by saying that Iraq is now willing to allow U-2 flights and other aircraft to fly unconditionally over their territory.
Earlier, in Germany, we saw the battle of the political giants, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschke Fischer who recently engaged in a heated exchange, which in earlier centuries might have been resolved by pistols at dawn.
Rumsfeld wants what he calls ‘Old Europe’ to vote ‘yea’ for an invasion of Iraq, and insists that NATO ready itself to protect Turkey when, and if, the pyrotechnics begin.
Fischer, backed by France and Russia are having none of it. They want to see inspections take their course and are considering pushing through a UN Resolution aimed at doubling the numbers of weapons inspectors, a UN peacekeeping force being installed in Iraq, and that country being turned into a giant No-Fly Zone. Rumsfeld warned that NATO, like the UN, is in danger of being labeled his favourite word ‘irrelevant’. The thwarted American President is not amused.
What America had hoped would be most of the world against the Iraqi regime has turned not only into a crisis for members of the North Atlantic Alliance but also for Europe itself. Leading the pro-war Brigade is Britain’s Prime Minister, one of the signatories on a letter backing the US, penned by eight European nations and published in various leading European newspapers.
Blair has got to have full marks for tenacity and determination, given that over 80 per cent of the British people are anti-war, along with the Anglican church, the Vatican, a number of head honchos in the British military, over 100 of his own Labour Party backbenchers and even members of his cabinet.
There is also an alleged growing divide between M15/M16 and the British government over a plagiarized dossier, which Blair’s office had lifted off the Internet – the work of a post-graduate Arab American student. Britain’s intelligence community was so incensed that it ‘leaked’ one of their own documents showing that, contrary to the plagiarized dossier, available intelligence shows that the Iraqi regime has no tangible links to Al Queda or to any other terrorist groups.
Powell’s manipulation of the truth
Despite the general consensus to the contrary, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell still insists that Iraq has links to Al Queda. He has even claimed that in a tape recently aired by Al Jazeera Bin Laden is heard professing his cooperation with Saddam Hussein. Even the hawkish Rumsfeld refrained from going to those lengths but that didn’t stop Britain’s own Defense Secretary Jeff Hoon from jumping on the bandwagon and stressing that Bin Laden and Saddam share common cause.
Powell, whose credibility was previously hardly ever called into question, made another faux pas this week when telling a Congressional Committee that the ricin poison found in a North London apartment emanated from Iraq, although he did add not from the Baghdad-controlled region.
When subsequent reports out of London suggested that this could not be true, since the ricin found in that flat was home-made, Powell’s aide later stated that his boss meant that the ‘know-how’ came from Iraq. How the heck could he have known where the know-how came from in this Internet age? The people arrested for making the poison were Algerians and could have picked up their recipe from just about anywhere.
Reaction from the Arab world
The Arab world is carved up into various camps too. Kuwait and Qatar are actively and visibly cooperating with the American build-up of troops and weaponry in the Gulf, and reading between the lines have indicated that they really had little choice. The UAE, which is vehemently against the war, has, nevertheless, sent 5,000 of its troops and a warship to Kuwait for that country’s defense in accordance with GCC common defense treaties.
According to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s statement recently after a meeting with Presidents Bashar Al Assad of Syria and Muammar Gaddafhi of Libya, the Arabs are looking to Britain to change course and dilute the American led aggression on Iraq. He seemed to be throwing up his hands in despair and admitting that the Arabs are impotent to stop the invasion.
Jordan’s King Abdullah was at first reluctant to join with the U.S. but appears to have succumbed to heavy American pressure to lend some support, a decision which is far from being popular among that country’s five million ethnic Palestinians. Jordan presently enjoys cheap imports of Iraqi oil and trades with Baghdad to the tune of some two billion dollars annually. Kuwait has pledged to make up for the shortfall in petroleum.
Turkey’s street is boiling too and feels that its pro-Islamic new government has let down the populace, some 90 per cent of which are against any military adventurism in Iraq. Again, the Pentagon has been twisting Turkey’s arm with warnings and incentives.
The Turkish government is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. Its fragile economy relies on loans from the World Bank and the IMF, and the last thing the country wants, from a geopolitical viewpoint, is to see an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, providing a rallying point for its own militant Kurds. On Monday a further complication appeared. The Turkish army refused to operate under U.S. command and control.
The Palestinians fear that the Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon is waiting ominously in the wings to pounce when the time is right. They are concerned that Sharon will use war with Iraq to further his ambitions of a Greater Israel either by further colonization of the West Bank or by attempting to ethnically cleanse the Occupied Territories.
Blix in a fix
If we are to believe diplomatic statements coming out of world capitals, then whether or not there will be a conflict depends on Messrs Blix and ElBaradei of the United Nations and the IAEA respectively. This is a heavy weight on the heads of these two men who have the mandate to prove that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. The politicians and the press hang onto every word that these two men utter, and use those sentences to back-up their own case very often in a disingenuous manner.
I have no doubt that Blix and ElBaradei take their responsibilities very seriously and are aware of the consequences of a single error of judgment, but at the same time they are human, all too human. It seems to me very wrong that these ‘non-biased’ judges or arbiters shuttle between Washington and London before flying to Baghdad.
In a perfect world, the Chief Inspectors should not be subjected to the sway of either side’s politicians and should, surely, confine themselves to the realms of science and the facts on the ground. They are currently behaving like judges who sit down to afternoon tea with both the accuser and the accused before presenting a verdict.
Upon his return from Baghdad, Blix gave a preview of the contents of his report to the UN, scheduled for Friday, to the big five in a closed session. According to reports, Blix appears hopeful of Iraqi cooperation, but Condoleeza Rice told him that he must be firmer in his stance and stress that Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441. How on earth is Blix supposed to deliver an objective report when he is coming under so much pressure from the Superpower?
However, Blix has now been offered the perfect red herring in the shape of reports that some of Baghdad’s missiles exceed the permitted 150-kilometer range. Tony Blair is already making headlines screaming his concern over these weapons, which contravene relevant resolutions. The range of the offending missiles is just 185-kilometers. What on earth is 35 kilometers between friends, or even enemies for that matter?
Not in our name
While the politicians bicker and the armies flex their muscles, we, the people have spoken. ‘Not in our name’. We don’t want war. We do not believe that Iraq is either a danger to its neighbors or to the rest of the planet. We don’t want to sit in our armchairs, munching on popcorn, watching Iraqi mothers and children being killed by missiles and bombs. We may not appreciate Iraq’s dictator and his brutal methods, yet most of us feel that he is their leader and it is up to them and/or the region to deal with him.
But, we the people feel helpless to really do anything to prevent the inevitable. Most of are too busy with our own lives, or too apathetic to bother even though we feel a gnawing sense of discomfort that justice is being ignored. Some of us are spending our time writing letters to the editor, or to our political leaders, others turn up at anti-war demonstrations, while the most courageous of us have headed off to Baghdad to offer themselves up as human shields.
The Iraqi people are left to stoically await their fate, hoping against hope that America and Britain will leave them be. “Haven’t we suffered enough,” they cry. “Why us?” Why indeed? And so, the fight between the suits and ties in their smart offices goes on. Let’s hope it will not be to the death – neither the death of the Iraqi people, nor the young, wide-eyed soldiers sent to the killing fields.
Will the report presented to the UN General Assembly by the chief weapons inspectors on Friday offer yet more grist to the warmonger’s mill? Or will it provide the ‘Old Europe’ crowd with the moral high ground to pursue its peaceful path? I trust that these two eminent civil servants Messrs Blix and ElBaradei will search their respective consciences and do what is empirically right.
Linda Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org