Shock, Awe and Coup d’Etat

The latest news about the US war plan confirms that this war is not for the liberation of Iraq. The war is designed to precipitate a coup. ‘General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said recently: “If asked to go into conflict in Iraq, what you’d like to do is have it be a short conflict. The best way to do that would be to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end was inevitable.” ‘

Harlan Ullman, former US Navy pilot, who co-wrote the book Shock and Awe: ‘During the last Gulf war, the allies launched 325 cruise and precision-guided bombs on the first day of a 40-day air campaign-now they are talking about 3,000 in 48 hours.’ US Air Force B-2s, F-1117As, B-52s, F-15Es and RAF Tornados will be in the first wave: ‘Their targets in the first hours have been chosen to lessen destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure but maximise the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s family, military and political machine.’ ‘

B-52 bombers flying out of Diego Garcia and B-2 stealth bombers will attack the barracks and bases of the elite Republican Guard and government offices….

Amid the noise and horror of this initial onslaught, US Delta Force teams are likely to be dropped into Baghdad if US intelligence identifies Saddam’s hideout. If the president cannot be found the Delta Force teams will work under cover of the bombardment to capture key military and political figures and to try to demoralise and disrupt Saddam’s power base.’ (Sunday Times, 16 Mar., p. 8) ‘

By the time Iraqis see the dawn at the end of the first night, their country’s military and political infrastructure is likely to have been shattered, say analysts. Key leaders will have disappeared, entire military units will have been obliterated, power supplies will have been shut down but the visible damage will be surprisingly small, according to the attack plan… ‘

The plan is for the massive armoured column [of the US Army 5th Corps] to use the vast open spaces in Iraq’s Western Desert to spped to the outskirts of Baghdad within three days. The column is likely to stop outside the city of Karbala while American airborne units secure the numerous bridges around Baghdad, sealing off the city. ‘If by this time Saddam is still resisting, military planners have factored in a short political pause to allow his capitulation. If no white flag is seen, the assault on Baghdad will begin… At this stage, the political imperative to keep civilian casualties to a minimum will have to be put to one side. The attack on Baghdad will use overwhelming force.’ (Sunday Times, 16 Mar., p.9)


The ‘short political pause’ is a euphemism. The truth was revealed by the Daily Telegraph: ‘Allied plan gives Iraqis chance to topple Saddam’. Patrick Bishop, Telegraph reporter in Kuwait, was briefed by a senior British officer: ‘The war in Iraq is expected to be a two-stage operation with a pause to allow time for Saddam Hussein to be toppled by his own people…

Troops [invading from the south] are under orders to do everything to minimise military casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure in order to consolidate good-will and apply further pressure on the Baghdad regime to turn on Saddam and remove the need for an attack on the capital. ‘A senior British army officer said: “No one’s going to go charging into Baghdad. Fighting in urban areas is a hugely risky business.”

If the regime does not fall under the shock of the initial assault, a stand-off around Baghdad is “a very likely scenario.” ‘The advancing forces will look for every opportunity to bypass Iraqi formations and arrange local ceasefires and to demonstrate their goodwill towards civilians…

“It’s a more subtle approach. It all comes down to the end state, which is achieving regime change. Bringing the Iraqi people on board is a very good way to do that.” ‘Capturing the huge and easily exploited southern Iraqi oil fields is seen as another key element in the Allied plan to force Saddam out…

[The source said:] “If you can get [them] intact that’s a huge psychological message to flash to Baghdad. Sixty per cent of the oil comes from the south.” ‘Allied planning appears heavily weighted towards an incremental strategy that applies mounting pressure and allows time for Saddam’s henchmen to decide their self-interest lies in risking a move against him. “This is all about getting someone to tip him over,” said the source. ‘Once at the gates of the capital there is no intention to fall in with Saddam’s declared plan for a bloody showdown in the streets of Baghdad. Allied troops are likely to hold back and wait for the collapse of the regime.’ (Telegraph, 15 Mar., p. 10)

But they won’t wait forever. And at that stage, ‘the political imperative to keep civilian casualties to a minimum will have to be put to one side. The attack on Baghdad will use overwhelming force.’ (Sunday Times, 16 Mar., p.9)


President Bush said in his ultimatum on 17 Mar., ‘All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict.’

The exile option has been a standing offer from the US for some months. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a congressional committee in Dec., ‘One choice he [Saddam Hussein] has is to take his family and key leaders and seek asylum elsewhere. Surely one of the 180-plus countries would take his regime-possibly Belarus.’ (Sunday Times, 29 Dec. 2002, p. 18)

Rumsfeld repeated his offer in Jan.: ‘To avoid a war, I would, personally, recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership and their families could be provided haven in some other country. I think that would be a fair trade to avoid a war.’ (Telegraph, 20 Jan., p. 1)

It is of the utmost importance to understand what Rumsfeld was saying so clearly: the Iraqi ‘regime’ which the US is confronting consists of ‘the senior leadership’ of Iraq, and their immediate families. ‘Regime change’ means in reality ‘leadership change’. The political and military system-the real ‘regime’ in Iraq-can remain the same, so long as Saddam’s inner circle leaves power.

President Bush’s offer to forego war if Saddam Hussein and his family goes into exile is a re- confirmation at the highest level that this is not a war for disarmament or for real political change in Iraq: this is a war against Saddam Hussein. This is not a war. This is the most costly, dangerous and reckless assassination attempt in world history.


‘Until now, most other countries believed that the Bush administration was mainly pursuing a strategy of “force on mind”-a combination of tough talk and a theatrical military buildup that would place unbearable psychological pressure on Saddam’s regime. Operation Force on Mind is what the Brits are calling their Army buildup in the Gulf.’ (Newsweek, 3 Feb., p. 18) ‘

Senior members of the Iraqi regime are “preparing their bolt-holes” in the conviction that Saddam Hussein is doomed, but are unlikely to risk staging a coup until a war begins, Whitehall sources said yesterday. America and Britain have long hoped that the build-up to war might break the regime without the need for military action… The British assessment is that a coup is unlikely before a war, but it is possible once hostilities begin.’ (Telegraph, 21 Feb., p. 17)

Under the headline ‘US seeking to foment the mother of all coups’: ‘Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, recently said that the senior leadership of Iraq could indeed be given immunity from prosecution. The hope is that this would either convince the Iraqi leader to seek exile or provoke his removal.’ ‘A coup would be a dream solution to many of those involved in the Iraq drama, despite the US administration’s insistence that one of its objectives is to sow the seeds of democratic change in Iraq.’ (FT, 12 Feb., p. 8)


‘The desired end state is key to determining the way the military phase is tackled. There appears to be a political consensus to preserve Iraq as a single entity… To US planners the simplest way to keep Iraq together after a war may be to use the current Iraqi security forces, but under new management. This would need a very specific direction: that the security apparatus be disabled but not destroyed during conflict. This is not an easy military option.’ (Sir Timothy Garden, former Air Marshal, Royal College of Defence Studies, ex-Director of Royal Institute for International Affairs, Times, 25 Feb., p. 14) (For more on these topics, and the background in 1991, please see Chapters VII and VIII in War Plan Iraq.)

Thomas Friedman, Diplomatic Correspondent of the New York Times, explained on 7 July 1991 that the sanctions regime was designed to provoke a military coup within Iraq to create ‘the best of all worlds’, ‘an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein’. A return to the days when Saddam’s ‘iron fist … held Iraq together, much to the satisfaction of the American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.’

The FT observes: ‘Washington’s calculation is that a break-up of Iraq would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Middle East, especially if it led to the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Turkey, a steadfast US ally with a large Kurd minority, would be destabilised. Iran could exploit the vacuum.’ (1 Feb. 2002, Supplement, p. III.)

Saudi Arabia has no wish to see a vibrant democracy on its border. Thus the need for ‘an iron-fisted Iraqi junta’. Exile or coup, Iraq’s weapons will remain the same; Iraq’s army will remain the same; Iraq’s political system will remain the same; Iraq’s secret police will remain the same. This is not a war of liberation. For the people of Iraq, this is just a re-branding exercise.

MILAN RAI is author of War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against War (Verso, 2002) and a member of Active Resistance to the Roots of War (ARROW). He is also co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness UK, which has worked for the lifting of UN sanctions in Iraq.