As we went to print the military forces of the US and its smaller but eminently zealous war partner, Tony Blair’s Britain, were set to launch a massive air and ground invasion of Iraq, the one certain result of which is the utter destruction of a once prosperous Arab nation, already devastated by two wars and 11 years of crippling sanctions.
As the clock was ticking towards the deadline set on Tuesday by US President George W Bush for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave the country and rejected by Hussein (4am Iraq time today, Thursday), tens of thousands of coalition troops were moving into the demilitarised zone straddling the Iraq- Kuwait border and extending 10km into Iraqi territory.
“Troops walked into the DMZ this morning around 11am (0800GMT),” a Kuwaiti security source announced yesterday. “American troops are still driving towards Umm Qasr [near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border].” One of the first objectives of the invasion forces, according to US military officials, will be to overwhelm regular Iraqi army units and take the Iraqi city of Basra, about 65km from the Kuwaiti border and 550km southeast of Baghdad.
With 280,000 US and British troops deployed in the Gulf — 175,000 are in Kuwait — US military commanders were promising a war “unlike anything anyone has ever seen before,” according to the US naval commander in the Gulf, Vice Admiral Timothy Keating. Speaking to reporters on board USS Abraham Lincoln, Keating waxed poetic on the forthcoming invasion. The coalition troops would go “about this particular conflict… in a way that is very unpredictable and unprecedented in history — remarkable speed, breathtaking speed, agility, precision and persistence.”
Keating was referring to the Pentagon’s “Shock and Awe” doctrine, an aerial bombardment of such precision and intensity, it is claimed, that it will isolate Saddam and his leadership and stun the Iraqi army into submission. Upward of 3,000 satellite-guided bombs and cruise missiles will be unleashed from sea and air on targets the Pentagon deems vital to Saddam’s government.
“Shock and Awe” is the brainchild of Harlan Ullman, veteran military strategist and co-author of the 1996 book Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. The doctrine recommends “nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction” to achieve an “overwhelming level of shock and awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on.”
The doctrine was inspired by the impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and “the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare.”
The levels of death and destruction the application of this doctrine, very likely within the next 48 hours, will wreak on Iraq and its population of 20 million is likely to prove as “unprecedented and incomprehensible” as Keating promises.
The three-paragraph formal justification of the war sent by the White House to Congress yesterday predicted a quick victory but added: “Americans have to be prepared for loss of life.” For his part Keating said that “hopefully [the war] will be quick, [though] we are prepared for it to take however long it takes.”
In Baghdad Iraqi officials were making promises of their own. An emergency session of the Iraqi parliament yesterday sent a letter to Saddam in which they pledged to “follow the path of heroism and martyrdom… defending Iraq.”
Iraqi Information Minister Mohamed Said Al-Sahhaf told a press conference that the US was deceiving its soldiers by insisting “invading Iraq will be like a picnic.” He added: “This is a very stupid lie… what they are facing is definite death.” Meanwhile dozens of Ba’ath Party members, armed with Kalashnikovs, were deploying in clusters of fours and fives across Baghdad, according to AP, with groups of them manning the hundreds of sandbagged fighting positions that have been erected around the Iraqi capital during the past two weeks.
The duration of the war and its likely death toll remain as impossible to predict as the regional and global ramifications of what is likely to become a lengthy US military occupation of Iraq. The one thing that is certain is that these will be of such momentous proportions as to change the face not just of the region, but of the world.
Arab leaders, who in recent months have appealed to the Bush administration to desist from actions that threaten to drive the region into chaos, have in the last two days accepted the inevitability of the invasion of Iraq, adopting, as one observer put it, a strategy of minimising the potential losses to the security and stability of their states and the region as a whole.
In a televised address to the nation yesterday morning, President Hosni Mubarak sounded an ominous note. “During the past few hours,” Mubarak said, “the question of Iraq’s WMD capabilities and of their divesting passed through a crucial turning point, one that threatens grave ramifications not just for the stability of the Middle East region and its persistent pursuit of prosperity and development, but also in terms of the ability of the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, to undertake its crucial role in managing the international mutual security system and safeguarding international peace and security.”
Mubarak reviewed Egyptian and Arab efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi crisis, asserting the basic principles upon which Egyptian policy on this issue was based — international legitimacy, protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq and the indivisibility of the peaceful resolution of the region’s conflicts, foremost among which that of the Palestinian question.
Concern with regional dangers was echoed by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. “When I was saying this war was going to open the gates of hell I meant it,” Moussa says in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. (see p.5)
“The destruction and negative consequences are not going to be just about Iraq. No. It will affect the whole region and beyond. It will probably affect the international system as well,” Moussa added.
Among the many casualties commentators point to the collapse of the UN system, put in place at the end of World War II. At the UN Security Council yesterday the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany condemned the American-led war and affirmed its illegality under the UN Charter.
“We have to state clearly under the current circumstances that the policy of military intervention has no credibility… There is no basis in the UN Charter for a regime change with military means,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the council. Germany, he said, “emphatically rejects the coming war”.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was equally emphatic. “Not one of these decisions authorises the right to use force against Iraq outside the UN Charter. Not one of them authorises the violent overthrow of a sovereign state,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin warned of the fallout of war. “To those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through what is done in Iraq, we say that they run the risk of failing in their objective,” he said.
On board USS Abraham Lincoln, Admiral Keating addressed hundreds of his men telling them: “When it’s all done… and they rewrite history, because that is what you are going to do, your names will be written in gold on those pages.”
Before that gilding begins history will have to be effaced, not rewritten. An illegal war waged in blatant violation of the UN Charter and of international law; a war against which 30 million people throughout the world have already demonstrated before a single shot is fired on streets from Los Angeles to Tokyo; a war to which opinion polls in virtually all the world’s nations, with the exception of the US and Israel, have produced a definitive ‘no’ — how can such a war be recorded except in infamy?
And this, before the body count.
HANI SHUKRALLAH writes a weekly column for the Cairo-based al-Ahram newspaper.