11 August  2002 - Turkey Iraq borders

President Bush has warned saddam Hussein he will be coming to get him and sooner rather than later. Is the Iraqi leader really on the cusp of  unleashing a barrage of deadly chemical weapons on the world, or is he being made a scapegoat for America's thwarted ambitions in Afghanistan?
 By Adel Darwish 

Bin laden escaped, so let bus hand Saddam over to the angry mob.
Sorting Out Saddam

As the anniversary of September 11 neared, America's detrimination to find  some outlaw for the mob to string intensified. The campaign in Afghanistan has, so far, failed to produce the required results. Osama Bin Laden along with the big leaders of Al-Qaeda are still at large; not a single ' suspected terrorist' has so far been found guilty of  involvement in last year's attacks on America. Those arrested, in Europe or in X-ray camp seem to be having the last laugh in courts.  It all adds up to the more reason  why United States President George Bush has made 'regime change' in Iraq, the highlight of his  war on terrorism. After hypnotising himself - and the hawks in his administration to believe that regime change in Afghanistan was the  resounding success of this war, why  not try it in  Iraq and get a bigger applause from the mob?

   Whether by cunning or by default, deposing the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is both regionally and internationally a desirable aim. There are even some evidence - let alone the common sense conclusion-  that Iraqi people themselves can't wait to see the back of the man.  Good choice for a target Mr President; shame about the rhetoric and lack of strategy.

   On both sides of the Atlantic - with Britain governed  by New labour prime minister,  Tony Blair, seemingly the only nation which might actually take part in what now seem to be an inevitable military campaign - there seem to be a historic reversal of the roles between 'hearts' and 'minds' of the nation.

   Soldiers, traditionally 'the heart', are the ones who, in this case,  are reluctant to go to war, without first knowing the end aims and the overall strategy. Meanwhilethe  politicians seem to be the ones who are running headlong into battle.

   So frustrated are the US militarymen by the politicians that they are competing with each other in leaking the proposed battle plans to newsmen. Most leaked to New York Times, The Washington Post, and on one occasion LA Times. As the British know nothing about  the plans, the leaks on this side of the pond are coming from within the government ranks, even from the cabinet itself as ministers are frustrated by the lack of American Strategy on Iraq. Now Britains Trade Unions - who have just bailed out the ruling Labour Party after serious financial trouble, are preparing to force through   resolutions on war on Iraq during their annual conference this early next month in Blackpool, which would  embarrass  Prime Minister  Blair, who keeps deferring the demand for parliamentarian debate on Iraq,  repeating that `no decision has been taken yet.'  With 52% of the population against war on Iraq and only 34% in favour, Britain's decision to send its newestlarge Aircraft carrier -Ark Royal- accompanied by a Type 42 Destroyer to the Mediterranean next month ( september) is  less than popular. Some cabinet members suspect Mr Blair is sailing in the dark since the Americans are either not telling him the plan, or, more plausible, have no workable plan at all.

   Retired British soldiers - who normally speak for their brothers  in uniform, pen the occasional letter or news paper article warning of the ' madness of attacking Iraq without United Nation authority and the devastating effect it might have on the region, ' as sir General Michael Rose, former chief of British forces in Bosnia wrote in the London Evening Standard. Or fwarn that Britain might find itself dragged into a ' very, very messy,' war in the Middle East if forces took art with the Americans in attack on Iraq, as Lord Bramall, former chief of Staff said. He fears that the Iraqi regime, once backed into a corner, could unleash some of its deadliest weapons as a last desperate attempt.

   Those who know the Iraqi dictator and  experts on Iraq's recent history, would agree with Lord Bramall view. Saddam, who didn't think twice about using chemical weapons against the Iranians and against his own people in Kurdistan, would not hesitate to use them again especially when the declared aim of the campaign is to unseat him.

  The nature of the Iraqi dictator, makes the balance of the argument tip towards taking military action to topple him - since the danger to the region and to world peace are his intentions not what he has in his arsenal - ; the problem is how to despose of him  legally and effectively? What  worries  critics is the divisions within the American adminstartion that seem to let the hawks - who know little of foreign policy - run the campaign and alienate strategic allies.

   German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, for one, stared his election campaign last month by rejecting the idea of war against Iraq. He later softened the reasons to lack of resources since 'German troops were over stretched in many peace keeping operations around the world,' which in itself carry a strong hint to the Americans to get a UN backing first. The same goes for the rest of Europe, a large section of the British society, and even  Turkey- where the campaign from the north need to start - and Saudi Arabia. Most observers agree, however, that if the strategy was clear, and America would get international law on its side, most objectors would rethink their position.

   What is more alarming that all such reasons didn't seem to be a problem for America, who would do it alone if necessary. President Bush  sees the issue in amusingly simplistic terms of two states having a quarrel. Iraq's dictatorial leader poses  a threat to America, therefore,  Washington has the right, under international law, to remove or contain him. However the rest of the world doesn't see it quite that way.

   Attempting to wrong-foot the Americans, the Iraqi president invited the head of the UN weapons inspection  team,  back to Baghdad and seriously talking to the UN for inspectors to return. The Bush administration reject the olive branch and was going ahead with the declared aim of regime change.

   As part of his charm offensive, and to drive a further wedge between the British people and President Bush, Saddam gave an exclusive interview to the Mail on Sunday last month, through Scottish Member of parliament George Galloway who met him deep in his bunker in Baghdad. Galloway, who has visted Iraq many times as the guest of Saddam, has  spearheads the labour bak-bench revolt against the war and Mr Blair's following America.

  Presenting his guest with a tin of ' Quality Street sweets,'  and praising Britain and the British way of life, Saddam said he was willing to implement all UN resolutions and let the inspectors back in. '' Why did Britain turn against us? we love Britain and Britain can regain her empire days' glory in our heart if it follows a course of Independent foreign policy,'' Saddam told his guest ina charming tone !  Holding his big cigar, the Iraqi dictator quoted sir Winston Churchill ' We will fight them in the Streets, from roof tops, from house to house. We will never surrender,' if the Americans were to invade.

   Meanwhile in Washington, members of  American military, who discovered  president  Bush  had not  given much thought to what might happen after defeating Saddam, turned the Pentagon into a sieve from which invasion actions plans leaked copiously. Today we counted  six major plans leaked. They ranged from a full scale Gulf War Mk2 invasion by no less than  250,000 troops, to incursionby a n elite force of no more than 5,000 troops  in special missions to kill or capture Saddam. Another version of it  would  involve massive bombardment and air raids enabling the Iraqi opposition forces to play a role similar to that played by  the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Another plan called  inside-out invasion, by swiftly moving 50,000 troops by air drops along side an invasion from Kuwait to swiftly capture Baghdad and then move outwards to  destroy Iraqi forces. Then modified version leaked of using massive air cover, then dropping elite force to secure Baghdad airport for American aircraft landing and then move on Baghdad itself first. Then the same plan was leaked with an addition of securing a bridgehead from invading forces from Kuwait. The latter plans also raised the  hope of a military coup taking place earlier.  Tthe Bush administration seemed to be giving signals to its own military - and perhaps to British war objectionists, even though Britain would contribute lees than 5% of war efforts, nevertheless important as to make it a ' coalition' while Mr Blair want Britain to have a say in the type and shape of Iraq to emerge 
that they have a plan to a post Saddam Iraq.

   While the Iraqi president was ranting on in  a Nasser-style speech to his people of defiance and answering President Bush's ' Axis of Evil rhetoric ' with his own ' evil people who attack Iraq will have to carry their coffins with them ' - in a reference to street battles he might have prepared for the attackers, American officials were meeting, in Washington with six leaders of the strongest opposition groups.

   Answering an invitation faxed by the Americans two weeks earlier,  six leaders of the big groups: Sharif Ali Bin Hussein of  The Constitutionally Monarchy Movement CMM, Ahmed Chalabi leader of Iraqi National Congress INC, Jalal Talbani, head of The  Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, Iyad Alwai, leader of Iraqi National Accord INA, Hoshyar Zebari, representing Massoud Barzani, leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP and Dr Hamid al-Baiyaty representing the Iran based Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq SCIRI, met with state department officials on 9 August. Discussions began with a short meeting with Foreign Secretary Colin Powell, then talks were hosted by Marc Grosman under Secretary of state and Douglas Feith, his counterpart at the Pentagon. The talks intended  to forge a united strategy to topple Saddam, continued throughout the weekend and they even had a video conference with Vice President Dick Cheney, who leads administration  hawks .

   It was a recognition of the highest level offered by the Bush Administration for the Iraqi opposition for the first time since Washington began speaking openly of 'regime change' in Baghdad. The very fact that the notoriously divided opposition and the increasingly split Administration were able to sit down together was regarded as a considerable diplomatic achievement. 

   For months the State Department has been locked in a dispute over funding for the INC . The group has enjoyed far more open support from the Pentagon, which regards it as a possible alternative government, than other opposition groups. 

   ''We sense more seriousness and commitment from [the] US Government to overthrow [the] Saddam regime and to work with the opposition,'' said Dr Hamid al-Bayati of SCIRI .   ''We agree that [the] Iraqi people and Iraqi opposition are going to work to overthrow [the] Saddam regime with the help of the international community to protect [the] Iraqi people,'' he said.  However, the Shia Muslim movement SCIRI, which has widespread support among the country's dominant ( 63 %) population and some 3,000 troops, is treated with suspicion by the Americans and other Iraqi opposition partners because of its ties with Iran and Islamic ideology. 
Despite the hopes for co- operation, the INC still has differences to resolve within its ranks before it can present itself as an alternative government. The two powerful Kurdish groups -PUK and KDP , which together can muster near 30,000 troops, already enjoy autonomy in northern Iraq ( 18%  of Iraqis are Kurds)  and fear they could lose their freedoms if a new regime is installed in Baghdad. Iraqi nationalist leaders - CMM, INA and INC)  at the talks claimed to represent the interests of the whole country, but they are seen as too weak to have any real influence on the ground, and, along with other groups belong to the Sunni minority - only 15% of the population- who traditionally ruled Iraq since its creation in 1922. 

   A strong body of opinion in Washington believes  America still needs to find a credible leader within Iraq, possibly a serving army officer in the mould of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leader who helped to topple the Taleban and is now the country's President. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said at a Pentagon briefing this week : ''Wouldn' it be a wonderful thing if Iraq were similar to Afghanistan? If a bad regime was thrown out, people were liberated, food could come in, borders could be opened, repression could stop, prisons could be opened.''

   Sharif Ali bin Hussein, the leader of the CMM and a cousin of Iraq's former King Faisal II, predicted that Iraq would rise against the regime with outside help. 'The entirety of Iraq is opposed to Saddam Hussein,' he told the BBC on the eve of Washington meeting. 'Our message is that the military, the Republican Guard, and the Iraqi people are all willing to take on Saddam.'  The Americans have already begun chartering ships to ferry tanks and other armoured vehicles to the Gulf in a further sign of American preparations for a military strike against Iraq. The US-based Maersk Line, which is part of the Danish shipping company, Maersk Sealand, is to operate and maintain eight American-owned ships capable of carrying  tanks and tanker lorries. The ships would be positioned around the Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia, from which the US Air Force launched B52 strategic bomber attacks against Iraq in 1991. 

   For the Gulf War in 1990-1991 the US shipped 12 million tonnes of equipment to the region to support a force of 500,000 troops, which took six months to build up . For Britain it took 80 ships to move just one armoured division to the Gulf, which what would be expected in President Bush decided to go for an all out invasion.

   Meanwhile US engineers  have been creating up to eight small airfields in the Kurdish regions, which could be used for ferrying in troops by transport aircraft or helicopters.

  "Behined closed doors, all Arab governments tell the Americans that they would not oppose a strike if it   lead to Saddam's removal," said one Arab diplomat, ''which is different from their public statements.'' Qatar - historically sympathetic towards Iraq - continues to oppose a war, officially, while its popular television channel Al-Jazeera hosts very anti-American anti-western  radical loud mouths, who have managed to cause several diplomatic rows by attacking Saudi Arabia as ' a base for the Americans.'

   '' In reality it is the reverse,'' said the diplomat.  The US has an air base at al-Udeid in Qatar which is designed to provide shelter against biological and chemical attacks and has a 4,500-metre runway - one of the longest in the Middle East. Observers expect the base to take over some of the functions of the Prince Sultan air base which Saudi Arabia says cannot be used to attack Iraq. 

Saudi Arabia's hosting of the allied troops in 1990,enabled the success of Desert Storm  1991  to liberate Kuwait. The Kingdome has ruled out the use of its bases to attack Iraq. Tthe balance of power and forces this time indicate, that at least the massive invasion of Gulf War Mk2, could  be ruled out leaving us with five possible scenarios and a great deal of opposition from the region and Europe, while Washington continue to  pray for a palace coup and the emergnce ofa hero waering a keffiyeh rather than a stetson; which would help help the US  avoiding the need for answering so many unanswerable questions.

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