Middle East

US to win a Pyrrhic victory
By B Raman

The Americans have valid reasons for anger against President Saddam Hussein, to whom President George W Bush has now issued a 48-hour ultimatum to quit or face military action.

Not because he has clandestinely acquired weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States and Israel. Despite all their fabricated evidence, so diplomatically and so embarrassingly exposed by the United Nations inspectors for what it was, they have not been able to prove that he had such weapons. However, there is a strong possibility that the American Special Forces will plant in Iraq chemical and biological weapons from US stocks so that they could ostensibly recover them during the forthcoming military operations and tell the world they were right and the rest of the international community was wrong. The Americans can be unprincipled when it comes to ways of proving their point.

And the anger of the Americans could not be because Saddam was hand in glove with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda. He was not. Bin Laden's hatred of Saddam is well documented, except until last month when bin Laden came out in support of the Iraqi leader for the sake of Islamic solidarity.

The American anger is because Saddam funded the acts of suicide terrorism against Israel and failed to grieve over the deaths of thousands of Americans and others on September 11, 2001. In their view, as in the view of Israel, a resumed march towards a political solution to the Palestine question would not be possible as long as his regime continued in power and as long as the government of Iran continued with its support of the suicide bombers of the Hizbollah and the Hamas. They think that the war on Iraq will ultimately herald the beginning of peace in Palestine, send a strong message to Teheran to mend its ways and moderate the equally oppressive regimes in other parts of West Asia.

From their perspective, Americans are justified in wishing to see the end of Saddam's regime in Baghdad. To be fair to Bush, it has to be underlined, as it has not been by many analysts, that it was not he who initially thought of the change of regime as the objective of US policy in Iraq. Large sections of American people and Congress have been calling for it since the 1990s.

Many forget that it was Congress that called for the overthrow of the Saddam regime by enacting the Iraq Liberation Act, signed by then president Bill Clinton on October 31, 1998, and allocating US$97 million for this purpose.

Article 3 of this act laid down the aim of American Iraqi policy as the overthrow of Saddam and US help in setting up a democratic regime in Baghdad. Article 4 called for US support to anti-Saddam opposition groups for this purpose in the form of training by US army instructors, supply of arms and ammunition and propaganda material.

On January 16, 1999, seven Iraqi opposition groups - out of about 80 - were selected for US assistance - the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Only the latter three have roots in Iraq. The rest were largely unknown to the Iraqi people until the US embraced them and started projecting them, unconvincingly, to the world as the standard-bearers of democracy in Iraq.

On January 21, 1999, Madeleine Albright, the then secretary of state, designated Foreign Service Officer Francis Ricciardone as "Special Representative for Transition in Iraq" to coordinate the implementation of US policies to bring about a regime change.

The covert means initially adopted under the Clinton administration failed to produce results because of US failure to come to terms with certain ground realities. The most important of these was that Shi'ites constitute the majority in Iraq, forming 51 percent of the total population as against 46 percent Sunnis. Introducing democracy in Iraq meant helping the Shi'ites to come to power and rule the country. The Americans wanted to use the Shi'ites as surrogates in their operations to have Saddam overthrown, but were not prepared to support their rule in the country lest it send shivers up the spines of the pro-American rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

It was an act of hypocrisy to proclaim the US policy objective as democracy in Iraq if Washington was not prepared to tolerate the majority community acquiring the reins of power. Even though the present hotch-potch anti-Saddam coalition backed by the US has Shi'ite personalities in important positions, it is doubtful whether the US will let them emerge in the driving seat in Baghdad once Saddam either quits or is driven out.

What the US advocated and continues to advocate for Iraq is not democracy as perceived by the majority of Iraqi people, but democracy as designed in the Central Intelligence Agency that would serve US national interests. If one were to argue from the US angle, what the situation called for was to examine why the covert operations failed to produce results and to introduce the necessary correctives. Continued covert operations would have had the advantage of promoting US policy objectives, though more slowly than overt invasion, without adding to the Islamic anger against the US in the world today.

Islamic anger against the US is another ground reality, the implications of which have not been adequately analyzed and understood by US policymakers. It was this anger post-1991 that spawned the likes of bin Laden, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and their ilk and led to their acts of terrorism - initially against the US and subsequently against anybody else whom they perceived as enemies of Islam.

The US has certainly made progress in the war against international jihadi terrorism. India, the most suffering victim of pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism in the world today, has reasons to be gratified over the US success in its operations. Even though these operations are designed to protect American lives and interests and not those of India, there is likely to be a beneficial fallout for India, but on a limited scale.

But the way these operations have been carried out not only in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also in the US itself, has added to the Islamic anger against the US at a time when an equally important US policy objective should have been to reduce this anger. The increase in this anger has already led to a strengthening of the political influence of the Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi forces in Pakistan and could cause an anti-Hamid Karzai backlash in Afghanistan. India cannot hope to remain insulated for long from the impact of this anger on its own Muslim community, the second largest in the world after Indonesia's, which has so far treated bin Laden and his ilk with disdain.

If Saddam refuses to quit, the triumph of the inevitable US military action should not be in doubt. The question is not whether the US will win, but how soon. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory, which will not contribute to enhanced peace and security for the US, Israel or the rest of the international community.

The world has nearly a billion Muslims. No world leader can afford to be insensitive to their feelings of hurt and anger. Ultimately, whether the world is spared the consequences of their anger is not going to depend on the autocratic rulers of the Islamic world on whose support the US is counting for removing another autocratic ruler from power. It is going to depend on the perceptions and feelings of rage of the ordinary Muslims in the streets, mosques and madrassas (religious schools) in South Asia.

They perceive the US's war on Iraq not as a war to liberate the Iraqi people from an autocratic ruler and give them the fruits of democracy, but as a continuation of a war on Islam being waged by the "crusaders" and the Jewish people. The aggravation of their anger consequent on the US military action will not bode well for peace and security.

B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com. He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.

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Mar 19, 2003


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