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Will the US invade Iraq?

Hawks in the ascendant

Iraq is not Afghanistan

A ‘unilateralist hyperpower’

THE US NOW appears intent on launching a military attack on Iraq before the end of the year. The open aim is a change of regime, to get rid of Saddam. The scale of assault, and whether it would involve a ground invasion, is far from clear. Bush has reportedly given his advisors until the 15 April to come up with 'a coagulated plan'.

The hawks are led by the Defence Department under Donald Rumsfeld and the especially bellicose Paul Wolfowitz, who advocate an all-out military assault, including using land forces. Despite his recent lip service to Bush's Iraq policy, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is still reportedly deeply sceptical about the wisdom or feasibility of such an assault. Moreover, unlike their political bosses, most of the military commanders, who would be responsible for any operations, have deep reservation about an all-out attack on Iraq.

Apart from Tony Blair, who acts as Bush's little drummer boy, leaders of the USA's European allies are aghast at the turn in US policy. In public, they are mostly diplomatic, but behind the scenes European leaders are appalled by the prospect of an attack on Iraq, which would detonate a far more serious crisis throughout the Middle East. Leaders of the Arab regimes, too, also fear the consequences. While some might privately welcome the demise of Saddam, they fear mass revolt from their own populations. The regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two key US allies in the Middle East, are particularly vulnerable to upheaval.

The most immediate complication for the US is the escalation of conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinians (see article, p17). While this continues it is almost inconceivable to envisage simultaneous US operations against Baghdad. Even bringing about an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire will be extremely difficult, as Bush's 'peace-envoy', general Anthony Zinni is finding out. Moreover, Vice-President Cheney's mission to the region has been a complete failure. Every Arab ruler has made clear their opposition to a US attack on Iraq. Any idea that the US can produce a plausible settlement and engage Israel and the Palestinian leaders in serious negotiations before the end of the year appears fanciful.

Recent events in Afghanistan, moreover, show that the war in that country is far from over. Commenting on the continuing operations against al Qaeda fighters and conflicts between local warlords, the former US NATO commander, general Wesley Clark, said: "We are a long way from this being over, and it could still all go wrong". (Daily Telegraph, 22 March)

The Bush leadership may well be determined to topple Saddam by military action. It certainly cannot be ruled out that they will launch air attacks and even prepare a ground invasion. Whether they will be able to carry this through, however, is a different matter. The conflict in the Middle East, possible complications in Afghanistan, and further unexpected international crises, may well cut across Bush's current intentions.

Hawks in the ascendant

BUSH AND THE Republican right have long been itching to topple Saddam. They regard it as unfinished business from the 1990-91 Gulf War, forgetting the reasons for Bush Sr stopping short of an assault on Baghdad. At that time, the US leadership recognized that an assault on Baghdad would almost certainly mean massive US casualties. They had no clear plan for the emergence of a successor regime, and feared a possible break-up of the country, which could have led to intervention by Turkey and Iran. Moreover, the smashing of Saddam's regime would have necessitated a period of US military occupation and massive costs for reconstruction of a shattered country. The same problems would confront the US today if it invades Iraq, but the Bush leadership has brushed them aside. For them, Saddam is an intolerable thorn in the flesh, and they are obsessed by the urge to eliminate him.

An attack on Iraq is being presented as a continuation of the 'war against terrorism'. No credible evidence has been produced, however, of links between Saddam's regime and the 11 September suicide attackers. Most of them were trained and financed by opposition elements in Saudi Arabia, one of the US's main allies in the region. Another justification for an attack is that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. There is no evidence, however, that he possesses, or is near to possessing, a usable nuclear weapon. Undoubtedly, the regime has grotesque chemical and biological weapons, and Saddam demonstrated that he was prepared to use them during the war with Iran (when he had the support of the Western powers) and also against the Kurds. Such weapons are undoubtedly a danger to surrounding states, to opposition forces within Iraq, and any invading army. But nothing suggests that Saddam, unless the survival of his regime is threatened, is any more dangerous today than he was in the past. His real crime in the eyes of the US is that his very survival challenges the military credibility of the US and its domination of the region. Bush and his advisors appear to believe that, if only Saddam had been ousted in 1991, the new world order proclaimed by Bush Sr would have been a success. They are totally deluded that if they can destroy Saddam they can establish new world order II, which will bring stability and peace.

Iraq is not Afghanistan

IRAQ IS NOT Afghanistan. Yet the hawks believe that they can repeat their success, using special forces linking up with indigenous opponents of Saddam's regime. Victory, they believe, can once again be rapidly achieved with minimal US casualties.

Saddam, unlike the Taliban, has a consolidated state apparatus and, for a regional power, formidable military forces. Their powers of resistance can only be gauged in the course of battle. US military commanders, however, are not so ready to discount their effectiveness as hawks like Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Most of the Iraqi army are conscripts, but the regime also has the Republican guard, the Special Republican Guard and other special forces. It would be reckless for any assailants to assume that they will not be prepared to fight. Saddam also has an air force and air defence weapons, which the Taliban completely lacked.

There is no equivalent of the Northern Alliance in Iraq. The Pentagon has put its faith (and $4 million) in the Iraqi National Congress, which it claims is the 'Iraqi opposition'. Based in London, this group is mainly composed of bourgeois families who fled Iraq after the fall of the British-imposed monarchy in 1958. According to reports, the State Department's military commanders, and many foreign policy advisors, have absolutely no confidence in the INC, which has no active combat forces inside Iraq. The State Department supports an alternative group, including the Iraqi National Accord, led by exiles who left Iraq in the 1970s. They hope that they can entice members of Saddam's officer corps to join an opposition movement. They are also hopeful of mobilizing opposition from Kurdish organizations in the north and Shia groups in the south. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia, however, have forgotten that when they rose against Saddam the US watched from afar as the regime brutally crushed them. There are no equivalents to the Northern Alliance and the Pushtun warlords that the US could rely on as an experienced, surrogate fighting force.

Saddam sustained a stubborn resistance to the massive US assault in 1990-91, and survived to defy the blockade and low-level air attacks ever since. If he is faced with an assault explicitly aimed at ending his rule, there is every possibility that he will fight to the end. His regime might crack under the pressure. On the other hand, it might survive long enough for Saddam to use his most lethal weapons against invading forces, claiming massive casualties. He might also attack Israel, provoking counter attacks that would draw Arab regimes into a regional war.

Bush's favourite advisors seem to believe that victory could be achieved with air strikes, special forces, and a US ground force of between 150-200,000 troops. A range of commanders and ex-commanders, however, consider that the US would require similar forces to the Gulf War, that is, around 500,000 troops. Given the refusal of most Arab regimes, with the exception of Kuwait and possibly one or two tiny Gulf states, to allow their bases to be used for an attack on Iraq, the logistical problems of mobilizing such an invasion force appear almost insuperable.

"We've a great way to get it started", a former intelligence official says. "But how do we finish it?" On Bush's eagerness to get rid of Saddam, he said: "It's a snowball rolling downhill, gaining momentum on its own. It's getting bigger and bigger, but nobody [in the administration] know what they are going to do". (Seymour Hersh, New Yorker, 11 March)

A ‘unilateralist hyperpower’

AT THE MOMENT, the White House hawks are in full flight. Bush is riding on the momentum from the unexpectedly rapid victory in Afghanistan. The problems of stabilizing and rebuilding the war-worn country have yet to impact on wider consciousness. In reaction to 11 September, the overwhelming mood in the US is one of supporting all measures said to be necessary for home security and the defence of US interests internationally. Bush has seized on this to mobilize support for a strong leadership for the 'war against terrorism', reclaiming autonomous, even dictatorial powers that were taken from the presidency after the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Bush's course is a reflection of the current trajectory of US imperialism. In the 1980s and especially in the 1990s the US established an unprecedented economic hegemony over the world economy. Under Reagan the US also massively augmented its military power. After a short pause after the collapse of the Stalinist states, Bush is now pushing for a new arms build-up, even though the US already has an historically unprecedented military dominance. His proposed military budget will mean a $48 billion increase in spending during the next year. Military spending will total $379 billion in 2001-02 and may reach $450 billion by 2007. This does not include Department of Energy spending on nuclear-weapon research and development or spending on 'homeland defence'.

This military build-up is the accompaniment of the more assertive, aggressive international role of US imperialism. The superpower is now emerging as a hyperpower that acts unilaterally and increasingly sees military force as the primary solution to international problems. The recently leaked Nuclear Posture Review (see p13) reveals strategic policies based on the conception of a potential pre-emptive nuclear strike against a list of nuclear and non-nuclear states. Plans are already being implemented for the development of a new range of so-called tactical nuclear weapons that, the Pentagon claims, could be used in battlefield situations. The US has also signalled its intention of renouncing a whole range of international treaties, on nuclear testing, nuclear proliferation, the control and inspection of chemical and biological weapons, as well as environmental treaties. The US turns to international organizations such as the United Nations only when it believes it can use them to legitimise its policies. US allies, including its major NATO partners, are expected to fall in line like loyal troopers.

The unilateralist interventionism of the US has already provoked unprecedented tensions between the US and major allies in Europe (with the exception of Blair, of course). A major armed assault on Iraq will create even greater antagonism between the US superpower and the other advanced capitalist countries. Far from resolving all the problems, the reckless use of military power will exacerbate international conflicts. Bush's concession under pressure of international criticism, to increase US foreign aid, still leaves the world's wealthiest nation making a paltry contribution to the alleviation of poverty. The world will become less, not more, manageable for the US superpower. Imperialism is more and more resorting to force as the world capitalist economy slips deeper into crisis. Bush's decision to put protective tariffs on US steel imports, primarily for electoral reasons, marks the beginning of a developing trade war. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already pushed up the price of oil, and an attack on Iraq would push it up to crisis levels. That could decisively cut across any recovery in the US and other major capitalist economies.

Bush still has overwhelming support in the US for his 'war against terrorism' policies. Initially, there is likely to be support for a strike against Iraq. Nevertheless, we can expect a strong protest movement against US military action. Internationally, there will be mass anti-war movements. These will be part of the strengthening movement of workers and young people against imperialist intervention, neo-liberal economic policies and corrupt bourgeois governments - in short, against the Old World Order of capitalism.


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