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Friday, March 28, 2003 / 25 Muharram 1424
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Editorial: Post-Saddam Iraq
28 March 2003

It seems premature for US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to be discussing, as they were yesterday, what should happen in Iraq after the war is over. Even assuming that the American-UK invasion does manage to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, there is a long way to go before that will happen.

American forces only yesterday started to arrive in the Kurdish-controlled north and it will be many days before enough tanks, APCs and back-up equipment arrive to open up a second front there. Meanwhile, the battle for Baghdad is also a long way off, and although the two allies’ massive military superiority is slowly wiping out the Iraqi resistance, that battle is likely to be long and bloody on present evidence.

However, the issue of what happens afterward does need to be worked out in advance. War is all too often a destroyer of the most well-thought-out plans, but it would be madness to leave the issue until the last minute. It would be a recipe for enduring chaos — and there is enough of that in Iraq as it is. Yesterday’s disastrous food aid distribution by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society, with the convoy being hijacked almost as soon as it crossed the border, shows the general chaos that is Iraq in microcosm.

If plans are to be discussed, however, they need to be grounded in sanity and common sense. The Bush administration’s plans for a US military administration which will gradually incorporate Iraqi figures and in time become wholly Iraqi and finally sovereign borders on the insane. Nothing could be more calculated to produce a tidal wave of anti-American bitterness and hatred across the Middle East, which would be like nothing the US has ever seen. The present antipathy toward it over its support for Israel will be chicken-feed in comparison.

But then the Americans are not directly in charge in the case of Israel; they are one step removed. In the case of an American military administration in Baghdad, Washington would be seen as a naked colonial power — and Arabs, whatever their political opinions, have always been as one in their implacable hostility to colonial rule in the Arab world.

Whether it was the French in north Africa or Syria, the Italians in Libya, the British in Egypt or Aden, and still the Israelis in Palestine, Arab history over the past century has been one of actively supporting the struggle of different parts of the Arab nation against colonial rule.

Washington takes on the role of master of Baghdad at its peril. Its relations with every Arab state will be destroyed.

However, if the Bush administration’s ideas for the future of Iraq are a self-inflicted wound waiting to happen, it seems — incredibly — that those of some UN members are little better. The opposition of some to the UN being involved in a post-Saddam administration in Baghdad, because they do not want to sully their hands by appearing to legitimize the invasion after the event is just as arrogant and heartless. They risk putting narrow legalism before the practical needs of the Iraqi people. These must always be paramount. The invasion has happened. The clock cannot be turned back. If Saddam Hussein falls, it will create a new situation, and the world will have to deal with the situation that then exists, not with one it would prefer existed.

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