It seems a done deal. Now that U.S.
President George W. Bush has given Baghdad an ultimatum —
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq
within 48 hours or face invasion — and the suggestion of exile
rejected, war seems inevitable. The first shot is days,
possibly hours, away.
That Saddam would have actually
taken the United States up on the offer of exile — a strategy
suggested by, among others, a figure no less notable than
former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who did step down in
part to prevent military conflict — was always unlikely. He
has miscalculated before.
His departure would have
been the dream scenario. There would have been no military
action, economic sanctions against Iraq would have been
lifted, worries that the country is developing weapons of mass
destruction would have dissipated and Saddam could have lived
out his days in luxury in some other country.
would of course prefer that the dictator be brought to
justice, but that would have seemed a minor quibble if his
ousting could have been achieved without bloodshed.
Now, however, the military option has been given an
effective go-ahead. The Bush administration and the government
of British Prime Minister Tony Blair have put far too much on
the line, both domestically and abroad, to back down now. The
Danes, Spaniards, Australians, Poles and Bulgarians are also
all on board.
The military operation will probably be
brief. Iraq’s army has been devastated by years of economic
sanctions and, in any case, is probably not going to fight too
hard to defend a doomed cause when confronted by overwhelming
What comes after is more problematic. Iraq is a
patchwork of hostile ethnic groups, now kept quiet by the iron
boot of the Ba’ath party. Enmities among Kurds, Arabs and
Shias, and between Muslims and Christians, will have to be
taken into account. Iraq’s infrastructure has already
collapsed, and will be further devastated by military action.
The population today lives mainly on food doled out by
the government, and will need a steady supply of food,
now-scarce medicines and guarantees of housing. Otherwise,
they will hardly view the foreign troops in their country as
liberators — no matter how hated Saddam is.
potentially complicating factors are Iran and Turkey.
Iranian-backed Shias tried to wrest Eastern Iraq from Saddam
immediately after the Gulf War, and forces have already
crossed the border.
Turkey — where over 90 percent of
the population is against invading Iraq — has its own concerns
with the Kurds within its borders and in northern Iraq,
fearing they may use the situation to try to establish the
independent Kurdistan so feared by Ankara.
Iraq is not
Afghanistan. After the Taliban were ousted from power,
attempts to stabilize the country were limited to Kabul. The
rest of Afghanistan is still run by heavily armed bandits, and
heroin production is again soaring. The United States achieved
victory. Most of the people of Afghanistan, still struggling
to rebuild, did not.
In Iraq, the United States wants,
among other things, guaranteed access to the country’s oil.
This can only happen with the establishment of long-term
stability in Iraq — and that will require intense effort on
the part of the United States and other occupying powers after
their military operations are through.
Just going in,
spraying firepower and killing or capturing Saddam is not
enough. What is needed is a serious, solid commitment to the
future of Iraq.
And this, we hope, is what the United
States plans for the end of its wartime agenda.