August 2, 2002
PART 4: Voices of opposition
By David Isenberg
PART 1: A plan is hatched
PART 2: Military preparations
PART 3: Iraq prepares
As the Bush administration contemplates invading Iraq one thing is clear. It is not going to win any popularity contents. While various nations would, privately, be pleased as punch to see Saddam Hussein shuffle off to the mother of all retirements, their public reaction is uniformly negative.
Official sentiment seems largely unchanged from when Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a 10-country tour of the region in March to gauge views on the removal of Saddam Hussein, failed to garner much in the way of support from Arab leaders.
On July 16, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Moscow would oppose any military action against Iraq, saying that fears over weapons of mass destruction could be eased through diplomacy. "News of preparation of military action against Iraq worries us," Ivanov told a news conference. "Russia will oppose any unilateral military action undertaken against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council."
The 22-member Arab League has made it clear to the US that all the 22 members of its organization are opposed to any strike on Iraq.
Even Qatar, whose Al-Udeid airbase is being readied for an eventual attack on Iraq, also says that its policy is not to allow the use of its soil for attacks against any fellow Muslim or Arab country.
"Iraq is an Arab state with which the people of Qatar share a common history and cultural bonds. There could be a popular backlash if Qatari soil is used by the US for the destruction of Iraq," a Qatari official was quoted at a recent league meeting in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, voiced opposition to any US military strike on Iraq, saying that the sentiment was shared in the Arab world and by several European leaders. "We do not support recourse to force against Iraq, whether the strike be American or any other. This position is shared by our Arab brothers and several European leaders," Defense Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa said on July 16.
China, at best, is ambivalent. On the one hand, Beijing will not want to isolate itself or risk US fury by appearing to stand in the way of the war on terrorism. Plus it has no great love for Islamic regimes, considering its own problems with Muslim separatists. On the other hand, it remains ever wary of American unilateralism, particularly if George W Bush's "new war" brings with it far bolder use of US military force. And, given recent US reports on China's "growing threat" to Taiwan, China probably is not eager to do the United States any favors; at least not without a significant quid pro quo.
At a meeting on July 22, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a moderate Muslim leader who has become a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, hosted Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. They agreed that military action against Iraq would not improve global stability.
About the only ones who are in favor of invading Iraq are the usual suspects, the opposition groups in Iraq and those in exile outside Iraq. A case in point was the conference of approximately 90 Iraqi officers in exile and opposition representatives who met in London from July 12-15 in the presence of Prince Hassan of Jordan, who specified that he had come in a personal capacity in response to an invitation.
But what the conference really showed was that the United States had still not found a political solution for a change in power. The opposition is divided, reflecting the ethnic and religious mosaic in Iraq. That may be why exiled Iraqi opposition members at a meeting in London on July 26 abruptly cancelled an expected announcement of plans for a "provisional government" in their country, amid reports of splits in their ranks. Even figures within the opposition believe that the close association with the United States taints some of these groups. As one Iraqi in exile noted, groups like the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord are discredited partly because they failed in their attempts to overthrow Saddam and partly because they are tainted by their excessive reliance on the CIA. In this view US policy should recognize that the Iraqi population would not rally to the leadership of anyone who is viewed "as an agent or a tool of the United States or British".
Most outside observers have long been dubious about the ability of the opposition to be militarily effective or to cooperate with each other. General Anthony Zinni, former head of the US Central Command, which would direct any military campaign against Iraq, testified before Congress that "they have very little, if any, viability to exact a change of regime in and of themselves. Their ability to cooperate is questionable."
That may be why the United States has just invited the six main Iraqi opposition groups to talks in Washington later this month on removing Saddam. This will mark the first time that the US administration has issued a joint letter from the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies.
Some opposition groups that could be militarily significant are skeptical. In northern Iraq the Kurds have achieved what comes the closest they have ever been to political independence. Protected by US and British aircraft and financed by their share of Iraq's oil money that is being administered by the United Nations, they have built up two mini-communities that give them much better conditions than Iraq offers. And they are, for very good reasons, Saddam's deadly enemies.
They are inevitable partners for a US invasion. But they have definitely not been envisaging risking what are now the tolerable conditions in which they live without guarantees. In the knowledge of the harm they have suffered they are insisting that the United States means what it says and really does invade and occupy Iraq. And that there are credible plans for a new and democratic regime in Baghdad.
Also, neighboring states are concerned that the Kurds will try to break away and form an independent nation, something that would suit neither Iran nor Turkey - two countries that border Iraq and have large Kurdish minorities. Any war on Iraq will have to include Turkey because of its proximity and its US bases - mainly the Incilik air base near Adana - that would serve as a jump-off point for attacks on the northern part of Iraq.
PART 5: The aftermath
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