A U.S. war against Iraq
must be prevented now


PressInfo # 152

 June 7, 2002


By Jan Oberg, TFF director and
Christian Harleman, TFF board member


We had just driven the 900 kilometres-long, desert highway from Baghdad to Amman and boarded the plane from Amman to Sweden via Paris. Having lived in a free media free-zone for two weeks during our fact-finding mission to Baghdad, we eagerly grabbed The Wall Street Journal of May 28. The top headline read, Military Strategists Favor Large Iraq Invasion Force. At Least 200,000 Troops Would Be Needed to Oust Saddam, U.S. Suggests. So, they are going to bomb, to destroy, to impose their will on Iraq, the country and the people, that we have just visited?

Now that we have been there, our reaction is different than it would have been had we read that headline back home in Sweden. We met a young woman in her wheelchair in Babylon, south of Baghdad. She had just been helped by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Iraqi Ministry of Labour to start a small shop where she prints publications from a computer and holds computer classes for university students and other citizens. Will her dream, already realised, be shattered by a new war?

We think of the dozens of children and older citizens in the street who greeted us with, Welcome to Iraq and Salam Aleikum - Hello = peace be upon you - and wanted us to take pictures of them, smiling all over, in spite of the way we look, strangers in their eyes. We have both travelled a bit and few peoples can compete with the Iraqis when it comes to being kind, helpful, hospitable and paying respect to the stranger. We think of the scholars we met on the last evening when we gave lectures on preventive diplomacy, peace-building and non-violent conflict-resolution at Baytol Hikma, The House of Wisdom, a beautiful, newly renovated, blue compound on the bank of the Tigris. Will Baytol Hikma be destroyed in new raids, will these scholars and their families be killed or further deprived of their right to pursue scholarly work the way they used to?

What sentimentality, you may think. But the problem with the West and its media, including The Wall Street Journal, is that the only Iraqi mentioned among 25 million is President Saddam Husayn. The only approach they have to one of the world's oldest and most sophisticated cultures is devastating sanctions and military enforcement. The only perspective they have is their own and it seems to be beyond dispute that they have a moral right to bomb societies and oust leaders they just do not like. How the Iraqis think and feel after the wars with Iran, with Kuwait, with each other, with the West and after 12 years of utterly inhuman sanctions is of no concern.

If The Wall Street Journal cared to do investigative research and go to Iraq, it would have a hard time finding anyone in Iraq, citizen or foreigner, who favours the present sanctions or a future US war against Iraq. If it cared about objectivity, we would have had the anti-war viewpoints represented in the same article or hitting the front page of the next edition.

The whole war project is counterproductive; less diplomatically expressed, it's absurd, perverse, pathetic and morally indefensible. If the U.S. starts a war against Iraq, it will be most divisive for NATO, which is still licking its wounds after the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, and the U.S., with its "we-don't-need-you" policies when targeting Afghanistan. In terms of public opinion, the United States will end up being, unfortunately, even more isolated and the Atlantic gap will increase further.

Saddam Husayn will gain from such a war and know how to exploit it to his own benefit. True, there may be many in Iraq and outside who dream about the day he is gone. But in times of crisis and war, citizens tend to rally around their leaders; we saw that in Serbia during the bombing. Most likely, internal opposition elements will be labelled as traitors and treated accordingly by a regime that is not known to use soft gloves. As far as we know, there are no governments in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, that favour a new war against Iraq, not even Kuwait. If that is so, rest assured that the Arab in the street is even more strongly against it. The fact is that the Iraqis have managed extremely well to re-build diplomatic and economic relations with neighbours. The opening of the border with Saudi Arabia in May is one of many examples.

Although Iraq is devastated and nowadays only a shadow of its past military might, it is not Afghanistan. It will not be possible for any foreign-imposed regime to control Baghdad and its immediate surroundings, about 5 million inhabitants, let alone control all of the country.

With 200,000 U.S. troops and possibly some more sucked in during the fighting, what will the U.S. and the West do to control and run the affairs of Iraq? In short, how do you govern 25 million people, many, if not the majority, of whom are vehemently opposed to the West and do not trust the U.S. after all they have been through? You can't even argue that you liberated the women, because Iraq is a secular society in which women play a more "Western" role than in virtually any other Arab state.

From where do the war planners and responsible foreign-policy makers expect to gather enough well-educated, experienced and honest Iraqis to run the post-Saddam Iraq they hope for? It should be pretty obvious that the Iraqi opposition does not constitute a credible, viable alternative. Would they serve a foreign Governement for anything but the money and privileges they expect and would they, with that main motivation, be the leaders and civil servants the citizens need? Or would we end up witnessing civil war, coups, plots and uprisings - of which there exists plenty in Iraq's modern history - in the wake of a U.S. invasion and departure?

What would it mean for the citizens of Iraq if the UN and the incredibly hardworking humanitarian organisations, Care, Unicef, Caritas, Red Cross Federation, ICRC, etc. were forced to evacuate? The Oil for Food program (to which we shall return in a later PressInfo) operates efficiently thanks to both the Iraqi government - whose distribution of food and medicine in the words of a high-ranking international is "second to none in actually reaching those in need" - and to the wide variety of national and international humanitarian organisations. No one who has visited Iraq can possibly doubt that a new war will have unspeakably cruel consequences for the civilian population. Everybody also knows that the Iraqi elite has not exactly suffered at any point due to the sanctions or the bombings.

But Saddam Husayn too is making a series of mistakes. The biggest may be that he thinks that military preparation is the only way to defend Iraq. We have no illusions that he studies Gandhi, but he and his advisers should be aware that there is no way they can win a military war against history's strongest military power - which, by the way, also does not mean that the United States can win, because that takes more than military might. You can still win militarily and lose morally and politically…

War must be prevented by all possible means. The only large and acceptable to all mediator that could, perhaps, help avert war is the European Union, in some kind of co-operation with Russia and China. The latter two have full embassies in Iraq and monitor the situation at close range. However, EU countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from the country. Only the French uphold a significant de facto presence, focussing on business and culture. So there is low-level representation and a low-level of knowledge about what is really going on, a violation of the first rule of thumb of conflict resolution: keep yourself well informed about your opponent and keep a door open for communication.

Iraq signalled a wish for dialogue with the EU, but here again, the EU proved incapable of mustering a coherent, relevant and far-sighted common policy. Instead the EU left it again for the U.S. to do the spectacular thing and for itself to pay for the future rebuilding of the country - so much, regrettably, for the EU's civilian crisis management facility and common foreign and security policy vis-à-vis one of the most serious conflicts on earth.

So, articles in the Western media report matter-of-factly about the planning of what cannot but lead to utter chaos and cruelty for the Iraqis. Allegedly, it will finally rid the world of Saddam, but even so: what is the likelihood of a better, more prosperous, secure and democratic Iraq after bombings, invasions and occupation?

Our answer is: zero probability. Military conflict-resolution in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Somalia and Afghanistan can be summarised as quick-fixes with no long-term improvement possible. The politicians and military people behind the conflict-management in these hot spots seem to have forgotten von Clausewitz's brilliant formulation: "before you go to war you must decide what kind of peace you want."

Any type of war against Iraq will cause more problems and solve none of them in the long run. If free media focussed on the 24,999,999 other Iraqis rather than on Saddam Husayn, ask policy-makers critical questions about the assumed post-Saddam scenario for Iraq and the region, and finally give the anti-war majority in the West and in Iraq a voice, there would be a chance of avoiding the impending catastrophe.

The conflict between Iraq and the United States and the West is one of the most tightly locked. Stereotypes abound on both sides, and we, the authors, do not profess to have the solution. But if the debate could be re-started from a new point of departure - i.e. no more wars against Iraq - other possibilities may gain ground. When we know that war is not an option, we can begin to move away from smart sanctions and smart wars and explore whether there are smarter ways to solve conflicts.

The following TFF PressInfos will explore these possibilities from a variety of angles.


© TFF 2002



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