- America's 'Unfinished Business' To Topple Saddam Hussein
- The long snouts of anti-aircraft guns are again protruding
from the tops of tall buildings in Iraq. Tank units have been deployed
around oilfields. Special committees drawn from local leaders of the army,
security forces and the ruling Baath party will try to ensure that any
rebellion is quickly crushed. President Saddam Hussein himself has told
people to store food in case of a new American air war as prolonged as
that of 1991.
- President Saddam says that war with the US will come,
but he knows that it is likely to be delayed until next year. Washington
is no longer in quite the confident mood that it was after the defeat of
the Taliban in Afghanistan in December.
- The differences between the situations in Kabul and Baghdad
have become more apparent in the past few months. Britain, hitherto America's
sole ally in its bid to overthrow President Saddam, is becoming increasingly
nervous of the political opposition at home to military adventures with
the US against Iraq.
- Above all, Ariel Sharon's bloody invasion of Palestinian
cities on the West Bank has made it more difficult for the US to recreate
the alliance that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait more than a decade
- "Saddam knows that Washington does not have the
appetite for a war this year," said one Iraqi source.
- It is a very different situation from the Gulf War. Then
the alliance against President Saddam was surprisingly easy to create.
The Arab states were terrified by his conquest of Kuwait. The rest of the
world was never going to let Iraq become the dominant power in the Gulf.
The problem seemed to be overcoming the military strength of the Iraqi
army, tested by eight long years of war with Iran.
- Today nobody doubts that the Iraqi army is a shadow of
its former self. Aside from its losses in the Gulf War, it has not been
able to import tanks and other heavy equipment. But politically it is a
far harder task now to create an alliance with the aim of overthrowing
the Iraqi leader than it was 12 years ago.
- Then, the purpose of the US-led coalition was to restore
the status quo by evicting Iraq from Kuwait. It was a conservative war.
What Washington intends today is far more radical. It is in fact the first
attempt to replace a government by armed force in the Middle East since
President Saddam took the disastrous decision to send his troops across
the Kuwaiti border.
- Baghdad will do its best to ensure that it does not provide
the US administration with a pretext for war. It has softened its line
over the return of UN weapons inspectors, who left in December 1998 just
before the US and Britain last bombed Iraq. In talks with Kofi Annan, the
UN secretary general, in New York last week, Iraqi officials were notably
conciliatory. Naji Sabri, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, did not rule out
the return of the inspectors but wanted other issues, such as the no-fly
zones and sanctions, to be discussed.
- It is all very frustrating for militant members of the
US administration, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and the Defence Secretary,
Donald Rumsfeld, who would like to overthrow President Saddam immediately.
They do not want to become caught up in a diplomatic minuet in which they
have to dance to the same tune as the UN.
- Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence and an
impatient hawk, even instructed the CIA to investigate Hans Blix, the Swedish
diplomat who is the chief UN arms inspector. Mr Wolfowitz was visibly enraged
when the CIA came back with nothing that would have discredited Mr Blix
and, by extension, the UN weapons inspection team.
- These diplomatic manoeuvres are important because the
US task is far more difficult than it was in Afghanistan. It needs to be
able to launch not only a prolonged air offensive but to build up an army
estimated to number between 70,000 and 250,000 troops. In Afghanistan,
the Taliban was overthrown by the opposition Northern Alliance, US air
strikes and the defection of many commanders. The Taliban was also gravely
weakened by the withdrawal of Pakistani and Saudi Arabian support.
- The situation is different in Iraq. It has a powerful
centralised state. Only the Kurds, controlling the three northern provinces
of Iraq, would be able to play the role of the Northern Alliance. Betrayed
by the US twice in the past, in 1975 and again in 1991, the Kurds will
not want to go to war against Baghdad unless there is a US army in place
to protect them.
- There are two other ways of removing Saddam Hussein,
but Washington has concluded that neither is likely to work effectively.
It could, as it often has in the past, hope that a coup led by by dissident
army officers in Baghdad will remove the Iraqi leader. But President Saddam
has shown that he is a master at detecting and eliminating such plots,
with horrific consequences for those involved.
- A further option might be to build a guerrilla army,
supported by US air power and special forces. Something like this worked
in southern Afghanistan, but President Saddam is likely to counter-attack
more effectively than the Taliban.
- Washington is shifting towards the idea of a ground invasion,
with an army based in Kuwait and Turkey. An attack would be preceded by
a prolonged bombardment by bombs and missiles. The Iraqi army is still
strong enough to fight the Kurdish or Iraqi guerrillas, but it is even
less capable of stopping the US army than it was in 1991. Even confirmed
fence-sitters such as the Kurds do not want to be marginalised by failing
to join an American effort to get rid of President Saddam which succeeds.
- It is becoming increasingly difficult for President George
Bush to walk away from his militant rhetoric about toppling President Saddam.
If he does not overthrow the Iraqi leader then his failure will damage
him in the next presidential election. But already Mr Bush is discovering
how much more complicated it is to change a government in Baghdad than
it was in Kabul.
- © 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp