The rush to war against Iraq is irresistible. Since the US first propounded the idea a few months ago – when it seemed a preposterous idea, ill thought out, unlikely to happen, wiser counsels will prevail etcetera – it has gained increasing substance and accelerated momentum. But the questions remain unanswered and the objections that all those opposed to a war have put have never been resolved. There are two key questions: why Iraq? And why now?
In the War Against Terrorism, which the US began after September 11, 2001, the targets were supposed to be Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaida group and the Taliban who harboured them. The only objective on this list that has been achieved to date is the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Osama has not been captured and most of the al-Qaida members escaped. The US made strenuous efforts to find a link between Iraq and al-Qaida – meetings between Iraqi intelligence officers and a possible al-Qaida operative were said to have taken place in Prague – but no firm evidence ever emerged of such a link. And yet, Iraq has now become the target for the War On Terrorism, and a variety of new factors have been added to the equation. For example, Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. He owns weapons of mass destruction already and will be able to have a nuclear capacity in less than two years. He supports terrorist movements. He has defied the will of the international community. He is a threat to the region and to the world.
If this is so, then we must ask our second question: why now? All these allegations could have been made in 1998 when the weapons inspectors left Iraq. And yet nothing was done over the last four years. Iraq has now offered to have the inspectors return. The US is not interested. The American military build up in Turkey and the Gulf continues. Under pressure from his allies, President Bush is paying lip service to international legitimacy by asking for Security Council authorisation. However, this is being done with the utmost cynicism while the military build up continues, and the resolution to be placed before the UN is expected to be so restrictive as to make it impossible for the Iraqis to accept. When they refuse – as is likely – the US will make out that all diplomatic avenues have been tried. The real US agenda is that a war against Iraq is necessary. But why?
There are several theories currently in circulation. The most popular is that it is Arab oil that motivates the US. Saudi Arabia appears increasingly unstable, and so what could be better than to control Iraqi oil and enable a pro-American government to rule Iraq, thus ensuring that US interests are always served. Then, there is the personal vendetta theory – that George Bush junior wishes to avenge his father and at the same time teach all Arabs a lesson: never to dare defy the American will or they will meet the same fate. Finally, there is the Israeli theory – that it is in Israel’s interests to see a weak and subjugated Arab world and that by permanently disabling Iraq from any future leadership role, Israeli hegemony will be assured. Or the motive may be a mixture of all these.
No one knows the truth for sure. But one thing seems clear: in the game of international politics, the West sees Arabs as pawns. Arab leaders can be killed or replaced, their people can be bombed, and their dictators can be supported so long as it serves Western interests. For this war, when it takes place, will be waged in Arab lands and will kill Arab people, without concern for the consequences. If chaos replaces the Iraqi regime, then that’s too bad. The US is certainly not worried by that. Nor it seems is the British Prime Minister. How have the Arabs come to this terrible state? Are they doomed forever to be pawns and victims? And if not, what should they do to change it? It is these questions above all that we should be trying to answer now.
Dr Ghada Karmi is Vice Chair of the Centre for the Advancement of Arab – British Understanding