Middle East

Baghdad in the Cross Hairs

A Question of Time

The question is no longer whether an attack [on Iraq] is a possibility or not, but rather when it will take place. There is much evidence to confirm this hypothesis:

First: [U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell confirmed that President George Bush’s threatening statements against Iraq—offering the option of a return of international inspectors or face further sanctions—were serious and that they needed no further clarification. Second: British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced yesterday that the war against Afghanistan was the first stage. He offered his support to President Bush—who had sounded him out on the return of international inspectors—in whatever position the United States takes toward Iraq. Third: The Turkish National Defense Minister [Sabahattin Cakmakoglu] said his country’s opposition to hitting Iraq was amenable to change depending on how the situation develops. This statement can be interpreted as a Turkish message to the U.S. administration; all depends on the price Turkey can obtain in exchange. Fourth: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revealed that the U.S. administration would notify his government in the event the United States decides to carry out an attack against Iraq. He said: “I know with certainty that I will not be surprised in the event an attack happens.”

The question then is whether the Arab countries, and especially those that are friendly with Washington, can prevent an attack before it happens. The answer is negative, of course, because most Arab governments have become powerless and submissive, fearing the American press writing about their dictatorships or the spread of corruption amongst their top and lesser officials. More dangerous is that some governments, especially in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, welcome any attack on Iraq on the condition that it topple its system, and that the attacker be ready to cover all the costs of such an operation. The presence of the Iraqi regime and its resistance to every form of American and Arab pressure is embarrassing to those governments. For they cannot and will not lift the economic sanctions in the shadow of the present regime. They feel profoundly embarrassed by the enforcement of those sanctions and the resulting deaths of at least a million Iraqis.

Previous experience has shown that the Arabs lose shamefully in any first war. But they learn their lesson from defeat, and their performance improves the second time around. With the June War [1967] came the disgraceful naksa [or setback, the name given by President Gamal Abdel Nasser to Egypt’s defeat in the Six-Day War against Israel—WPR] and ensuing disaster for the Nasser regime.

Yet he was able to stand on his own feet and wage a successful war of attrition against the Hebrew state and to rebuild the Egyptian army on the basis of another operation. This was the same rebuilding process completed by President Anwar Sadat, turning to wage a war that was closer to victory, on the tenth of Ramadan in the year 1973 [the Yom Kippur War]. The situation in Iraq is different: Iraq faces the hostility of the greatest power in the world. The element of surprise this time will be absent. Any new confrontation will be final for the Iraqi regime. Therefore, it is not to be expected that the war will be without casualties, especially on the American side.

As for Arab casualties, they will be limitless. The war will be catastrophic, perhaps changing the map of the region in its entirety. The change of regimes will not be limited to Iraq alone.