The Post-Saddam Problem | The Nation


The Post-Saddam Problem

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The military logic behind this scenario, released under different guises by the Pentagon's hawkish civilian bosses and meant to reassure the American public, is based primarily on the testimony of Iraqi defectors. The unreliability of such sources is widely known, the most glaring example of this, for the United States, being the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, in which the CIA relied on false information from defectors. This is of great concern in the case of Iraq--as was explained by a British lawyer of Iraqi origin in London, the haven for more notable Iraqi exiles than all other cities and countries combined. "When these Iraqis arrive at a Western airport, they seek political asylum," he says. "For this they must show that they are important, and that they have acted so seriously against the Saddam regime that if returned, they would be jailed, tortured or executed. So these guys lie. And over time they become expert at inventing stories." It is on this foundation that the US-British alliance has built the body of its "intelligence" over the past twelve years, which underlies the Pentagon's sunny scenario.

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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Its ‘generosity’ toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

This scenario also ignores two pre-eminent facts of recent Iraqi history. One, Iraqis have a strong nationalist sense that was enhanced when they fought the eight-year war with Iran. Two, almost invariably, Iraqi civilians blame Washington for the sanctions, which have reduced them to penury. Judging from the opinions expressed to me by ordinary citizens during my visit to Iraq in 2000, so deep is the resentment and hostility toward America and Americans that for the bulk of Iraqis, it is unimaginable that any good can come to them from Washington--especially if that would be at the end of massive bombing by the Pentagon of their weakened country and society. They are therefore unlikely to welcome conquering US soldiers with the warmth the Pentagon expects.

On November 19 the "Iraqi military defects en masse" scenario received a grievous setback. That day the Danish government arrested Nizar al Khazraji, former (Sunni) Iraqi Army chief of staff, living in the town of Soroe, and charged him with crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged role in the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds, consisting of mass executions, razing of scores of villages and use of chemical weapons, involving some 100,000 deaths. Before his defection in 1996, Khazraji was a special adviser to Saddam, after having served him as the army chief of staff during 1987-90. "His arrest will make it that much harder to encourage other [Iraqi] officers to defect if they fear they will be charged too," said an opposition leader. Though released on bail, Khazraji has been ordered to remain in Denmark so that special prosecutor Birgitte Vestberg can complete her criminal investigations. She is unmoved by Khazraji's pleas that he is a victim of false accusations by Saddam's agents or by the prospect of upsetting the Anglo-American geopolitical plans, in which Khazraji may figure as the new leader of Iraq. Her sole task, she says, is to determine whether he has committed the alleged crimes, and that could take a year or longer.

There are other problems. Gen. Najib al Salhi, leader of the US-sponsored Iraqi Military Alliance, said the Pentagon's threats to destroy Iraq's conventional weapons risked alienating military elements who might otherwise be receptive to a regime change imposed by the United States. Other generals also warned against purging the army of Saddam supporters, saying there will be a backlash if senior Iraqi officers are punished arbitrarily.

At the other end of the Pentagon's spectrum is its pessimistic scenario. This envisions intense urban fighting in Iraq, where every household has a gun, with the conflict lasting several months. During the fighting, oil wells in Iraq are torched and those elsewhere in the region are damaged by Saddamist saboteurs, as unrest spreads throughout the Middle East and the body bags of US soldiers fuel an antiwar movement in America.

In turn, George W. Bush takes a strong stand, true to his recent declaration to Bob Woodward that as the President he is "the calcium in the backbone" of America. His Administration decides on a long-term occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, at the cost of $160 billion a year, according to Yale economist William Nordhaus.

Even if the worst-case scenario does not come to pass, a military occupation of Iraq remains a serious option, with senior Administration officials frequently alluding to the 1945-52 US occupation of Japan under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. They glibly ignore the numerous differences between postwar Japan in 1945 and postwar Iraq in 2003. Japan under Emperor Hirohito, associated with the sun by tradition and therefore revered as a demigod, surrendered unconditionally, with the Emperor personally endorsing the victors, thus allowing MacArthur to rule by fiat to implement carefully devised policies. There is no sign that Saddam will follow Hirohito's example, or that the Bush White House has put much thought into such policies. Moreover, since MacArthur inherited wholesale the administrative infrastructure of Emperor Hirohito, the reform of the political/economic/educational system progressed smoothly. Nobody expects the institutions of the Baathist regime in Iraq to survive Saddam's defeat. So any reform will be hard to implement.

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