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Keep Out Of Iraq's Quagmire

By Praful Bidwai
August 09, 2003 12:06 IST
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The Blair and Bush governments have been badly shaken by the reported suicide of whistle-blower microbiologist David Kelly, and disclosures that official documents alleging that Saddam Hussein bought uranium from Niger were pure fabrications. The British people are scandalised that their government practised gross deception, including crude plagiarism, to justify going to war with Iraq. Tony Blair has admitted to losing public confidence. His acceptance ratings are now a negative 17 percent. In the more conservative US, Bush's scores have fallen to their lowest level since the attack on Iraq. The Democrats are beginning to rediscover their voice and question Bush's strategy for Iraq.

It would be a surprise if Blair emerges unscathed from this. His government faces another grave charge, besides 'sexing up' its 'dodgy dossiers' on Iraq: trying to muzzle the BBC for exposing official attempts to distort intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. No less a person than the chairperson of the BBC's board of governors has accused officials of threatening it with cutting its funding, removing its director general and rewriting its charter. Dr Kelly's death is an especially serious matter. The former UN weapons inspector visited Iraq 37 times and knew Blair was lying when he claimed that Iraq was 45 minutes away from deploying WMD. In his assessment, Iraq was nowhere near weaponising its chemical or biological capabilities, leave alone its primitive nuclear programme. Bush too faces a severe credibility crisis.

Complicating this crisis is the Iraq situation, marked by growing resistance to the Anglo-American occupation, widespread chaos, lawlessness, breakdown of public services, and antipathy towards the US and its clients. An opinion poll commissioned by the conservative British magazine, The Spectator (July 19), shows that fully 75 percent of Iraqis say that Baghdad is 'more dangerous' than before the war (including 54 percent who say it is 'much more dangerous'). As many as two-thirds fear being attacked in the streets.

Fortyfive percent of Iraqis believe the US invaded their country 'to secure oil supplies' and 41 percent 'to help Israel.' Just 23 percent say the aim was to liberate its people. Only 6 percent think that the main motive was 'to find and destroy WMD.' The occupation is highly unpopular. Only 29 percent favour the Americans, although only 7 percent want Saddam Hussein back. Power cuts are mentioned by 80 percent as 'the biggest' problem 'affecting you personally.' Only 13 percent want the occupation troops to leave immediately. But 71 percent want power handed over to the Iraqi people within 12 months.

Almost four months after the fall of Baghdad, the US and UK have failed to restore order or a minimum of public services. With its pathetically inadequate 3,900-strong police force, Baghdad is nightmarishly unsafe. A Human Rights Watch report says women are much more insecure than under the Saddam Hussein regime. Unemployment and destitution are rampant. Thousands of competent technocrats have been sacked under wholesale 'de-Baathification' -- although many had become members of the Baath Party out of compulsion, not choice. US troops are far from gentle in their treatment of Iraqi civilians. They have failed to instil a sense of security.

The occupation is proving extremely costly to America -- not just in the $4 billion monthly bill. Fifty US troops have been killed since May 1 and over 150 since the war began. American soldiers' morale is extremely low. The New York Times quotes a sergeant from the 3rd Infantry Division as saying, 'we feel betrayed' at the cancellation of the division's scheduled return home. 'It was like a big, big slap in the face.' Relatives have been circulating an anonymous email message from a soldier. 'Our morale is not high or even low,' it says. 'Our morale is non-existent.'

Iraq is witnessing something akin to 'imperial overstretch:' The US has failed to control the political and military situation despite deploying 16 of its army's total of 33 combat brigades. This well exceeds the recommended deployment ratio of one-third. Washington is desperate to relieve its glum, tired, demoralised soldiers and substantially increase total deployment over the current total (146,000 US and 12,000 British troops). It is scouring for every bit of military support it can get. Its  political leaders and diplomats have approached over 90 countries with requests for troops, but persuaded only 19 of them to commit a total of 13,000 soldiers. Now its generals too have embarked on recruitment expeditions -- witness Chairman of US Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers' visit to South Asia.

America's desperation to get Indian troops is best revealed in what it told visiting Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal in early July. The Indian Express paraphrased it thus: 'Yours is a BJP government, you took the risk in 1998 (Pokhran-II), take the initiative now as well. We know you may ask for UN cover or cite domestic concerns. We can get a UN cover but if you send troops right now, that will strengthen our friendship.' It is truly surreal and bizarre that the US, which strongly champions non-proliferation and remains committed to Security Council Resolution 1172 condemning India's nuclear tests, should commend those very tests as a courageous act worthy of repetition! This raises new suspicions about its motives.

India must say a firm no to the US request for troops. There are at least five grounds for doing this. First and foremost, it is now established that the case for war on Iraq was based on a hoax -- falsified evidence, sexed up intelligence, and fanciful inferences. No WMD have been found in Iraq. A war mired in utter dishonesty, fraud and deception could only have been grossly unjust. Equally immoral and illegal is the resulting occupation.

Second, by bypassing the Security Council in order to wage war, the US mocked at the United Nations, violated its Charter, and undermined the principle of multilateralism. Under the Charter, no State can use force against another without the Security Council's prior authorisation -- except in self-defence. Iraq's invasion was the consequence of the new dangerous US doctrine of 'pre-emptive' or 'preventive' war. The world would become a lawless jungle if mighty States invaded others on suspicion that they might some day pose a threat. India must not legitimise such doctrines or work against a multipolar rule-based world order, with multilateralism at its core.

Third, by dispatching troops, India is being asked to use up the goodwill it enjoys in the Arab world because of its past role as a staunch advocate of decolonisation and Non-Alignment. The US is desperate to put a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, pluri-lateral gloss on its essentially First World occupation force. It would be extraordinarily foolhardy for India to cover up for the US and become a target of Arab resistance. Some 3.5 million Indians live in the Gulf region. Joining hands with an insolent superpower unpopular with the Arab masses will compromise their security. Right since 1953, when the US toppled Mossadegh in Iran, and set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East, America has destabilised that volatile region. It would be tactless, indeed mindless, to ally with the US.

Fourth, Indian public opinion has forcefully asserted itself against Iraq's invasion and occupation. Polls show that 69 to 87 percent Indians, cutting across community and region, oppose troops dispatch to Iraq. Their opposition triggered demonstrations in 500 Indian cities and towns and was also reflected in the April 8 unanimous Parliament resolution. No
government can claim to be acting democratically if it violates informed public opinion. Surely, the Indian people and Parliament come prior to the US and the Security Council. Even if the Council were indirectly or directly to appeal for troops for Iraq, the request cannot bind the government -- unlike a Parliament resolution.

Finally, US actions in Iraq cannot be isolated from the agenda of the Neoconservatives who now rule Washington. The Neocons' goal is to establish a US global Empire based on military supremacy. If the post-9/11 war on Afghanistan was the first step in that process, Iraq's occupation is the second (but much bigger) step. Pursuit of this agenda is unleashing forces of disorder whose dimensions the US can barely comprehend, leave alone control. These forces are likely to visit havoc and devastation upon the world.

It would be suicidal for India to collude with US plans for Empire. Collusion will bring India into hostile confrontation with political forces and ethnic-religious groups that it must live with. It will earn it the hatred of the Third World, where it belongs. Iraq has become a quagmire thanks to Washington's cynical policies since the 1960s, when it promoted Saddam Hussein's faction against his rivals, and through the 1980s, when it backed him against Iran even as he used WMD.

The US is a bad 'nation-builder.' A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the US has so far conducted over 200 overseas military interventions. Only 16 of these were 'nation-building' attempts. Just four (post-War Germany, Japan, Granada-1983 and Panama-1989) succeeded in establishing democracy lasting 10 years or longer. Why should India rescue an America that's bent on failing?


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Praful Bidwai