Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 Jan. - 5 Feb. 2003
Issue No. 623
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The madness of Baghdad

The greatest obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis is the vain posturing of its political elite, writes Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie While international and Arab powers are struggling furiously to prevent the outbreak of a new war in the Middle East and promote a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis what does the regime in Baghdad do? It makes sure the storm clouds gather by furnishing the advocates of war in the US new pretexts to mount a military operation. While Egypt and other Arab nations work to alleviate the plight of the Iraqi people and prevent further suffering, leaders in Iraq appear determined to undermine their efforts with an incessant outpour of provocative bluster and bravado.

One can only be dumbfounded by the bellicose statements issuing from Baghdad at a time when European capitals are butting diplomatic horns with Washington in order to dissuade it from unleashing a military operation against Baghdad. It is mystifying how tenaciously Iraqi leaders persist in their bombast when a wave of popular demonstrations around the world try to promote sympathy for the Iraqi people. I stress, here, Iraqi people, for it is the conviction that these people deserve to be given another chance at a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi crisis that inspires all these efforts. After all, a military onslaught will claim an enormous death toll among ordinary Iraqi citizens while the ruler of Baghdad and his clique remain safely ensconced in shelters constructed and equipped to withstand the ravages of war.

Clearly, those international powers opposed to a US and British strike are motivated by a perspective on how best to protect their interests in this region. International grass-roots sympathy with the Iraqi people, on the other hand, as demonstrated by mass protests around the world, emanates from purely humanitarian concerns. The popular voice becomes all the more cogent in view of the lack of solid ground for a strike and the continued possibility of negotiations as long as the international inspections teams can continue their work in Iraq without encountering major obstacles. Against the international backdrop Arabs, at the official and grass-roots levels, continue to urge a policy of patience and forbearance. In addition to their hope to spare countless of Iraqi lives Arab leaders, aware of the force of the popular anger that will erupt in the event of such a strike, are keen to avert the dangers it will pose to regional security and Western interests in it region.

This brings us to the central problem: the behaviour of Saddam Hussein and his cohorts in power. In their ceaseless tirades that US forces will suffer ignominious defeat at the walls of Baghdad, to quote Saddam, they are actively courting war. What could be more guaranteed to undermine the efforts of such Arab leaders as President Hosni Mubarak, who has been working tirelessly to avert catastrophe for the Iraqi people and the region? There is nothing to be gained from a hostile relationship between the Arabs and the West and everything to be gained from constructive diplomacy. Out of this conviction and the desire to spare the Iraqi people the consequences of an onslaught by the world's most technologically advanced armies, Mubarak visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait and received dozens of officials from the US and Europe in order to prevail upon all to allow diplomacy a chance to bear fruit.

The Baghdad coterie persisted in its diatribes even during the recent French- German summit in which two fundamental points were agreed. Firstly, they pledged to give priority to all possible avenues towards reaching a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis. Secondly, they insisted that any military action against Iraq must be authorised by a new UN Security Council resolution, a position they grounded in their interpretation of Security Council Resolution 1441. The French-German position sparked tension between these two European countries and Washington. Commenting on the closing statement of that summit, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said that Berlin and Paris represented the Europe of the past and that the centre of gravity of that continent has long since moved eastward. The remark was not well received in other European capitals, to the extent that Russia was prompted to declare its support for the Franco-German position.

In tandem with these political developments the grass-roots anti-war drive picked up momentum. In addition to angry protest rallies in Western and Arab nations, there have been other demonstrations of popular solidarity with the Iraqi people. In the US and the UK, for example, people have volunteered to serve as human shields to protect the people of Iraq. More poignantly, a delegation of members of the families of victims of 11 September have flown to Baghdad to declare that they had no desire to see more suffering, death and destruction in the world.

War is not inevitable. If diplomatic efforts to forestall war are governed by political pragmatism, grass-roots opposition, as we have seen, emanates from faith in the sanctity of life and the environment, rendered ever more vulnerable by the enormous destructive powers of modern weaponry. Above all, however, people are moved by the inherent injustice in the fact that it is the people of Iraq who stand to suffer in the unequal confrontation between the US and Iraq. Although the Iraqi people have no say in the policies of their regime, they will be the fodder of this war, the first to pay the price with their lives and the resources of their country.

Sadly, such considerations have no place in the thinking of the leaders in Baghdad, who cling to a long outmoded, blinkered mode of crisis management and who display not the slightest concern for Iraq, as a land, people and historical legacy. Such is the megalomania of some in Baghdad that they have declared their willingness to sacrifice every last Iraqi if that means safeguarding the life of the Iraqi president and the pillars of his regime. Epitomising this attitude is Saddam Hussein's eldest son, who warned the US against undertaking an adventure, threatening that 11 September will seem like a picnic compared to the death and destruction the US will suffer if it attacks Iraq. Naturally, hawks in the US administration could not pass up the opportunity to turn these remarks to their advantage. Up stepped US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to declare that Saddam junior's statement constituted proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and intended to use them against the US in the event of a forthcoming confrontation and that the US should take a military initiative before being caught by surprise.

Certainly such statements do nothing to help the Arab and international powers working to exorcise the spectre of a US- British military operation. These countries base their appeal on the fact that Iraq is a small country whose people have suffered the hardships of international sanctions for more than 13 years. They point out that so far the work of the arms inspection teams is progressing well and they have yet to discover any sign that Iraq has violated international resolutions. The inspection teams should be allowed to continue their work, they maintain, so that they can reassure the international community that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, in which case there is no justification for a strike and no cause for the US to threaten a country and people that are, in effect, defenceless. But then along come Saddam Hussein and his son with their madcap threats, betraying a mentality completely off tune with reality and an utter indifference to the many Iraqi lives they are so willing to jeopardise.

The Iraqi leadership will be largely to blame for the consequences of its mishandling of the current crisis and failure to take effective advantage of the international sympathy with the Iraqi people. I must stress again, here, a point I have made in previous articles, which is that the people of Iraq deserve a more responsible leadership, a leadership capable of rising to the level of the challenges their country faces, of refraining from the vain demagoguery that undermines the efforts of Arab and international powers sympathetic to the Iraqi people. Now is not the time for rhetoric pitched for domestic consumption. No rational person on earth could believe that Iraqi armed forces in their current condition could hold out for more than a few days against a US military machine bristling with the latest arms technology. This is the cold reality and cries that the US army will meet defeat at the walls of Baghdad and other such inanities the are not the sort of thing one expects to hear from the political elite of a country facing the prospect of military action by the most powerful country in the world. Will the Iraqi leadership heed wisdom, if only once, and give Arab and international parties the opportunity to repair the damage it has wrought over three decades of impetuous and harebrained policies?

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