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INTRODUCTION: STILL ON THE BRINK
Will there be a war on Iraq in the next few months? The UN has passed the US/UK resolution on Iraq. Some argue that this has blocked the possibility of war for the time being. Weapons inspectors have arrived in Baghdad, and the optimistic view is that Iraqi compliance with these inspections could yet stave off conflict.
Yet while the rest of the world continues to stress the importance of the inspections, the US remains intent on war. The Bush administration has made it clear that the inspections are little more than a delay before the inevitable full-blown attack. For example, the US very recently characterized Iraqi anti-aircraft fire as a "material breach" of the UN resolution, questioned the competence of Chief Inspector Hans Blix, and flat-out stated that even if the weapons inspectors find nothing, the US will still assume that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Nor have current preparations indicated any withdrawal of aggression. Intimidating numbers of US troops and equipment are now within striking distance of the Iraqi border. US and British planes have been flying missions over the Iraqi no-fly zones that are knocking out more important targets with more frequency. Diplomatic preparations for the war, which include negotiating participation in a US-led coalition, are being made in earnest. And US p lans for a post-Hussein regime are apparently in the final stages of discussion.
Meanwhile, Dec. 8th is fast approaching. It is the deadline for the government of Iraq to release a complete report detailing its weapons capabilities. If the report is incomplete, late, or otherwise unsatisfactory, it is likely that Iraq will be declared to be in "material breach" of the UNSC resolution. The US may then draft a new resolution authorizing war to be presented to the UN, probably largely due to international pressure to once again ensure international consensus before acting. Or the US may argue that a new resolution is not needed, and launch a war on Iraq without UN approval. Some British reports have already pinpointed the official start date of a new Iraq war as Dec. 16.
So there are many indications that we remain on the brink of Gulf War II. As the gap between threat and action continues to close, a much clearer picture of the strategies, tactics, and potential consequences of the war is emerging. Based on current reporting and the statements of US officials, it is even possible to begin to piece together a general idea of what the war could look like, from start to finish. For example, it seems clear now that 200,000 to 260,000 US troops will be involved, includin g reserve troops; that plans for a post-Hussein regime all seem to include an immediate period of rule by a US military regime, headed by a US general; and that a new Gulf War could potentially kill 500,000 civilians, according to conservative estimates.
We are loath to accept the idea that an Iraq war is already a foregone conclusion and this bulletin is not meant as an argument for despair. Rather, now that we are ostensibly in the crucial last days before the war, we believe it is time to examine the war plans being laid in order to stop them.
Now more than ever, it's time to work for peace.
ONE LINK: GOALS OF THE WAR
What does the US hope to gain from Gulf War II? According to the Bush administration, the goal is to disarm Iraq, thereby making the world a safer place, and helping win the "war on terrorism." Yet not everyone believes that this is an accurate statement of the goals of the war. "[A]t first sight, the longer-term gains for the US look pretty limited, whereas the consequences of failure would be catastrophic. A general Middle Eastern conflagration and the collapse of more pro-Western Arab states would lo se us the war against terrorism, doom untold thousands of Western civilians to death in coming decades, and plunge the world economy into depression,” writes Anatol Lieven, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. So why is the current administration still risking it? In this thoughtful article from the London Review of Books, Lievens proposes several reasons:
UNSC RESOLUTIONS: STOPPING WAR, OR JUSTIFYING IT?
The UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously passed the US/UK resolution regarding Iraq on Nov. 8. It requires Iraq to accept weapons inspections, and to provide a detailed report on their weapons capabilities by Dec. 8. The full official text of the UNSC resolution can be found at:
The question now is whether the US will seek a new UN resolution before
actually launching an attack on Iraq, or if it will launch an attack on its own
and justify it based on the language of the current resolution. Unfortunately,
there are still gray areas in the resolution that the US could cite as
permission to attack Iraq.
Yet while the Bush administration insists that "[i]f the Security
Council fails to act decisively in the event of further Iraqi violations, this
resolution does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself
against the threat posed by Iraq or to enforce relevant United Nations
resolutions," Stephen Zunes, an associate professor of politics and chair
of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco,
argues that the resolution does NOT authorize the US to use forc e against Iraq.
Some key pieces of diplomatic language make it clear that the US is to seek a
new UN resolution first.
Iraqi officials are "staggered" by the extent of access that the
weapons inspection team is demanding, and are concerned that they may have
difficulty meeting the Dec. 8 deadline for the submission of their detailed
report on Iraq's weapons capabilities. Any tardiness in submitting the report
could be seen as a "material breach" of the UN resolution and could be
used to justify war.
Weapons inspectors have arrived in Iraq, but Hans Blix, the chief inspector,
is accusing Washington of being behind a smear campaign that appears designed to
discredit him. According to the Guardian, "The US whispering campaign
against Mr Blix, a former Swedish diplomat, may be designed to undercut any
report that is favourable to Iraq," and thus help justify war.
Columnist Charley Reese comments that "Saddam will have a greater
problem if he doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction. If he has some, he
can turn them in; if he doesn't, he's stuck with trying to prove a negative,
which is impossible. How can anyone prove he does not have something to a person
who won't take his word for it? No matter how much searching the arms inspectors
do, if there is nothing to find, the Bush administration will likely claim it's
still hidden somewhere."
What if no weapons of mass destruction are found by U.N. weapons inspectors
inside Iraq? According to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "What it
would prove would be that the inspection process had been successfully defeated
by the Iraqis. There's no question but that the Iraqi regime is clever, they've
spent a lot of time hiding things, dispersing things, tunneling
underground." In other words, war will go ahead either way. Rumsfeld has
also been promising that a war on Iraq won't last more th an five months.
Richard Perle has also stated that the success of the weapons inspections
will not stop US war plans. Perle told British M.P.'s "I cannot see how
Hans Blix can state more than he can know. All he can know is the results of his
own investigations. And that does not prove Saddam does not have weapons of mass
The US has appeared impatient about waiting for the "failure" of
the weapons inspections. The US government recently claimed that Iraqi fire at
US warplanes over the "no-fly" zones is a contravention of the
security council resolution. The UN's secretary general has been quick to
disagree with this interpretation of the resolution in the midst of concerns
that the US could use this an an "automatic trigger for war."
POTENTIAL COALITION MEMBERS
Who is likely to support an attack on Iraq? If the US doesn't seek a new UN resolution, it will probably be difficult for the US to find support.
The US is not seeking a broad coalition, but is focusing on building a
coalition that includes Britain, Turkey, and possibly Australia.
Canada has also been asked to commit troops.
Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt fear that if they support the US war,
they will "face an eruption of domestic anger" that could threaten
their own regimes. In contrast, Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has vowed to attack
back if Hussein attacks Israel, raising the specter of another Arab-Israeli war.
The foundation for war with Iraq is being carefully laid, both diplomatically and militarily . This is an excellent overview of the Bush administration's current efforts to build international support for a war on Iraq, with an eye towards creating a coalition as well as gaining support for a possible new UN resolution authorizing the use of force. Some information on troops and equipment is also provided.
In fact, a secret "war before the war" is currently taking place,
with the goal of either toppling Hussein's regime without a full-blown attack or
just paving the way for a full-blown attack.
The US is already amassing troops near Iraq as part of "training
exercises", and is bombing the "no-fly" zones frequently, which,
according to this article, is to help cripple Iraq's air defense systems in
preparation for a US attack.
The following is an excellent guide that shows the buildup of US troops using
a clickable map.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,791671,00.html (flash animation)
US STRATEGY AND TROOPS
November through February is the optimal window for an Iraq campaign, given seasonal considerations of daylight, temperature, and climate, military experts say.
It appears that a war on Iraq could be a "Christmas Blitz" starting
on Dec. 16.
In April, General Tommy Franks told senior Pentagon officers that a new war
against Iraq would likely take five divisions and 200,000 troops. At the time,
other officials said it was more likely that a second Gulf War would rely on
fewer ground troops than suggested by Gen. Franks, and be "more
The most recent reports indicate that the plan to use 200,000 troops still
stands, but it will be part of a strategy of swift surgical strikes aimed at
ending the conflict as quickly as possible. Air and ground operations will occur
The Guardian offers an excellent guide which explains the five main phases of
a possible US war on Iraq. A short overview of possible casualties is also
offered for each phase. Apparently there is the chance that Hussein may use
nerve gas against US troops. If nuclear war erupts (which could happen if Iraq
attacks Israel and Israel retaliates) some 4 million Iraqis could be killed.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,650132,00.html (flash animation)
IRAQI STRATEGY, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCCESS
Would it be easy to win a war against Iraq? That seems to be the general assumption, especially in light of the recent "success" in Afghanistan.
Donald Rumsfeld has predicted that a war on Iraq will be short. On Nov. 14,
he said, "I can't say if the use of force would last five days or five
weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than
that." However, this prediction may be strategically ill-informed. Dr. Tony
Dodge, an expert on Iraq, contends that war on Iraq this time will be much
different than in the first Gulf War, and could be long and bloody.
Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) provides seven reasons to oppose the Iraq war,
the seventh of which is that defeating Iraq would be militarily difficult.
According to FPIF, it is a mistake to compare a new Gulf War to the first Gulf
War, or even the war on Afghanistan, because:
Iraqi defectors disagree about how hard Iraqi troops would fight to repel a
US attack. They point out that the Iraqi military has been split into the
regular army and the Iraqi Republican Guard and special forces, the latter being
charged with protecting the Hussein regime.
While some Iraqi troops may defect, others may fight hard, especially since
they will be defending their homeland rather than a new acquisition (as in the
case of Kuwait). Hussein may also use his weapons of mass destruction in defense
of his regime, assuming he has them. The conclusion this paper draws is that
"...an American military victory against Iraq is imminently achievable. The
only question remains: at what cost?"
It appears that Iraq may be planning on concentrating its 400,000 troops in
cities, forcing the US to fight a ground battle in major centers rather than a
desert battle, which would give the US a better chance to use air strikes. This
"street-level" combat would result in higher numbers of Iraqi civilian
casualties, and higher numbers of US casualties as well--probably much higher
than in other recent wars. However, experts disagree about whether or not US
soldiers would get "bogged down" as a result of the strategy.
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command for U.S.
forces in the Middle East, spoke at the Middle East Institute's annual
conference, and offered his own predictions and reservations about war with
Iraq. According to Zinni, success in Iraq can't be measured purely by military
outcomes, but rather in political terms, i.e., whether the political goals of
the war are accomplished.
Rep. Ron Paul lists some of the unintended consequences that he thinks could
come from a war on Iraq. Highly recommended.
William Nordhaus, Sterling professor of economics at Yale University, has stated that "One way or another, Americans will pay for the war." Based on recent studies, Professor Nordhaus estimates that in a best-case scenario, the war will cost about $50 billion US dollars, with reconstruction efforts costing anywhere from $20 billion to $500 billion. If the war becomes protracted, costs could easily climb higher. This is bearing in mind that the US only paid about $2 billion for the first Gulf War, becaus e Saudi Arabia picked up the tab for the rest; in a new Gulf War, the US will be solely responsible for the costs.
Economists agree that a war is likely to have a negative impact on the
economy and might tip the US into recession.
Higher oil prices are also a given.
CASUALTIES AND HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have released a new report which predicts that a US-led attack on Iraq could kill between 48,000 and 260,000 civilians and combatants in just the first three months of conflict. According to the report, post-war health effects could take an additional 200,000 lives.
The humanitarian crisis that would ensue as the result of a new war would
include the creation of 1.5 million refugees. Yet unlike Afghanistan, there is
currently no infrastructure for dealing with such a crisis.
This article asks, "Is the Bush administration's promise to create a democratic paradise in a post-Saddam Iraq for real -- or just more salesmanship for war?" Based on the poor results of reconstruction in the former Yugoslavia, the answer is that the US can't be counted on to follow through on its promises.
The Bush administration has revealed that they plan to install an American
military regime in Iraq, to remain in place for several years. It would closely
resemble the post-war occupation of Japan, and would likely be run by a US
general, such as General Tommy Franks. The occupation would require 75,000
troops, and would probably cost about $16 billion dollars.
Recent reports suggest that a US military regime is just the first part of a
three-stage plan for governing a post-war Iraq. The following two stages would
include a vaguely defined "international civilian administration," and
finally "a representative, multiethnic Iraqi government after some sort of
constitutional convention." The plan was created by an interagency task
force named the Executive Steering Group.
The Sunday Herald lists the top contenders for Saddam Hussein's job, all of
whom are described as "thugs."
Interestingly, one of current top prospects to fight Saddam Hussein's regime,
the Iraqi National Congress (INC) was completely engineered by the Rendon Group,
a public relations firm with links to the US administration. The leader of the
INC, who could be picked to replace Saddam Hussein, has very little support
among the Iraqi people, meaning that he may not gain their support. This
excellent article also very cogently summarizes the past exploits of public
relations firms in the build-up to US wars , and especially the first Gulf War.
Any post-Saddam regime will face the challenge of building consensus between
the numerous Iraqi anti-Saddam factions.
A private US firm, under contract with the State Department, is
"training Iraqi exiles in economics, accountancy and finance in preparation
for restructuring the country's state-controlled system into a Western,
market-driven economy." This training is part of the "Future of Iraq
Will a regime change lead to more stability in the Middle East? This is a
very interesting article which examines the aims of a new Gulf War in light of
the history of the Middle East, and compares the planned US-led regime change in
Iraq to the regime change carried out there by the British in the 30's. Both
regime changes, according to the author, are explicitly related to the
Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and unless that conflict is solved, it is unlikely
that a new regime change will be successfu l in stabilizing the region. Note
that this article refers to comments by involved parties that indicate that the
goal of a post-Gulf War II regime is to create "a non-Arab Iraq."
LONG-TERM GEOPOLITICAL CONSEQUENCES
Even a successful war effort in Iraq could have long-term consequences that we aren't currently able to imagine. This excellent article overviews the results of interviews with a diverse group of experts, and in the process, debunks some of the common assumptions about a war on Iraq, including the idea that it could be quick in-and-out war, and the idea that installing a democratic regime is possible. However, the ultimate point of the article is that we need to look beyond the short-term consequence of war on Iraq.
"Wars change history in ways no one can foresee. The Egyptians who planned to attack Israel in 1967 could not imagine how profoundly what became the Six Day War would change the map and politics of the Middle East. After its lightning victory Israel seized neighboring territory, especially on the West Bank of the Jordan River, that is still at the heart of disputes with the Palestinians. Fifty years before, no one who had accurately foreseen what World War I would bring could have rationally decided to let combat begin. The war meant the collapse of three empires, the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian, and the Russian; the cresting of another, the British; the eventual rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy; and the drawing of strange new borders from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, which now define the battlegrounds of the Middle East. Probably not even the United States would have found the war an attractive bargain, even though the U.S. rise to dominance began with the wounds Britain suffered in those years."
EFFECTS ON VETERANS
Soldiers in a new Gulf War would be facing the possibility of exposing themselves to the same environmental factors which are currently being blamed for a constellation of illnesses referred to by the general name of "Gulf War Syndrome." For one thing, any ground troops would be exposed to depleted uranium, or DU, left over from the first Gulf War, which may be to blame for high rates of cancer and birth defects both among Iraqi civilians and veterans of 1990 Gulf War.
Probably one of the best guides on Gulf War Syndrome is this one, provided by
the National Gulf War Resource Center. If you have the time, you may want to
read through the entire thing, which explains the possible relation of veterans'
illnesses to chemicals, weapons, pollutants, and diseases which were present in
the Gulf War environment. According to the guide, 110,000 American Gulf War
veterans have reported health problems since their service.
Some 3 out of 4 servicemen and women may have come into contact with DU
during the Gulf War.
For information on training techniques, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and
other issues affecting veterans in general, please see MoveOn's previous
bulletin, "Learning to Kill" at:
Iran, which President Bush has listed as part of the "axis of evil," is a likely future target. If the US successfully attacks Iraq, it would be in the ideal position to attack Iran, or possibly Syria or Lebanon. According to this article, Israel regards Iran as a major competitor, and much more of a nuclear threat than Iraq; thus Israel is advocating that Iran be next.
Perhaps out of awareness of the fact that it could be next, Iran appears to
be making some preliminary moves towards aiding the US with a new Gulf War.
FREE BOOKLET OFFER
Does Saddam Hussein's regime pose a "mortal threat" to the US and Iraq's neighbors? How have sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait affected ordinary Iraqis? How has the Iraqi regime stayed in power despite its defeat in the Gulf war and a decade of sanctions? Has the US attempted to end the 12-year confrontation between Iraq and the UN through peaceful diplomacy? What drives the Bush administration's policy of "regime change"?
In a concise backgrounder (15 page booklet) published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), Sarah Graham-Brown, author of Sanctioning Saddam (1999), and Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, offer answers to the major questions swirling around the Iraq crisis of 2002. The backgrounder is ideal for all settings -- classrooms, church meetings, union hall discussion, teach-ins, student groups, peace vigils, ect. While supplies last, order whatever number your group can reali stically distribute. There is no charge whatsoever.
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An updated second edition of MERIP's Iraq backgrounder will soon be available in print at no charge, while supplies last. If you are interested, contact MERIP at firstname.lastname@example.org. MERIP can ship to US addresses only.
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