April 5, 2002

Invading Iraq Would Compound the Terror

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Since September 11, the Bush administration has mounted a concerted campaign to prepare the American people for an attack on Iraq. Striking Iraq would further destabilize the Middle East, and would have disastrous consequences for the United States. Moreover, there is no legitimate justification for invading Iraq.

The CIA has been unable to tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney speculates about a “potential marriage” between terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Iraq. But no concrete evidence of a link has been forthcoming.

Cheney, who recently went to the Middle East to prime the Arab countries for a military strike against Iraq, found the Arabs much more concerned with ending the bloodshed in Israel. On March 28, the Arab League proposed a political settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At the same time, the Arabs warned of the danger an invasion of Iraq would pose to the region and, indeed, to the world. The League unanimously declared that an attack on Iraq would be considered an attack against all Arab states.

Without support from the Arab countries, it would be difficult for the United States to mount an invasion of Iraq, as neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait will allow themselves to be used as bases for U.S. troops. The killing of Iraqis would result in even more virulent anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. If Iraq responded by attacking Israel, a world war pitting all Arab states against Israel and its supporters might well erupt.

Thousands of American soldiers would be killed, which is precisely what ex-President George H.W. Bush sought to avoid when he stopped short of Baghdad in 1991. John Nichol, of the British Royal Air Force, who was an Iraqi prisoner-of-war during the Gulf War, says “the death toll would have been massive” if the Western forces had marched into Baghdad to capture Saddam Hussein.

Analysts say 100,000 or more American troops would be needed to carry out an operation in Iraq. “Anything short of a ground invasion would run a high risk of failure,” says Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution. “Removing Saddam will be opening a Pandora’s box, and there might not be an easy way to close it back up,” according to Gordon.

A recent Time-CNN poll shows 36 percent of Americans would support bombing, 25 percent favor continuing economic sanctions, 18 percent would like to see Iraqi opposition troops do the fighting, and just 10 percent would endorse a ground war involving thousands of U.S. troops. Moreover, only a handful in Congress would support an attack on Iraq. This is underwhelming American support for Bush’s Iraqi war.

An invasion of Iraq would have a potentially disastrous effect on the U.S. economy. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest supplier of oil, could lead the OPEC countries in an oil embargo, or the price of oil could rise sharply, causing a recession. As the result of saber-rattling by President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair aimed at Iraq, the price of crude has already risen to nearly $25 a barrel, a third higher than last fall. We can no longer count on Saudi Arabia to keep the more militant OPEC members in line by agreeing to pump enough additional oil to keep the price down.

The alleged motivation for an attack on Iraq is to destroy its weapons of mass destruction. However, Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq has said, “There is absolutely no reason to believe that Iraq could have meaningfully reconstituted any element of its WMD capabilities.” Ritter maintains the Iraqis never succeeded in weaponizing their chemical and biological agents to enable them to be sprayed over a large area. Nor has Iraq developed nuclear capabilities, according to Rosemary Hollis, head of the Middle East programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

In spite of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which calls for the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East, the United States ignores Israel’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Ali Muhsin Hamid, the Arab League’s ambassador in London, points to the United States’ double standard regarding Iraq and Israel. “If the Israeli weapons are looked at,” Hamid says, “the Arabs will feel that the U.S. is serious, fair, even-handed and objective.” The Arab countries are mindful that the weapons used by Israel against the Palestinians were made in the USA.

A U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq would also violate international law. Under the U.N. Charter and Security Council Resolution 687, only the Council is empowered to authorize the use of force in Iraq. No mandate for an invasion of Iraq has been forthcoming from the Security Council, whose veto-wielding members include Russia, China and France, all opposed to military action against Iraq.

A preemptive strike against Iraq could not be justified as legitimate self-defense under the U.N. Charter, as Iraq has not attacked a U.N. country. Nor could it be rationalized as a humanitarian intervention. The precipitating factor for the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, is absent in 2002. At the recent Arab summit, Iraq recognized Kuwait as an independent state and vowed not to invade it again.

An attack on Iraq would exacerbate an already volatile situation in the Middle East. The United States must heed the admonition of the Arab countries and help to achieve peace in Israel, not seek to make war on Iraq.