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[whitespace] Bush Rockin' the Casbah

Seven Arguments Against Bombing Iraq

By Stephen Zunes


AS THE UNITED STATES appears determined to move forward with plans to engage in a large-scale military operation against Iraq to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, the international community is raising serious questions regarding its legality, its justification, its political implications and the costs of the war itself.

Such an invasion would constitute an important precedent, being the first test of the new doctrine articulated by President George W. Bush of "pre-emption," which declares that the United States has the right to invade sovereign countries and overthrow their governments if they are seen as hostile to U.S. interests.

Although there have been some questions raised recently about the scale and logistics of such a military operation, including by such key Republicans as House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft--as well as California Senator Dianne Feinstein--there has been surprisingly little dissent from leading policy makers, including congressional Democrats. This raises serious concerns, given that an invasion of Iraq constitutes such a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and involves enormous political and military risks.

It appears that war is inevitable unless there is a groundswell of popular opposition. This policy report attempts to encourage popular debate by raising a number of concerns that challenge some of the key rationales and assumptions behind such a military action.

1. There Is No Firm Proof that Iraq Is Developing Weapons of Mass Destruction

Despite speculation--particularly by those who seek a reason to invade Iraq--of possible ongoing Iraqi efforts to procure weapons of mass destruction, no one has been able to put forward evidence that the Iraqis are actually doing so, though they have certainly done so in the past. In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent inspections regimen, virtually all Iraq's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction its, delivery systems and its capability of producing such weapons were destroyed. Inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) were withdrawn from Iraq in late 1998 before their job was complete, however, under orders by President Clinton prior to a heavy four-day U.S. bombing campaign. The Iraqi government has not yet allowed them to return.

Prior to that time, UNSCOM reportedly oversaw the destruction of 38,000 chemical weapons, 480,000 liters of live chemical weapons agents, 48 missiles, six missile launchers, 30 missile warheads modified to carry chemical or biological agents, and hundreds of pieces of related equipment with the capability to produce chemical weapons. In its most recent report, the International Atomic Energy Agency categorically declared that Iraq no longer has a nuclear program.

In late 1997, UNSCOM Director Richard Butler reported that UNSCOM had made "significant progress" in tracking Iraq's chemical weapons program and that 817 of the 819 Soviet-supplied long-range missiles had been accounted for. A couple dozen Iraqi-made ballistic missiles remained unaccounted for, but these were of questionable caliber. Though Iraqi officials would periodically interfere with inspections, in its last three years of operation, UNSCOM was unable to detect any evidence that Iraq had been further concealing prohibited weapons.

Finally, Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he cares first and foremost about his own survival. He presumably recognizes that any effort to use weapons of mass destruction would inevitably lead to his own destruction. This is why he did not use them during the Gulf War. In the event of a U.S. invasion, seeing his overthrow as imminent--and with nothing to lose--this logic of self-preservation would no longer be operative. Instead, such an invasion would dramatically increase the likelihood of his ordering the use of any weapons of mass destruction he may have retained.

2. Regional Allies Widely Oppose a U.S. Attack

Although there was some serious opposition to the Gulf War in many parts of the Middle East and elsewhere, it did have the support of major segments of the international community, including several important Arab states. The Gulf War was widely viewed as an act of collective security in response to aggression by Iraq against its small neighbor. This would not be the case, however, in the event of a new war against Iraq. Instead, Washington's proposed action would be seen as an unprovoked invasion.

Unlike in 1991, when most of the region supported--and even contributed to--the U.S.-led war effort (or was at least neutral), Arab opposition is strong today. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has warned that the U.S. "should not strike Iraq, because such an attack would only raise animosity in the region against the United States." Even Kuwait has reconciled with Iraq. This past March, Iraq and Kuwait signed a document written by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Jabbar al Sabah in which Iraq, for the first time, formally consented to respect the sovereignty of Kuwait. Sabah declared that his country was 100 percent satisfied with the agreement, and Kuwait reiterated its opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

3. There Is No Evidence of Iraqi Links to Al Qaeda or Other Anti-American Terrorists

In the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there were leaks to the media about alleged evidence of a meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence officer and one of the hijackers of the doomed airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Subsequent thorough investigations by the FBI, CIA and Czech intelligence have found no evidence that any such meeting took place. None of the hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in Al Qaeda is Iraqi and no funds to Al Qaeda have been traced to Iraq.

It is unlikely that the decidedly secular Baathist regime--which has savagely suppressed Islamists within Iraq--would be able to maintain close links with Osama bin Laden and his followers. In fact, Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, his country's former intelligence chief, noted that bin Laden views Saddam Hussein "as an apostate, an infidel, or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim" and that bin Laden had offered in 1990 to raise an army of thousands of mujahedeen fighters to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

A recent CIA report indicates that the Iraqis have actually been consciously avoiding any actions against the United States or its facilities abroad, presumably to deny Washington any excuse to engage in further military strikes against their country.

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insists that Iraq is backing international terrorism, he has been unable to present any evidence that it currently does so. In fact, the State Department's own annual study Patterns of Global Terrorism did not list any serious act of international terrorism by the government of Iraq.

4. A War Against Iraq Would Be Illegal

There is no legal justification for U.S. military action against Iraq. Iraq is currently in violation of part of one section of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 (and a series of subsequent resolutions reiterating that segment) requiring full cooperation with U.N. inspectors ensuring that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and facilities for manufacturing such weapons are destroyed. The conflict regarding access for U.N. inspectors and possible Iraqi procurement of weapons of mass destruction has always been an issue involving the Iraqi government and the United Nations, not an impasse between Iraq and the United States.

The most explicit warning to Iraq regarding its noncompliance came in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1154. Although this resolution warned Iraq of the "severest consequences" if it continued its refusal to comply, the Security Council declared that it alone had the authority to "ensure implementation of this resolution and peace and security in the area."

According to articles 41 and 42 of the United Nations Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the U.N. Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted and then specifically authorizes the use of military force. The only other time that any member state is allowed to use armed force is described in Article 51, which states that it is permissible for "individual or collective self-defense" against "armed attack ... until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

If Iraq's neighbors were attacked or feared an imminent attack from Iraq, any of these countries could call on the United States to help, pending a Security Council decision authorizing the use of force. But they have not appealed to the Security Council, because they have not felt threatened by Iraq.

Based on evidence that the Bush administration has made public, there does not appear to be anything close to sufficient legal grounds for the United States to convince the Security Council to approve the use of military force against Iraq in U.S. self-defense.

5. Iraq Is No Longer a Significant Military Threat to Its Neighbors

It is also hard to imagine that an Iraqi aircraft carrying biological weapons, presumably some kind of drone, could somehow penetrate the air space of neighboring countries, much less far-off Israel, without being shot down.

Most of Iraq's neighbors have sophisticated anti-aircraft capability, and Israel has the best regional missile defense system in the world. Similarly, as mentioned above, there is no evidence that Iraq's Scud missiles and launchers even survived the Gulf War in operable condition. Indeed, UNSCOM reported in 1992 that Iraq had neither launchers for its missiles nor engines to power them.

Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, noted that "there is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero."

Iraq's current armed forces are barely one-third their prewar strength. Even though Iraq has not been required to reduce its conventional forces, the destruction of its weapons and the country's economic difficulties have led to a substantial reduction in men under arms.

Iraq's navy is virtually nonexistent and its air force is just a fraction of what it was before the war. Military spending by Iraq has been estimated at barely one-tenth of its levels in the 1980s. The Bush administration has been unable to explain why today, when Saddam has only a tiny percentage of his once-formidable military capability, Iraq is considered such a threat that it is necessary to invade the country and replace its leader--the same leader Washington quietly supported during the peak of Iraq's military capability.

6. There Are Still Nonmilitary Options Available

The best way to stop the potential of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction would be through resuming United Nations inspections, which--despite episodes of Iraqi noncooperation and harassment--were largely successful. It was Washington's ill-considered decision to misuse the inspection teams for unrelated spying operations and the decision to engage in an intense four-day bombing campaign against Iraq that led Saddam Hussein to cease his cooperation completely in December 1998.

Since then, the United States has not offered any incentives for Iraq to allow inspections to resume. From the outset, Washington made it clear that even total cooperation with UNSCOM would not lead to an end to the devastating international sanctions against Iraq. As a result, Saddam Hussein may be refusing to allow U.N. inspectors to return not because he has something to hide but because he has nothing to gain by cooperating. Offering an end to or a substantial liberalization of nonmilitary sanctions in return for unfettered access by U.N. inspection teams would probably be the best way to regain access for the inspectors.

There is also no reason why the current emphasis on deterrence will not continue to work. Iraq was able to build up its initial raw components, equipment and technologies for the development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons through imports, much of which came from the United States. The vast majority of these items and infrastructure has since been destroyed.

Furthermore, even without a resumption of inspections, relying on existing satellite surveillance--which ensures that Iraq cannot build any large weapons plants without detection, and presumably destruction, immediately afterward--seems far less risky than an all-out war.

7. Defeating Iraq Would Be Militarily Difficult

Most likely, the United States would eventually be victorious in a war against Iraq, but it would come at an enormous cost. It would be a mistake, for example, to think that defeating Iraq would result in as few Americans casualties as occurred in driving the Taliban militia from Kabul. Though Iraq's offensive capabilities have been severely weakened by the bombings, sanctions and UNSCOM-sponsored decommissioning, its defensive military capabilities are still strong.

Furthermore, Iraq--a largely urban society--has a far more sophisticated infrastructure than does the largely rural and tribal Afghanistan that could be mobilized in the event of a foreign invasion. Nor is there an equivalent to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, which did the bulk of the ground fighting against the Taliban. The Kurds, after being abandoned twice in recent history by the United States, are unlikely to fight beyond securing autonomy for Kurdish areas. The armed Shiite opposition has largely been eliminated, and it too would be unlikely to fight beyond liberating the majority Shiite sections of southern Iraq.

U.S. forces would have to march on Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million people, virtually alone. Unlike the Gulf War, which involved conventional and open combat where U.S. forces could excel and take full advantage of their firepower and technological superiority, U.S. soldiers would have to fight their way through heavily populated agricultural and urban lands. Invading forces would be faced with bitter, house-to-house fighting in a country larger than South Vietnam.

The lack of support from regional allies could result in an absence of a land base from which to launch U.S. aerial attacks, initially requiring the United States to rely on Navy jets launched from aircraft carriers. Without permission to launch aerial refueling craft, even long-range bombers from U.S. air bases might not be able to be deployed.

Finally, there is the question of what happens if the United States is successful in overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime. As is becoming apparent in Afghanistan, throwing a government out is easier than putting a new one together. Although most Iraqis presumably fear and despise Saddam Hussein's rule and would likely be relieved in the event of his ouster, this does not mean that a regime installed by an invading Western army would be welcomed.

Engage In Debate

The serious moral, legal, political and strategic problems with a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq require that the American public become engaged in the debate over the wisdom of such a dramatic course of action. What is at stake is not just the lives of thousands of Iraqi and American soldiers and thousands more Iraqi civilians but also the international legal framework established in the aftermath of World War II.

During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush scored well among voters by calling for greater "humility" in U.S. foreign policy, decrying the overextension of U.S. military force and criticizing the idea that the U.S. armed forces should be engaged in such practices as "nation-building" in unstable areas.

As president, Bush has made a remarkable reversal of this popular position and appears eager to embark on perhaps the most reckless foreign military campaign in U.S. history. Taking advantage of the fear, anger and sense of nationalism felt by so many Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress and the media are now seeking to justify an unrelated military campaign that would have otherwise been unimaginable.

The most effective antidote to such arrogance of power is democracy. Unfortunately, in times of international crisis, many Americans are wary of exercising their democratic rights and are reluctant to oppose a president's foreign policy. Yet, seldom in U.S. history has it been so important for Americans to raise their concerns publicly and challenge their elected representatives to honor their legal and moral obligations.


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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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