UN Arms Inspectors in Iraq May Meet up with… US Troops
Iraq’s offer to unconditionally re-admit the UN arms inspectors thrown out four years ago has forged cracks in the UN Security Council, but not deflected the Bush administration’s determination to remove the regime the US president called “barbaric” when he addressed a fund-raiser in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuesday, September 17. Taunting the world body, he said: “It is time to decide if it is a united nations or a league of nations; a force for peace or a debating society.”
In New York, meanwhile, US secretary of state Colin Powell and Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov glared at each other across the circular Security Council table. Powell demanded a new resolution to lay out in full the conditions for the inspectors’ return and force Iraq to comply with the promises it has broken in 11 years, or face the consequences; Ivanov dismissed the need for any more resolutions, urging the council to focus on getting the arms inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible.
Moscow’s posture means Washington will have a rough ride to UN endorsement of military action – and may not make it, throwing the president back on his earlier statement to the world body that, if necessary, America would go it alone. Some of the waverers were impressed enough then to begin to form up behind Washington. Saudi Arabia explicitly consented to the use of its bases for a UN-mandated attack on Baghdad, a notable gesture given that the Saudis spoke also for Egypt. France, the leading European waverer, might also have come aboard.
However, Baghdad’s “inspectors exercise” has yanked all three back, a calculated outcome, because Saddam is loath to lose them to the American side. For Saddam, it is not just a matter of blunting the American military threat, but a case of preparing his fences for when the Americans get him in a tight corner. He is saving those allies for that moment, counting on them to negotiate terms for extricating him and his family.
Notwithstanding the poor psychological profiles often painted for him, Saddam Hussein is above all a realist. He is also deeply influenced by Muslim military thinking which holds that, when a Muslim general runs into an unbroken wall of resistance that he cannot overcome, it is his duty to effect a tactical retreat. At the first crack in the wall, however, he is bound to resume his attack. This tenet explains why, after four years of fighting off the return of the arms inspectors tooth and nail, Saddam abruptly relented. He did so when he ran into the unbroken wall of the George Bush’s determination. Meanwhile, he is wily enough to appreciate that the palaver over conditions for the arms inspectors to return to Iraq will give him time enough to hide his forbidden weapons and equipment – either in the country or across the border, until the heat dies down, possibly even to Iran. When the inspectors have finished their task or had enough, he will bring the equipment back and resume full production of weapons of mass destruction, just as he did the moment he saw the backs of the arms inspectors in 1998.
The Iraqi dictator has drawn what he believes are useful lessons from observing the ways the Bush administration carries out its objectives. The US president vowed to destroy Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bin Laden has dropped out of sight, removing himself like a good Muslim general from the range of a determined enemy, but al Qaeda and the Taliban are far from finished. In June, Bush declared the Palestinian people deserve a new leadership in place of Arafat and his cronies. Yet four months later, after the Israeli armed forces severely crippled the Palestinian terror infrastructure, Arafat and his henchmen continue to sit in state in his Ramallah government compound. Saddam therefore hopes against hope that he too will survive the mighty American war machine if he acts prudently.
What he has succeeded in doing by his volte face on the UN arms inspectors is to throw in doubt UN endorsement for US military action. But even if the security council adopts the Russian view and sends the inspectors back, the Americans will almost certainly press ahead with the campaign they have begun. It is clear to Washington that the Russians, like the Saudis and French, are not seriously intent on holding the Americans back, but rather trying to get them over a barrel on the post-war share-out of the spoils of victory. The name of this game is oil.
So, while the haggling centers on the conditions under which an American offensive against Baghdad is permissible, no one lifts a finger, including Saddam, to stop US and British warplanes from destroying one by one Iraq’s air force and air defenses command and control centers – an operation that debkafile first began tracking in early August and which US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed on Monday September 16. The US-led air force is also systematically wiping out the command and communications centers of Iraq’s missile units and its air fleet for delivering chemical and biological warfare materials.
These raids answer only one description: acts of war. The same term applies to the buildup of US, British, Turkish and Jordanian special forces in northern and western Iraq, and their advance up to the hills overlooking the two northern oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The diplomatic fur may continue to fly, but so too will the military operations.