The objective of the huge U.S.-led attack on Iraq is larger than the liberation of Kuwait, President George Bush told reserve officers last week. “What was, and is, at stake,” he declared in Washington, are the “prospects for peace in the post-Cold War era, the promise of a new world order.” But as coalition warplanes continued to pummel Iraqi targets last week, one of the most pressing issues was if, in fact, a peaceful world order can emerge from the war. Many Western and Arab analysts say that no matter what the outcome of the struggle, the Middle East will be riven by turmoil for years to come. U.S. Defence Secretary Richard Cheney has acknowledged that Washington has put more emphasis on planning war than on preparing for the eventual peace. “Everybody has been so busy dealing with the crisis of the moment,” Cheney told the House armed services committee in December, “that there really hasn’t been much effort put into longerrange focus.”
That may yet create serious postwar problems. Analysts say that the impact of the war depends on how long it lasts, how much damage is inflicted on Iraq and whether Israel joins
the conflict. But it will almost certainly inflame anti-Western passions among millions of Arabs. After the conflict, extremists may destabilize and even overthrow moderate Arab regimes that have aligned themselves with the United States. To counter that possibility, Washington may have to address regional issues raised by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Those include sharp inequities between rich and poor Arabs, as well as the Palestinian conflict.
That dispute is a key obstacle to Middle East peace. But after thousands of Palestinians cheered Hussein’s missile attacks on Tel Aviv last week, Israelis may be even less willing to compromise than they were before the war began. Another complication, analysts say, is that if the UNmandated coalition destroys Iraq’s military, it could upset the delicate balance that has kept other regional powers in check. Said Judith Kipper, an analyst with Washington’s nonpartisan Brookings Institution: “The mopping-up operation is going to be very tough.”
Based on interviews with many military and
diplomatic experts, Maclean ’s assessed the postwar prospects for key participants in the region:
Iraq: Hussein may, in fact, survive the war. And if he defies the odds and fights the coalition to a stalemate, he could emerge as an Arab hero. His military power would be curtailed, but he would gain strong influence in the Islamic world. If he suffers a resounding defeat, however, his own people may revolt. Said Kenneth Timmerman, editor of the Paris-based Middle East Defence News: “The Iraqis will not forgive his monumen| tal error in bringing destruction upon their heads.”
It is also possible that the I coalition could try to overx throw Hussein. Since the Iraqis began firing Scud missiles at Israel and then apparently forced captured allied pilots to make prepared statements on television, Bush seems increasingly to have personalized the war. He has pledged not only to liberate Kuwait, as the United Nations mandated, but also to treat Hussein as a war criminal. As well, British Prime Minister John Major called the Iraqi leader “amoral,” adding: “Whatever his fate may be, I, for one, will not weep for him.”
But the coalition will have difficulty finding an agreeable alternative to Hussein. Even before he became president in 1979, Iraq’s Baathist regime had systematically and violently eliminated its opponents. A loose coalition of exiled groups, ranging from Communists to fundamentalist Moslems, has emerged since the crisis began on Aug. 2. But whether the group has any popular support within Iraq remains unclear. And its members have such diverse interests that it could easily fall apart after the unifying purpose, the elimination of Hussein, has been achieved.
The Iraqi dictator’s overthrow could then provoke a struggle between various factions in the country. Secular pan-Arabic Baathists might compete for power with the small but potentially powerful Islamic fundamentalist movement. There may also be friction among the 60 per cent of the population that is Shiite Moslem and the 35 per cent that is Sunni, and the minority Kurdish population in the north could resume its armed struggle for independence. “Fear is the glue that has held it all together,” said Samir al-Khalil, the author of Republic of Fear, an analysis of Iraq’s pervasive security network. Khalil, an Iraqi who now lives in exile in the United States, is a pseudonym that the author uses to protect members of his family still in Iraq. He added: “Iraq would shatter into a thousand pieces. It would make Lebanon look like child’s play.” To avoid a
breakdown, the allies may have to remain in Iraq as peacekeepers.
Iran and Turkey: U.S. analysts have said that the Bush administration wants to leave behind an Iraqi military machine powerful enough to counterbalance Iran in order to contain its Islamic revolution. If the war does escalate beyond its original aims and leaves a power vacuum in Iraq, its neighbors will certainly want to become participants in the feud. Iran and Turkey both have large Kurdish minorities, and any resurgent Kurdish nationalism in Iraq could spill over into their countries. They also both have historical claims to Iraqi territory: Turkey has coveted Iraq’s oilrich Mosul province, and Iran has aspired to control parts of southern Iraq.
Although both Iran and Turkey have denied any intention of claiming territory, they would certainly want a role in setting up a new Iraqi regime, analysts say. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati accused unnamed countries of planning to destroy Iraq in order to prevent it from becoming a “powerful Islamic state.” He added: “We will use all our potential to foil this conspiracy.”
Syria: President Hafez alAssad’s Baathist regime is a fierce opponent of the Iraqi Baathists. And if Iraq is crippled, Syria will certainly try to claim the mantle of Arab leadership. That may not be acceptable to the coalition members. Syria has a record of human rights abuses: in one incident in 1982, Assad’s troops massacred more than 10,000 civilians in the city of Hama as part of a campaign to eradicate Islamic fundamentalism. In recent months, his military has put down demonstrations by Syrians who opposed his alliance with Washington
against a fellow Arab coun_
try. But after the war, he may seek to appease the masses by spearheading an Arab drive to force the Israelis to compromise with the Palestinians.
Syria has already won concessions for contributing 19,000 troops to the international anti-Hussein coalition.
In October, Western nations muted their criticism of a Syrian attack on the Christian enclave in Beirut, which afforded Syria almost complete control over Lebanon. The Gulf states have also promised to send Assad about $2
billion to help finance his war effort against Iraq. Perhaps even more importantly, said Jacques de Lestapis, editor of the Paris-based weekly Military Powers, Syria has “ceased to be a rogue nation in the West’s eyes.” Added de Lestapis: “For a country long regarded as a vile and cynical dictatorship, such respectability is clearly the sweetest reward of all.”
Jordan: Shock waves from Operation Desert Storm are also reverberating across Jordan. The population of four million is more than 60-per-cent Palestinian, and an overwhelming majority of them support Saddam Hussein’s hatred of Israel and the United States. King Hussein, who has long maintained friendly relations with the West, has responded by tacitly supporting Iraq. But if the Gulf war
further radicalizes the Palestinian population, it may embolden militants to challenge King Hussein, who is a member of Jordan’s indigenous Bedouin minority.
Even if King Hussein survives—and he has survived Palestinian challenges in the past—he will have to try to rescue a rapidly collapsing economy. Trade with Iraq, and money sent home by Jordanians working in Kuwait before the conflict, were important sources of income for Jordan. And the king’s support for Iraq has cost him the sympathy and financial support of other Gulf states. It may cost him even more. Said Elisabeth Picard of the Paris-based International Study and Research Centre: “Hussein’s strong leaning towards Iraq won’t be forgiven in the highly vindictive climate likely to prevail after Saddam goes under.”
In the worst outcome for Jordan, the allies could force King Hussein to accept many of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip into his country. Such a solution seems unlikely unless Israel decides to retaliate against Iraq, and sends its planes through Jordanian airspace in the process. King Hussein has threatened to attack Israel if that occurs. If Jordan is drawn into a wider war, King Hussein’s fate could hang in the balance.
The Palestinians: Washington has repeatedly rejected a mass expulsion of Palestinians into Jordan. And after the coalition fulfilled the UN mandate by attacking Iraq, militant Arabs began to put intense pressure on Washington to enforce UN resolutions calling for Israeli armed forces to leave occupied territories. The Israelis vehemently denounce that linkage. They say that they occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 in a defensive war against their Arab neighbors. And by supporting Saddam Hussein’s attacks on Israel, the Palestinians have hardened the Israeli resolve not to make territorial concessions. Said Gideon Gera, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Centre: “The Palestinians have the most tragic
Other analysts express more optimism. Said Bernard Wood, director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security: “The deep-down conviction that something will have to be done is universally accepted in the outside world.” The Palestinian issue has traditionally been the major challenge facing the Middle East. The outcome of the war against Iraq may strengthen efforts to resolve that challenge—or make it far more difficult to meet.
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