By Richard Becker
The war against Iraq goes on day in and day out. More than 8 Â½ years of U.S./UN sanctions/blockade and war have killed more than a million and half people, and left a once-prosperous country devastated. For three months, since the intense air attacks of "Operation Desert Fox" in December, U.S. bombing of Iraq has been a near-daily occurrence. These bombings, sometimes hitting more than a dozen civilian as well as military targets in a single day, are played down in the capitalist media here, if they are mentioned at all.
Public opinion, even among progressive and anti-war forces, can become numbed, and this is not an accident. It is part of a revamped U.S. strategy of what might be called "Quiet War" against Iraq.
But while the profile of the war against Iraq has been lowered in the U.S. media, Washington's campaign to overthrow the Iraqi government and re-colonize the country, has, in fact, been sharply intensified in recent weeks.
In the past month, three top officials of the U.S. national security apparatus have toured, one on the heels of the other, the Gulf states, other Arab countries and Israel. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have all been in the region in recent weeks, a sign that Washington is trying to solidify support for its anti-Iraq crusade among already-compliant states.
Several leading Arabic newspapers have been carrying front-page stories about the direction of U.S. strategy. Writing about the daily bombing attacks, the Pan Arab paper, Al-Quds al-Arabi noted that while Cohen acknowledged that U.S. pilots may have "inadvertently" destroyed sections of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, he expressed no regrets.
"The astonishing thing about the matter is that the world has grown accustomed to news of skirmishes over the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq," Al-Quds al-Arabi continued, "and equally accustomed to news of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured by air strikes-as though the victims are not human beings, and as if the United States of America has the right to kill them and to destroy Iraqi air defenses whenever it pleases," the paper says. "Everyone seems to forget, including the Arab states who are supposed to be Iraq's brethren, that these no-fly zones in which the battles occur are Iraqi-not American-territory, and that they were established by unilateral American fiat without any resolution from the UN Security Council."
"Iraq is being targeted by a war of attrition that it is developing into a second Desert Fox, albeit in a gradual manner as part of Washington's considered plan for bringing about the anticipated American change in Iraq," al-Quds al-Arabi writes. "The U.S., having passed the Iraqi Liberation Act and earmarked money for Iraqi opposition groups, has appreciated that the regime in Baghdad is strong and firmly in control, and cannot be overthrown by means of an intense on-off air attack. So it has resorted to this war of attrition. "This war which is bleeding Iraq without any legal justification must stop, in order to preserve what remains of this Arab country and its people's dignity," al-Quds al-Arabi says.
"If some Arab regimes are colluding in America's plans, either through direct participation or silence, the Arab public needs to protest and expose their objectives if we are to avoid an Arab disaster which makes the Palestine catastrophe pale in comparison."
A STRATEGY OF DISMEMBERMENT
Egyptian columnist Assayed Zahra, in a story in the Bahrain daily Akhbar al-Khaleej, views U.S. actions as intended to carve Iraq up along ethnic lines and trigger a civil war, with the aim of overthrowing the Iraqi government.
Zahra cites an interview carried by the Turkish daily Milliyet with the U.S. diplomat in charge of "transition" in Iraq, Frank Ricciardone, "the man appointed as trustee of the affairs of the mercenary groups labeled as the Iraqi opposition and to take charge of the plan to topple the Iraqi regime."
The Saudi paper Asharq al-Awsat covered this interview with Ricciardone in a front-page story headlined: "Washington expects surprise coup in Iraq."
Asked by Milliyet if the U.S. plan wouldn't lead to the partition of Iraq and civil war there, Ricciardone said that Iraq could hardly be considered a unified country today, given the no-fly zones over the north and south.
The Turkish media has also been carrying reports that the U.S. has promised that Turkey would be allowed to "administer" the northern, largely Kurdish, zone, in order to prevent the development of an independent Kurdish state. Ricciardone declared the U.S.-imposed "no-fly" zones are intended to be a permanent state of affairs, according to Zahra. "In other words, because America cannot think of anything else to do to achieve its objective of overthrowing the Iraqi regime, it has no qualms at all about destroying an entire country, dispossessing an entire people, and putting the fate of the entire region on the road to perdition," Zahra writes.
Zahra's argues that the sanctions/blockade and the funding of the weak Iraqi opposition movement are unlikely to achieve Washington's real objective: "a change in regime" in Baghdad. Nor is massive U.S. occupation because of the "enormous domestic political costs" from putting "the lives of large numbers of U.S. troops at risk." Thus, the strategy of dismembering the country, at least "temporarily," is the option left.
The greatest evidence that the dismemberment scenario has begun being implemented is that since the December blitz, American and British warplanes have been bombing Iraqi air defenses in the north and south almost every day. The aim is both to gradually destroy Iraq's defensive capabilities and try to establish the "principle" that such attacks are a routine matter, thus getting public opinion accustomed to them ahead of stage two of the plan-namely, the anticipated all-out air assault on the north and south.
In Zahra's scenario, this air assault would be intended to end Iraqi central government control over the north and south of the country. These are the areas that hold most of Iraq's vast oil reserves. "Presumably that is to be followed by the entry of Iraqi opposition forces--a 10,000-man force has been mentioned--into Iraq under U.S. air cover, as well as some political figureheads currently based overseas.
"Then, a government is declared in the `liberated south' and another in the north, which Washington hastens to recognize. The north and south are subsequently relieved of sanctions, and their `governments' granted Iraq's frozen overseas assets and control over their oilfields," Zahra continues.
"The opposition forces--or `liberation army' as some U.S. documents already refer to them--then presumably stage attacks against government forces and sabotage operations, and attract army units to their side until, Washington hopes, the regime in Baghdad collapses."
As one evidence of this plan, Zahra points to the fact that immediately after Assistant Secretary Indyk's tour, government officials in several Gulf states which have been hostile to Iraq began strongly stating their opposition to the dismemberment of Iraq, and toned down or stopped altogether their criticism of the Baghdad government.
The break-up of Iraq would threaten the very fragile "stability" of the entire region, as neighboring governments are well aware. It would be in keeping, however, with the general thrust of U.S. strategy in many parts of the world.
Where Washington has been unable to gain total domination of targeted countries, it has frequently sought to break them into smaller, more digestible pieces. The former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are examples. A few years ago, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made the interesting comment that "the problem with China is that it's too big."
While it is not possible to verify all aspects of the scenario being described by Assayed Zahra, the basic elements are undoubtedly being implemented or prepared for implementation.
The anti-war movement must be prepared to step up resistance.