A token win amid troubles

Published : Nov 07, 2003 00:00 IST

Police officers secure the spot of a suicide bombing outside Baghdad Hotel in the Iraqi capital on October 12. - AHEMED AL-RUBAYE/AFP

Police officers secure the spot of a suicide bombing outside Baghdad Hotel in the Iraqi capital on October 12. - AHEMED AL-RUBAYE/AFP

Even as the United States scores a diplomatic victory with the passage of the most recent resolution on Iraq in the United Nations, the conflict widens with the coming together of ideologically diverse anti-U.S. groups in Iraq.

SINCE indicating that it was inclined to share the burden of the occupation of Iraq, the United States has twice over submitted draft resolutions for consideration by the United Nations Security Council. On both occasions, it came up against objections from influential members - articulated with unusual candour by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - about its rather lopsided perception of powers and responsibilities. Effectively, the world body was being asked to assume the burden of picking up the pieces from the rapidly collapsing campaign in Iraq, when decisive powers were reserved entirely for the U.S.

The U.S. was disinclined to compromise and twice over signalled that it would withdraw its resolution rather than take on board the concerns of the U.N. But in yet another twist of course, born in the strategic confusion that is the dominant mood in Washington today, the U.S. government submitted a revised draft resolution for consideration in mid-October and indicated that it would press for an early vote in the Security Council. A schedule was announced for the vote and confident prognoses put out about the comfortable passage of the resolution. Russia pressed for a last-minute postponement for fuller discussions as President Vladimir Putin consulted his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Though all three had responded positively to the third revision of the U.S. resolution - partly to assuage the mounting sense of frustration in Washington - they have made it clear that they would like to see a much more substantive transfer of authority to the U.N. and a specific time-frame for the end of the U.S. occupation. Finally these reservations were waived and all three came on board permitting the unanimous passage of the resolution.

All three countries made it clear that their basic purpose was little else than to ensure that a difficult situation for the U.S. is not rendered any more so. Not one of them has yet promised any material or military assistance for the occupation of Iraq. Pledges remain paltry as of now, with Japan alone having agreed to contribute $1.5 billion to the reconstruction of Iraq. The figure offers a stark comparison with the $15billion that Japan contributed to the 1991 war of destruction against Iraq. And the uphill battle the U.S. faces in meeting the costs of occupation and reconstruction is eloquent testimony to the malevolent legacy of its two brutal wars against Iraq, separated by 12 years of a punitive peace

Yet, the U.S. cannot countenance any demand for the transfer of substantive authority to the U.N. precisely because the occupation of Iraq - always connected organically to the geopolitics of West Asia in the minds of its principal advocates - is now widening in practical scope. The U.K., despite being the principal U.S. ally in conquest and occupation, is now clearly superfluous, a minor accessory that has outlived its utility and can be cast away. More than ever before, the U.S. is emerging in an explicit military alliance with Israel, with an agenda for the region that goes far beyond Iraq. The main items on the agenda have been spelt out by numerous Zionist organisations and campaign groups in the recent past. These principles have now been embraced in deed, if not yet in word, by the U.S. government. They include possible changes of regime in Syria and Iran and a final decimation of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, if necessary through large-scale ethnic cleansing.

Two day before it brought the motion on Iraq to a vote, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution tabled by Syria condemning Israel for putting up a "separation wall" in Palestinian territory and expanding its settlements in the West Bank. With the world media looking elsewhere, Israel had in the days preceding, completed the most destructive rampage in its three-year long campaign of obliteration of Palestinian society. Over four days of operations through Gaza, ostensibly to interdict the routes used by Palestinian militants to procure weapons and ammunition from Egypt, the Israeli military demolished some 120 houses, rendering 2,000 Palestinians homeless. It killed eight civilians, including two children.

Observers of the International Committee of the Red Cross have recorded that most of the people affected in the Gaza operations have had to flee their homes with only the clothes they wore. And every reasonable person seemed persuaded beyond doubt about the criminality of Israel's actions. Kofi Annan reminded Israel that "the disproportionate use of force in densely populated areas is not compatible with international humanitarian law". Amnesty International condemned the operations and characterised the "repeated practice by the Israeli army of deliberate and wanton destruction of homes and civilian property" as a "war crime".

Only the U.S. seemed blithely unconcerned. In vetoing the Syrian resolution on Israel's apartheid wall, John Negroponte, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., described it as "unbalanced". State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, later responded to questions about the Israeli operations in Gaza with routine expressions of concern about "terrorism" and an endorsement of Israel's right to defend itself.

As the U.S. expands its military engagement in the region - both directly and through Israeli proxy - the resistance has also shown a readiness to widen its choice of targets. On October 15, a powerful bomb explosion went off under a convoy of U.S. diplomatic vehicles travelling into the Gaza strip. A Palestinian security escort was allowed to pass before the bomb was set off under the third vehicle in the convoy. Three U.S. nationals were killed in the incident. As U.S. and Israeli investigators arrived at the site, they were met by stone-pelting crowds of Palestinian youth chanting in triumph. Palestine President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmad Qurai were quick to denounce the attack, but that did not earn them any credit. Taking up the refrain made famous by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, U.S. President George Bush held Arafat responsible for the incident. Debilitated by illness and confined to his battered headquarters in Ramallah for two years, Arafat is a convenient scapegoat for every setback that the U.S. and Israel suffer in their joint campaign for hegemony over the region.

In a last gasp attempt at regaining his centrality in the diplomatic process, Arafat has lent his authority to an unofficial plan for peace in the region. The initiative was jointly worked out by elements of the Israeli Labour Party and Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It addresses two principal sources of discord that led the Oslo peace process into a dead-end. It promises the Palestinian side sovereignty over most of the West Bank and Gaza and a substantial part of the Old City of Jerusalem. In return, the Palestinians would be expected to recognise Israel as a Jewish state for eternity and renounce the "right of return" of refugees who have been uprooted from within Israel's pre-1967 borders.

It is a crucial signal of the new alliances taking shape in West Asia, that the U.K. is believed to have sponsored the most recent peace proposals, perhaps as a last-ditch effort by the embattled Prime Minister Tony Blair to regain his credibility in world councils. Despite this distinguished parentage, Sharon was quick to dismiss the new proposal with scarcely concealed contempt. Any Israeli politician who associated himself with the plan, he declared, would be guilty of consorting with the enemy and undermining the security of the Jewish state. The U.S. for its part administered its ardent ally in the Iraq operations a rap on the wrist, when State Department spokesman Boucher characterised the plan as essentially irrelevant: "It is a track two effort. It has no official status. It is really a private initiative and not something that we or any other officials were involved with".

THE gathering storm in the occupied territories is a strong pointer to the compulsions of U.S. policy in Iraq. Historically, Jordan has been designated in Zionist ideology as the receptacle that would hold the Palestinian population that must be transferred out of the occupied territories to ease the demographic pressure on the Jewish state. But Jordan would not be a stable receptacle if its flanks were not secured. A sovereign Iraq would be a powerful source of resistance to the designs of Zionist expansionism. And till the plans are fully implemented, there could be little question of granting Iraqis even a limited degree of political autonomy.

Substantively, the most recent U.N. resolution does little to address the demand made by other Security Council members for an early transfer of political authority to the Iraqi people and an end to the occupation. It designates the occupying forces, styled as the Coalition Provisional Authority, as the supreme authority in Iraq. And with unbounded chutzpah, it affirms that the Interim Governing Council put in place by the U.S. occupying forces would "embody the sovereignty" of Iraq till a durable and stable self-rule arrangement is worked out. The Governing Council would be given till December 15 to draw up a new constitution and establish a schedule for nation-wide elections.

The U.S.' diplomatic triumph came in distinctly unpropitious circumstances. Days before, the six-monthly anniversary of the fall of Baghdad - or more accurately, of the televised toppling of the statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein off its plinth - had been observed with statements of unshaken resolve and determination in Washington and London. In Baghdad, the occasion witnessed a devastating suicide bombing at a police station housing elements of the new force that the U.S. has been seeking to create. Three days later came a similar attack on Baghdad Hotel, a facility used as headquarters for sections of the U.S. occupation forces and its intelligence agencies.

Most of those killed in these attacks have been Iraqi nationals. But attacks on U.S. service personnel have persisted and perhaps intensified since the six-monthly anniversary. At the time the third revision of the U.S. draft resolution was being put into play at the U.N., the number of U.S. soldiers killed in hostile action since major combat was declared closed by Bush, stood at 97. It will not be long before the grim psychological threshold of a hundred casualties is crossed.

After travelling around the country and meeting with several elements of the Iraqi resistance, Zaki Chehab, political editor of the Arabic TV station al-Hayat-LBC, reported in The Guardian, that the occupation was bringing together ideologically diverse strands - Islamists, Baathists and nationalists - in an alliance against the U.S. "The occupation forces are in a fragile position," he warned. "If they strengthen their military presence in the face of increasing resistance, they will only alienate Iraqis yet further from their attempts to redraw the political future of Iraq - and the resistance will continue to spread." The U.S. has so far consoled itself with the thought that the resistance has essentially been limited to the central region of Iraq. The Sunni Muslim community, numerically preponderant in this region, was always regarded as potentially the most recalcitrant. But recent weeks have seen an ominous widening of the sources of resistance, with the more amenable Shia element in the south and the friendly Kurds in the north openly expressing themselves against the U.S.

Iraqi Kurds are deeply unsettled by the recent Turkish government decision to deploy troops to aid the U.S. occupation. A similar deal had been worked out prior to the military operations, stirring visceral furies among the Kurds. Spokesmen of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDF) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - the two main political factions which have allied with the U.S. - denounced the decision as a betrayal. The Turks had then stayed their hand but clearly signalled their abiding geopolitical interest in the northern Iraqi region by refusing the U.S. military the right of transit through Turkish territory. Later, as the war raged in most of Iraq, Turkey had held out a warning to the KDP and the PUK, that any effort to take the northern city of Kirkuk would be the trigger for an armed intervention. The warning was heeded and the Kurd factions were careful to enter Kirkuk only in the train of the U.S. forces. Turkish concerns were focussed on the possibility that control of the pivotal oil city by Iraqi Kurdish factions would conceivably embolden insurgents within its own territory and lead to a fresh upsurge in its long-running civil war. But its recent decision to send troops into Iraq is seen as the first step towards establishing a durable hegemony over the oil-rich north of the country. For the Kurds in Iraq, who have enjoyed incomparably greater political freedom than their counterparts in Turkey, this is an ominous and deeply menacing move.

The Turkish government's decision remains deeply unpopular at home. And the Iraqi resistance sent out an unambiguous warning with the bombing of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on October 14, which killed one. Even the pliant Iraqi "Governing Council" has expressed its deep resentment and twice over sought to adopt a resolution opposing the Turkish deployment, only to be dissuaded by some strong-arm tactics by Paul Bremer, the principal administrator of the U.S. occupation.

The U.S. would perhaps have even greater reasons for concern over the deepening ferment among Iraq's Shia population. As the U.S. resolution was making its way through the labyrinthine pathways of the U.N., a prominent Shia cleric in Baghdad, Moqtada al-Sadr, was announcing his own plans to put in place a shadow government. This made a mockery of the affirmation made in the resolution that the "Governing Council" would embody the sovereignty of Iraq till such time as a durable political arrangement was worked out.

Al-Sadr's followers had marched in their thousands through the city just days before, converting a funeral procession for two victims of an encounter with occupation forces into a mammoth protest. It was since the funeral of the Shia cleric Mohammad Baqiral-Hakim on August 31, the largest organised demonstration against the occupation seen in Iraq. Al-Sadr's father was assassinated in 1999, ostensibly on the order of Saddam Hussein. His credentials as an opponent of the Baath regime are strong. But he is clearly no friend of the U.S. He is known to repeatedly mention Israeli atrocities against Arabs in his Friday sermons, vowing that he will never allow Iraq to suffer the same fate as Palestine. Together with the al-Khoei and al-Hakim families - both of which occupy prominent places in the Shia clerical hierarchy - the al-Sadr dynasty constitutes a growing challenge to U.S. designs on Iraq.

The principal authors of the war, meanwhile, continue to suffer a serious diminution in their political fortunes. Bush looked for salvation in the report of the Iraq Survey Group, a body headed by former intelligence operative and weapons inspector David Kay, but he found none. Though carefully handpicked for the operation because of his openly-stated views on the need for regime change in Iraq, Kay was unable to doctor his findings sufficiently to be of any political solace to Bush and his cabal of neo-conservative advisers. After an extensive survey of all known suspect sites in Iraq, he found no evidence at all of any biological or chemical agents that could be used in weapons of mass destruction. Neither was there any trace of the much touted nuclear weapons programme or of any kind of delivery system for lethal munitions.

Kay sought to soften the blow by claiming that he had found definitive proof of an Iraqi "intent" to make weapons of mass destruction. Bush seized upon this rather fanciful assertion to claim vindication. But the plea won him little credibility. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, characterised Bush's predicament with great acuity: "The President's arguments are falling apart as more evidence comes in and the credibility gap widens as he grasps at the bits of useful but still circumstantial evidence coming from the survey team."

Bush's principal propagandist and servitor Tony Blair, meanwhile, suffered a severe setback when a senior intelligence official identified him as the principal architect of the strategy of publicly identifying weapons scientist David Kelly as the source of a media report on the alleged exaggeration of the threat posed by Iraq. The information emerged under sustained interrogation by the Kelly family lawyer, in testimony before the Hutton Commission that is inquiring into the circumstances of Kelly's apparent suicide.

If Blair's rather remote chances of political survival seem to depend upon tactical withdrawal and relative moderation, Bush clearly sees no option but to press ahead on the course of belligerence. The U.S. government was alone in endorsing the Israeli air raid deep into Syrian territory on October 5 as a legitimate act of self-defence. A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has subsequently approved a bill imposing comprehensive sanctions on Syria. And senior elements within the Bush administration - all of whom were instrumental in drafting the numerous manifestos of world domination from the neo-conservative fringe all through the 1990s - have come out with open calls for regime change in Syria and Iran.

The economic fundamentals - notably the U.S. federal budget deficit and the national debt - meanwhile compel a degree of moderation in these extravagant strategic plans. The most recent U.N. resolution on Iraq is one among several plans under way to get the world community to underwrite the project of U.S. global hegemony. Though it has provided the U.S. with a token win, it is clear that the wold community has little interest in an engagement with the project.

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