Now, Iraq?

With the war on Afghanistan coming to a head, the Bush administration has already begun to prepare the American people for a broader war on terrorism — one that extends far beyond the borders of Afghanistan. During a Thanksgiving meal with American servicemen last week, President Bush said that Afghanistan was “just the beginning of the war against terror.” It is becoming increasingly clear that Iraq may be next on the list, and, perhaps, always has been.

From day one Bush has repeated that the war on terrorism would be a long one that could result in some American casualties and may last several years. He has said that America’s war on terrorism was not solely directed at those suspected of perpetrating the horrific attacks against America on 11 September, but also against any countries believed to be harbouring terrorists. And, indeed, recent statements by Bush draw in any countries suspected of developing “weapons of mass destruction,” a term that has become synonymous with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“If anybody harbours a terrorist, they’re a terrorist. If they fund a terrorist, they’re a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they’re terrorists,” said Bush during a Rose Garden appearance on Monday. With Bush were the two American aid workers detained four months ago by the Taliban who were released after the Northern Alliance’s takeover of Kabul. “I mean, I can’t make it any more clearly to other nations around the world: if they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorise nations, they will be held accountable.” When asked if he had expanded the original definition of the war on terror, Bush replied, “I’ve always had that definition, as far as I’m concerned.”

Bush went on to call on Iraq’s Hussein to allow inspectors back into the country to prove to the world that he is not in possession of such an arsenal of weapons. When the president was asked by a reporter what would happen if Hussein did not allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq, he responded, “He’ll find out.” International weapons inspection teams have not been allowed into Iraq since 1998.

“There is no justification for the US and its allies to attack Iraq,” said Anthony Arnove, editor of the book Iraq Under Siege and member of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO). Arnove travelled to Iraq in March 2000 with support from the ISO on a delegation organised by the groups Voices in the Wilderness and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He has been an outspoken proponent of ending the sanctions and ongoing bombings in Iraq.

“Even Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledges that there is no credible link between Iraq and the unconscionable attacks of 11 September,” Arnove said. “The evidence is also clear that the anthrax attacks in the United States can’t be traced to Iraq. The only reason for the war would not be ‘fighting terrorism’, but for the US to further its imperial interests in the Middle East at the expense of the people of the region.”

The possibility that Iraq could be America’s next target has humanitarian organisations and anti-sanctions activists concerned. They say that the country and people of Iraq have already suffered enough. The ongoing bombings and crippling economic sanctions have killed 1.5 million Iraqi civilians in the past 11 years, over half of them children under five.

“A new war would be disastrous for the Iraqi people,” said Richard Becker, the western region co-director of the International Action Center (IAC), which was founded following the Gulf War. The IAC has sent a delegation to Iraq every year since 1990. Becker has travelled to Iraq twice since the sanctions were imposed. Last January, Becker was co-leader of the third Iraq Sanctions Challenge that delivered more than $2 million worth of medicine to Iraq.

“A new massive bombing and ground war against Iraq would cause a humanitarian catastrophe — Iraq’s infrastructure is already in a state of near collapse,” said Becker. “For the Iraqi people, the Gulf War never ended. The consequences of a new military campaign now seem unfathomable.”

The coming 16 January will mark the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War, when a US-led coalition of 17 nations launched an assault on Iraq that lasted 42 days, killing more than 100,000 Iraqis. Four days after Iraq’s 2 August invasion of Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq. The US government has maintained the sanctions regime until UN inspectors are satisfied that Hussein no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. Approximately 250 people die each day in Iraq as a direct result of the sanctions.

“Bombing Iraq would not be a solution to terrorism. This is the propaganda line of the administration,” says Becker. “Their real objective is a continuation of a central goal of US policy in the Middle East since World War II: to secure control of the vast oil resources of the region. The aim in Iraq is, as official US policy puts it, “regime change” — that is, obtaining a new government in Baghdad that will bow to the dictates of Washington and Big Oil.”

Expanding the net to include removing from power an old foe like Hussein may receive resounding acceptance among the American public. With Bush’s approval ratings soaring and America’s wounds still fresh from the 11 September tragedy, US air strikes on Iraq may be around the corner.

“If more people knew the real facts about the sanctions and the war on Iraq, there would be opposition to a broadening of the ‘war on terrorism’,” said Arnove. “But the corporate media are manipulating people’s anxiety and anger, and, in that context, manufacturing consent for the Bush administration’s war aims.”