Spoiling for a fight

Bush administration hawks view the increase in attacks against occupation forces as a personal affront. Rather than heeding the voice of reason, as sounded by such European powers as France, Germany and Russia, they have intensified the military response against insurgents. Yet despite their full arsenal of modern weaponry the security situation in Iraq is progressing from bad to worse while the casualty toll among occupation troops climbs daily. Clearly operations code-named "iron hammer" and the like have failed to intimidate those at the other end of the hammer.

This focus on the military response brings in its wake rampant human rights abuses. Driven to distraction the Pentagon hawks have ordered sweeping raids on those residential areas they believe resistance forces are using as their bases. The demolition of homes, sometimes before their inhabitants have had sufficient time to evacuate, is only too reminiscent of the war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli army. Amnesty International drove this point home in a letter to US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, in which it asked, "Were the home demolitions, which are a form of collective punishment, officially sanctioned? If so this constitutes a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law."

While occupation and resistance forces battle it out and settle old scores innocent Iraqi civilians, whose country has only just emerged from the despotism and havoc wreaked by Saddam, find themselves at the mercy of a foreign occupation. The price they are paying is heavy.

It is clear that neither party to the conflict has the interests of the Iraqi people at heart. The US invaded and occupied Iraq to satisfy strategic calculations to do with the security of Israel and the free flow of cheap oil. The resistance, while it has succeeded in forcing the occupiers to reconsider their position, has also targeted vital infrastructure and international humanitarian relief agencies, sending the Iraqi people contradictory messages.

There is no doubt as to which of these two parties is ultimately responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people at present. The US and Britain waged war against the country on the patently false pretext that Iraq’s non-existent WMDs posed a threat. This, in turn, raises a crucial concern, which is that in order to save face, London and Washington might precipitate new disasters in the region. Specifically, they might conveniently accept the spurious claims circulated by Israel that Iraq’s WMDs were smuggled into Syria, a country that is already being cited as one route used by Arab fighters who are allegedly infiltrating Iraq and transforming it into a platform for international terrorism.

A development of this nature was predicted even before the war against Iraq began. When the Al-Ahram delegation was in Washington in late January this year we asked US officials whether there was any truth to the rumour that Washington had a target list of Arab countries and organisations. Officials there hotly denied the rumour, a denial that Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark has recently claimed was false. Early on, too, we warned that President Bush and Saddam Hussein were rushing headlong into war, in spite of attempts by Arab and European governments to prevent such a collision. Nor was it difficult to predict that the Iraqi people would end up as the victims.

Our most dire predictions have come true. Today the White House hawks are once again playing their favourite game of destabilising the region. It has thus become more urgent than ever to take effective action both to rescue the Iraqi people from their current plight and to spare another Arab people from facing the same catastrophe.

Fortunately there are signs that the US has begun to realise the extent of the predicament in which it has become mired. Paul Bremer, governor-general of Iraq, was recently recalled to Washington to discuss strategies for the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government. Nevertheless, there are reasons to suspect that the strategy that finally emerges will be no more than a ploy to take the heat off US forces. Pentagon hawks will staunchly resist any true transfer of sovereignty since this would imply a clear defeat of their ideologically-led designs. Yet if the hawks continue to hold sway over policy decisions Iraqi resistance will only intensify. More importantly, the US image in the Arab world will deteriorate further, feeding terrorist groups with the pretext to unleash their horrors elsewhere in the world.

In his recent speech before the joint houses of parliament President Mubarak pointed to the only way out of the current dilemma in Iraq. "Stemming the rising tide of violence and restoring stability in Iraq are intrinsically linked to ending the occupation and returning the reins of government to the people of Iraq. This must be accomplished within a short time-frame in tandem with an intensive international reconstruction drive and urgent humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people," he said.

The international community is virtually unanimous in agreeing on the steps that need to be taken to end the tragedy of the Iraqi people. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has announced that his country is ready to help in the reconstruction of Iraq once an interim sovereign government is established, which he said must be done by the end of this year. France’s views were echoed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, and by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said, "The UN believes that a time-frame that provides for a specific deadline for restoring sovereignty to the Iraqis will greatly help reduce the level of tensions there."

Iraq is unstable and any number of internal conflicts may erupt as soon as occupation forces depart, a threat exacerbated by the fact that the occupation authorities have dismantled previously existing government structures along with the Iraqi army and police forces. However, such fears do not obviate the need to liberate Iraq as soon as possible. Rather, they militate taking the necessary precautions which can best be implemented under a carefully devised plan, in accordance with which the UN, in coordination with the Arab League, administers Iraq for an interim period. Simultaneously, it will be necessary to create a UN peace-keeping force that will remain in Iraq until power has been successfully transferred to a democratically elected government that will then supervise the army and police of a newly independent Iraq. An international solution of this nature is certain to inspire Arab and major industrial nations to contribute their fullest to reconstruction efforts, since then the drive will be motivated by humanitarian principles rather than by greed for the spoils of war.