West and Arabs Divided as Region Drifts to War

Despite fresh setbacks to its attempts to gain support for war on Iraq, and fresh gestures by President Saddam Hussein towards dismantling his weapons of mass destruction, the United States’ military build-up in the Middle East continued: dozens of warships and 600 strike aircraft now in the Gulf area, almost 300,000 troops massing in the Gulf and near Iraq and, according to senior US defence officials, increased bombing of Iraqi military targets within the “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq.

Iraq’s defences are being ground down, Arab commentators say, for a war that now appears inevitable.

As fears of American occupation and post-war anarchy deepen among Arabs, the Arab world witnessed a seismic and unprecedented shift: led by the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf states called on Saddam Hussein to leave the country he has ruled so cruelly for three generations, in order to save the entire region from “devastation”.

The call, at an 11th-hour Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, did not win the support of the non-Gulf Arabs. In a climate of deepening anti-Americanism, most Arab states fear not only a backlash from their own people but, more importantly, setting a precedent that could destabilise their own, deeply unpopular, undemocratic regimes.

But if the Arabs had a bad week – more disunited than ever as one of their own faced violent occupation – so did the United States and Britain as they tried to convince the United Nations that Saddam Hussein poses such a threat that he must be removed without further ado.

France, Germany and Russia warned that they would block any new UN resolution seeking to authorise the use of force against Iraq. The Turkish parliament rejected a resolution to allow as many as 62,000 American combat troops to be deployed on its territory for a possible invasion of Iraq. In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, a new leadership of US-supported exiles immediately stumbled as the only Sunni Muslim in the group, a former foreign minister parachuted in under US pressure, refused to participate.

Eighty-year-old Adnan Pachachi said he had not been consulted about his inclusion. He said he had serious doubts about the legitimacy and representative nature of the group, which he predicted would be “an advisory group attached to a US military administration”. He declared that an Iraq freed from Saddam requires a transitional Iraqi administration – not military rule.

“Most Iraqis reject the imposition of a government from outside,” Pachachi wrote in The Financial Times. “A vast majority inside the country, which has borne the brunt of Mr. Hussein’s oppression, must and can be consulted before any authority is installed in Baghdad.”

Accusations – in the Arab world and in the West – that Washington and London are using disarmament as a pretext for regime change grew after chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix hailed the destruction of a number of banned al-Samoud II missiles as “a significant piece of real disarmament”. Washington dismissed the scrapping of the missiles as part of “Saddam’s game of deception”. US Secretary of State Colin Powell went further, asserting that efforts to hide existing weapons, and develop new ones, were continuing.

Julie Flint, a long-time correspondent from the Middle East and a former IWPR trustee, is coordinating editor of the Iraqi Crisis Report. This article originally appeared in Iraqi Crisis Report, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, http://www.iwpr.net/.