9 April 2003
By Gwynne Dyer
A reader’s letter published in the Los Angeles Times last week said it all: “We have learned two things from the war in Iraq. We have learned that the Tigris flows through Baghdad, and the Hubris flows through the White House.” Hubris — the belief that you are so clever and so powerful that you can get away with anything — is certainly the prevailing state of mind in Washington this week as the Iraqi regime collapses before the US onslaught. So where is the next war?
There was never any doubt that the United States would win this war: the US defence budget last year was 250 times bigger than Iraq’s. Resistance was futile, and most of the Iraqi soldiers who fought and died did so knowing that they were throwing their lives away in a gesture of defiance.
But the next phase of the drama is already taking shape off-stage, and is likely to be more painful and difficult for the United States than simply smashing up a Third-World army. In the north of Iraq, the Kurds are eager to take the mainly Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, whose surrounding oilfields would place an independent Kurdish state on a sound economic footing. But Turkey, anxious about the influence of an independent Kurdistan on their own huge and restive Kurdish minority, have said that if the Kurds enter Mosul and Kirkuk, they invade.
What would the US do then? It has no desire to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO ally and a potentially formidable opponent. The Kurdish fighters say they would resist a Turkish invasion whether the US helps them or not, but without American support they would not last long. There is no sign that Washington has thought this through any better than it did the request (ultimately rejected by the Turks) to let US forces use Turkish territory for the invasion of Iraq.
The situation down south is even more precarious, for the long-oppressed Shia Arabs of the south are about two-thirds of the entire Iraqi population. If Iraq really became a democracy, the Shias would dominate the government, and naturally turn to their fellow Shias in Iran for advice and support. Since Iran is allegedly part of the ‘axis of evil’, the retired US generals who will shortly be ruling Iraq are unlikely to turn the country over to people with that sort of friends. If US troops stay in Iraq and the Shias feel cheated out of their fair share of power yet again, however, it won’t be long before they start resisting US rule.
It gets worse. Any Shia resistance movement in Iraq is bound to get support from Iran, and there will soon be US troops all along the Iran-Iraq border, only a few hours’ drive from Iran’s main oilfields. Even if the Bush administration isn’t planning another war before the next election, US attempts to stop infiltration across the border from Iran could easily lead to a US-Iran war much sooner than that — and Iran has a relatively united population three times bigger than Iraq’s.
Above all, there is the fact that the United States, abetted by Britain and Australia, has launched an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state. That is why most other governments are deeply worried: the American attack on Iraq could be used as a precedent, using exactly the same arguments as President Bush, to justify an Indian attack on Pakistan or a North Korean attack on South Korea. The US action in Iraq has fundamentally challenged the rule of law in the world, which is a problem no matter how happy most Iraqis are at the moment — and Washington clearly meant to do just that.
Consider the remarks of former Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey, a Bush administration insider who was recently mentioned in a leaked Pentagon document as one of the possible administrators of post-war Iraq. Last week in Los Angeles, he described the war in Iraq as the start of the Fourth World War (the Cold War being the third), and warned his audience that “this Fourth World War, I think, will last considerably longer than either the First or Second World Wars did for us.”
The real enemies this time, he explained, were the religious rulers of Iran, the ‘fascists’ of Iraq and Syria, and the Islamic extremists of al-Qaeda. He made no distinctions between them (though in real life they have very little in common), and he promised a long crusade against them. There was no suggestion that the US would bother to get legal authority from the United Nations before attacking the sovereign states on his list.
“As we move towards a new Middle East over the years and the decades to come,” he said, “we will make a lot of people very nervous. Our response should be, ‘Good! We want you nervous. We want you to realise now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march’.”
Eventually the American public is likely to rebel against the continual flow of casualties and the higher taxes that come with this new role of global vigilante, but in the meantime it is going to be a wild ride.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 6. (“What…Iraq” and “It gets…Iraq’s”)
TO INCLUDE THE KURDISH OCCUPATION OF KIRKUK, REPLACE PARAGRAPHS 3 AND 4 OF YESTERDAY’S ARTICLE ‘WHO’S NEXT?’ WITH THE FOLLOWING TWO PARAGHRAPHS. PARAGRAPH FOUR CAN STILL BE DROPPED TO SHORTEN THE ARTICLE.
But the next phase of the drama is already taking shape off-stage, and is likely to be more painful and difficult for the United States than simply smashing up a Third-World army. In the north of Iraq, the Kurds want to control the mainly Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk because the surrounding oilfields would place an independent Kurdish state on a sound economic footing. Kurdish fighters have already seized Kirkuk — but Turkey, anxious about the influence of an independent Kurdistan on their own huge and restive Kurdish minority, have said that if the Kurds take Mosul and Kirkuk, they invade.
The US is trying to limit the damage, promising that the Kurdish fighters will be replaced by ‘coalition’ troops in Kirkuk and inviting Turkish army observers to the city, but it won’t find it easy to get the Kurds out. This is their best chance for independence in the past 80 years, and they would be mad not to try for it. They have been betrayed by the US so many times that they feel they owe it nothing, and they say they would resist a Turkish invasion whether the US helps them or not. There is no sign that Washington has thought this through any better than it did the request (ultimately rejected by the Turks) to let US forces use Turkish territory for the invasion of Iraq.