Published on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 by the Independent / UK
A War and its Fearsome Consequences: How the World has Changed Post-Iraq
President Bush said yesterday that 'the year 2005 will be a turning point in the history of freedom'. But since the start of the war the days have been littered with unintended consequences.
by Anne Penketh
The Iraqi elections provided a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: the Americans overthrew the hated dictator, Saddam Hussein, only to see the rise of religious Shia leaders loyal to Iran, which is now ruled by a fanatical hardline president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Iraq's Sunni-dominated neighbours are alarmed. Iran has been accused by Britain of stirring up trouble across the border in Iraq, where soldiers in the southhave fallen victim to bomb attacks. After President Bush encouraged Iranians to vote for reform, it was the hardline mayor of Tehran who was voted in as president. President Bush's public dismissal of the Iranian election, the day before the first round of voting, as "an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy", may have been responsible for a large turnout.
Must be President Bush's greatest disappointment, after his call for greater democracy backfired. After publicly urging President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's veteran leader, to loosen the grip of the ruling party on power, the big winners in the parliamentary election were the Islamic fundamentalists of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government made no secret of its fear that the alternative to the ruling National Democratic Party was chaos. The NDP was the victor in the parliamentary elections, but voting brought the death of at least one opposition supporter and mass arrests. In the event, the NDP remained the dominant party as expected but the Muslim Brotherhood, forced to run its MPs as independent candidates, increased its power in parliament nearly sixfold.
Tony Blair was fond of saying before the Iraq war that he feared the nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists coming together to threaten global security. Yet there was never any proof of the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida. Terror has surged in Iraq since the war, with Islamic groups beheading hostages and seizing foreigners and Iraqis at will to hold them to ransom. The Sunni and foreign-led insurgency has been able to swell its ranks in large swaths of Iraq where the US-led coalition does not venture, and cross the border at will. A majority of Iraqis questioned by a BBC poll said that the situation in their country was "bad" and 75 per cent said that they wanted restoring public security to be the priority of the new government, due to be formed after this week's elections.
Pressure from the US to co-operate in quelling the insurgency in the aftermath of the Iraq war may end up destabilising the Syrian President, Bashir al-Assad, who has already been weakened politically by the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. The assassination of the anti-Syrian former Lebanese president Rafiq Hariri cast further doubt on the stability of the region, as car bombs targeting other anti-Syrian figures seem to be blasting Lebanon back into civil war after the democratic elections held last May. Much as the Americans may welcome the departure of the regime in Syria, which is still on the State Department's terror list, further instability in the tinderbox region on Iraq's doorstep would be a nightmare for the Bush administration.
America's standing in the world, and the President's popularity ratings, have plummeted in the 1,000 days since the war began, despite initial public support for the invasion. With close aides now under investigation by a special prosecutor, President Bush has been haunted by the decision to go to war after ignoring warnings from the intelligence community about the nature of Iraq's threat. His approval ratings last month stood at 37 per cent, the lowest of his presidency, although they slightly improved this month. Iraq is seen as the factor influencing the negative slide. Global opinion polls show that anti-American sentiment in Europe, the Middle East and Asia surged as a result of the Iraq war. Solid majorities in Muslim countries have a negative opinion of America.
George Bush and Tony Blair explicitly linked the aftermath of the Iraq war to the broader goal of seeking peace in the Middle East to envisage a "viable" two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. But one unintended consequence is that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forged ahead with his own solution, involving the construction of a fence that encroaches into Palestinian land in defiance of international law. The Palestinians fear that if Mr Sharon's breakaway party is victorious in Israeli elections, he will seek to impose a new border which will annex East Jerusalem as well as significant tracts of the West Bank. Meanwhile, when the Palestinian parliamentary elections are held next month, the Islamic militants of Hamas are expected to do well.
George Bush and Tony Blair said before the war that they wanted to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Not only have none been found inside Iraq, but the war could have actually triggered the spread of such weapons. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein may well have been the factor that pushed the Iranian government into taking a strategic decision to develop a nuclear weapon, even though the Iranians insist that their nuclear programme is peaceful. It had been clear to all that North Korea had been spared attack because of its possession of the bomb while Saddam was known not to have succeeded in building one. So countries may have decided to take out their own insurance policy. Israel is beefing up its own security after the perceived Iranian threat. The Iraq war may have set off a new nuclear arms race.
© 2005 Independent News and Media Limited