The Bush administration appears to be trying to prove that a war can be won
by sabre-rattling alone. Amid an almost deafening public indifference, hardly
a day goes by without a new report or disclosure suggesting that a US attack,
at the end of this year or early next, is a virtual certainty.
The official position was set out by President George Bush at his press conference
on Monday. He said America was committed to "regime change" in Baghdad and would
use "all the tools at our disposal" to achieve that end. But he insisted again
that he had not made a final decision on any plan. He dismissed the leak of detailed
Pentagon war plans to The New York Times last week as "somebody down there
at level five flexing some 'know-how' muscle".
This week the leaks have continued, first in a report claiming that the US
would use Jordanian airfields to launch its assault even though the Jordanians
have not been informed of the plan, and every indication is that they would not
give permission if asked. Then came another and somewhat contradictory report
in USA Today, to the effect that the military planners had "raised the
bar" for an invasion. It would now require a serious provocation by Saddam Hussein,
such as invading a neighbour or attacking the Kurds or Shia Muslims in the south,
before the US war machine started to roll. Like the other reports, it was sourced
to anonymous "officials".
The implication of the New York Times revelations is that the "Afghan
model" for an invasion of Iraq, involving bombing, special forces and covert CIA
operations, with the help of an internal insurrection (for the opposition Northern
Alliance read the Kurds), had been dropped. Instead the blueprint, entitled Cent-Com
Course for Action, puts the emphasis on an all-out assault involving 250,000
or 300,000 US troops, and a massive air attack aimed at crucial infrastructure
targets as well as suspected sites where weapons of mass destruction are being
developed or stored.
Some analysts believe the source of the leak to be military commanders who
believe the politicians are blithely talking up an operation whose potential cost
in casualties for US forces they do not fully appreciate. But others take the
report as part of a process of softening up President Saddam, forcing him into
a rash move that would give Washington the pretext it required. Talk of US and
British agents stirring up trouble among the Kurds might, for example, prod the
Iraqi leader into a strike against them, thus offering the US justification to
This strategy would also explain why Washington is so averse to protracted
negotiations over the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, and was delighted
by the failure of the latest round of talks last week in Geneva. Paul Wolfowitz,
the Deputy Defence Secretary and a leading proponent of action to get rid of President
Saddam, has derided the inspection process. They would be unable to inspect anything
worth inspecting, he insists, while the talks would enable President Saddam to
play for time, throwing open his doors to stave off an invasion.
Instead, Washington is starting to focus on a possible provocation that would
clear any conceivable bar: links between Iraq and al-Qa'ida pointing to Baghdad
having had a hand in terrorist attacks, or even 11 September itself. After the
attacks, the CIA and the Pentagon seemed if anything to play down reports that
Mohamed Atta, the hijackers' ringleader, met an Iraqi intelligence officer in
Prague earlier in 2001. But officials are now looking at that episode again, while
an Iraqi defector claimed in a television documentary this week that he had seen
Osama bin Laden in Baghdad in July 1998, just before al-Qa'ida attacked two US
embassies in east Africa.
Either story, if confirmed, would vindicate Washington's argument for toppling
President Saddam that while he might not use chemical, nuclear or biological
weapons, he would make them available to terrorists. If the US could prove a connection
between Iraq and al-Qa'ida, doubts over whether an invasion was justified would
disappear. In the meantime, the sabre-rattling continues.
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd