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David Miller: There Must be Caution Over Iraq

David Miller Online:
There Must be Caution Over Iraq

Throughout his term in office, George W. Bush has made no secret of his desire to topple Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush’s motives are open to debate with his supporters claiming Saddam continues to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and poses a danger to regional security to the notion that the President wishes to finish the business his father started. Whatever way you look at it, the US is desperately trying to gain world support for its planned attack.

Apart from initial backing from Britain, this support has not been forthcoming. Many European allies have said that they would not participate in an attack on Baghdad and the US is unlikely to gain support from other regions around the world. Although New Zealand does not have much influence on this matter it is likely to be asked for its support in the advent of any strike and the government here will come under increasing pressure to back US ambitions, especially as Australia has already done so.

This column has always supported the war on terrorism and any US efforts to combat groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taleban, but an invasion of Iraq poses a whole different set of problems. The military campaign inside Afghanistan has demonstrated the need to deploy ground troops if a country or group of countries is serious about forcing a change of regime. Air power alone is not sufficient. If the US is serious about overthrowing Saddam then it will need to be prepared to commit its soldiers on the ground. As the last decade has shown, Saddam is to well entrenched in power inside his own country to be shaken by airpower. The only way he will be ousted from office is when US troops physically march into Baghdad and remove him.

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The reason this column warns against an invasion of Iraq is that the operation could easily become a quagmire for the US and any other nations who commits military personnel. The scenes of women carrying automatic weapons and parading in support of Saddam means that his control and power spreads to a wide cross section of the country and it means that the US may not simply be fighting Saddam’s troops should they invade.

The situation that could develop inside Iraq once US troops are on the ground will resemble that of East Timor and other scenes of conflict around the world. This is known as intra-state conflict. This form of conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War and is one where a state or geographical entity implodes inwards on itself and different groups, divided by language, religion or national identity turn on each other. In this situation, there is no deterrent to conflict and civilians are often intermingled with soldiers and military personnel. The weaponry is often crude and small and the terrain and local inhabitants become the place of refuge for those who wish to fight. This is the scenario awaiting the US should it invade Iraq. Even if Saddam is overthrown, there are no guarantees that his successors will be able to provide stable government and the US may have to remain committed to the country to provide support. It may be a case that one the US is in there may not be an easy way out.

Another reason the US should seek alternate methods to unseat Saddam is that there is uncertainty as to his arsenal and the weapons he can use. Intelligence reports claim that his power projection capabilities are a fraction of what they where at the time of Operation Desert Storm. However, it is believed that he still possesses chemical and biological material. Saddam refrained from using them during the Gulf War, however faced with a US invasion force aimed at him personally then there will be no reasons holding him back.

Finally, it is doubtful that the US will gain sufficient support from around the region to carry outs its planned invasion. This is not borne out of any desire to see Saddam remain in office but to in order not to appear too close to Washington and prevent internal strife and upheaval inside their own borders. Saudi Arabia is now racked by internal strife and it is unlikely the House of Saud will give its blessing to a US attack if it means that its own position will be undermined at home. With the exception of Kuwait, no other Middle Eastern state has come forward and placed itself in the US camp. The US must realise that in order to get rid of one regime it considers to be rogue, it jeopardises the stability of several others.

New Zealand for its part, has supported the war on terrorism and the military campaign in Afghanistan. However, offering support for an attack on Iraq is a different issue altogether. Saddam is definitely a rogue among the states of the Middle East and his ambitions could one day again to lead to war and regional instability. He may well even be providing a safe haven for terrorists. However will support for a US invasion best serve New Zealand? We will certainly gain favour with Washington and could even use the support to leverage concessions that we withdrawn after the ANZUS dispute. Nevertheless, our reputation and image elsewhere could easily suffer, especially if New Zealand is seen to be supporting the personal agenda of the Bush Administration. Maybe we should not be too quick with our support for an attack on Iraq.

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