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The crisis over Iraq: the non-military solution

About the author
Scilla Elworthy is the founder of Peace Direct to fund, promote and learn from peace-builders in conflict areas, and the Oxford Research Group to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics

The Bush administration has received much criticism for its preparations for war in Iraq: but few, if any, coherent alternatives have been put forward. Criticism is unconvincing when it fails to offer a better plan.

How can we deal with the Iraq of Saddam Hussein? Existing containment strategies imply connivance in the repression of Iraqi citizens. Not dealing with the problem, the record shows, compromises security in a delicately balanced region. But war poses incalculable risks, both physical and political.

There has, to date, been no better plan because the rationale for military intervention in Iraq is confused, alternating between three given objectives which obscure at least one further objective:

  • to destroy Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
  • to pursue the ‘war on terrorism’
  • to achieve regime change in Iraq

as well as the further objective of stabilising access to Middle East oil reserves.

Why not the military option?
To get to the summary, please click here.

Iraq’s military threat looms largest in neighbouring countries. But Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Qatar, the UAE and Egypt all feel that Saddam is better contained than aroused. Why?

The region is a Pandora’s box of weapons of mass destruction - Israel’s nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals; Iran and Syria with their chemical and biological arms; Pakistan and India, pursuing their own nuclear arms race. The consequences of war are highly unpredictable and, in this context, extremely risky. With their backs against the wall, representatives of the regime have indicated the likely use of chemical or biological weapons, leading to probable retaliation from the US or Israel.

Although the Iraqi regime is weaker than eleven years ago, it is probable that most of its elite forces will resist attack. The regime will seek to draw foreign forces into a war in the greater Baghdad region. US war plans are expected to focus on destroying Iraq’s military and administrative infrastructure, denying the regime access to its energy supplies and drawing out the elite forces so that they can be subject to intensive air attack. Conflict in Baghdad will involve the use of area-impact munitions as well as precision-guided munitions and the civilian casualties will be high.

Evidence from the 1991 war indicates that it is highly likely that the regime will use all available military means, including chemical and biological weapons, if its very survival is threatened. Such weapons may be used in tactical warfare to hinder invading forces but may, in extreme circumstances, be used strategically against forces in other countries. In such circumstances, and especially if high casualties result, there is a possibility of a nuclear response. The British Government, in particular, has been candid in conceding this as a potential response to CBW use by Iraq.

MEDACT, the international medical charity, estimates that the total number of deaths on all sides during the conflict and the following three months would range from 48,000 to over 260,000. Civil war within Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths. Additional later deaths from post-war adverse health effects could reach 200,000. If nuclear weapons were used the death toll could reach 3,900,000. In all scenarios, the majority of casualties will be civilians.

CAFOD, the Catholic Aid Agency, argues that from a humanitarian perspective a war against Iraq would be a catastrophe that would bring shame on the world community. Their recent report estimates that between 14 and 16 million people – two thirds of the Iraqi population – are totally dependent on the monthly food ration distribution and would be in danger of starvation if this were interrupted by war.

Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden outlined the following three scenarios in his paper entitled, Expecting the military always to save the day :

Scenario One – Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar provide full basing support. Major US strategic air campaign using cruise missiles, carrier-borne aircraft, local-based air power and long-range air power. No US ground force deployments. Iraq rides out attacks and invites world’s press in to see collateral damage. Anti-American feeling increases, basing support withdrawn. Arab oil sanctions against US. Increase in terrorism in west.

Scenario Two – Air campaign (as in scenario one) paralleled by increasing build-up of ground force presence in Turkey, Israel and some Gulf States. Special force operations increase in Iraq, particularly near sites suspected of involvement in WMD development. Northern Kurds secure region with help of US operations in middle of country. Iraq troops move to border with Jordan and threaten missile attacks on Israel. Outcome very unpredictable. The problem is that a slow build-up of forces does not give the mass impact needed to demoralise the Iraqi army.

Scenario Three – Regime change achieved in Baghdad after attrition warfare campaign, but Saddam Hussein followers continue undercover operations in both Iraq (including against oil fields), but also abroad. The US is sufficiently worried by this scenario to consider the need for a national smallpox vaccination policy.

Conclusion: ‘From a pure military planning aspect there are too many uncertainties to recommend a campaign to change the regime in Iraq.’

The United States has sufficient forces to ensure regime destruction. But even if the war is not greatly destructive, the regime’s replacement by occupying forces or by a client regime should be expected to increase regional opposition to the US presence. In particular it is likely to increase support for organisations such as al-Qaida and to prove counter-productive to peace and stability in the region.

Alternative strategies

Heavy casualties from action by US and UK forces could only increase sympathy and support for the al-Qaida movement, threatening security for British and American citizens at home and abroad. How can the key objectives of any effective policy for dealing with Saddam Hussein be met without risking such consequences through military action?

A. How can Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme be dismantled without going to war?
Read the summary

The terms of the resolution, as far as timing is concerned, are as follows: Iraq had seven days to indicate acceptance of the 8 November resolution (Iraq complied on 13 November) and thirty days to reveal all its chemical, biological and nuclear programmes. An advance team of inspectors arrived in Iraq on the 18 November, and began work on 25 November, with more inspectors arriving on 23 December. 21 February is the latest date set by the Security Council for inspectors to report on their mission.

After this intense period of inspections and destruction of WMD, the tools of international arms control must be rigorously applied to Iraq, over a defined period or indefinitely. These tools include the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC), Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

There remains doubt whether the outcome of inspections and arms control will be satisfactory, since it will be difficult to declare categorically that Iraq is free from weapons of mass destruction, particularly CBW. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, will remain a virtual WMD state because much of the scientific and technical knowledge required to manufacture a WMD capability will remain in the country.

It is doubtful whether an inspection and prolonged arms control approach can work without Saddam Hussein’s cooperation. To this end, further diplomatic pressure could be brought to bear through third party countries that are on better terms with Saddam Hussein. More boldly, a dialogue could also be initiated between the West and Iraq, through third party states, to determine Saddam Hussein’s motives for developing a WMD capability and what could be done to reduce the incentives to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The Permanent Members of the UN Security Council could collectively decide to rid the Middle East of WMD, tackle the supply-side of WMD proliferation to the regions, and establish a zone free of WMD as envisaged in UNSCR 687. Israel would remain a significant problem, but in the words of one participant, ‘the US is blessed with leverage in the form of a $2bn arms annual military assistance to Israel.’ Former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Ambassador Richard Butler, has said recently that one of his toughest moments in Baghdad was when the Iraqis demanded that he explain why they should be hounded for their weapons of mass destruction when, just down the road, Israel was not, even though it was known to possess some 200 nuclear weapons. Speaking at the University of Sydney last September, Butler went on to address the fundamental problem with WMD proliferation, that of double standards:

    ‘I confess, too, that I flinch when I hear American, British and French fulminations against weapons of mass destruction, ignoring the fact that they are the proud owners of massive quantities of those weapons, unapologetically insisting that they are essential for their national security, and will remain so.’

Under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation treaty, which entered into force in 1980 and has been reviewed regularly since, the nuclear weapons powers have undertaken to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective means relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control’.

B. How can we best ensure an effective 'war on terrorism'?
Read the summary

Long-term remedies include across-the-board respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law - values which must underlie any effective anti-terrorism strategy and which separate legitimate counter-terrorist activity from illegitimate terrorist acts. Suspending or abrogating norms of due legal process should be recognised as counter-productive.

First, it is necessary to define clearly what is meant by ‘terrorism’ (‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’). Simple opposition to government policy is not terrorism. There is an important distinction between non-state and state terrorism, and further differences within these two groupings, especially the former, which includes individual terrorism (the Unabomber), politically-motivated terrorism (IRA, ETA etc), and ‘new’ catastrophic terrorism. Each type of terrorist activity requires a specific response.

It is vital to explore and resolve root causes, which are a difficult mix of economic, political, religious and cultural factors. The new terrorism may be part of a new era of violent anti-elite revolts. Political and economic exclusion, both nationally and on the world stage, are key factors, as is a general feeling of powerlessness and lack of meaning. A solution to the latter is sought in radical religion, not confined to Islam – there are Christian and Hindu examples as well. This indicates a need to search for new values and ideals, and to check injustice.

Regional conflicts, especially Israel/Palestine and Kashmir, need to be resolved. This would offer a sign of good faith, and go some way to restoring ideals and a sense of meaning for the dispossessed. There are major obstacles to this, including the fact that many governments in the Middle East have come to power, or retain power, through coercion.

In combatting terrorism, a balance is needed between long-term objectives (promoting democracy, good governance, economic justice) and short-term objectives (reducing the level of risk, preventing terrorist attacks). The blurring of law enforcement and military approaches in seeking security from acts of terrorism could be counter-productive in terms of its impact on civil liberties at home, and creating new terrorists abroad. A more balanced and less fear-driven media is essential.

It is important to understand al-Qaida. The collapse of the House of Saud and removal of US bases in the Gulf are two specific al-Qaida aims of which the public is aware. But more progress could be made if al-Qaida’s real intentions were known. Can you have dialogue with al-Qaida? Acts of terrorism are the antithesis of dialogue, and there is no discernible political face to al-Qaida (as there is in respect to the IRA, ETA etc.)

In conclusion, work to undermine terrorism would be more effective if:

  • Anti-terrorism strategies were based on legal and moral norms acceptable in a democracy
  • Responses to acts of terrorism were proportionate: terrorists thrive on disproportionate responses
  • Research into best and worst practice in Europe in combating and preventing terrorism was shared with the US
  • Cooperative security approaches throughout the United Nations, OSCE, NATO, EU and ICC were reinforced and adequately funded


C. How can we best approach regime change and the building of democracy in Iraq?
Read the summary

The current situation is dominated by the effect of sanctions. There is no longer a middle class. Many have fled. People are reduced to selling everything they have. This is, in Faleh A. Jabar’s phrase, the ‘politics of starvation’. As Dennis Halliday said in his speech of resignation from the post of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq:

    ‘I am resigning because the policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society… I have been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.’

Sanctions have become a powerful tool for the Saddam Hussein regime. In the 1995 presidential election, Iraqis were forced to vote if they wanted ration coupons – dissidents and opposition figures were refused ration coupons, and the vote.

No doubt it was the same in the 2002 election, as oil-for-food procedures are even more complicated. The state is heavily indebted. Yet the shops in Baghdad are full of things which no one can afford to buy. Only the elite inner circle is able to enjoy luxury goods, many of them smuggled in. Oil is smuggled out and sold to parties which give kick-backs to the regime, enabling the elite to benefit.

The Ba’athist regime has degenerated into a brutal dictatorship, but it evolved out of a post-colonial government. The danger is that a US-led war would establish a neo-colonial government, which would naturally constrain democracy. Moreover, a war would leave a power vacuum, which could exacerbate existing fragmentation between Shias in the south, several Kurdish factions in the north, and minority Sunnis currently occupying all senior administrative and military positions.

An alternative strategy could include the following steps:

  • Ending the oil-for-food programme, which gives the state power over people’s food supply.
  • Ending the embargo on all but a strictly controlled list of weapons and components. Exposing and penalising arms embargo violations.
  • Replacing these with ‘smart sanctions’ as envisaged in UNSCR 1382, to target the regime and its members.
  • Setting up a Criminal Tribunal along the lines of the ICTR in Rwanda. Indicted members of the regime lose many of their privileges, and internal support will weaken, as it did in Serbia.
  • Keeping the no-fly zones.
  • Engaging regional cooperation, perhaps through the Arab League, to seek the establishment of UN Protectorates, first in the Kurdish north and the marshes to the South.
  • Strengthening support for Iraqi opposition groups, rather than encouraging them to fight each other. (During the 1990s two separate divisions of the CIA backed respectively the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord, organisations with very different aims. Source: Saddam Hussein – an American obsession, by Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, Verso, 2002.)

A government in exile:

Troy Davis, of the World Citizen Foundation, has proposed that the UN help opposition groups based abroad and in Iraq’s no-fly zones to establish a democratically elected government in exile, via some equivalent of the loya jirga held in Afghanistan, but conducted among members of the Iraqi diaspora. This government in exile could be supported by Iraq’s frozen assets, and used to train an administration which gradually takes control of the no-fly zones and the oil-for-food programme. Saddam Hussein, finding himself isolated diplomatically, would be confronted by a legitimate alternative government, undermining his authority at home and permitting him to be toppled more easily. In this way democracy would be less likely to be frustrated by the installation of a puppet regime.

Supporters of a democratic future for Iraq could call for this now - a strategy for ‘regime change’ which would equip Iraqi people to deal with the regime themselves, and replace it with a genuinely democratic form of governance.

This far from ideal process would take time, and could have a faltering development: but it would be a much better long-term investment than the imposition of a neo-colonial, compliant government. This could only be perceived as the instrument of the very people – US capitalists – who would, in the process, have taken over the one resource which holds the potential to rebuild Iraq from the ruined state it is in now.



D. Can security of oil supply be ensured without recourse to military action in Iraq?
Read the summary

It is first necessary to determine whether oil security is in fact a significant motivation in US policy towards Iraq. Persian Gulf oil reserves are truly staggering – twice as large as all of the rest of the world’s oil fields put together, and more than twenty times larger than the dwindling reserves of the United States itself. Iraq alone has close to four times the oil reserves of the United States including Alaska.

Among the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia is by far the most important, yet there is increasing evidence of internal instability, a deep undercurrent of anti-American sentiment, and even evidence that much of the financial and other support for al-Qaida comes from within the Kingdom. Second only to Saudi Arabia as a repository of easily extracted high quality oil reserves is Iraq. Replacing the current regime with one compliant with US interests would therefore involve the substantial bonus of diminishing the importance of Saudi Arabia. All known reserves of the former Soviet Union, plus China, plus the North Sea, plus US resources add up to only slightly more than known reserves in Iraq.

Until just over thirty years ago, the United States was able to satisfy its substantial oil requirements from its large domestic reserves, but production has tended to decrease throughout the past thirty years, with consumption increasing. The end result has been a rapid increase in oil import dependency, with a current import requirement being in excess of 60 percent of demand. Furthermore, there is little inclination to curtail domestic oil consumption, especially under the Bush administration, and even the north-east Alaska fields would add relatively little in the face of the high level of domestic demand.

Imports from OPEC and the Persian GulfImports from OPEC and the Persian Gulf as a Share of Total US Imports 1973-2001
(Source: Energy Information Administration/Monthly Energy Review October 2002, p.14

Imports from OPEC and the Persian Gulf as a Share of Total US Imports 1973-2001

(Source: Energy Information Administration/Monthly Energy Review October 2002, p.14

Fig.1.7 Overview of US Petroleum Trade.)

In the context of world oil trends, two features are relevant. Firstly, the most promising area for oil prospecting is the Persian Gulf region. The oil is of relatively high quality; is easily recoverable, and close to major sea-lanes. The known reserves of oil in Saudi Arabia and Iraq are both greater than they were a decade ago in spite of substantial annual production from both states – the discovery of new reserves is actually exceeding production, in marked contrast to the situation in the United States.

Secondly, new reserves being discovered and developed elsewhere are expensive to extract, or of lower quality. Alaskan, North Sea and West Shetland oil are expensively extracted, in adverse conditions. Caspian Basin oil involves long-distance sea transport. Mexican and Venezuelan oil is of lower quality.

Ending the Saddam Hussein regime is therefore central to America’s policy of maintaining control of a volatile region crucial to energy supplies. It is also essential to prevent the evolution of oppositional states that might develop the means to deter the United States from taking actions considered essential to its security.

The appearance of a major oil supplier in the market might help to undermine the OPEC cartel. This might lead to a drop in oil prices and deprive the OPEC countries, particularly in the Middle East, of the power they have over the US and other ‘western’ importers.

For short-term security, the oil-for-food programme should be abolished to allow Iraqi oil to flow. By abolishing the strict limitations on the amount of oil Saddam Hussein is able to sell on the open market, a medium to long-term source of high quality and cheap oil would come into the international market, satisfying US short-term needs. The income could be used to modernise existing oil fields and more exploration of potential Iraqi reserves.

In the longer term, dependence on oil must be decreased. Between now and 2020, energy consumption in the US is expected to increase by 33.7%. According to Annual Energy Outlook 2003, the major increase in demand will come from the transport sector. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argue that by improving the fuel economy of new cars so that 40mpg was standard by 2012 and 55mpg was standard by 2020, US demand would decrease by nearly 2 million barrels per day – a saving of 18% below business as usual predictions – and by 5 million barrels per day by 2020: ‘At the root of our heavy reliance on oil imports is the inefficiency of our cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other passenger vehicles.’ (Dangerous Addiction, NRDC, 2002.)

Past experience shows that consumption can be cut quickly. In 1975, fuel economy standards were adopted by the federal government resulting in fuel economy doubled for new passenger cars and increased by 50% for light trucks. Nothing has changed since 1985.

It is therefore not impossible to envisage that the US public could accept a decreased dependence on oil, especially if tax breaks were introduced for energy conservation, insulation, low energy housing, and vehicles powered by hydrogen or fuel cells.

Immediate and substantial investment is needed in renewable sources of energy to provide longer-term energy security for the US. The provision of energy using renewable resources would be organised in a decentralised form, rather than the huge, centralised structures which characterise current energy provision. It would therefore be harder for terrorists to cause widespread disruption by attacking energy infrastructure.

Conclusions

Decisions made on Iraq over the coming weeks offer the opportunity to set an example for the robust and powerful handling of a tyrant while avoiding the risks of descent into the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The Iraqi issue can only be addressed in a region-wide context. A strategy which attempts to deal with Iraq without addressing other key problems of the Middle East is bound not only to fail, but to create greater problems. The key issue remains the future of Palestinians.

Depriving Iraq of oil revenues has not worked as a strategy for removing the Saddam Hussein regime. By contrast, the ability of the Iraqi people to develop the power to decide their own future will be decisively increased if Iraqi oil is allowed to flow; if effective customs services are established around the Iraqi borders, smart sanctions are imposed to target the regime and its members, and Iraqi health education and welfare services are supported by foreign investment.






Why not the military option?
  • The region is a Pandora’s box of weapons of mass destruction.
  • With their backs against the wall, the regime may well use chemical or biological weapons, leading to probable US or Israeli retaliation. Such weapons may, in extreme circumstances, be used strategically against forces in other countries.
  • The likely conflict in the greater Baghdad area will lead to high civilian casualties, as will all the other scenarios.
  • MEDACT, the international medical charity, estimates that the total number of deaths range from 48,000 to over 260,000. If nuclear weapons were used the death toll could reach 3,900,000.
  • CAFOD, the Catholic Aid Agency, estimates that between 14 and 16 million people – the two thirds of the Iraqi populationtotally dependent on the monthly food ration distribution - would be placed in danger of starvation.
  • The consequences of war are highly unpredictable and risky. From a pure military planning aspect, there are too many uncertainties to recommend a campaign to change the regime in Iraq.
  • Even if the war is not greatly destructive, it should be expected to increase regional opposition to the US presence, and is likely, in particular, to increase support for organisations such as al-Qaida.
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A. Can Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme be effectively dismantled without going to war?
  • There are now no means by which any state can protect itself against the use of WMD by state or sub-state groups. The only route to security is by international co-operation to detect and dismantle WMD, a process which must be led by the Permanent Members of the Security Council.
  • UN inspectors offer the best hope of disarming Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability. The inspection team must be allowed to inspect, verify and dismantle Iraq’s WMD capabilities.
  • It is doubtful whether an inspection and prolonged arms control approach can work without Saddam Hussein’s cooperation. To this end, further diplomatic pressure could be brought to bear through third party countries that are on better terms with Saddam Hussein.
  • The Permanent Members of the UN Security Council could collectively decide to rid the Middle East of WMD, tackle the supply-side of WMD proliferation to the regions, and establish a zone free of WMD as envisaged in UNSCR 687.
back to next section



B. How can we best ensure an effective ‘war on terrorism’?
  • What is urgently needed is an acknowledgement that terrorism can represent an intelligible, if dysfunctional response to real grievances, undertaken in order to achieve strategic goals.
  • It is vital to explore and resolve root causes, which are a difficult mix of economic, political, religious and cultural factors.
  • A strategy to encourage and incentivise liberal and democratic reforms in friendly countries is essential in order to defuse accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.
  • Anti-terrorism strategies must be based on legal and moral norms acceptable in a democracy.
  • Responses to acts of terrorism should be proportionate and appropriate: terrorists thrive on disproportionate responses.
  • Research into best and worst practice in Europe in combatting and preventing terrorism needs to be shared with the US.
  • Cooperative security approaches throughout the United Nations, OSCE, NATO, EU and ICC should be reinforced and adequately funded.
back to next section



C. How can we best approach regime change and the building of democracy in Iraq?
  • The removal of the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein is a pre-requisite for democratic development in Iraq; but the manner of its removal could have profound implications for the chances of any democratic government emerging to take its place.
  • The dangers of a US-led war on Iraq include the establishment of a neo-colonial government, which would naturally constrain democracy, and the creation of a power vacuum, which could exacerbate existing fragmentation.

An alternative strategy could include the following steps:

  • Ending the oil-for-food programme, which gives the state power over people’s food supply.
  • Ending the embargo on all but a strictly controlled list of weapons and components. Exposing and penalising arms embargo violations.
  • Replacing these with ‘smart sanctions’ as envisaged in UNSCR 1382, to target the regime and its members.
  • Setting up a Criminal Tribunal along the lines of the ICTR in Rwanda. Indicted members of the regime lose many of their privileges, and internal support will weaken, as it did in Serbia.
  • Supporting a government in exile.
back to next section



D. Can security of oil supply be ensured without recourse to military action in Iraq?
  • For short-term security, the oil-for-food programme should be abolished to allow Iraqi oil to flow.
  • But the present – and growing - US dependency on imported oil supplies from the Persian Gulf puts global economic well-being at the mercy of political developments in a highly unstable region. Lessening this dependency should be seen by US and other western governments as a key strategic objective.
  • Measures to tackle dependency would include stricter fuel economy standards to bring about a rapid cut in consumption for private transport. Tax breaks for conservation, insulation and low energy housing would all help to channel increased investment into renewable energy sources.
  • It would bring the added advantage of decentralising energy supplies, rendering them less vulnerable to terrorist attack.
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