April 13, 2003
By Raffique Shah
THE sounds and sights of "freedom" reverberated throughout the world last week as American forces stormed into Baghdad "liberating" masses of Iraqis who had suffered for more than two decades under the "brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein". The "defining moment in history" was how the phalanx of international journalists who accompanied the troops, described Iraqis seen toppling a statue of Saddam and stomping and spitting on it. The Devil had departed-or done a "Houdini"-disappeared in the sand. Welcome, the new Devil.
Those were my thoughts as I watched the mighty US and British military forces beat the daylights out of an Iraqi force that was battered to pulp by bombs and bombers they could not even see, but whose fury wreaked untold deaths and damage to their towns and cities.
One needed to remain detached from the television images to remember this was a country on which more bombs were dropped in the 1991 War than in Germany during World War II. And once more the Americans and British forces rained these expensive agents of death upon them, decimating what was left of their fighting forces, and killing "uncountable" (their term, not mine) numbers of innocent civilians. So the advance on Baghdad, bogged down by remarkable resistance from a handful of decrepit Iraqi soldiers, and its fall, was only a matter of time.
When the liberated Iraqis took to the streets, it was seen as the gratitude of a people to an army that had removed the heavy weight of Saddam from them. If you were an Iraqi, and you and your family faced the nightly "thunder" those people did back in 1991 and now again in 2003, wouldn't you be happy just to have some measure of peace? Would it matter whether such peace came via the wiles of a Saddam or the bullying of a Bush? Arundhati Roy wrote well before the fact: "It may well be that if Saddam's regime falls there will be dancing on the streets of Basra. But then, if the Bush regime were to fall, there would be dancing on the streets the world over."
Even before we get to that stage-a US controlled Iraq-there are some unanswered questions that seem to have been forgotten in the euphoria of the moment. After all, except for its mighty battle for tiny Grenada back in 1983, and an assault on Panama sometime in the '90s, the US military did not have much to show for its size and armaments. Its leaders, more so its senior military officers, will never forget the humiliation America was subjected to on May 1, 1975, when it had to pull out its last troops from Vietnam in a haste. After that hiding by some rice-eating Orientals, the US would settle for any kind of victory, even one in which the opponent's hands and feet were chopped off before the fight.
But where are the weapons of mass destruction? Well before hostilities started, Bush and Blair insisted that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons that the UN inspectors were unable to unearth. They, the Americans, would show the world the arsenal of cruel death that the dictator had hidden. To date, except for some old oil drums that looked like an abandoned panyard, we are yet to see anything to suggest Saddam had such weapons. Then Saddam was told by "Billy" Bush to "ride out of town in 48 hours or we'll come and get you!" Again, six weeks later, and with around US$50 billion of bombs and other death-dealing devices aimed at him, Saddam remains elusive. Is this another Afghanistan in which half of that country's infrastructure was destroyed in America's hunt for Osama bin Laden, but Osama 'bin here, bin there, bin everywhere' except where the Americans want him-dead?
So the stated aims of the war, at least those that were used to justify war, have not been achieved. Now, all hell has broken loose in the "liberated" towns and cities, with widespread looting and arson and murders taking place. Imagine the forces that have just seized control of the country standing by idly, watching this breakdown of law and order, and doing nothing about it. Maybe Saddam gave some secret code the way Abu Bakr is alleged to have done in the 1990 attempted coup, calling on his people not to loot!
The reality is that Bush and Blair may have won the war. But winning the peace is what will elude them for a long time to come. I have already written about this war being a rallying point for fundamentalist Muslims, thereby endangering the lives of not only innocent Americans, but also those of other people worldwide, wherever the US has business interests. Which is just about everywhere in the world. UWI Principal Dr Bhoe Tewarie more or less agreed with that deduction, adding, "We now face dark times". Foreign Affairs Minister Knowlson Gift referred to the post-war situation as "tragic". They are not alone in making such pointed remarks. Last week, Spain's former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez said something like, "Bush is too stupid to see the dangers of what he is doing in Iraq."
Tewarie also posed another pertinent question. What, he asked, would now prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it, China having long claimed that island as part of its territories? Because China is big and bad, it could do that. Indeed, China may also choose to focus on the only official Hindu country in the world, Nepal. There, Maoist guerillas have grown strong, and could provide Beijing the pretext for an invasion. Many other territorial disputes-Kashmir, for example-can now be settled by the strong subjugating the weak, precedent having been set.
I've written before, and I repeat it: Bush has opened a Pandora's Box that could trigger the kind of fallout he is too dumb to see. The UN is now in deep crisis, impotent, to be used much the way the Red Cross or any other international aid agency is. It no longer has the moral authority to impose order in the world, which was among its founding principles. A divided Europe could well re-emerge as a major economic counter-balance to the US, with alignments like a France/Germany/Russia axis being a distinct possibility. And having to spend US $2.5 billion a day in the war, Bush will have little respite as he seeks to gain full control over Iraq-which he never will.
Anarchy in Iraq will be the only result of this war. That and heightened terrorist activity will be the legacy of this unjust war.