Printer Friendly

Corporal punishment.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the American-led air strikes against Iraq on 13 January, then President-elect Bill Clinton said he could imagine a normal relationship with Saddam Hussein provided the Iraqi leader respected international laws. Since Saddam is most unlikely to do anything of the kind, Clinton will presumably not be kept to his word. Embarrassed, he quickly withdrew the remark anyway.

But his observation was indicative of the thinking behind US policy since the Kuwait war. Unable to get rid of the Iraqi leader, the United States has preferred a tamed and humbled Saddam Hussein controlling a unified Iraq to a power vacuum in the Tigris-Euphrates basin which might be filled by Iran.

A domesticated Saddam was presumably what one Bush administration official had in mind when he described the raids on 13 January as a "spanking". The attacks (of which more were threatened as The Middle East went to press) were limited in scope for three reasons. First, the allied coalition has far less airpower at its disposal today compared with two years ago when Desert Storm was launched. Second, the number of targets it can justifiably hit in response to Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions is severely limited.

Third, and perhaps most important, a massive aerial bombardment of Iraq (and there is no doubt the United States could have hit harder if it had wanted to) might entail unacceptable civilian casualties and be no more likely to shake Saddam's resolve than it did in/991. Better, therefore, to send the Iraqi leader a clear message that the United States will inflict corporal punishment whenever he breaks the rules or seeks to move beyond the very limited authority which successive United Nations resolutions have left him.

Squeezing rather than toppling Saddam Hussein was the rationale for providing the Kurdish safe haven and the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in 1991. It was also the real reason for establishing the air exclusion zone south of the 32nd parallel last August. The official justification was to protect Iraq's Shia population in the south from Baghdad's repression but, since that was being accomplished (and is still pursued) by ground forces rather than from the air, the allies obviously had rather different motives.

In a revealing interview shortly before the air attack, Robert Gates, the retiring CIA director, disclosed that capturing or overthrowing Saddam Hussein had been discussed at length before and during the Kuwait war. "We specifically decided not to make it a war aim," he declared, "so that we would not set ourselves objectives that we were not confident we could accomplish."

If Saddam were to go, it was left up to his own associates to dispose of him (and not, notably, the potentially disruptive revolt by the Shia population in 1991 when the allied coalition studiously refrained from intervening). The United States pinned its hopes on a military coup -- several abortive attempts do appear to have been made -- which would have the advantage of replacing Saddam with a strong alternative leadership.

The United States may now hope that, by demonstrating its commitment to imposing strict limits on Baghdad's freedom of action and making successive and increasingly damaging punitive raids, Saddam's colleagues will at last decide he is more trouble than he is worth. An authoritative but pliant military leadership would be the ideal solution for the West and for the other regimes of the Arab world.

The weakness of the US strategy is that the Allied powers are locked into an open-ended policy of containment with no satisfactory outcome in sight. The biggest danger is that under the mounting pressure of US military punishment and the increasing economic strain imposed by sanctions, Iraq will simply disintegrate. This may not be the allied purpose, but Iraqi Kurdistan is drifting steadily towards autonomy. One side effect of limiting Saddam Hussein's authority is that the central control exercised by Baghdad which is needed to keep Iraq intact is also inevitably weakened.

A coup d'etat which got rid of Saddam Hussein, however, would leave the Baath party structure intact. The political system is so all-pervasive and so embedded in every aspect of Iraqi social and economic life that it probably provides the best guarantee of keeping the country together. But the officers and party chieftains who might replace Saddam would remain devoted to the concept of rule by the Sunni community of central Iraq and just as hostile to the political aspirations of the Kurds and the Shias as Saddam Hussein.

The other danger is the impact that renewed military operations will have on the peoples and governments of the Middle East. There is much propaganda mileage to be made out of the willingness of the United States, Britain and France to bomb Iraq under flimsy UN cover in contrast to their failure to do anything about Bosnia or the Palestinians, both of which are also issues high on the UN agenda. Even close American allies such as Egypt have expressed their regret at the attacks on Iraq. Sorrow could turn into condemnation.

Arab sentiment was perhaps best expressed by Jordan's information minister, Mahmoud al Sharif. "Iraq has complied with 90% of the UN resolutions," he said, "and even if it is not complying with the other 10%, this does not mean you have to go to war about it."

It is this attitude which Saddam Hussein is counting on as the only way to extricate himself from an increasingly desperate situation. With inflation rampant and widespread shortages of food and medicine, he must find a way around UN sanctions. He can only do that if the Arab world starts to break ranks with the rest of the United Nations. So Saddam's only available strategy is constantly to provoke the United States and its allies, even if that means inviting retaliation, in order to present himself as the Arab victim of Western imperialist bullying.

His so-called "cheat and retreat" tactics have served him well in the past. He has to gamble on the West's fear that if it strikes too hard, Iraq might fall apart and leave the door open to Iran.

The Iraqi leader almost brought retribution upon himself last summer when he refused UN inspection teams access to ministry buildings in Baghdad. The simple threat of American action was enough to evoke the sympathy of Arab public opinion even then. When he did back down, it was clear that he had adeptly stage-managed the crisis.

It looks as if Saddam was trying the same ruse again last month, right up until the American bombardment. The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoun, scurried about offering last-minute concessions, though to no avail. Saddam calculated that whatever happened the crisis would help undermine support for sanctions in Arab countries. If the United States attacked, he would look like a scapegoat for Western bully boys. If it refrained from striking, he could influence the waverers in the Arab camp by a show of political strength and bravery.

Western military action also has another advantage for Saddam Hussein. It reminds the Iraqi people that they have implacable enemies who must be resisted at all costs. By engendering hostility towards the West, Saddam can shift the blame for the deteriorating plight of the population. He can also play his favourite role as the unflinching embodiment of Iraqi national pride.

This is an aspect of his popular support inside Iraq which the United States has failed to appreciate. Saddam may not be loved, but he is respected and he knows how to appeal to Iraqi nationalism. A constant refrain of Iraqi officials and the media in the days before the air raids was a belligerent assertion of Iraq's right to station surface-to-air missiles wherever on its territory it wanted. Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister and one of Saddam's closest associates, insisted that Iraq had no intention of backing down on what it regarded as a sovereign matter. If attacked, he declared, Iraq would respond in kind.

Ali Hassan Mejid, the tough minister of defence, announced Iraq's determination to restore "full national sovereignty over all our land, skies and waters". Referring to the air force, he said that "our valiant eagles" would "confront all phases of the conspiracy and military aggression until the Americans and the disappointed hirelings following their path yield to our just demands."

Nor is national sovereignty limited to recognised Iraqi territory. The government newspaper Al Jumhurriyah was only one voice among many reviving Iraq's claims to Kuwait, vowing that "Kuwait shall return to Iraq in defiance of the Security Council and America" as an "integral part of Iraq." Despite the suffering entailed by trying to realise such claims, that is a conviction shared by most Iraqis. Nothing is more resented, even by the Iraqi opposition, than the border redrawn by the United Nations last year which hands over Iraqi territory to Kuwait.
COPYRIGHT 1993 IC Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:US-Iraq relations
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:What to expect from Clinton.
Next Article:Coloured by paranoia.

Related Articles
Changing public attitudes on spanking.
Banning Corporal Punishment of Children.
Abandon the Rod and Save the Child.
PANEL OKS SPANKING OF STUDENTS\Bill would require parental consent.
Issue of corporal punishment: re-examined.
Corporal punishment takes research hit. (Behavior).
'A good beating never hurt anyone': the punishment and abuse of children in twentieth century Ireland.
Lessons from Haditha.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters