COVER STORY: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Iraq: winning the peace
, April 19, 2003
Just three weeks after Coalition forces entered Iraq from Kuwait, US soldiers are occupying Saddam's headquarters in Baghdad, and the end of his evil regime is now in sight. Before turning to the future of the country, comment should be made on how the war was conducted, on both sides.
The strongest argument against the war was that large numbers of innocent civilians would be killed in the process of evicting the Iraqi dictator from power.
The International Study Team, a body of international experts who opposed the war in Iraq, wrote shortly before it began: "The United Nations estimates that, in the event of war, as many as 500,000 persons could require emergency medical treatment.
"A new war in Iraq would be catastrophic to Iraq's 13 million children, already highly vulnerable due to prolonged economic sanctions ... The International Study Team is forecasting, should war occur, a grave humanitarian disaster. While it is impossible to predict both the nature of any war and the number of expected deaths and injuries, casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably the tens of thousands, and possibly in the hundreds of thousands." (January 30, 2003)
In fact, this has not happened. Coalition forces - American, British and Australian - have taken extraordinary measures to ensure that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum.
Despite the awesome military power at their disposal, and the fact that Saddam Hussein has used hospitals, mosques and schools as storage sites for bombs and weapons, the Coalition forces have excluded such sites from aerial bombardment, and taken the far riskier path of using infantrymen to clear them, no doubt increasing the number of Coalition casualties as a result.
Undoubtedly, the Coalition's task has been made easier by the extensive use of radar and satellite-guided munitions; but without a firm intention to minimise civilian casualties, large numbers of civilians would undoubtedly have died in both the aerial bombardment of Iraqi cities and in the house-to-house fighting where Saddam hoped to turn the tide of battle.
Even critics of America, such as the grotesquely named Iraq Body Count Team, who seem to relish the accidents that have given rise to civilian casualties, estimate that the number of civilian deaths is about 1000. In light of the large number of journalists on both sides of the front line, this figure is probably reliable. (It is an interesting fact that they only included the number of civilians who have died as a result of Coalition
action, while ignoring the hundreds of thousands killed by the Iraqi dictator during his years in power.)
Another point worth recording is the widespread discovery of Iraqi gas masks and antidotes for chemical poisons. As not one of Saddam's neighbours had such weapons, their presence is the "smoking gun" which UN Chief Weapons Inspector, Dr Hans Blix, was unable to find before his inspectors were withdrawn at the outbreak of war. It seems only a matter of time before the Coalition uncovers the chemical and biological weapons which Saddam so effectively hid from the UN.
With the rapid American advance up to the gates of Baghdad, and the imminent surrender of Iraqi forces, attention has now turned to the post-war administration of Iraq, not merely to feed the millions of Iraqis who are now destitute, but to restore a functioning society to this unhappy country.
Not surprisingly, the United Nations, having refused to participate in the military operations to overthrow Saddam, now wants to control the country's post-war destiny.
This proposal presents political problems for the Coalition, which was divided on the issue, with the United States against, and Britain in favour.
In both cases, the governments were responding to domestic political constituencies. In the United States, there is a deep sense of resentment against the UN, arising from its refusal to endorse military action in Iraq; while the Blair Labour Government entered the war deeply divided, and UN involvement in a post-war settlement is seen as a means of reunifying the Party (and the country).
As the US led the Coalition into Iraq, it has the primary responsibility for shaping the future political dispensation in the country.
In light of the complexities of the Iraqi situation - where the Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south want autonomy, which should be granted to them - and the recent questionable UN civilian role in the Balkans and East Timor, President Bush is right to rule out the UN controlling the political reconstruction of Iraq.
In any case, the US has effectively ruled out such a UN role by announcing that it would install a temporary military administrator, pending the establishment of an Iraqi government.
But the UN should be invited to co-ordinate the humanitarian activities of the non-combatant nations, and thereby mobilise international efforts to assist the Iraqi people.
It may well be that the United States intends to follow the precedent of post-war Japan, which was under US military administration until a civilian Japanese government was installed in 1947, two years after the war ended. This administration paved the way for the Japanese economic "miracle" of the second half of the 20th Century.
One can only hope that the same happens in Iraq.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council