April 5th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Iraq war: will it change everything?

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: urgent action needed

Queensland: Beattie follows Canberra on embryo experimentation

Water rights: an emerging political issue in the Murray Darling Basin

Straws in the Wind: Varieties of folly / With us or against us / Cue for a song / Hatred

NSW Election: Bob Carr's next four years

Trade deal: what will Washington do?

Euthanasia: Victorian Tribunal orders death by starvation

Has privatisation been successful?

Letters: The cost of the Victorian bushfires (letter)

How taxation hits families

School students, demonstrations and the New Civics

ASIA: North Korea's nuclear game

SARS: China the epicentre of world flu outbreaks

BOOKS: On Enlightenment, by David Stove

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COVER STORY: Iraq war: will it change everything?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 5, 2003

The war in Iraq has entered its third phase. The first - the attempted decapitating strike to take out President Saddam Hussein and the top Baath leadership - was made after the US CIA reported the probable presence of Saddam in a particular military facility in Baghdad. CIA Director, George Tenet, alerted President Bush about a fortified bunker where the Iraqi dictator and two of his sons were believed to be sleeping.

Following the strike, the US mounted relatively light missile and air strikes on Baghdad, hoping the initial attack had killed or wounded Saddam and his sons, and thereby changed the power dynamics within the Iraqi regime. But it did not happen; later Saddam appeared on state TV to condemn the American "invaders", and extol the Iraqi military forces.

The second phase involved massive aerial bombardment of military bases in and around the capital, Baghdad, as well as throughout Iraq, along with headquarters of the Baath Party and presidential palaces, with the simultaneous ground attack launched by Coalition forces from Kuwait, aimed at cutting off the south-east of the country, around Basra, while heavily equipped divisions pushed north, towards the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The military operations are based on the principle that defeating Saddam requires capturing and holding ground. It requires entering and occupying Baghdad as well as Tikrit, Hussein's hometown and the power centre of the Tikriti clan, which Saddam leads.

Unlike what happened during the Gulf War, some Iraqi units are offering spirited resistance: in Basra, Nazariah and Umm Qasr, in some cases, involving Iraqi soldiers abandoning military gear, and fighting a guerrilla war of harassment against American units.

The third phase - still to take place at the time of writing - involves the Coalition's bid to break the strength of the elite Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad.

The Coalition's rapid military advance has been designed to let them move in on Baghdad, while leaving forces behind to take care of pockets of resistance. The rapid advance is also intended to cut off Iraqi lines of communication to the resistance pockets, eventually forcing them to surrender.

Military problems

There are a number of real problems facing the US-led forces, most seriously, the prospect of bloody street-to-street fighting in the cities of Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, while television cameras beam the images across the world.

The United States has long prided itself on its efforts to reduce civilian casualties as well as American casualties. What will happen if, and when, US forces are engaged in street-to-street fighting in Baghdad?

Evidence of devastation caused by aerial bombing are being screened nightly on TV, as are the distressing pictures of people killed, wounded or captured in the fighting. The public in all Western countries is deeply divided about the war, and this can only strengthen opposition to it.

A further complication arises from the clear intention of the Turks to send military forces into northern Iraq, the home of the Kurds, against strong American opposition.

American concern is increased by the fact that the Turks refused to permit US ground forces to operate from Turkish bases, thereby preventing the establishment of a northern front against Saddam. In turn, this has meant that Saddam has been able to concentrate all his forces to the south of Baghdad, instead of fighting a war on two fronts.

Political fallout

A further serious consequence has been the estrangement of France and Germany from the United States, after the French President, Jacques Chirac, led the opposition to UN Security Council endorsement of an ultimatum to Saddam.

Many Americans, as well as the Bush Administration, now see France as being responsible for the casualties being suffered by Coalition forces in Iraq. As casualties mount, as they surely will, the level of resentment against France in the United States will increase correspondingly.

This will impact on many aspects of these countries' relations: at the diplomatic level, on trade (where the countries are already at odds), and military co-operation

Similarly, America's allies in central and Eastern Europe, many of whom were formerly under the Soviet yoke, are equally critical of France's role in the Iraq conflict, and view the formation of a Franco-German bloc in central Europe as a real danger to their political and economic sovereignty.

In all the circumstances, the Iraq war may prevent the expansion of the European Union, undermine NATO, the defensive alliance that protected Western Europe in the post-War period, and stop the further political integration of Europe through the EU.

The longer Saddam is able to hold out, the deeper these divisions will become.

In the meantime, we can only hope and pray that the Coalition forces quickly achieve their objective of overthrowing Saddam, with the minimum loss of life on all sides, and equally quickly get out of the country.

  • Peter Westmore

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