Iraq and Its Future

In the circumstances created by the war in the Gulf, it is not enough to concentrate only on postwar security arrangements and the control of arms sales to Iraq, as desirable as these goals are. For unless the victors in the Gulf War pursue some kind of constructive vision regarding the political future of Iraq, Kuwaiti sovereignty may very well have been restored at the cost of Iraqi sovereignty and still more loss of life.

A gradual slide into anarchy, civil war, and possible defacto fragmentation is already being threatened by the revolts in Basra, Nasiriya, Erbil, and other southern and northern cities. The suppression of these uprisings by Saddam Hussein’s regime is going to be a very bloody business indeed. The bloodletting now going on in Iraq is still in its infancy. Mustard gas may already have been used in Basra, according to the London Daily Telegraph of March 7. The wild Baathi rhetoric about security forces creating “rivers of blood” may well become a reality. But the principal victims, as always, will be the long-suffering people of Iraq.

For the Iraqi people, the cost of enforcing the will of the United Nations has been grotesque. We shall never know exactly how many Iraqis died. Speaking of what the Allied forces found in the bunkers and trenches along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, General Schwarzkopf was refreshingly frank: “There were a very, very large number of dead in these units, a very, very large number indeed.”1 The estimate of the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Les Aspin, that at least 65,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed2 is supported by Israeli sources who speak of one to two hundred thousand Iraqi casualties. Most of the killing, moreover, took place during the ground war. Fleeing soldiers were bombed with a neat device known as a “fuel-air explosive,” which creates a fireball effect that incinerates or asphyxiates everything around it. As Michael Kinsley reported in The New Republic,3 during the period before the war broke out this was called the “poor man’s nuclear weapon,” and its horrific effects were described at length. But as things turned out Iraq was unable to make effective use of the weapon; only the United States did so.

Did so many Iraqis who did not want to fight have to die? And did an entire country have to be left “brain-dead,” as Richard Reid of the United Nations Children’s Fund described it following a mission to survey damage to the city’s water supply? Baghdad, he said, where some four million people live, is a city “essentially unmarked, a body with its skin basically intact, with every main bone broken and with its joints and tendons cut…. The health system is collapsing. There are no phones and no electricity and no petrol and only a people reduced to daily improvisations and scroungings.”4 Why was Baghdad being bombed so intensively while the Iraqi army was in full rout? Iraqis like myself who opposed the Baathist…

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