The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The tension earlier whipped up by repeated threats of an invasion of Iraq led by the United States of America seem to have subsided to some extent of late. The process began with the unanimous adoption of the United Nations security council resolution on November 8. It moved forward with Iraq’s unconditional acceptance of the resolution and the return, after a four-year gap, of UN arms inspectors to Baghdad. The crisis is now at a turning point, but the situation could escalate if there is any doubt about the implementation of the resolution.

However, if properly implemented, the stated reasons for US military action would disappear. But at the recent NATO summit in Prague, George W. Bush reiterated the US option of acting unilaterally if necessary. He also repeated that the US objective was to disarm Iraq, and if this was achieved through the UN, it would obviate any use of force.

While continuing to demonize Saddam Hussein, recent US statements have notably omitted earlier references to changing the regime in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq, while denouncing the inequity of the security council’s directive, has said that this is another opportunity for it to make clear that it has no weapons of mass destruction. The actual UN inspection is supposed to have commenced by November end.

Probing deep

By December 8, Iraq has to provide a complete declaration of all aspects of its development programmes for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and delivery systems. The inspectors are to report to the UN by January 8. The coming weeks will show if this schedule will proceed smoothly. Concerns have been voiced in different quarters. One is that Iraq may try to play fast and loose with the inspectors. This appears unlikely, given the stringent conditions laid down by the UN this time, together with a warning of “serious consequences” if they are not met.

Some critics say that the conditions have been designed to make compliance difficult and so provide an excuse for US and allied military action. But inspectors have confirmed that the Iraqi authorities are cooperating. Some conditions are doubtless hard for any sovereign government to swallow. This includes inspectors’ right to take individuals and their families out of Iraq for interviewing them in private. Such powers could well be used to instigate dissent within the Saddam regime.

The inspectors’ role will be crucial. Led by former Swedish foreign minister, Hans Blix, and the Egyptian head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, their credibility is at present beyond question. But they are also aware of the dangers of getting labelled as less than neutral and too hard or soft on Iraq.

Why gun for Iraq'

No less decisive will be the wider international situation. Recent weeks have made two aspects very clear. One is the widespread opposition to any unilateral military action without UN sanction. The other is the US determination to take such action if so required for its own political reasons. The questions is: have these changed in any way'

Many observers feel that Bush started gunning for Iraq partly for internal political compulsions. The US economy had been dipping, corporate scandals were increasing and the war against terrorism was losing direction. Congressional elections were due. Action against Saddam was seen as a popular issue that would also provide access to Iraq’s oil reserves.

Such speculations have been overtaken by Bush’s triumph in the November elections. Terrorist attacks in Bali and elsewhere, together with the re-emergence of Osama bin Laden through a new broadcast, has revived the momentum of the US anti-terrorist campaign. Add to all this the increasing turmoil in Israel and Palestine, and there may be enough reasons for the US to give priority to issues other than Iraq. A.B. Vajpayee may well have had these possibilities in mind when he said on November 19 that India hoped the war clouds looming over Iraq would be dispelled.

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