Al-Ahram Opinion: Ibrahim Nafie - Irresponsible acts
- From Al-Ahram
By Ibrahim Nafie
US-British air strikes against Iraq last Friday were not the "routine operation" to enforce the
no-fly zone that US officials would have us believe. This time the issue is far more intricate and
touches upon many aspects of the US's conduct in the Middle East.
Within days after moving into the Oval Office, President Bush announced that he would not abide by
former President Clinton's proposals regarding a final settlement on the Palestinian-Israeli track.
His action against Iraq represents his second departure from Clinton's Middle East policies after
coming to power.
But, if Bush is determined to pursue a different strategy towards Iraq than his predecessor, for a
moment at least his administration appeared at odds with itself on which way to move. In statements
issued only a day before the strike, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that although the US
intended to take a tougher stand against Iraq, this would be through a more stringent enforcement of
UN Security Council resolutions and the return of UNSCOM to Iraq, giving the impression that the
ultimate objective was to bring Iraq back into the international fold through peaceful means. The
next day's bombardment suggests an entirely different attitude: a trigger-happiness that may well
encompass other targets.
It appears that the decision to wage the recent strike was motivated by very narrow and short-term
considerations. In the opinion of the Bush administration, Iraq was getting out of hand and
Clinton's policy of appeasement had only encouraged Baghdad in the stridency of its rhetoric and its
appetite to bait through troop movements and military displays. The US had to regain some of its
deterrent credibility by sending Baghdad the message that it would have to be meeker and more
compliant if it intended to return to the international community.
That the international embargo of Iraq has also begun to "slip" has also disconcerted US officials.
Since mid-2000, some 40 airplanes have landed at Baghdad airport and many nations, including most
Arab countries, have raised the level of diplomatic relations with Iraq. The recent strike was
clearly intended to send a message to all concerned that the US still takes the embargo seriously
and that the events of 1990-91 still constitute the frame of reference for dealing with Iraq.
However, the US also felt that there was solid evidence to justify a strike. According to the CIA's
director, speaking before the Congressional Intelligence Committee on 7 February, Iraq has already
reconstructed assembly plants for producing sensitive missile components and he cautioned that there
are indications that Saddam's growing confidence may already have led him to extend this process to
chemical weaponry. This trend, he said, poses a major threat to US security and must be taken
There were, in addition, immediate tactical concerns that prompted the strike. According to Pentagon
sources, there were some 700 separate Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft missile incidents against
"Allied" air patrols over Iraqi territory since 1998. Moreover, Iraqi radar tracking of US and
British planes intensified in the period immediately before the strike raising the prospect of
Iraq's enhanced ability to target and down them on the pretext of self-defense. It is not
surprising, therefore, that the strike targeted a number of radar, air defence, and military
Yet, however cogently US officials justify the recent bombardment of Iraq, it cannot disguise that
this act of aggression will serve only to fuel tensions in the region as a whole. Moreover, it is to
be feared that the mentality that produced this decision to revive the use of force against Iraq, if
it persists, will have dire repercussions throughout the region.
Secretary of State Powell had recently given assurances that the US administration would consult its
"friends" before taking any major action. It was deeply discouraging, therefore, that we, along with
some of the US's European allies, were taken utterly by surprise by the strike. This failure to
communicate and consult can only give rise to confusion and resentment.
In addition, this was the first joint US-British armed action against Iraq since the wave of strikes
in December 1988. Since then attitudes, both regionally and internationally, towards the Iraqi
situation have changed significantly enough to furnish a constructive platform for a peaceful
solution. Simultaneously, sympathy for the growing plight of the Iraqi people has acquired a vast
The new US administration should bear in mind that the priorities of the Arab states and peoples do
not necessarily overlap with those of the US. If Iraq is Washington's foremost preoccupation in the
region this cannot be said of the Arabs who are more concerned with the atrocities being committed
in the very real war being waged against a defenceless people struggling to reclaim their rights in
Palestine. To continue to ignore this enormous body of opinion, especially when reasonable peaceful
alternatives are available, can only jeopardise regional stability.
The strike against Iraq and the manner in which that decision was taken reflects a profound
insensitivity to current realities. The action was understandably met with deep dismay and anger and
already leaves the Bush administration open to charges of double standards and an unmitigated
But the Arabs are not alone in their condemnation of the strike. Major powers such as France, Russia
and China vehemently deplored the US-British strike and even Mexico, generally uninvolved in
developments in the Middle East, made a point of expressing its concern during President Bush's
visit to that country.
As these reactions suggest, a virtually universal consensus that although Iraq still presents a
thorny problem recourse to violence is drastically counterproductive, has clearly emerged.
A solution to the Iraqi problem must involve all concerned parties. Simultaneously, if the US is
expected to be more judicious and delicate in its handling of the situation, the same should apply
to Iraq, which should also observe sensitivities in the region, particularly at a time when it is
mending its relations in the Arab world. After all, no third party can help resolve this crisis if
the two principal parties are not prepared to act responsibly.