Global Policy Forum

Americans as Sitting Ducks


By Diaa Rashwan*

Al-Ahram Weekly
March 20-26, 2003

Even before the US-British offensive on Iraq begins, it is clear that the direct political consequences of the first great war of the 21st century have already been determined. All that is left is to wait for the military outcome and any indirect political impact it will have.

Having failed to obtain an endorsement for the war from the UN, their Western allies, and the rest of the world, the US and Britain have already been defeated politically. Not only have they failed to win support, their unjustified determination to launch a war has sparked unprecedented conflicts within the Western camp. Along with the example of NATO, there is that of NAFTA, which groups the US, Mexico and Canada. The latter two countries have taken stances in the Security Council that belie their geographic proximity and their shared membership in that trade organisation. The shared US and British predicament is made worse by their failure to convince any country in the Arab and Islamic worlds that a war against Iraq is justified, which has led those states to publicly take a stance opposing the war, even though some of them have opened their land to US troops owing to political and security pressures by Washington.

This early political defeat will probably have an impact on the course of the war. Its primary significance lies in having robbed the US- British invasion of Iraq of a just cause, which might have vindicated the attack and led other nations and peoples to back it. By the same token, as the Iraqi people defend their country, their struggle will have a legitimacy that the invasion lacks. Consequently, as the war on Iraq gets underway, we might witness a repeat of what happened during the Vietnam war. In that conflict, the morale of US forces collapsed once they felt they no longer had a just cause buttressed by international legitimacy. At the same time, the US was subject to global condemnation on both the popular and official levels, which, in the case of Iraq, will increase once the war is underway. In contrast, it is expected that the Iraqi people and the regime will be emboldened in their struggle by the sense that they are fighting for a just cause supported by global opinion and international legitimacy. This will undoubtedly have an effect on the course of the war, especially if it stretches over weeks and months.

The absence of a just cause and international legitimacy could have other, more dangerous consequences. According to several prominent military officials, US and British troops might remain in Iraq for months -- even years. During this period of occupation, US military officials estimate that a minimum of 100,000 troops will be needed to maintain control of the country. Plans for such a large force indicate that the US expects ongoing military resistance in Iraq. While such an enormous military presence reflects the military strength of the US and its ally, with time it will turn into a major point of weakness, as these forces will essentially become hostages in a region known for its ethnic, religious, and political complexity. With time, these forces will become an ideal target for attacks perpetrated by any number of parties resisting the US- British occupation -- regardless of differences in their objectives and political views.

In this context, the relationship between a war in Iraq and what is termed "global terrorism", will create an even more dangerous situation for US and British occupying forces. For US strategists, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the imminent invasion of Iraq and other global military and security measures implemented with the cooperation of most countries throughout the world are merely links in the chain of a single strategy that the US administration has called the "war on terror". This campaign, which will last for at least 10 years, will not stop until terrorism is completely crushed, its human, intellectual and financial resources dismantled, and until all countries that offer terrorists any sort of support are brought to their knees. Accordingly, the US invasion of Iraq is merely one battle in a long-term war, that will include others in various areas that Washington believes are breeding grounds or havens for terrorists.

In light of US official statements and media coverage since 11 September, it appears likely that Saudi Arabia and Iran would be targeted after Iraq -- or even along with it. The first would seem to be a candidate, owing to US accusations levelled at its people, culture and regime, which the US says directly supports Al-Qa'eda and terrorism in general. Iran may be targeted as the second member of the "axis of evil", just ahead of North Korea.

If this happens, or if either of these two "axis" countries senses that Washington is turning its forces in Iraq towards them, each may take action to defend itself against the possibility of meeting a fate similar to that of Iraq. In such a case, US forces in Iraq will become prime targets. This is much more likely for Iran, which feels the US threat even more than Saudi Arabia, and which has considerable influence over Iraq's Shi'ites -- some 60 per cent of its population -- who may join the fight against US forces held hostage in Iraq. In this context, it is worth noting the comment made by a representative of the Higher Shi'ite Islamic Council in the Iraqi opposition's latest conference in Arbil, northern Iraq. If US forces remain in Iraq as an occupying force, he said, the example of the south Lebanese Islamist resistance against the Israeli occupation will be followed in the Gulf country as well. We should also remember the reception given to the US Marines in Lebanon in 1982, when more than 200 soldiers were killed in a bombing that led directly to the departure of US forces from the country.

On another level, it is possible that the experience in Afghanistan may be repeated in Iraq in an even more dangerous manner. Following the Soviet invasion of 1979, tens of thousands of Islamist volunteers mobilised to support the Afghan people's resistance to the occupation. The relationship between the Iraqi crisis, global terrorism, and the Palestinian issue will probably encourage many, many Islamists to head to Iraq to confront the "Great Satan" hostage in Iraq. In the Afghan war against the Soviets, a high percentage of Islamists came from the Arabian Peninsula. Given that the peninsula has no natural borders or security obstacles to speak of, these same people can easily enter into Iraq to participate in the "jihad" against the US invasion. Like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US invasion of Iraq lacks a just cause and international legitimacy, which will only increase the willingness of Islamists to volunteer to fight against the occupying forces.

In this context, the entrance of Al-Qa'eda into the Iraqi crisis is only logical, and indeed expected -- Bin Laden said as much in two messages sent out in mid-February. In order to understand the form that such an intervention might take, it is first necessary to know what exactly Al-Qa'eda is, irrespective of the media and security hype that has prevailed since 11 September. Al-Qa'eda exists on two levels. The first, Qa'edat Al-Jihad, is an organisation that proclaimed its existence in April 2002. It appears to have been the result of a merger between the foreign branch of the Egyptian Jihad, led by Ayman El-Zawahiri, and several groups that had gathered around Bin Laden after his return to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. This merger was preceded by an alliance between the two parties -- along with other Islamic groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh -- in February 1998 under the name the Global Islamic Front to Fight Jews and Crusaders. It is probably this group that was responsible for the bombing of the two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. There are several indications that this front, or its new incarnation, has an organised internal hierarchy with several levels of leadership, a theoretical framework, and clear plans for action. Its membership appears to be based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula, and east Africa.

The second level of Al-Qa'eda is that wide- ranging network of organisations and individuals belonging to the Jihad movement or Islamist movements in general, which have become, since the US announced its vague war on terror, under threat almost everywhere in the world. The manner in which Washington announced its war, which seems very much like a war on Islam or the Islamic world, and its accompaniment by the campaign on Iraq and the dangerous escalation of Israeli army attacks on Palestinians, has incited a number of these Islamist groups and individuals in various areas of the world against US policy.

Owing to the foregoing, Qa'edat Al-Jihad will probably attempt to take out any US, British, or Israeli target it can reach in areas that the organisation still has fighters and the freedom of movement to deploy them. At the same time, it is expected that a wide swath of groups and individuals supportive of the objectives of Al-Qa'eda will try to harm US interests around the world, using any means at their disposal. This does not mean, however, that those groups or individuals have links with Al- Qa'eda, beyond sharing the same view of who the enemy is and that violence is the appropriate means for the struggle against it.

In turn, any operations these individuals and groups are able to launch against US targets will feed into the war led by Qa'edat Al-Jihad, which will necessarily lead Al-Qa'eda to be blamed for some of the attacks, without there being any serious evidence supporting such charges.

Concurrently, the US will expand its definition of Al-Qa'eda operatives to include a wide range of organisations and individuals without any concrete proof of a link. As for the fate of the occupying US and British forces, there is no doubt that both levels of Al-Qa'eda have a presence and strong support in the Arabian Peninsula surrounding Iraq. These factors would seem poised to make it major force in mobilising those who reject US military intervention, and who could draw on their experience in the Afghan war to push occupying forces out of Iraq, as happened with the Soviets in Afghanistan some 10 years ago.

*About the Author: The writer is senior researcher at the Al- Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and an expert on the Islamist movement.

More Articles on the Consequences of a War on Iraq
More Articles on the US War Against Iraq
More Information on Iraq

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.