- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Missing from preparations for a campaign against Saddam Hussein is a political strategy to create a viable Iraq a strategy that can both prepare the way for military action and serve as a basis for administering a postwar Iraq. Without a clear notion of how Iraq should be governed after Saddam Hussein, the United States will struggle against considerable skepticism from its regional allies.
Iraq is politically the opposite of Afghanistan. The United States could defer agreement between the squabbling Afghan factions on their future government until after Kabul had fallen. By creating facts on the ground the United States successfully resisted Pakistani pressure for so-called "moderate" Taliban to be included in a postwar government. Had the United States waited for the Afghan factions to agree first, before it could bomb later, then Mullah Omar would still be in power.
Settling the future of Iraq before a military campaign facilitates a victory on the ground and helps fend off chaos after Saddam's defeat. A credible political strategy for Iraq, rather than a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is spuriously linked to a military campaign against Saddam, will allay the concerns of U.S. allies in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Both are hesitant about "regime change" not because of any sympathy for Saddam, but out of fear that his demise may destroy the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have tried to build links to Saddam, believing him to be an important counterweight to a militant Islamic fundamentalist Iran. Their attitude that Saddam was useful, if brutal, had some credibility in Washington not so long ago. Yet despite their assistance to Saddam Saudi Arabia gave Iraq $25 billion during the 1980s the result is the weakened, effectively partitioned Iraq that exists today and not the strong, friendly Arab state that they wanted.
Turkey worries that the end of Saddam will create an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The outgoing Turkish prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, claims that could threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. Such concerns are exaggerated given recent and important reforms in Turkey which have granted Turkish Kurds long denied rights.
Despite its public posturing, Saudi Arabia wants to be rid of Saddam. The Palestinians matter little in Riyadh. After all, the Saudis gladly expelled Palestinians en masse in 1990 after Yasser Arafat sided with Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. Saudi Arabia's main concern is that a post-Saddam Iraq will be open to Iranian influence, especially as most Iraqis share the Shi'a Muslim faith of Iran. That has worrying implications for Saudi Arabia, most of whose Shi'a minority lives in its oil-rich eastern province.
Turkey needs to know that there will be no independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Saudi Arabia must be reassured that Iraq will remain an Arab country, led by a Sunni Muslim Arab and largely free of Iranian influence. Such assurances from the United States alone are meaningless they must also come from the Iraqi opposition. Yet far from signalling support for such moves, U.S. diplomacy has been overly cautious.
Contrary to some of the recent Senate testimony, the Iraqi Kurds have renounced independence. The Kurds have drawn up a constitution for a democratic, federal Iraq which has been ignored rather than encouraged. A secret meeting between the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and U.S. officials in Virginia in April was a failure. The Kurds worry that they will suffer grievously during the liberation of Iraq. They fear that Saddam will launch another chemical weapons attack of the sort that killed 5,000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988. Their request for basic assurances was, according to reliable sources, rebuffed.
American mishandling of the Virginia meeting had the unexpected effect of rekindling a sense of unity among the Iraqi opposition. As a result, the four most serious factions, the KDP, the PUK, the Iraqi National Accord (INA, a grouping of former Arab army officers) and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, which represents the Shi'a minority and is based in Iran), are now increasingly coordinating their activities. This so-called "Group of Four" represents the key sections of Iraqi society, while Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) has strong ties to the Bush administration but is, at best, a figurehead.
Last week's meeting between the administration and the Iraqi opposition was another missed opportunity to settle the future of Iraq. There was much talk of unity too little of what specifically will replace Saddam. The opposition wants U.S. overt action against Saddam, not the covert replacement of a hostile dictator with a new, but pliant, despot. The "Group of Four" broadly, if vaguely, agree on a future federal, democratic Iraq. They need U.S. assurances and U.S. encouragement to reach an agreement on rebuilding and reunifying Iraq, an agreement that would satisfy America's allies, Iraq's neighbors and, above all, Iraqis themselves.

Andrew Apostolou is an historian at St. Antony's College, Oxford. He writes for the Economist Group's Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.

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