pyrrhic victory on the Tigris, by
Guardian, April 11, 2003)
outcome was never in doubt. But the aftermath looks ominous
Henry Kissinger asked Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai whether he thought the
French Revolution had been a success, he replied that it was "too early to
tell". What was meant half-jokingly then is certainly true of Operation
Iraqi Freedom today.
gloating of those who backed the war has already started, led, as usual, by the
Sun (the same Sun that predicted the first war without civilian casualties and
now carries pictures of that wretched, limbless child). But it is based, quite
knowingly, on a false premise. If there is one thing that united the pro- and
anti-war parties, it was the belief that Iraq would be defeated. In the end, our
expectations were confounded only to the extent that the stiffest opposition was
encountered in the south, whereas Baghdad was entered with comparative ease.
any case, the squabble over who got it right about the course of the war is
largely irrelevant. The more apocalyptic warnings about the battle of Baghdad
turned out to be false. But just because some doom-mongers were proved wrong, it
does not logically follow that the warmongers have been proved right. Remember,
we were not promised regime removal; we were promised regime change, with the
assurance that Saddam Hussein would be succeeded by something altogether more
benign. This was always going to be the difficult bit.
jubilant reaction of some Iraqis to the regime's collapse has come as a relief
after the very mixed response coalition troops received in the Shia-dominated
south. Yet the anecdotal evidence reveals a more disconcerting picture. It is
worth noting that the residents of Saddam City were singing the praises of
Allah, not George Bush.
esides, if we recall the British army's deployment to Northern Ireland in 1969
we should also reflect on how quickly the residents of west Belfast switched
from making tea for the troops to throwing petrol bombs at them. The timescale
in which coalition forces will be deemed to have outstayed their welcome is
likely to be significantly shorter than the one the Pentagon has in mind.
worrying has been the willingness of Iraqi troops to continue to fight and die
against the most insane odds, even after their command and control structures
have been smashed. There is no regime any more, yet the fighting continues. Most
of Iraq's forces have not surrendered or been captured, but have simply faded
away, taking their weapons. It is possible that there may not even be a
definitive end-point to this war and that we are set to witness the sort of
protracted low-intensity conflict with which we have become all too familiar.
who have promised to transform Iraq into Switzer land-on-the-Euphrates seem to
forget that Saddam was a product of his country's violent and bloody past, not
its cause. Of all the analogies that have been offered to explain what might lie
ahead, it is the example of the Lebanon that must therefore strike greatest fear
into the hearts of British and American policy makers. The spate of suicide
bombings provides one indication that the coalition's victory might give way to
the same explosive cocktail of political factionalism, religious extremism and
foreign occupation that resulted in hundreds of American deaths and a hasty
withdrawal from Beirut 20 years ago.
repercussions of this war will not be confined within Iraq's borders. The idea
of an international community based on multilateral rules and institutions lies
in ruins as the prospect of a world dominated by the hegemonic preferences of a
solitary power hoves into view. The real tragedy will not lie in the imposition
of American authority on an unwilling world as much as in the embittered
response of those who refuse to submit to it.
Arab world has been inflamed by this war and will draw the conclusion that since
American power cannot be confronted on its own terms, it must be dealt with
asymmetrically. Like the young Catholics who signed up to fight for the IRA
after Bloody Sunday, young men from Cairo to Amman will now beat a path to the
door of anyone able to provide them with the means to hit back. As of today,
that door is Osama bin Laden's. The dividing line between Arab nationalism and
Islamic fundamentalism, once so clear, has become even more dangerously blurred
as a result of our actions.
of this is inevitable. But there is precious little evidence to suggest that the
White House is interested in taking the sort of steps needed to prevent it. Bush
may agree to the publication of the road map for a Middle East peace settlement,
but he has no intention of taking the journey. He talks about a democratic Iraq,
but his first priority is a compliant Iraq.
I am wrong, and I hope that I am, it will become increasingly difficult for Tony
Blair to claim that the demise of Saddam Hussein is a victory in anything more
than the most pyrrhic sense of the term.
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