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Iraq Beyond Saddam

The problem in being a compromise choice for leader is that unless you are an extraordinary person capable of standing your ground (given that you have the genius to sift the mundane from the important), you will be pummeled from all directions and unable to satisfy the individual and/or collective demands of all your masters (or mistresses). Or worse, you could fall back on only protecting the vital interests of your prime sponsor and thus compromise good judgment and principles. While many Iraqis hated Saddam for what he was, a brutal murderer with no qualms about human life, and a fair amount of the population looked forward to his climbing the steps of the scaffold, the timing of his execution and the manner it was carried out was atrocious. Iraq’s PM Nur Maliki managed to sacrifice the parameters of good governance on which he had advertised his ascendancy to the PM’s post, he might as well have thrown national unity to the wolves. Displaying profound bad judgment, he proclaimed his allegiance, neither to Iraq nor to muslims, but only to Moqtada al Sadr’s so-called “Mahdi” army. It will have long-term repercussions for Iraq, for the region, and as a result for the world. That the US will dump him is only a matter of time, Nur Maliki will more likely pre-empt his dismissal by resigning, sooner rather than later.

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Geo-Political Changes

During the 19th century geo-political changes were to be expected every 50 years or so, during the 20th century it came down to about 25 years. With technology racing forward in making the world a global village, this period is now down to a 5-10 years period. Events of the past year, viz (1) the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan (2) North Korean nuclear blast (3) Iran’s uranium enrichment process (4) The Darfur crisis (5) the Somalia problem etc are indications that US ability to influence events as the sole Superpower in the world has diminished from what it was 5 years ago. Elections to the US Congress reflected the frustrations of the US electorate at shortcomings of the Bush Administration foreign policy. With neo-cons wielding absolute power in the US after January 2001, 9/11 gave a powerful excuse to pursue a narrow parochial agenda, with scant regard to any dissent, both within and outside the US. After the geo-political changes because of one september morning of horror, the world is now ready for another course correction. The question remains as to which quagmire the US must get out from and which one to concentrate on.

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Geneva Security Forum

The greatest challenge to civilisation is the upsurge in terrorism in the world, this threat force-multiplied manifold since the 9/11 benchmark. Meant to contain and eliminate this menace, the war waged almost solely by govts has instead resulted in proliferation of terrorism. Annunciation of mission statement requires clarity, it is now abundantly clear that in both Afghanistan and Iraq this was ambiguous, the real objective being regime and systems change. Because the Talibaan refused to give up Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator of 9/11, in fact seeming to condone his actions, their removal from governance of Afghanistan was justifiable. The exercise in Iraq had oil written all over it, the script to dominate the Middle East calling for the overthrow of the Syrian and Iranian regimes by peaceful political means if possible, by force if not. Once political and military aims are at cross purposes, the resulting tactical confusion affects strategic objectives.

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The Zarqawis Among Us

With accurate intelligence locating Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and some of his aides in a hut in Baquba, US aircraft successfully targeted the most wanted terrorist in Iraq with two 225 Lbs bombs. Zarqawi did not die immediately after the bombing, the 45 minutes leading to his actual death raised a minor controversy. Zarqawi was no intellectual he was simply an operator, made larger than life by media propaganda. In death, the murderous uneducated Jordanian remains very much the man of controversy he was in real life, the tragedy is that as a martyr he will inspire others to more insane acts of terrorism, atrocities not excluded.

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The Australian Wheat Scam

About a year or so ago, the rejection of an Australian wheat consignment by Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Supply Corporation (PASSCO) caused on uproar. Designated Pakistani laboratories labelled the samples drawn from the ships delivering the wheat as “unfit for human consumption”. The vehement protest by the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) turned into a major diplomatic problem between the Australian Government and Govt of Pakistan (GOP). Withstanding tremendous pressure to accept the wheat consignment, Director General (DG) PASSCO Maj Gen Fahim Akhtar Khan, was racked over the coals by a full Federal Cabinet meeting presided over by the PM for having the audacity “to create a full fledged diplomatic incident”. He was “encouraged“ to be more cooperative. DG PASSCO stood his ground that he would not accept the consignment in the face of the laboratory report.

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Consigning Saddam to Eternity

While mopping up will continue for some time, Saddam Hussain’s regime is now history, taken violently out of contention by Coalition forces. The dictator’s bronze statue in Baghdad’s Shaheed Square was symbolically pulled down by an American Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) lending a helping hand to a small but cheering crowd who had failed to take it out with hammer and cudgel. With sporadic fighting continuing in smaller pockets of Baghdad, the public response to the Coalition’s presence is still understandably muted. Notwithstanding the ferocity of the fighting in cities like Nasiryah, Karbala and Najaf, Baghdad crumpled like a paper tiger. Even those who have no love lost for the Saddam regime felt demeaned by the lack of resistance in the city itself by the vaunted Special Republican Guard, the Saddam Fedayeen and the myriad number of units of the security apparatus.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

Barely past the first week the Coalition has had to twice change/adjust its war strategy. Instead of a cataclysmic strike by 3000 precision guided munitions (PGMs) hitting Baghdad and other Iraqi command centers, in a major surprise the war started with a limited surgical strike to take out (the exact words “decapacitate”) Saddam Hussain and his inner coterie. The Coalition checked for effect, if any, for 24 hours before launching the ground war with an attempted end run (blitzkreig) around major urban areas to Baghdad, an outflanking maneuver through the Southern Iraqi desert. Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe” massive strike came a day after the ground war started. The Iraqis were supposed to roll over and play dead or better still, surrender in droves (Gulf War I – circa 1991) on primetime TV. With the Iraqis fighting back at virtually every major urban area crossing, the plan deviated from the script. For a change, the Iraqis used their military (rather than emotional) head in not giving pitched battle in any open areas (“he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”) where the Coalition would have loved to pulverize them by superior firepower. Using classic guerrilla tactics, the Iraqis resorted to small unit “hit and run” attacks, providing very few fixed targets for the PGMs (precision-guided munitions) to be effective.

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Sowing the Wind

The sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, the sharp snap as it goes past is the moment of truth which separates the men from the boys. The silence of waiting had been deafening, the sound of war started with a sharp clap, this will soon build into a crescendo. As soon as the US ultimatum expired an opportunity presented itself for the targeted assassination of members of the Iraqi regime, Saddam Hussain among them, militarily speaking the actual war will go into full swing as soon as the sandstorms stop! Having delivered an ultimatum, for the US to back down would have been to lose credibility as a military superpower. One silver lining should assuage the feelings of the Muslim World, shepherd to a flock of 1.5 billion Christians, the Pope condemned the war in the strongest possible language. The French, Germans, Russians and Chinese (and millions more in the streets of the western world) had already bankrupted Samuel Huntington’s theory about “Clash among Civilizations”, Our religious leaders must applaud the fact that there are no unipolar Christian and Jewish forces ganging up against Islam as was being widely apprehended in the Islamic world. Morally right or wrong will be on display once the war starts because the Iraqis will certainly use the “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) if they have them. One thing Bush got right, Saddam Hussain is an obnoxious tyrant whose time has come. It is no use repeating all the atrocities he has visited on humanity, his monstrosity is very well documented. Shed no tears for this despicable person, his associates or his immediate family, they are fully culpable for their share of disseminating cruelty and torture on the Iraqi people. The first “opportunity” attacks were right in being Saddam-specific, instead of bombing Baghdad (and Iraqis) indiscriminately, this is the way to go!

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Strategic Options

It was not comfortable being either an American or a Pakistani, for widely differing reasons, in Davos this year. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is normally a love-fest, antagonism is almost never aired in the aura of optimism that is normally prevalent. Because of the aversion of most Europeans towards war in Iraq, Americans (constituting a fair percentage of the 1500 persons attending WEF) found themselves in defensive mode even though the much-respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell made an eloquent case for war to topple Saddam Hussain. While one is used to Indians reacting in an offensively defensive manner to our bringing Kashmir on the table, this year the Indians took a back seat orchestrating a world consensus against Pakistan’s very existence as a responsible member of the comity of nations. Speaker after speaker recommended coordinated action against Pakistan’s nuclear potential, there was no fig leaf of innuendo anymore. The straightforward allegation put us in the business of exporting terrorism. The general consensus was that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities were a potential threat to the world, the premise being that if Musharraf was overthrown, the 650000-man Pakistan Army would be overwhelmed by “200000 dedicated Jehadis”. Instead of waiting to be subjected to “nuclear terrorism” their convoluted logic was that the world would be far better off launching a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, even in priority to Iraq! These were no ordinary persons, they happen to be the world’s top leaders in government, business, academics, etc the elite of the elite! More depressing was to see the blissful ignorance we are living in on returning from Davos. This country is in a state of permanent Basant, God help us!

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Crime, War and Punishment

Even without a damning report of the UN inspectors, the US is seemingly poised to go to war to oust the Saddam regime from Iraq. The Brits are the only country firmly in support, quite a few allies are wavering publicly about their commitment. While a “smoking gun” in the form of direct evidence is still not forthcoming, the secondary reasons include the anticipated destabilization of the entire Middle East because of the backlash among the muslim populace. Purists also argue about a legal basis to initiate war. In DAVOS on Sunday Jan 26, US Secretary of State calmed the fears of the world’s elite while giving a logical explanation of present US troop deployment in the region. However, he said that if need be the US was prepared to go alone.

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