By Sean Malloy
Is the "no-fly" zone south of the 32nd parallel in southern Iraq a Bush re-election stunt or part of the US establishment's long-term political and economic plans in the Middle East?
Dr Bob Springborg, associate professor of politics at Macquarie University, says the latest US moves are part of its long-term project to topple Saddam Hussein. A new approach is necessary for this because "it appears that the attempt to destabilise the regime and overthrow Saddam through provocations by UN inspection teams essentially failed".
That became evident "not only through the process itself but also when it was revealed in the New York Times on August 16 that there was going to be an incident in front of the Ministry of Military Industrialisation and that incident was then going to provide justification for the US to initiate military action against Iraq".
Dr Springborg says the New York Times article forced the administration to change tack. "Almost immediately came the declaration of the no-fly zone. It was declared in such a way that there needn't be any visible military action by Iraq."
The US has now given itself a blank cheque "to do as it likes against Iraq" in the hope that this will increase pressure on the Iraqi military to get rid of Saddam. The danger of this tactic is that it could cause the dismemberment of Iraq.
Removing Hussein from power is undoubtedly important to Bush's election campaign, but Springborg thinks there may also have been a change in US tactics in the region. It is possible that "they have really seriously thought about this and come up with the idea that they can dismember Iraq" without damaging US interests.
He suspects that Bush's electoral desperation has pushed US policy makers to re-evaluate the costs of dismembering Iraq, and now they are "willing to go ahead".
Because this latest US action doesn't have as much international cover as the Gulf War, the US leaned on Britain, France and Russia for token contributions to the intervening force. The UN Security Council recently refused to modify Resolution 688, which was passed when the Kurds were under attack after the war. That resolution excluded further military action over internal Iraqi matters.
In its original preparations for the Gulf War, the US coerced and cajoled most Middle East countries into backing it. However, only two Arab states support the current US moves, though they're all under pressure.
"The Kuwaitis have endorsed US action and called for the dismemberment of Iraq. The Saudis gave permission for military action from their territory without passing comment, but the remainder of the Arab states, especially those outside the gulf, have condemned the new moves, in varying degrees. The Egyptians are being careful not to condemn US military intervention explicitly, but say they're absolutely against the dismemberment of Iraq."
If the country is partitioned, Springborg thinks southern Iraq would probably come under US influence through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. "The money to feed, clothe and house the people of southern Iraq, who are in very bad shape, would come from the oil-rich Arab states, and the US would provide the military guarantees to keep the Iranians out.
"In the north, the US has already carved out an enclave state for the Kurds. They've had elections, they run their own affairs, they have their own media and so on. It is not inconceivable that the US, in cooperation with the Turks, would argue that this could form the basis for some sort of state.
"For the middle of the country, clearly the US would like to bring the military to power under a semi-nationalist type who would want to do business with the West."
Rather than solving problems in Iraq or the Middle East, the latest interventions are merely deepening existing conflicts and creating new ones. "I think the campaign against Saddam is very misguided", says Springborg.
"The man is a brutal dictator, of that there is no doubt. But this method is exciting more and more ethnic and religious tension within the country, and may ultimately lead to its dismemberment. I think it is time for the embargo to be lifted, for Iraq to be reintegrated into the world of nations. If that happened, the Iraqi people themselves would take care of Saddam, and they would be in a position to work out new and more democratic relations between themselves."