Iraq: Myriad of opinions

Addressing his constituents at Sedgfield on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear that action will be taken against Iraq. As conflicting messages and calls for restraint echo across the globe, it remains to be seen what form this action takes.

Tony Blair declared that action must be taken against Saddam Hussein, since he has been pursuing an aggressive programme to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction and nobody knows how far this programme has gone, since weapons inspectors have not been inside Iraq since 1998. Defending the position recently expounded by US Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Blair stated that non-action was not an option. He also insinuated that action within the UN Security Council was an option, provided that this organism was in favour of an attack.

However, the messages from around the international community are far from unanimous. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has declared that Russia is in favour of a return of the weapons inspectors but may veto any measure to attack Iraq in the Security Council. Nelson Mandela has lent his considerable political gravitas to the diplomatic cause, saying that “no country should be allowed to take the law into its own hands”.

Nervous Gulf states which supported the Gulf War campaign against Iraq are unanimously against a military venture this time. Omani Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi warned recently that “If the United States invades Iraq, it will cause a deep anti-American feeling and will provoke revenge and violence in Arab and Islamic countries”.

In the United States, opinion of the issue is polarised between the hawks, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld and the doves, who favour a diplomatic resolution to the problem. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared last Sunday that he is in favour of a return of the weapons inspectors. This, for the USA and Britain, may be the beginning of a campaign and not an alternative.

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer reiterated Washington’s mistrust of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime, with the statement, “Iraq changes positions on whether it will let the inspectors in more often than Saddam changes bunkers”. Yet Baghdad seems willing to allow UNMOVIC in. Tarik Aziz, Iraq’s Vice-Prime Minister, declared to Kofi Annan on Monday that “The international community is required to stand against this new aggression and lift the unjust embargo”, while he admitted that a return of the weapons inspectors might be allowed by Baghdad as part of a lasting solution to the problem.

Many words, many opinions and countless scenarios have been put forward. Tellingly, HMS Ark Royal, the Royal Navy’s flagship, slips out of Portsmouth Harbour laden with war material for exercises in the Mediterranean, while Captain Massey declares to the press that he has told his crew “to prepare themselves for the fact that they may not be home in time for Christmas” and that a detour from the sphere of exercises is a distinct possibility.


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