There’s growing indication now that a massive US attack against Iraq is practically set for January, no matter what is contained in Iraq’s weapons declaration and no matter what United Nations inspectors find out on the ground. An ambassador to the UN who insisted on remaining anonymous assured Asia Times Online that “at any moment we could be facing an official statement from the White House saying Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441. We are all helpless against it at the UN.”
The buzz is intense at the UN regarding the fabulous photocopying capabilities of the US government compared to those of the multilateral body. The US received its instant copy of the mammoth Iraqi weapons declaration before anyone else – then handed copies to the other four permanent members of the Security Council (France, Britain, Russia and China), all of them nuclear powers. The other 10 rotating members, all of them non-nuclear powers, were excluded – and will only get their edited copies by the end of the week. Syria already has protested loudly against the discrimination, and along with Norway has demanded access to the full unedited version. Iraq qualifies the whole process as “unparalleled banditry.”
UN Security Council Resolution 1441 explicitly states that the Iraqi declaration should be handed to all the members of the Security Council – and not only to a select few. The American rationale for getting preferential treatment – apart from having the fastest and safest photocopy machines in the market – is that the report might contain information that would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Off the record, furious UN diplomats tell a completely different story. They say that extreme American pressure was applied on Colombian ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council during the month of December. US Secretary of State Colin Powell, not by accident, was in Colombia last week. Powell promised a lot of additional funds to the Colombian government to fight guerrillas. The funds, diplomats say, will be readily available in exchange for the speedy first look at the Iraqi declaration: the CIA has been examining it since Sunday night. UN diplomats also say that the Iraqi declaration lists foreign arms and chemicals suppliers to Iraq – and inevitably some of those are from the same Big Five nuclear powers who may authorize a strike against Iraq.
As much as an internal look at what’s really happening at the UN reveals the US administration strong-arming the multilateral body to accelerate its unilateral quest for a smoking gun, Operation Internal Look in Qatar reveals the definitive US positioning for another upcoming high-tech, zero-casualty war won by the 3Cs: command, control and communications.
Internal Look, currently taking place at the As-Sayliyah army base in Qatar, and supposed to end on December 17, is a war game testing a new, US$58 million portable command center for the US Central Command. Internal Look is a sort of video game played in laptop heaven. General Tommy Franks – who will be the Schwarzkopf character in the upcoming replay of 1991’s Desert Storm – leads the show, with a cast of 1,000 American and British operatives. There are no troops or mock battles in Internal Look, rather a thorough test of extremely sophisticated communications with other command posts and most of all with Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. After the war game, Tommy Franks will “preserve his flexibility,” according to CENTCOM officials. This means he can come back to Florida or stay in the Gulf for good while organizing the US offensive.
The success of Internal Look will assure that the war can be formally launched in January. In a slow build-up since March, according to the CENTCOM’s latest figures, 60,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are already positioned in the Gulf or nearby, plus 200 fighter jets. Twelve thousand soldiers are in Kuwait – which in effect has been converted into a US armed camp. Twenty-five percent of the area of the whole emirate is now occupied by American military personnel and equipment.
Desert Spring war games started already in November – involving an array of F-16s, Apache attack helicopters, M1 Abrams battle tanks and Bradley armored troop transporters. Every day, most of these thousands of US soldiers, in chemical warfare gear, practice assaults on heavily defended “enemy” positions armed with Soviet-era weaponry, in the very same desert that rolls out all the way to Baghdad. This is the type of fighting the US may face in a ground assault against Iraq.
The US Army has 24 Apache attack helicopters and enough heavy equipment in Kuwait for two armored brigades. By the end of the year, five aircraft carrier groups could be positioned to strike Iraq: the USS Harry S. Truman, which sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, last week; the USS George Washington (which the Truman was scheduled to replace in the eastern Mediterranean), the USS Abraham Lincoln operating in the Gulf, the USS Constellation, and the USS Kitty Hawk, sailing from Japan.
According to Brookings Institution experts, it would take from eight to 12 weeks to deploy a force of 250,000 troops. But Pentagon officials already have started saying the American – and British – contingents in place by January would be substantial enough to begin an offensive, while extra personnel and equipment could be quickly flown in to sustain a massive operation capable of involving around 250,000 troops.
The question of airfields remains crucial. Saudi Arabia has 31 military airfields – and, as has been widely reported, will offer none to the US. Most of the smaller Gulf states have at least two airfields with long runways. The Emirates, for instance, has eight. According to military experts, the US needs at least 15, ideally 20, to launch a successful air war.
Kuwait may seem like an obvious US ally: although it officially mended fences with Iraq, it definitely does not trust Saddam Hussein’s pledges of no more invasions. But the case of Qatar is really intriguing: a US ally in the Arab world and the only prototype so far of the Bush “regime change” doctrine. Qatar is unique in the region in terms of being a relatively open society practicing religious moderation and press freedom.
Qatar is a very small desert kingdom and home to only 750,000 people, more than two-thirds of them immigrant workers from South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Arab world. It is not an oil-dependent emirate. In the immense North Field – which advances across the Persian Gulf towards Iran – Qatar holds one of the largest gas reserves in the world.
Officially, Qatar follows ultra-strict and intolerant Wahhabism – just like Saudi Arabia. But with a tremendous difference: There is religious freedom, women are allowed to vote, there’s no police paranoia, and alcohol is freely available, as well as education, health care and housing. Per capita income is $17,500 – higher than many countries in the European Union.
Since 1995 Qatar has been ruled by the very liberal Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. All over the world, Qatar is basically known as the home of Al Jazeera, the network that relocated from Saudi Arabia in 1996 with a start-up loan of $150 million offered by the emir himself.
But not many people know that Qatar also has allowed the US to build Al-Udeid, an enormous air base. The US CENTCOM in fact left Tampa, Florida, and relocated to Al-Udeid when more than 600 CENTCOM top operatives arrived in Qatar last month for what has now materialized as Internal Look. Historians may one day note the irony that the nerve center for “regime change” is located in the same Arab kingdom accused by US hawks of broadcasting the propaganda of deadly enemy al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.