Getting Hands on its Oil?
There is no Emperor of Iraq – or is there? The problem for General Tommy Franks – if he really does turn up in Baghdad to play the role of General Douglas MacArthur – is that the one unifying, sovereign symbol that held Japan together amid the ashes of nuclear defeat in 1945 was the Emperor Hirohito, mysteriously absolved of all responsibility for Japan's atrocities in the Second World War. His military underlings went to the gallows on his behalf.
But in Iraq, the emperor is called Saddam Hussein and – if we are to believe the US administration – the Caliph of Tikrit will be in the dock along with the rest of Iraq's war criminals. General Franks will have to combine the role of emperor and colonial governor – which is how America's whole imperial adventure is likely to come unstuck.
What if the mosques defy American occupation? What if the Shia in the south and Kurds in the north set up their own secret administrations? Will the US arrest all the imams who preach against America's hegemony?
Immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, a large group of Iraqi opposition figures met in Beirut to plan for a "new Iraq'', fondly and vainly imagining Saddam would be gone within weeks. But within 24 hours the opposition – including the most secular and liberal of Iraqi movements – was announcing it would not allow foreign troops to contaminate what it called "the sacred banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers''. At this point, of course, the Americans lost all interest in this manifestation of Iraq's opposition to Saddam Hussein.
In 1991, US troops occupied only a small part of southern Iraq. Does the Bush administration think things will be any better if they occupy all of Iraq?
Now it just might be that the Americans have an emperor in mind for occupied Iraq, a member of the same Hashemite family that was long ago awarded the throne of Baghdad – courtesy of Winston Churchill – as a consolation prize for being chucked out of Damascus by the French.
The re-establishment of the Hashemite kingdom of Iraq would allow King Abdullah of Jordan to combine his own penniless and vulnerable statelet with the massive oil wealth of Iraq, albeit he will have to share the latter with the equally massive American conglomerates run by President Bush's chums.
And then it just might be that Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, whose ministers have spoken openly of "transferring'' the Palestinians out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, will find the judicious moment to "encourage'' the same Palestinians to leave their land for the new Jordan. Has President Bush thought of this? Has it perhaps crossed the minds of Israel's friends within the US administration?
King Abdullah of Jordan is one thing. King Abdullah of Iraq, re-establishing Hashemite power over the Gulf, quite another. Even his father, King Hussein, might have been tempted to contemplate such an outcome. But would the Iraqis go along with this? Do they really want another emperor? No wonder US officials talk of a slow journey to democracy. Japan got its democracy in the end, of course. But Japan didn't have oil.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (Atheneum, 1990)