Not Shock And Awe, But Stop And Pause As The US Tries To Prompt Military Coup In Iraq

by Milan Rai

Dissident Voice

March 22, 2003


(20 March 2003)




Roula Khalaf, well-informed columnist at the Financial Times, reports: 'With his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face war, President George W. Bush appeared to be encouraging a last minute coup more than the Iraqi leader’s departure from Baghdad, diplomats and analysts said yesterday [18 Mar.] ... Western diplomats in the region said the ultimatum was designed to raise the internal pressure on insiders in the regime to move against the Iraqi leader. "A number of messages are being passed to Baghdad from Arab and other countries telling them [Saddam and his family] to spare the country and the region and step aside. That doesn't seem to be working but exile might be read as another form of exit," said a senior diplomat in the region.' (Financial Times, 19 Mar., p3)


‘Iraqi exiled opposition figures in London yesterday said they hoped that the deadline set by President Bush for Mr Hussein to quit Iraq might help provoke a coup against him. "There is a possibility that a faction of the regime will move against Saddam," said Zuhair Al-Naher of the Iraqi Islamic Dawa party.' (FT, 19 Mar., p. 3)


So, the last few days have seen the US issue a coded call for a military coup in Baghdad (early Tues. GMT) and a US missile-strike assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader (early Thurs. GMT). Some regime change.




Roula Khalaf notes that:


“[P]olitical analysts said the administration's hope for a coup were undermined by mixed messages. Mr Bush appealed to Iraq's military commanders and included only Mr Hussein's sons in his ultimatum, but US officials have referred to the ‘senior leadership’ that would have to leave Iraq. The White House yesterday also indicated that the list of officials who would have to leave Iraq was longer than the Iraqi President's immediate family. Mr Bush made no mention of any amnesty offer, either to the Hussein family or to other insiders who might be tempted to remove the Iraqi leader.


"’Clearly the message is that if the three are gone everything is up for grabs. But there is also the message that US troops would still be there and possibly that there would still be an occupation. This muddies the waters,’ said Raad al-Kadiri, a political analyst at The Petroleum Finance Company in Washington.” (FT, 19 Mar., p. 3)


The issuing of an amnesty offer to the Iraqi leader seems to have been entrusted to the British Foreign Secretary. In response to a totally unrelated (friendly) question from Jim Dowd MP, Jack Straw said, “We have done all that we can to secure a peaceful resolution to the crisis. It is still possible, let me say, for it to be resolved peacefully by Saddam Hussein's agreeing to go into exile. Should that be the case, as I have said on a number of occasions, we would support a United Nations Security Council resolution to provide Saddam Hussein with immunity from prosecution so that he could go into exile and enjoy a retirement of the kind that he has denied to so many of his own people. I am willing to accept that terrible compromise to try to avoid a war. I hope and believe that the whole House would also do that.” (Hansard, 17 Mar., Cols. 710-711) Another blow to the 'moral case' for war.


As for the threat that US occupation would follow even in the event of a coup, “The White House said last night [18 Mar.] that US forces would enter Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction even if President Saddam complied with the deadline to leave.” (Independent, 19 Mar., p. 6) Not mentioned in President Bush's original ultimatum. Some weapons of mass destruction must be found, in order to provide a retrospective justification for the war - and it is the US military that must find the smoking gun, it seems.




As noted in a previous briefing, Patrick Bishop, Telegraph reporter in Kuwait, reported a few days ago, “The war in Iraq is expected to be a two-stage operation with a pause to allow time for Saddam Hussein to be toppled by his own people... Allied planning appears heavily weighted towards an incremental strategy that applies mounting pressure and allows time for Saddam’s henchmen to decide their self-interest lies in risking a move against him. ‘This is all about getting someone to tip him over,’ said the source.” (Telegraph, 15 Mar., p. 10)


The first night's bombardment of 40 cruise missiles was a pinprick in comparison to the plans for “shock and awe.” The second night's bombardment also appears limited at the time of writing (21.20 GMT), proceeding on a stop-start basis completely different from the all-enveloping 'shock and awe' tactics that had been threatened. “A senior [US] defense official with direct knowledge of the operation said the attack included sea-launched cruise missiles fired at Special Republican Guard strongholds in Baghdad. But two [US] officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the night strikes were not the beginning of the massive air assault that Pentagon plans to unleash.” Rear Adm. Barry Costello, commander of the USS Constellation, said the air strikes were part of a "transition period" in which U.S. planes "continue to prep the battlefield, to clear a path for further air strikes and ground operations." (Associated Press newswire, 20 Mar., 3:57pm, US time)




Time for another brusque Rumsfeld intimidation session: "What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict", Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon briefing, the first after the United States and coalition forces launched a "decapitation attack" against Iraq. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before. The Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime or do they want to survive, help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country and play a role in a new free Iraq?"



This seems to be another broad hint to the military leadership in Iraq to do Washington's dirty work.




“According to US officials, military intelligence from the field suggests 75 to 85 per cent of Iraq's regular army will surrender.” What will happen to these footsoldiers of Saddam? “[T]he regular army will be paid by the US and put to work rebuilding the country on tasks such as road construction and demining.” That isn't all. “There is another idea that officials so far have not said much about: turning the Iraqi army into policemen. ‘Our plan is basically to put them into a constabulary force. We are not going to make them POWs,’ says a senior US official.” (FT, 19 Mar., p. 4)


“This idea is more fraught than it sounds: occupying powers are governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and troops cannot be made to fight their own people.” (FT, 19 Mar., p. 4) A hint there of the real meaning of the term “constabulary force.” In other words the US is preparing for a re-run of 1991, with Iraqi forces putting down insurgent popular movements with US support (last time it was tacit and discreet - see my War Plan Iraq Chapter VII - this time it could be overt and directive).


There are precedents for all this. In Vietnam after World War II, the British and US ordered the Japanese occupation forces to continue in government and to disarm the Viet Minh anti-fascist resistance, and used Japanese troops to enforce a curfew in Saigon. (Peter Dunn, The First Vietnam War (1985), pp. 132, 173)


Elsewhere, after the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Allies “explicitly ordered the Japanese to maintain the status quo in Indonesia before the arrival of Allied troops.” (Robert J. McMahon, Colonialism and Cold War (1981), p. 85) Lord Mountbatten, commander-in-chief of the region, noted in his diary after a visit in April 1946, “I, of course knew that we had been forced to keep Japanese troops under arms to protect our lines of communications and vital areas in Sumatra, for which the British Indian troops did not suffice; but it was nevertheless a great shock to me to find over a thousand Japanese troops guarding the nine miles of road from the airfield to the town, and to find them drawn up in parties of 20, presenting arms, the officers saluting with swords which long since should have been our war souvenirs.” (cited in Oey Hong Lee, War and Diplomacy in Indonesia 1945-50 (1981), p. 82)


In fascist Japan itself, General Charles Willoughby, head of intelligence in the US Occupation government, said that the bloodless invasion of Japan was accomplished by “the shatteringly simple formula of utilising the existing Japanese Government, the person of the Emperor, and the psychic force of tradition. No other formula was practicable.” [Charles Willoughby and John Chamberlain, MacArthur 1941-1951 (1956), p. 291] The equivalent of the Emperor is to be removed from the scene, but otherwise the US appears to be applying the same shatteringly simple formula of regime stabilisation.




This halting series of attacks is not “shock and awe.” This is stop and pause. This is not about “regime change.” This is about a military coup - achieving “regime stabilisation and leadership change” without the use of massive force by the US and UK, and without any risk of being drawn into urban warfare.


It takes real discipline to miss this interpretation of the otherwise mystifying turn of events, and the non-appearance of “shock and awe” in the much- touted “critical” opening 48 hours of conflict. The mass media is rigorously oblivious to US intentions, and to the non-liberatory strategy being attempted (thus far unsuccessfully) by Washington and London.


This is not a war. This is the most costly, dangerous and reckless assassination attempt in world history.


Milan Rai is author of War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against War (Verso, 2002) and a member of Active Resistance to the Roots of War (ARROW). He is also co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness UK, which has worked for the lifting of UN sanctions in Iraq.



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