GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
ARBIL, Iraq - During a dinner in Iraqi Kurdistan last month, the elderly matron of the family I was dining with urged my interpreter to translate her question. She was reluctant, but finally did. Was it true, she wanted to know, what people were saying? That the U.S. would release a gas in Baghdad to put the populace to sleep, then snatch Saddam and his henchmen without the need for bombs?
"If only it could be so easy," I replied, laughing.
Her face fell. She
It's not just Iraqis who don't want to face the very real jeopardy the people of Iraq will face in the event of U.S. military action there. Debate in
America has focused on polarizing questions about the
The risk of civilian casualties from the fighting itself
is likely to be particularly high in Iraq. Saddam Hussein will almost
certainly attempt to draw the U.S. into an urban battle, one in which
Iraqi civilians are used as human shields. Anyone who remembers the intense
fighting in Jenin several months ago, or the bloody battle of Mogadishu
depicted in "Black Hawk Down," realizes what dangers urban warfare
represents. In addition, despite
In Iraq, civilian casualties caused by U.S. military
In Kurdistan last month, the risks to civilians were
very clear. My
If the United States initiates a war with Iraq, it will have an obligation to do what it can to protect vulnerable Shia and Kurdish populations from attack. In Kosovo, NATO bombers could do little from the air to protect civilians as the Serbian forces intensified their killing spree in response to the bombing. The United States cannot allow a repeat of that tragic experience.
The safety of the civilian population of Iraq will be
blocking access to safety. In 1991, tens of thousands of fleeing Kurds got stuck on the wrong side of the closed Turkish border, some of them freezing to death. Any planning for military action requires the development of a well-funded humanitarian plan, and pressuring regional governments to commit to keeping their borders open.
War in Iraq could also cause furious inter-ethnic fighting
and massive retribution against perceived supporters of Saddam's government.
During my three weeks in Iraqi Kurdistan, I met with dozens of Kurdish
and Turcoman families recently expelled by the Iraqi government from the
oil-rich city of Kirkuk and now living in miserable conditions in Kurdistan.
The Kurds can be expected to return en masse to Kirkuk at the first opportunity-and
As the experience of 1991 shows, members of Saddam's
Ba'ath party, his Tikrit clan and his hated security services will face
severe retaliation in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam. To
prevent bloodbaths, the U.S. needs to make absolutely clear to its potential
allies among Saddam's opposition that abuses by them will be punished.
Such a commitment was not forthcoming in Afghanistan, where the Northern
Alliance troops in Mazar-i-Sharif killed hundreds of captured combatants
without much worry
Finally, experience teaches us that the fall of a government
creates a security gap. In Afghanistan, the failure of the U.S. to immediately
fill that gap allowed the warlords to force their way into positions of
control, and allowed mass looting and similar abuses to take place. In
Kosovo, the victorious Kosovo Liberation Army immediately began killing
Serbian and Roma civilians whom they suspected of collaboration with Milosevic.
The Bush administration appears to be planning
for a more ambitious role in Iraq than in
Afghanistan-including the possibility of a long-term military occupation
of the country. In that planning, the security of the civilian population,
particularly in the chaotic early days following Saddam's fall, must be
a paramount U.S. objective.