Special analysis: Iraq has fallen. Saddam is deposed. But, after 27 days of war, little else is resolved

16 April 2003

Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

The real question might be, "Were there ever any"? Not a single confirmed finding has been made of weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, or nuclear, the supposed existence of which was the formal, casus belli and, as the heart of UN resolution 1441, the sole legal justification for the war.

The US command says they have up to 3,000 possible sites to check. The UN inspectors found none. The chief inspector, Hans Blix, accused Iraq of providing an incomplete account of imports that could have been used for such weapons. President Saddam's scientific adviser, General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, who has surrendered, claims there were no weapons of mass destruction. He has no credibility, Mr Blix says.

Colin Powell presented questionable material to the UN Security Council in February. Spy satellite images of a "weapons site" before and after a UN inspectors' visit were taken weeks apart. And the US now admits that intelligence material "proving" Iraq acquired fissile material from Africa was forged by a Western intelligence agency, possibly MI6 or Mossad.

The obvious question is: if President Saddam had such weapons, why didn't he use them?

Where is Saddam?

There are many rumours, including that he has fled to Belarus and that he is living in an elaborate system of tunnels beneath his Baghdad palaces. We know such tunnels existed – the Iraqis boasted of them – and Saddam Hussein would not imprison himself in a palace with no means of escape.

Amid all the stories of Saddam "doubles", it should be remembered that many Iraqi men look like him – they cultivated his moustache. There is no solid evidence that a double has ever appeared. His televised trip around the city 12 days ago was the real thing, two witnesses said. They recognised his left-cheek carbuncle.

He was not killed in the bombing of the Mansur area of Baghdad. Fourteen bodies were recovered, all civilians.

It is tempting to think he might have got out via Damascus. Relations between Damascus and Baghdad have improved over the past three years, partly because Syria suspected that if Iraq crumbled, it would be America's next target.

But sheltering President Saddam would be like inviting a cruise missile into your presidential palace. So how about a flight from Damascus to Belarus, or even Moscow?

The Americans have a bad track record. They can't find the Iraqi Minister of Information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. They couldn't get Osama bin Laden. They couldn't even track down Mullah Omar.

Iraqis are already talking about "plots", the most dangerous of which is that the Americans have allowed him to survive – as in 1991 – and that they intend to bring him back.

What about the alleged links to Al-Qa'ida?

After the 11 September attacks, the Bush administration talked up alleged links between al-Qa'ida and Iraq so it could shift the spotlight to Saddam Hussein's regime. The campaign was a success: about half of Americans believe President Saddam was responsible for the atrocities.

In his evidence to the United Nations Security Council in February, Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, claimed there was a "sinister nexus" between Baghdad and senior al-Qa'ida operatives. Tony Blair told a committee of senior MPs in January: "There is some intelligence evidence about linkages between members of al-Qa'ida and people in Iraq. It doesn't go further than that. I'm not using it as a justification for anything we are doing."

In February, the US raised the national terror status from yellow to orange – the second highest level – claiming that a "confluence of intelligence" suggested al-Qa'ida was poised to launch new attacks within days. In Britain, tanks, troops and extra armed police patrolled at Heathrow airport and the surrounding area. Mr Blair told the MPs' committee it was "inevitable" al-Qa'ida would seek to mount an attack in Britain. But there is no evidence Iraq has been implicated in the 11 September attack or any other al-Qa'ida atrocity. There is a deep ideological division between al-Qa'ida, who are Islamist extremists, and the secular Baath party.

Where is the anti-war alliance now?

Many on the anti-war side – from governments to individuals – find themselves torn. It is difficult not to be moved by the signs of joy among many Iraqis at the removal of Saddam.

But the French and Germans still argue that the success of the war does not justify the decision to tear up international precedent and defy the majority will of the United Nations and declare a pre-emptive war on Iraq. The US bullying of Syria is seen in Paris and Berlin as a particularly worrying sign that this was, after all, part of a new ideologically driven American doctrine: the imposition of democracy by force, but seemingly only in strategically important countries. Who cares about, for instance, the oppressed people of Burma?

How has Tony Blair emerged?

Mr Blair feels vindicated, and emerges from the war strengthened. Close allies also hope he will finally live down his reputation as a follower of focus groups. They want him to show the same decisiveness by "going for it" on public-service reforms and a euro referendum.

But he acknowledges the need to "win the peace" in Iraq. Failure to find any weapons of mass destruction would leave a nasty taste.

He needs to make peace with a large section of the Labour Party that is still uncomfortable about the war. He must also rebuild fractured relations with European partners France and Germany if Britain is to enjoy influence in the European Union.

He will want to show that he is not President Bush's poodle by securing gains in the Middle East peace process. He will also try to persuade the US not to write off the United Nations.

How does the EU come out of it?

The EU is deeply split, though the fault lines have opened in unexpected places. Founding members, such as Italy and the Netherlands, have supported the war and America against the anti-war views of other founders, such as France, Germany and Belgium.

Britain has put together an Atlanticist alliance within the soon-to-be enlarged EU, which ranges from Spain and Portugal to almost all the new members of central and eastern Europe. This may be, as Donald Rumsfeld would have it, "Old Europe" versus "New Europe". But which is the old and which is the new? Jacques Chirac argues that the new Europe should have the strength and unity of purpose to offer an alternative, democratic pole in world affairs, which would not be slavishly pro-American or slavishly anti-American either.

Tony Blair argues that Europe can only have an effective voice in the world if it banishes all suspicion that it wishes to build its strength and influence at the expense of the US.

What happened to the human shields?

Some left after just a few days, while others were deported for refusing to deploy to targets. A few did stay on at power stations, water treatment plants and oil refineries until the very end. None died.

There were tales of feuding between the different nationalities, and dispute with Iraqi officials on what exactly constituted a target. The authorities wanted them in strategic, sometimes semi-military, locations. Many of the shields preferred to be in sites such as hospitals, food stores or homes of civilians.

Do iraqis feel liberated?

At first, the attitude appeared to be one of ambivalence. Thathas, by and large, changed. The killing of civilians by US troops; the days of looting when the Americans watched; and the failure to restore electricity and water supplies to the population has turned ambivalence to hostility.

A generation has grown up under President Saddam's rule and, apart from the few in the intelligentsia, freedom and democracy are abstract, un- real concepts. In the current turmoil, Iraqis see no advantage in their oppressive but stable society changing to a violent and anarchic one.

As the ground forces moved in, there was widespread and, at times, indiscriminate shooting. Much of Baghdad became a free-fire zone, and US troops could be seen opening fire without provocation at roadblocks on civilians and their cars.

As the hospitals filled, the Americans then allowed them to be looted. The International Committee of the Red Cross pointed out that 33 out of 35 of Baghdad's hospitals were put out of use. This, and the ransacking of homes and businesses followed the Americans' acquiescence to the ransacking of anything associated with President Saddam's regime.

Within four days of the biggest statue of President Saddam in Baghdad being so publicly pulled down, demonstrators were gathering to chant anti-American slogans. The most common questions are: When are they going to restore power supplies? And how long do they intend to stay?

Is Chalabi just a crooked US stooge?

Few foreign figures so polarise the Bush administration, but Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the most visible exile opposition group before the war, is likely to have a big influence over the government that emerges.

Mr Chalabi, who previously left Jordan before a conviction for major fraud, insists from his headquarters in Nasiriyah that he has no intention of taking a leading political role in Iraq. Yet Mr Chalabi – after devoting two decades to opposing Saddam, and claiming to have survived nine assassination attempts – is thought unlikely to bow out gracefully.

The CIA, with the State Department, his prime foe, recently leaked an internal report which concluded that Mr Chalabi had little support, even in his own Shia community. In Iraq, the document insisted, he is regarded as a carpetbagger rather than a saviour.

But his supporters at the Pentagon and at the Vice- President's office see him in a different light. For admirers such as Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, he is a convinced democrat and moderniser. They give very little heed to the allegations of financial impropriety.

Is the UN relevant any longer?

There is an argument that says the US and Britain – having taken international law into their own hands in the name of the UN – have marginalised the UN for ever. But what precedent has the Iraq war set for solving the problems of WMD in other countries such as North Korea, Iran or Pakistan?

Even the most aggressive Washington hawks can hardly argue that pre-emptive invasion will be the way to tackle all rogue countries. And Britain would not go along if they did. In the end, therefore, America and Britain may have to come back to the international community, both to help in the rebuilding of Iraq and to apply diplomatic pressure to disarm other nations.

The outstanding question is "Which UN"? Russia is already sucking up to the US by talking about reform, which implies abolishing the French and British vetoes. There are signs that Paris may prefer to rebuild its ties with Washington and London by playing a more ambiguous role in the future.

What are the chances of an Iranian-style Shia revolution?

The green and black flags of the Shia are flying in Najaf Karbala, Basra and Saddam City. Shia demonstrators march in the centre of Baghdad while Shia militia have set up checkpoints 20 miles away. Rumours abound of Iranian agents moving in across the border to bolster the numbers.

The spectre of a Shia Islamic revolution and takeover of Iraq, and an alliance with fellow Shias in Iran, had haunted both Saddam Hussein and successive American administrations. It was this that persuaded George Bush Snr not to support the internal rebellion after the Gulf War in 1991. The Shia make up 60 per cent of the Iraqi population. The Sunni, if one excludes the Kurds, make up 16 per cent, but have always held the levers of power since Iraq was created. There have been a series of bloody rebellions in the Shia south and east. There is, however, no reason why there should be a Shia-style Islamic revolution. After the fall of Saddam, and the years of persecution they suffered, the Shia leadership is now attempting to re-establish itself. But the secular traditions of Iraq, its pluralism, are very different from Iran's.

The vast majority of the Iraqi army that fought in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war were Shia. They remained loyal to their country, rather than to the Islamic revolution across the border. Any Shia rebellion is likely to be crushed by America and its sponsored Iraqi forces, just as Saddam and his predecessors did in previous times.

And, anyway, if the United States does bring in a democratic government, then the inbuilt Shia majority could result in a theocratic government. After all, the recent history of the Middle East has shown that Islamist parties are the ones who usually benefit the most from the ballot box.

Why did so many journalists die?

At least 12 journalists died, several of them so-called embedded reporters, travelling for the first time with Allied forces as they advanced.

Terry Lloyd, of ITN, was the first to perish, killed by US Marines who fired at his car. Two of his colleagues are still posted as missing.

Al-Jazeera's correspondent was killed in an attack on the organisation's office in Baghdad – even though one of his colleagues at the Central Command office in Doha gave the Pentagon the co-ordinates of their Baghdad building and received a promise it would not be attacked. The US also attacked al-Jazeera's office in Kabul in 2001 and destroyed it with a cruise missile – an event for which it provided neither explanation nor apology.

During the Afghanistan bombardment, the Kabul office was broadcasting Osama bin Laden tapes around the world. This time, the Baghdad office was providing the most devastating account of Iraqi civilian casualties in the war to a vast Arab audience – thus fuelling the anti-American sentiments that the United States says it cannot understand.

A few hours later, an M1A1 Abrams tank on the Jumhuriya Bridge aimed at a room in the Palestine Hotel and fired a single round that killed two cameramen and wounded four other Reuters staff. The Americans said nothing until it became known that journalists from France 3 television had filmed the tank firing. General Buford Blount of the 3rd Infantry Division claimed the tank had come under sniper fire and had fired at the source of the shooting, which then stopped. But the French cameramen started filming minutes before the tank fired at the hotel and there was silence on the soundtrack.

Who was really responsible for the two marketplace bombings?

In the Shulah marketplace bombing, the second of the attacks, an old and illiterate man produced a piece of shrapnel from the missile – whose markings showed it to have been American and which were identified as part of a Raytheon munition. While brutal and cruel, the Iraqi secret police was not subtle enough to go around burying bits of wreckage to be found, or turn an old man into a convincing actor.

The Shaab attack produced two craters on exactly opposite sides of the dual carriageway. Iraqi anti-aircraft fire could not produce such neat, equidistant craters, despite persistent suggestions from the Allies that the Iraqis were responsible.

Has public opinion changed since the war began?

Despite large anti-war demonstrations before military action started, many people in America and Britain seemed prepared to put aside their doubts about military action once troops were sent into action. In America, support for the war remained steady at around 70 per cent.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll published yesterday, 73 per cent of Americans are happy with President Bush's performance. That is up from 59 per cent in the week before the war began.

The most recent survey in Britain, by ICM, shows that backing for the war rose from 44 per cent to 63 per cent in the past month. Another poll, by Populus, suggested Mr Blair might receive a similar boost to the one achieved by Margaret Thatcher after the Falklands War. Labour's ratings have risen seven points to 41 per cent since before the Iraq conflict, while the Tories are down five points to 29 per cent.

In France, the number of people opposing the action has dropped only slightly from 82 per cent to 75 per cent.

Both President Bush and Mr Blair know the triumphs may prove shortlived. Mr Bush's father won the 1991 Gulf War and then lost the 1992 presidential election. Mr Blair has been warned by some that Iraq will soon fade from the public consciousness and the next election will be decided by the state of the economy and public services.

Is North Korea next on the american hitlist?

Washington would like to see big changes in Iran, Syria and North Korea. But North Korea poses bigger dangers than the others put together so it is most unlikely that it is seriously on any Pentagon hitlist, for the time being. For a start the North Koreans have all but declared they possess weapons of mass destruction. And there are 30,000 American troops stationed on the demilitarised zone dividing North from South Korea.

Pyongyang has reacted to the Iraqi crisis by raising the rhetoric and the stakes in a nuclear stand-off with Washington, throwing out UN inspectors and threatening to restart a banned nuclear re processing programme which could lead to the production of a nuclear warhead a month. Washington hopes, however, that the North Koreans, facing economic collapse, are merely taking advantage of the Iraq crisis to raise pressure on the Americans to resume supplies of desperately needed food and fuel.

How long will the soldiers stay?

As short a time as possible means "no time at all". But in reality it means a few more weeks to secure the cities they control: Baghdad: Mosul; Kirkuk; Tikrit. At present there are about 200-225,000 US combat troops in the Iraqi theatre, plus 45,000 British armed forces personnel in total. To put that in perspective, that is a quarter of the British armed forces and more than a tenth of the American. Neither nation can sustain these levels for very long. British ministers have said they will keep troops in the theatre for a maximum of six months.

Is there a humanitarian crisis?

Not so much a crisis as crises. War has compounded the impact of sanctions and serious poverty in much of the country with 60 per cent of the people dependent on food aid even before the war.

Much of Iraq is still not secure enough for the UN and other humanitarian agencies to function, with problems including unmarked, unexploded ordnance. The aid agencies say military distribution is often poorly organised.

Paul Mylrea, an Oxfam spokesman, said water was short in some areas and hospitals badly damaged by sanctions and combat had been looted. Many of the 60 women who need emergency obstetric care every day are not getting it.

In Baghdad, the Red Cross said only three out of 32 hospitals were functioning. Water and electricity were still off, because pay disputes were delaying the return of utility workers. In Umm Qasr, Unicef says the diarrhoea rate in the hospital is 10 times the norm. In the northern Mosul-Dahuk region, lack of power cut water supplies. Water is also in very short supply in Nasiriyah, and even a water tanker was looted. The aid agencies estimate there are 800,000 "internally displaced persons" in northern Iraq.

Did the allies stick to the Geneva conventions?

The Geneva Conventions specifically refer to pillage and the rights of "protected persons". The ban on "pillage" even occurs in the 1907 Hague Convention. "Protected" persons include those in the presence of warring parties – so bombing civilians at the restaurant in Mansur is a clear breach of the Conventions. The US admitted it knew Mansur was a residential area and that an attack would not be a "risk-free venture". But itbombed anyway.

It bombed civilians around Hillah with cluster bombs. While these are accepted as an anti-personnel weapon against armies, they are prohibited against civilians. The US briefly halted supplies of warplanes to Israel after cluster bombs were used in Beirut in 1982. The Geneva Conventions were written after the Second World War, when states and armies had done most of the pillaging and rape, so it is debatable whether pillage by "persons unknown" is covered by "pillage" in the Conventions.

But occupying armies have an absolute duty to protect civilians and property under their control – whether ministries or museums. The US has failed to do this. It claims that the Iraqis put military targets in civilian areas. This is true. Reporters found gun pits at museums and schools, and armoured vehicles hidden under bridges and near hospitals. But US tanks also fired from near Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital and marines' vehicles were parked next to homes on the Corniche.

The Allies said Iraqi soldiers changed into mufti to go on fighting. They did. But their country was invaded. Would Britons have worn uniforms to fight German occupiers in the Second World War?

Is this the first step to reordering the Middle East?

It may well be, but the process will depend on a host of factors, above all whether Washington – never noted for its patience – is prepared to see the Iraq job through. If post-Saddam Iraq emerges as a demonstrably freer, more prosperous and stable place, then the vision of Paul Wolfowitz, deputy Secretary of Defence and a leading neo-conservative, of an Iraq that is a beacon for the future could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other countries, among them Egypt and Saudi Arabia, may come under intense internal, as opposed to external, pressure to change their ways. But it is most unlikely the US will use military force again in the near future, even against Syria, now an associate member of the "axis of evil". Washington reckons that the example of Iraq will "encourager les autres" in Damascus and even Tehran. Syria, surrounded by pro-US states and deprived of its close economic links with Saddam Hussein's regime, is highly vulnerable. The belief is that diplomatic and financial pressure can do the job without the use of force – even if the threat of the latter concentrates minds very effectively.

In any case, US public opinion, strongly supportive of the campaign in Iraq, is extremely wary of going after Syria next. By a 51-38 majority, Americans believe the US should not attack another country, according to a, New York Times/CBS poll yesterday, unless it is attacked first. To do so in the case of Syria might actually cost President Bush votes as he prepares for his 2004 re-election campaign. Americans like to think of themselves as leading by example, not by brute force.

How many died in the war?

On the Allied side: 119 Americans killed, four still missing; 30 British servicemen killed.

According to the US military, more than 3,650 Iraqi combatants, at least 2,320 in Baghdad, were killed. Iraq has given no figures for its military losses. Iraq says 1,254 civilians were killed before 3 April. There has been no update since. More than 5,000 were wounded.

The Shaab and Shuala market bombings killed at least 68 and 47 respectively, with many more injured, and 14 civilians died in the bomb on the restaurant in the Mansur district in the attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein and his sons.

Are the rebuilding contracts going to White House cronies?

The financial prize is huge: a programme that might involve up to $100bn (60bn) of work, from repairing and modernising the country's oil industry to overhauling its infrastructure and setting up decent schools, hospitals and a public administration. It is proving very contentious.

The US seems to be operating on the principle of "to the victor the spoils". The first reconstruction contracts are being awarded by the USAid development agency, which answers to the State Department, as an emergency measure. US firms have a head start and even British companies are being squeezed out.

So far, USAid has awarded four contracts worth $82m. An American company is expected to win a $600m contract for initial repairs to roads, power stations, bridges and other equipment damaged in the war. But that is only a start. The $80bn supplementary budget passed by Congress to pay for the war, covering only the next six months, contains about $5bn for reconstruction.

America might be more amenable to foreign companies participating later – though probably not French, German, and Russian ones. Bowing to domestic criticism, Washington is forcing Halliburton, the oil services group once run by Vice-President Dick Cheney, to compete for work to repair oil facilities. Fewer than a dozen wells were torched. The contract once guaranteed to Halliburton has been scaled back, from $7bn to $650m.

What side deals were made?

Not very many. Whether thanks to unintended failure, or because the war was so swift, the US has few chits out in the region for redemption.

The great unintended failure was Turkey. Despite the offer of some $10bn in loans and loan guarantees, Ankara's parliament refused to approve the deployment of up to 62,000 American troops on its soil, slightly delaying the start of the war. Had permission been granted, the 4th Infantry Division would have launched a second front against Baghdad from the north. This might have made the conflict shorter. Turkey has been given $1bn as compensation for economic losses from the war.

What promises the US made with Israel were never tested because American special forces secured Iraq's western desert, from where Scud missiles might have been launched against Israel. Had that happened, Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, might have responded. And Saudi Arabia does not appear to have played any important part. Reputedly, the kingdom allowed Washington to use the Prince Sultan base 70 miles from Riyadh, but US Central Command set up its regional headquarters in Qatar.

Was the war legal?

Depends on who you ask. The American view is that Iraq was in breach of so many UN resolutions that military action was overdue and, if the UN was not prepared to authorise it, Washington was free to act.

The British government view, as eventually formulated by the Attorney General, is that war was legal because UN Security Council resolution 1441 – passed unanimously on 8 November 2002 – cited all previous resolutions, and at least one of these provided for "all necessary means" (ie force) to be used if Iraq did not comply. The Government had the right to judge if Iraq was in breach of resolution 1441 and ministers insisted it was. Crucially, the Attorney General also ruled that 1441 required the Security Council only to "consider" the UN inspectors' report; it did not need to vote.

The view of the majority on the Security Council was that the resolution did not contain any automatic trigger for war, that the term "serious consequences" fell far short of "all necessary means" and that a follow-up resolution was needed to authorise action. What all but the Americans agree on is that if the "second resolution" – authorising military action – had been put to the vote and defeated or vetoed, that defeat would have superseded all previous UN resolutions and military action would have been illegal. Britain withdrew the "second resolution" rather than risk a vote.

Why did the Republican Guard crumble?

The centre for Defence Studies at King's College London said last week that there was no sign of a phased and mutually supportive defensive plan, no fighting withdrawal from southern Iraq, and no effective plan to demolish and deny main bridges and crossing sites. It speculated that even the Republican Guard might have lost heart and abandoned the battlefield – a frequent claim made by Allied commanders. But there were at least two weeks of relentless aerial and artillery bombardment of the Republican Guard contingents before the final advance on Baghdad. That rapid advance northwards, bypassing core resistance – by the 3rd Infantry to the west and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to the east – may also have taken Iraqi commanders by surprise. It may be the case that the use by Saddam Hussein of his forces of internal repression and the effect of sanctions also eroded the battleworthiness of regular combat forces. An uncorroborated theory from the global analysts Strategic Forecasting is that many Republican Guard commanders were bought off by the United States in secret negotiations.

Military commanders did not expect so much resistance from irregular forces – including the Secret Security Organisation and the Saddam Fedayeen, who fought in some cases with astonishing tenacity. In an interview with The Independent this week, Major- General Peter Wall acknowledged there could be a "legacy" and that irregular forces, even if not in a "particularly well organised way", could regroup.

Will Iraq's Kurds fight for statehood?

No. Iraqi Kurds, who have their own language and culture, believe they have the right to self-determination. They were savagely oppressed for decades – 300,000 of them were forced to flee Saddam Hussein's ethnic cleansing campaign as he settled Arabs in their towns and villages. But because of the past 30 years and because they are surrounded by hostile neighbours, they also accept that a large measure of autonomy within a federal Iraq is the best possible option, provided it comes with a full say in central government.

In the past couple of weeks, the power balance has altered as the Kurds advanced, taking back land and moving into Kirkuk and Mosul. That has inflamed ethnic tensions and alarmed Turkey, Iran and Syria. Ankara's fears Iraq's Kurds could use oil wealth to finance an independent state and encourage separatist demands among its Kurdish minority.

Under US pressure, Kurdish leaders have played down the ambition to gain self-rule. And while they know that in the power vacuum the freedoms they have had in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan for more than 10 years could be threatened, going to war for full independence would be disastrous.

Click here to read on

Also in Commentators

Special analysis: Iraq has fallen. Saddam is deposed. But, after 27 days of war, little else is resolved
Rupert Cornwell: Has the war left the world a safer place?
Analysis: The limits of UN power in the new world order
Special analysis continued: After 27 days of war, little else is resolved
Robert Fisk: Library books, letters and priceless documents are set ablaze in final chapter of the sacking of Baghdad


Legal |  Contact us |  Using our Content |  2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd