Tracking Number:  175124

Title:  *NEA314 03/06/91 * (03/06/91)

Date:  19910306


03/06/91 *

U.S. PRESS OPINION: IRAQI REBELLION (Roundup of editorials) (1590)

Major U.S. newspapers have commented editorially on the reported rebellion in Iraqi cities. Following are excerpts of some of the editorials published March 6.


The reports of rebellion in Iraq resemble excerpts from a textbook on regime-toppling in the aftermath of a lost war. On the streets of Basra, a tank manned by returning soldiers turns its turret toward a gigantic poster of Saddam Hussein and, to the cheers of the populace, blows a hole in the tyrant's face....

The true war aims of of the coalition that defeated Saddam's army were, in ascending order of importance, the liberation of Kuwait, the destruction of Baghdad's offensive military capabilities, and the removal of Saddam. The first two have been accomplished by force of arms. The ultimate goal, Saddam's demise, cannot be achieved by foreign troops -- although the governments of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are frequently conspiring to back their favorite Iraqi exiles in the postwar struggle for power in Baghdad....

The recycled petrodollars of Kuwait may have been paramount to Bush, but to Assad, King Fahd and Ayatollah Khomeini's successors the real purpose of Desert Storm was to cut Iraq's military down to size and replace Saddam.

For them, the decisive phase of the war has just begun. The Americans took out Saddam's communications with smart bombs; they are now trying to take out his regime with Iraqi proteges, subsidized proxies and professional hit squads.

The present struggle for power in Iraq holds two dangers for the U.S.: that Saddam will prevail, or that he will be replaced by forces equally inimical to peace and human rights. Washington has little control over the battlefield on which this political war is fought.


GE 2 nea314 In the wake of Iraq's military defeat has come urban turmoil. In Basra and other cities in southern Iraq anti- government demonstrators are challenging the iron grip of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Details are imprecise, and the partisanship of some of the sources claiming to know what is going on makes their information suspect. But some elements of the armed forces are involved, with units perhaps pitted against each other.

This political explosion was ignited by the anger and frustrations arising out of a costly, humiliating, and above all unnecessary war. To a significant but not yet fully measurable extent it is also a continuation of an ancient religious conflict. It pitted Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim population, which has never been permitted to share equitably in power, against an unyieldingly repressive regime dominated by Sunni Muslims....

If foreign armed forces must be sent into the cities to quell turbulence they should be provided by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states. In other words they should be unmistakably Arab and Muslim.... Not only would it expose ground forces to the possible risks of urban fighting but, far worse, it would give the appearance of the West butting into an Islamic religious conflict. That would be a no-win situation, to be avoided at all costs....

No conceivable good could come from an extension of Iranian influence in Iraq. Should that occur, the region would quickly find itself facing fresh threats to its stability, just as it appeared that the crushing of Saddam Hussein's expansionist ambitions had opened the way to a calmer future. Probably -- nothing is certain in the Gulf -- the deep nationalism of Iraqis of all religious persuasions would work to oppose the aims of their ancient Persian enemy. But if disorders should give way to chaos and foreign armed intervention does become necessary, U.S. and Western forces should make sure they stay well out of it.


No sooner had the guns begun to fall silent in Kuwait than they started to chatter inside Iraq. This weekend the predominantly Shiite city of Basra erupted in bloodshed between pro-Iranian, anti-Saddam dissidents and Saddam's Republican Guard. The conflict may foreshadow the Iraqi strongman's end and possibly even the end of Iraq as a unified nation-state. But however welcome the first might be, the second would be a disaster, not only for Iraq itself but also for the Middle East and U.S. interests in it.

GE 3 nea314 Like many of the states designed by European colonialists and diplomats, Iraq is a hodge podge of different and antagonistic ethnic and religious groups. In the Tigris- Euphrates valley, Shi'ite Arabs predominate, and Shi'ites constitute some 55 to 60 percent of the country's 18 million people. The valley area also contains several cities that the Shi'ites, a 95 percent majority in neighboring Iran, consider among the holiest in Islam. But despite its Shi'ite majority, Iraq long has been ruled by Sunni Muslims, and resentments have festered....

As in most such "multicultural" states, the only thing that has held Iraq together has been the strong (indeed, brutal) arm of Baghdad, but these days the muscles on the arm are beginning to wither.... The return soon of dispirited Iraqi prisoners and veterans won't help stabilize the country either.

The leading figure among Iraqi Shi'ites is Hojatolislam Mohammed Bakr Hakim, who inspires the faithful from his tastiness in Tehran, perhaps aided by the more mundane assistance of the Shi'ite government there. Iran, for religious as well as political reasons, would like to get its hands on southern Iraq, but Hakim might not be the man to help them do it after all. Unlike the Iraqi Shi'ites, he is Persian rather than Arab.

Iraqi dissidents would like U.S. and other allied forces, now occupying most of southern Iraq west of the Euphrates, to intervene on their behalf, but they won't and they shouldn't. The Joint Chiefs of Staff's Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly says allied intervention can occur only if Iraqi unrest threatens allied troops. So far it doesn't, and it probably won't. If U.S. forces did step into the quarrel, they would have to side with one group or another of the dissidents or else wind up in the embarrassing position of supporting Saddam's regime.

Yet the chaos now threatening Iraqi unity could turn the whole country into a gigantic Lebanon, leaving it the plaything of regional poseurs such as Iran, Syria and Turkey, and removing its weight in the delicate regional balance of power. If Iran managed to control Basra, Iraq's access to the sea and its ability to export its oil through the Persian Gulf would be lost, making economic recovery much more difficult or impossible.

If the United States and its allies do nothing else in the Gulf, they can't allow Iraq to be dismembered. The Iraqis themselves can resolve their differences with Saddam and his clique as they will, but President Bush and the other leaders of the allied coalition must make it clear to Iran, the other regional states and to Iraq's own disgruntled fragments that the defeated country can't be carved up.


The overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be of great benefit, not only to this country but to his own. That means departure of the whole apparatus of tyranny: his kin, his cronies from Takrit, the Baath Party and the secret police. This would make possible a stable security arrangement in the gulf, reconstruction credit for Iraq, personal liberty for Iraqis and settlement of other Issues....

The dismemberment of Iraq would be a disaster not only for that country but for our own. It would open insoluble strife, unleash nationalisms in conflict with each other and with religious pinions. The anarchy might destabilize all Arab gulf states and require the presence of U.S. troops next door long after Americans wanted them gone. Small wonder that Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker emphasized that the U.S. did not seek the breakup of Iraq....

British influence invented Iraq in the breakup of the Turkish Empire following World War I, assembling a nation- state out of three provinces whose populations had little in common. With their classical leaning, the English were charmed at putting back together ancient Mesopotamia and guiding it to independence as Iraq.

In the north around Mosul, the people were Kurds, Muslims but not Arabs. Putting them in Iraq separated them from Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Soviet Union. Ever since, when one of these countries wanted to make trouble for another, it stirred up the other's Kurds. All oppose an independent Kurdistan, for which Kurds hunger.

In the center around Baghdad, a great capital in medieval times, were Arabs who were Sunni Muslims, in the Arab mainstream. Though barely a third of the people, these would rule and hold Iraq together as an Arab nation. And so they have.

In the south, around Basra, were Arabs who were Shiite Muslims, opposed to secular authority, their clerics trained in schools with Iranian Shiites. Shiites are the fastest-growing segment and now more than half the population. During the Iran-Iraq war, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran hoped -- and Saddam Hussein in Iraq feared -- that Shiites would detach the south from Iraq and join it to Persian Iran. They did not. Their Arab nationalism overcame their religion.

But now they are rebelling against hated tyranny. They are capable of ruling southern Iraq, but not the whole country. Saddam Hussein has sent a deputy prime minister to Tehran in a desperate bid for that regime's help in keeping Iraq and his power whole. The U.S.-led coalition has unleashed forces it cannot control. Wars do that.

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File Identification:  NE-314
PDQ Text Link:  175124