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from issue no. 04 - 2003

The campaign of 2003

The historians of the future will not have an easy task sifting through the documents of a period that, after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan, has witnessed the disappearance – alive or dead – of the fearful Bin Laden and the Anglo-American war against Iraq.

Giulio Andreotti

An american soldier

An american soldier

The historians of the future will not have an easy task sifting through the documents of a period that, after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan, has witnessed the disappearance – alive or dead – of the fearful Bin Laden and the Anglo-American war against Iraq.
Judgement of Saddam Hussein is almost generally negative, but it is no accident that two phases can be distinguished. Up to 1990 he enjoyed wide sympathy, not only western (Mubarak for example backed him). He was approved for attacking Khomeini’s Iran, despite the fact that the Iraqis used chemical weapons. When the war between the two countries came to an end, it was perhaps a lesser evil that Saddam Hussein continued to enjoy concrete sympathies. If, in his imperialistic design he hadn’t invaded Kuwait, the well-wishing would have continued. All the more so because Teheran had kept the government of the United States in check by allowing their embassy to be occupied for more than a year by extremist students.
In 1978 I had occasion to meet Saddam Hussein during the mission to soften the reaction of Islamic states to the Rabin-Sadat agreement that had suddenly broken through the tough hostility towards the Jewish state. Of the three assignments allotted to the Italian government, Baghdad was the most difficult. With Gheddafi, not least because… a neighbor, a certain relationship existed. It was a matter, in fact, only of a formal meeting without a lunch invitation from the numero uno and without a stop-over. In Amman, also, there was an official discussion with His Majesty, whom we found to be party to the criticism, but with the courtesy and calm that distinguished him.
The head of the Iraqi Republic was General Bakr, but Saddam Hussein was the de facto number one. Forlani and myself had two long interviews with him, plus a working breakfast and lunch.
Bakr, whom we saw first, was pathetic. He was puzzled that we hadn’t grasped that there was a simple way of resolving the burning issue of the State of Israel. He didn’t give too much importance to the agreement signed by Sadat: his successor would repudiate it. For the rest, no problem with the Jews who were there before 1948 and with their descendants: but the rest had to go back home, though they’d always be welcome as tourists. To make his thinking clearer, he told us that it would be like the Italians giving up their claim to Dalmatia. He smiled when we replied that we weren’t even thinking about it. It was clear we had to say that.
Saddam Hussein was much more concrete and, setting aside his formal courtesy, we immediately felt his toughness. He considered the Egyptian leader’s accomodation to be treason. The UN decision instituting the two states and, in fact, only made concrete in the founding of the Jewish state, had to be annulled. The dialogue went on to many other topics, including relations – or better non-relations – with the United States. He brought up no prejudicial arguments and indeed expressed a wish for regularizing relations. He seemed very interested in this, indicating a strong motive of psychological conflict on the part of the Americans, something that weighed on him. He also hoped for understanding from the countries of the European Community; expressing appreciation for the pluralism of the new creation, in which even Germany could find the satisfactions that had been denied to Hitler. And here our host was most explicit. He began by praising Hitler’s education program with military training of children from four years up. We objected that there had been similar programs [under Fascism ed.] in Italy with the young Balillas (we forgot to mention the Sons of the Wolf), but that they had been practically the stuff of fantasy. He answered with force: «Do you think Hitler would otherwise have been able in less than eight years to raise up an army that put almost the whole world in check?».
He praised Italy for giving up its colonies. Let’s forget it; the fact that they were taken away soon turned out to be a blessing.
Thinking that Catholics would appreciate it, he revealed that in revolutionary Iraq’s secular institutions no religious belief was imposed on the people, as demonstrated by the freedom of Christian worship (which didn’t exist in other countries with Islamic leadership, without there being international sanctions). This difference, however, he presented as belying the supposed Islamic monolithic bloc in potential struggle with the rest of the world. He saw positively solid agreements in prospect with other states. He deplored the fact that the successor to the Shah of Persia who had seemed a friend while he was their guest, now stood threateningly against them. Good prospects instead for the union with Syria: the ad hoc joint committee (all sight of which was later lost) was going ahead rapidly.
I was struck in the circumstance by the security measures. When I came out with him not only were the roads deserted – no cars parked – but we had police jeeps in front, behind and alongside our vehicle.
During the Iraq-Iran war Italy took its turn on the Security Council which was largely in favour of Khomeini’s enemy. A certain Italian-German-Japanese non-partisanship was looked at askance. I remember that out of session I cut short the proposal for a committee of enquiry into responsibilities for the war, with relative cost of the committee itself (the bureaucratic aspects are inexorable). All it took was to spend fifty cents on a back number of the New York Times to see the text of the proclamation with which Saddam had opened hostilities.
During the war itself we received an Iraqi parliamentary delegation evidently hoping for a contribution to the search for a solution.
In 1990 the occupation of Kuwait brought Iraq back on to the front pages of the world’s newspapers.
Saddam Hussein had not given any weight to the possibility of armed reaction from the UN when he invaded the neighboring emirate. The improbable rumour went around for a long time that he had gathered from a conversation with the ambassadress of the United States that he could do so with impunity. Many tried to get him to withdraw – Italy included – and in particular Gorbacev’s envoys made impassioned missions from Moscow, while Daniel Ortega crossed the Atlantic twice for the same reason. In the meantime there was large-scale military deployment under the aegis of the UN, but Saddam did not yield. Repeated appeals were made from Rome through the Christian Tareq Aziz. It’s as well to note at this point that Italy’s participation did not contravene Article 11 of the Italian Constitution since it was not a matter of resolving an international controversy but of liberating an occupied country. If there had been no armed reaction – after all other possibilities had been exhausted – the way was open for the oppressing of weak countries with impunity.
The Gulf War was very short. And here a still relevant question arises. Why were the defeated Iraqis not pursued and Baghdad occupied, thus putting an end to the regime? In recent days President Bush senior has re-opened the delicate topic, attributing the halt to the allies of the United States. It’s a delicate topic for him, because – a little later - it probably cost him re-election. His fellow citizens, who had been gradually led to hate Saddam, were asking themselves why he was still in power. The demon was still in the saddle, making the whole exercise seem almost futile. Many Americans were totally ignorant of what and where Kuwait was. Is it true that the Allies prevented the march on Baghdad? It is true, beginning with the very firm stance of President Mitterrand. But, in our own small way,we’d got the agreement of Parliament to the restoring of Kuwait to the Emir and to nothing else.
An Iraqi woman in Basra, holding her son wounded by a coalition bomb

An Iraqi woman in Basra, holding her son wounded by a coalition bomb

Aside from well-founded objective doubts about the human risks of following up, there was also the fear of bringing about an earthquake throughout the region and beyond. The scars of the conflict with Iran were not yet healed and the danger of stirring up a defensive Islamic front against the West was no fantasy.
Nor can one forget the delicate problem of the Kurds among whom the idea of another attempt at unification was stirring (I use the past tense with optimism).
Since then there’s been no lack of attempts to get rid of Saddam: from opposition groups funded even officially by the US to systematic Anglo-American bombing. More: the UN set an embargo on Iraq allowing its oil to be traded only in modest quantities paid for in food and medicine. Unfortunately the relative complex bureaucratic mechanism has caused a boundless number of deaths in Iraq among undernourished children and sick people who couldn’t be treated.
And now?
In the background lies the nightmare of 11 September 2001. If in shock the American had given way to wild reactions it would have been irresponsible but it may perhaps have relieved the dramatic tension. The war in Afghanistan was instead coolly conceived and acted on, with relative political success in that the Taleban regime collapsed but Bin Laden hasn’t been found and the situation is unstable outside the capital of Kabul.
And now the hunt is on for the Iraqi tyrant, passing over an early declaration of the links between Bin Laden and Saddam. The military forces are so ill-matched that the coalition is bound to win. And afterwards? Will the UN be able to rise to the challenge or must other formulas for world co-operation be sought for? Will the accusations made against other countries in the area of being rogue states be passed over, or will there be other coalition wars? How will Iraq be governed internally given that earlier democratic formulas can’t be given new life since they never existed? And will the politicians – Iraqis and foreigners – be able to keep control or will the business world take over the monopoly?
Maybe by the time this article comes out things will have reached – though it’s hazardous to use the word – clarification.
But the law of speed in destruction, and slowness in reconstruction is inexorable.
Perhaps, when all the sums are done, nobody will come out a winner from the campaign of 2003.

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