No Menace to Neighbors

By Hallaj, Muhammad | The World and I, September 1998 | Go to article overview

No Menace to Neighbors


Hallaj, Muhammad, The World and I


Iraq has neither threatened nor attacked any Middle Eastern states not involved in territorial disputes with it.

It is said that the truth is the first casualty of war. Much of what Americans today unquestioningly believe about Iraq, including the notion that it is a country governed by mad men and is a menace to its neighbors, is the product of deliberate indoctrination and war hysteria.

This is a new perception. Eight years ago, when Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait in August 1990, Iraq--represented by the person of its president, Saddam Hussein--suddenly emerged as the new great menace in the Middle East. Until then, with the exception of its perennial territorial dispute over Shatt el-Arab with Iran, Iraq was not perceived as dangerous or particularly hostile to the United States or U.S. interests or friends and allies in the Middle East. What changed in the 1990s, Iraq or our perception of it?

Has Iraq become a security threat in the Middle East? And if so, what makes it such a menace that U.S. citizens in Atlanta and Houston felt the need to buy gas masks to protect themselves from the imagined threat of Iraqi chemical and bacteriological attack during the crisis over Kuwait? Why is Iraq now perceived as such a menace that public opinion tolerates an embargo so prolonged and so severe that it has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, mostly children, due to the lack of food, medicine, and spare parts and supplies, including chlorine, which is essential to sanitation and clean water?

Undoubtedly Iraq has been viewed as a warlike nation because of its involvement in one of the longest and costliest wars (with Iran) of the post-World War II period, followed by its invasion of Kuwait. These exposed Iraq to a most punishing military campaign from which it is still reeling. That Iraq has not been involved in nearly as many wars as the United States since World War II does not seem to moderate America's perception of Iraq as aggressive and warlike.

The system of sovereign nation-states is inherently lawless and necessarily makes every state potentially a menace to its neighbors, since war making is generally considered one of the prerogatives of sovereignty. But this is a universal problem and not one that is peculiar to Iraq.

In answering the question of whether Iraq is a security threat in the Middle East, it is significant to note that the only instances in which Iraq has been involved in war with its neighbors in its modern history (with Iran then Kuwait) have been limited to situations involving irredentist territorial disputes. Conflicts with other regional states, such as the extended contest with Syria, have been in political rivalries or ideological disagreements, and these have not been allowed to deteriorate into military confrontations.

Among those states in the Middle East that are not involved in irredentist territorial disputes with Iraq, none feels or has ever felt militarily threatened by it. …

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