Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

War in Iraq, Afghanistan Topics at 55th MEI Conference

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

War in Iraq, Afghanistan Topics at 55th MEI Conference

Article excerpt


The Middle East Institute, in association with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, held its 55th annual conference Oct. 19 and 20 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Speakers and listeners gathered to discuss the various challenges facing the Bush administration in the Middle East, especially following the events of Sept. 11 and their ongoing ramifications. While Friday's meeting was an all-day affair, replete with a reception and banquet, Saturday's talks were more subdued, with two panels addressing U.S. policy toward Iraq and the changes occurring in Turkey, Iran and Central Asia.

Moderated by MEI vice president David Mack, the first panel included Sharif Ali Bin Al Hussein, a representative of the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC); Robert Pelletreau, who discussed containment of Iraq; and Dr. Shafeeq Ghabra of the Kuwait Information Office in Washington.

Bin Al Hussein first depicted Iraq as a totalitarian state whose people are experiencing the dual suffering of internal repression by Saddam Hussain's forces and external aggression from the United States and Great Britain. He compared Saddam Hussain's regime to that of Hitler and the Gulf war to World War II, noting that "in the Gulf war, the allies stopped their attack" short of invading Iraq. Hussain's continued dominance in Iraq is therefore partly the fault of the allied forces, Bin Al Hussein argued, and it is exactly those forces that should aid in Hussain's necessary deposition, he said.

This deposition not only is possible, Bin Al Hussein maintained, but imminent. Internationally, Iraq's leader is perceived as a global threat whose elimination would bring stability to the region. Of course, as a representative of a coalition of opposition groups, Bin Al Hussein avoided the issue of the power vacuum that would arise following Saddam Hussain's downfall. He instead presented the INC as a single front which unanimously supports the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Iraq. INC forces are ready and willing to overthrow Iraq's president, he insisted, and, given direct U.S. military involvement, the battle could be won in "a matter of days, if not hours."

The likelihood of such an occurrence is slim, however, especially since the U.S. is most interested in maintaining the already shaky support of Arab and Muslim countries for its war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq would likely weaken that support significantly.

Robert Pelletreau, former ambassador to Egypt and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, did not offer much hope for the fulfillment of Bin Al Hussein's goals. "The core of our approach must be international legitimacy," Pelletreau stated. "We frankly have no support today" to remove Saddam Hussain, he said, or to place him before an international war crimes tribunal.

Pelletreau advocated continuation of the policy of containment, including sanctions, against Iraq, with the goal of preventing military buildup in that country, particularly with regard to weapons of mass destruction. Pelletreau yielded slightly by admitting that under the current sanctions it is the Iraqi people who are suffering, and not the government. He did not propose any changes to the current policy, however, stating only that while maintaining sanctions and the policy of containment and deterrence, "we should work to improve the condition of ordinary Iraqis."

Shafeeq Ghabra countered Pelletreau's statements by suggesting the American was making a few unwarranted assumptions. Foremost amongst these is the idea that the Gulf war is actually over. "It's not," Ghabra stated. U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia which are used to patrol Iraq's no-fly zone have been cited as a cause of Bin Laden's Sept. 11 attack. This, he maintained, is "the price of maintaining the status quo." Ghabra also addressed the issue of power allocation in Iraq, insisting that "to engage [the region] partially and temporarily without understanding the political realities" would result in a vacuum of power to be filled by another form of radicalism. …

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