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Iraq: Book Outlines Five Options For U.S. Policy

  • Charles Fenyvesi

Washington, 19 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A Washington institute specializing in international affairs has called for a strategic reappraisal of American policy to Iraq.

In a book entitled "Iraq Strategy Review," the Washington Institute for Near East Policy outlined five different options for Washington's approach to Iraq. The publication was issued a few weeks before the eruption of the latest Iraq crisis triggered by Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. Iraq backed down subsequently in the face of U.S. military might.

While openly acknowledging that each option carries significant risks, Patrick Clawson, the book's editor, contends that continuing the current policy without a systematic consideration of the alternatives would entail still greater difficulties.

The first option presented is called "broad containment," which is a strengthened version of current American policies. It may well be the policy that the Clinton administration will pursue in the short run. It calls for a shoring up of U.N. weapons inspections by recruiting more non-Anglo-American professionals, a tightening of restrictions on Iraqi imports and closing loopholes for oil exports across Iranian waters. It also calls for an extension of the current no-fly and no-drive zones in case Iraqi President Saddam Hussein takes provocative military measures and a development of a credible policy on when and how the U.S. may apply force in the conflict.

The second option, called "narrow containment," confines itself to restricting Iraq's military capabilities, and current U.S. policy seems to embrace some elements of it. In this option, the United States would rely only on a small coalition of states, instead of the U.N. The one country indispensable to carrying out this particular option would be Kuwait, though the U.S. would seek the support of close allies such as Britain and Japan, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey.

The third option is undermining the Iraqi regime by backing Saddam Hussein's opposition, which is already happening to some extent. Such an initiative would mean help for the coalition known as Iraq National Congress as well as regional groups such as the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South along with new forces that might emerge. Other methods recommended under the rubric of this option have not taken place. They include establishing safe heavens for the opposition, convincing Saddam Hussein's current supporters to turn against him and providing significant military aid to the opposition.

The risk of this third option is a possible disintegration of the Iraqi state, which would constitute a policy change that does not appear to have taken place. But the study declares that a successful takeover by a democratic force would be "a major triumph for U.S. interests," which is an argument hard to disagree with.

The fourth option, deterrence, is a dramatically scaled-down version of the two containment options. It would mean an acquiescence in Saddam Hussein's staying in power and a de-emphasis on the Iraqi dictatorship as a foreign policy issue. This is seen as not an option that is feasible in the short run.

The fifth and final option is the most ambitious, calling for invasion and occupation. The study estimates that a successful military operation could take between three and seven months, possibly with significant American casualties. This course of action is not one that is seriously contemplated at present.

Even more difficult than an invasion, the book contends, would be the creation of a viable Iraqi government committed to peace with its neighbors and to international norms. Such a development might take from three to six years, but it does not appear to be a priority at present.