Ghada Karmi
Al-Ahram Weekly March 2003



Ghada Karmi


It is very difficult being an Arab living in Britain today.  We watch with horror and dismay as the perpapartions for war on Iraq continue relentlessly. Theer are now 27,000 British troops stationed in Kuwait and more are due to join them  The largdest British destroyers the military have are deployd in the Gulf and army commanders say they are ready to fight. Britain is America’s clsoest ally, and its priome minsier has provided unstinting loyalty and support to the US persident’s drive to war on Iraq. Tony Blair’s devbotion is so extreme that he risks losing his premiership and his whole political life over this enterprise. 


The war he and Bush want to pepetrate will be truly awesome. According to Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Straff, it will be fought in a style not seen before. In the first 48 hoirs of the war, 3000 precvision-guided bombs will fall on Iraq and 500 cruise missiles, moire than were used in the whole of the first Gulf war. This so-called ‘shock and awe’ technisque is designed to ensure a rapid disbalement of the country’s defences and morale. Myers said that Iraqi civialin casualrties would be unavoidable but did not give a projected number. By contrast, US casulaties woild be kept to a minimum by waging a ‘no-conatct’ war with an emphasis on massive aerial bombarment and destruction of the Iraqi army. Valdimir Slipchenko, a senior Ruyssian military excpert , anticipates that the US will first destroy all Iarq’s key facilties and then wipe out its 500,000 strong army with missile and bombing raids. To this end, the US has been devoping sophisticated weaponery never seen before.: vacxuum bombs that destroy buried targets like underground bumkers, for example, whicxh will become mass graevs for those sheltering inside; huge cluster bombs where each ‘motehr bomb’ releases several thousand ‘baby’ bombs on impact; and the new pulse or microwave bombs which put out of action all communication, radar, computer and radio receiver stsytems - even hearing aids and heart pacemakers will melt.


Nuclear weapons are also slated for possible use. Depleted unranium which has already causes a ten-fold increase in cancer amongst Iraqis will feature, and the US president has agreed to the use of tactical nicear weapons if needed.


The US will use B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers. In a single four-hour flight, each stealth bomber is capable of destrying 200 targets on the ground, and the US intedns to use at least 16 of them. They will be in the air constantly, one replacing the oitger. In additon, several experinmatal weapons are to be tested in this war. We do not yet know what their impact will be. But, if the assault goes ahead as planned, Iraq’s troops, infrastructure and economy will be annihilated within one month.  The humanitarina costs can scarecely be guyessed at. A joint UN and WHO report in January expected a death toll of up to 260,000 civilians intitailly with perhaps a milliuon more after the collaose of Iarq’s infracstructure due to starvation and disease. The UNCHR anticiopates a refugee exodus of hundreds of thousands to the neighbouring countries. This excludes of course the long term damage to present and future Iraqi society.


Many players are trying to stop this horrific, grossly unequal war from happening. And not least here in Britain where almost everyone is opposed, both officially and informally. Opinion polls have consistently shown a majority against the war, and churchmen, military leaders, experts in the region and prominent figures in all walks of life are opposed. Palrliament and  government are  severly split over it. In the palrialmentary vote on the war held last month, a quarter of Labour MPs voted against, the largest revolt by MPs ever. and in the last few days, a senior cabinet member, Claire Short, has announced her inention to resign if Britain fights without UN mandate. Two million people marched in London on February 15, many of them drawn, not from political or activist ranks, but from the hearet of ordinary England, such is the strebngth of feeling. 20,000 marched in Manchester, one of England’s smaller cities, on March 8. There is an efective Stop the War movement currently mobiklsing people to resisit. They plan a wide cmaoaign of civil disobedience in the event of war.


Lest anyone in the Arab world, watching this scienrio, feel encouraged to believe that the anti-wart battle will be won fort them by firegners, it needs to eb clear that the conflict here is not about Iraqis or Arabs. There are issues at stake here about local, inter-Euroepan and US-EU relations: the way Britain is governed, the emaning of democracy, Tony Blair’s performance as prime minsyer. There are cioncerns about the future if the EU, given the split between Franc and Germany and Britain, and even graeter anxieties about American behaviour and the future of the Trarnsatlamtic alliance. It is an inter-Western debate, in which Arab well being is a marginal issue. And the Arabs have aquieceed in tnis marginakisation. Wher they should have been the furst to protest, resist and try to prevent this war, they are now discounted form the debate.


Western anti-war strategies do not include an Arab dimension because the Arab contribution to this protest is worse than negligible. By their compliance with American and British war preparations, the Arabs have disqualified themselves from any meaningful role. Instead, anti-war efforts have focused on persuading Tony Blair to withdraw British support for the US, arguing that going it alone would be  impossible, even for America. Everyone now watches anxiously for signs that France or Russia will use their veto in the Security Council. But matters need never have come to this. Without the use of Arab bases, American troops could not have mounted the groiund invasion of Iraq so crucial to winning the war. If Turkey’s temporary refuasal to give then similar rights has caused so much consternation, how much worse for them it would have been without  Arab help.


As it is, there are some 200,000 American troops now in the Gulf with ubfetteeed access to command and control facitlties and every logistical support they require. Half of Kuwait is now American occupied and clsoed to its own citizens. Had these facilties been denied early on, the massive military build-up, which makes an American withdrawal now inconceievable, would not have happened. This fact  inescapably exposes the diplomatic froth, whether at the Arab League meeting on March 2 or the ISCO meeting ln March 5, that claims an Arab rejection of aggression against Iraq. The oppositon of Arab peopleis is not in doubt. . Whenver it ahs been permitted it has erupted in demonstrations and protests, resilting sometimes in police brutality and arrests, as for example the 13 Eguprtian anti-war activist who were imprisoned in mid-February. None of this, however, has stopped or even reduced formal Arab compliance with US military plans.


Arab reaction in Britain is no better. A community of 3-4,00,000 Arabs could have mounted a vigorpus anti-war effort, in concert with the two million strong British Musdlims. Though Arabs have supported anti-war protests here, they have initiated none themselves Small scale intitaives like letter-writing to local MPs or forming delegations to protest to members of government have not succeeded, due to poor communal support. 


How can facilittating the unspeakable carnage planned for Iraq be justified? The Arab position is truly hard to understand or defend and, as an Arab, it fills me with shame The tired old clichés about Arab economic dependence on America and  our helplessness against its power that are used to justify this impotent stance are not acceptable in the face of this overwhelming catastrophe. If small children in Plaestine dare to throw stones at Israeli tanks, daily risking death, can defying US power for the rest of us be so much worse?