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Iraq on the cusp

The unanswered questions are: Will the Saddam Hussein regime collapse like a house of cards, or will the prolonged street-by- street fighting be enacted?

india Updated: Apr 08, 2003 12:54 IST
PTI

Though it is hard to be too certain about a war in which so much of news reporting from the theatre of the fight has been exposed as sheer propaganda, the balance of probabilities might suggest that the American forces are now knocking at the gates of Baghdad.

It is difficult to know if a new phase of the conflict is about to be joined and, indeed, urban warfare about to commence. Again, if it does boil down to that, no one seems to have a fix on the course such a fight might take. The unanswered questions are: will the Saddam Hussein regime collapse like a house of cards, or will the nightmare scenario (from the coalition standpoint) of prolonged street-by- street and house-to-house fighting be enacted?

A good deal of the politics that surrounds the invasion is likely to be influenced by the answer to these questions. A quick rout of the Iraqi dictatorship will probably give the US enormous leverage in determining what follows, specifically in dictating the political agenda for conquered Iraq. On the other hand, if the American forces get bogged down, domestic support for President George W. Bush, which is said to have risen dramatically in the past week, may just as quickly evaporate. In such an eventuality, international clamour may be expected to rise for the withdrawal of the coalition armies from Iraq and for direct UN intervention to put a devastated country back on its feet.

The wholly unexpected appearance of President Hussein on the streets of Baghdad in a gesture of absolute defiance seems to have had two effects: it awed the world and electrified the Arab street. There is a political value that attaches to both. But there is a third possible consideration as well. Should the fighting get stretched out much further, the very presence of Mr Hussein in the highly charged and confusing situation could become a political factor of some substance. In nearly three weeks in Iraq the Anglo-American armies have not turned up an iota of evidence that the Saddam regime was harbouring weapons of mass destruction. This is an issue that may be expected to dog future debates on the standing of those who launched the invasion and on what to do with war-ravaged Iraq.

First Published: Apr 07, 2003 00:01 IST