"We’re here to demonstrate our readiness to go wherever we’re needed to go," said the commander of a motorized infantry unit.
Code-named "Eager Mace," the operation is one of the sets of practice maneuvers and training programs that are playing a big role in the accumulation and preparation of U.S. forces for an air assault on Iraq and ground-based thrust toward Baghdad.
Qatar is the destination for some 600 officers of the U.S. Central Command, who are being moved from their usual posts in Florida to the expanded Al Udeid base for the "Internal Look" exercises, in which, according to the official account, they will "test the command’s ability to set up a headquarters in a crisis."
Troops from Britain are holding maneuvers in Oman, where U.S. forces are also building a new airfield.
Thousands of miles away, on the West Coast of the United States, Navy officers have ordered a step-up in training and maintenance schedules for three aircraft carrier battle groups. These and other fighting ships are being made ready "to steam toward the Persian Gulf on short notice," stated one news report.
Officers acknowledge that troops won’t necessarily leave the region when their practice maneuvers are officially over. Those who are scheduled for rotation out of the area may end up staying alongside their replacements, according to reports.
"The question is not what moves into the region," said one officer. "It’s what stays."
Along with attacks by U.S. and British warplanes aimed at rendering ineffective large pieces of Iraq’s air defense capacity, such developments indicate the administration’s "rapid march toward a decision on war," noted the Washington Post.
The Pentagon’s planners do not start from scratch in massing their troops and weaponry of war in the region. Dating from the buildup to the 1990-–91 Gulf War, the U.S. armed forces have stationed more than 20,000 military personnel within close striking distance of Iraq, along with military bases and naval fleets in the broader area. "The permanent U.S. military presence in the region is in stark contrast to its relative absence 12 years ago," noted the Los Angeles Times.
The present U.S. military strength in the countries of the Arab-Persian Gulf--including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates--and nearby Turkey and Djibouti, along with the British colonial outpost of Diego Garcia, stands at some 30,400 personnel, according to military officials and researchers. Added to those forces are the 25,000 troops stationed on ships in the Gulf, including the Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier Group.
In the last week U.S. commanders have sent more than 500 Special Operations soldiers to the African nation of Djibouti. They are stationed to respond to developments in nearby Yemen and Somalia, described as "potential hot spots" by government officials.
"Elite" forces like these are expected to play a major part in the Pentagon’s war plans. "Special Operations troops have been told to separate from the military temporarily and to join CIA units that could be used in any campaign," reported the New York Times. The troops would engage in "covert missions," continued the September 23 report, "while allowing the Pentagon to maintain that no uniformed combat forces were in action."
Senior military officials told the reporter that "no American military forces were operating in Iraq." However, they refused to say "whether the CIA was already undertaking missions there." In Northern Iraq, U.S. operatives have been actively trying to draw Kurdish opposition forces into the war preparations.
While keeping open its options, including that of assembling a huge invading army on the half-million-strong scale of the 1990–91 assault, administration officials have tended to speak publicly in favor of an offensive by a smaller strike force. One journalist wrote that "war planners" have openly discussed an "Inside Out" plan, involving a "quick, deep strike towards Baghdad with the goal of decapitating [Saddam Hussein’s] command structure, collapsing his government and sowing chaos among his army....
"Air strikes would radiate outwards from Baghdad," continued the writer, "while a U.S. ground force of 50,000 to 90,000 troops would seize other cities in a rapid advance from Kuwait, and possibly Turkey, to Baghdad, where they would destroy Saddam’s elite Republican Guard troops. This, in theory, would lead to a domino-effect army mutiny or mass surrender," she concluded.
Alongside the buildup of troops and materiel, the Bush administration, backed by London, has called on the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution--in addition to previous such edicts--setting a deadline for Baghdad to admit weapons inspectors and threatening "consequences" if it does not comply.
Fabricated crisis, cyclone of accusations
The Iraqi foreign minister accused the Bush administration of being responsible for a "cyclone of American accusations and fabricated crises against Iraq." Baghdad has said that it will "not cooperate with a new [UN] resolution that is different from what has been agreed upon with the secretary general" Kofi Annan.
As the diplomatic maneuvering and preparations of inspections teams proceeded, President Bush asserted before Congress his right to "use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, to...defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq." A procession of White House figures have appeared before the legislators in well-publicized hearings to underline their intentions to take military action.
After Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House International Committee that the forcible conquest of Iraq would be an act of "liberation," ranking Democratic Congressman Thomas Lantos of California said, "There isn’t a single sentence [in Powell’s speech] with which I disagree."
"If the United Nations Security Council won’t deal with the problem, the United States and some of our friends will," said Bush before Congress on September 19.
Diplomatic clash with Germany
U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have made it clear through a series of diplomatic slights that Washington does not number its Berlin counterpart among such "friends."
Tensions between the governments of the largest European power and its North American rival rose to the surface during the German election campaign, when Chancellor Gerhard Shröder refused to back the U.S. war drive. The dispute escalated when German justice minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin reportedly compared Bush’s foreign policy tactics to the those of Hitler. Bush’s foreign affairs adviser Condoleeza Rice described the atmosphere between the two governments as "poisoned."
By contrast, said Rice, "We have had really excellent discussions with [French] President Chirac every time that we’ve met him."
Following the elections Schröder has been reconfirmed as German chancellor. His Social Democratic Party, which dropped two and a half percent from its results in the election four years ago, tied with the Christian Democratic Party in the September 22 poll. Schröder’s Green Party coalition partner ensured his reelection when its vote climbed by more than a quarter over 1998 to 8.6 percent.
Of the 120,000 U.S. troops in Europe, Washington keeps some 70,000 on German soil. In the Gulf War of a decade ago, the Pentagon relied heavily on U.S. bases at Rhein-Main, near Frankfurt, and Ramstein, in southwestern Germany. The same installations were used by the U.S. military in its assaults on Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. In spite of Shröder’s election stance, he has not ruled out the use of the bases in the coming invasion.
Even more crucial to the Washington-led imperialist war will be the numerous U.S. military installations in the Gulf oil states and elsewhere in the Middle East. While virtually all the governments in the region, save Israel, have gone on record as opposing "unilateral" U.S. action, "the reality is that some Arab nations are cooperating with preparations for a U.S. military campaign," reported the September 23 Washington Post. As evidence the article cited the airfields, warehouses, and other facilities provided to the U.S. military effort by the regimes in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
For their part, continued the report, "influential Egypt and Syria have chosen evasion as the best course... [steering] the debate away from the question of U.S. plans to overthrow Hussein to the issue of getting arms inspectors into Iraq."
Speaking in Washington during a recent visit, Jordan’s foreign minister emphasized its "strategic, political and economic relationship with the United States." The Post’s journalists, however, noted that Jordanian ruler King Abdullah has not publicized this position at home. "The king is firmly in the saddle, yet it is hard for him to even say Jordan is too weak to do anything," said political analyst Labib Kamhawi. "Avoidance of reality is the option for now." The majority of Jordan’s population of 5 million are Palestinians. The country is also home to tens of thousands of Iraqis.
1990-91 in Gulf: a U.S.-led war for Big Oil
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home