Persian Gulf War 2: Political and Military Minefields

by Priye Torulagha

The war to effect a regime change in Iraq began on March 19, 2003 after President George Bush Jr. gave President Saddam Hussein 48-hours ultimatum to totally disarm and vacate his position as the leader of the country. Unlike the Persian Gulf War 1 of 1991, Persian Gulf War 2 is very controversial because it is being waged without the support of the United Nations. Persian Gulf War 1 had the total support of the United Nations and was considered legitimate while Persian Gulf War 2 is viewed as a war of aggression by many countries. The countries which oppose the war feel that it is an unnecessary war since the U.N. was actively trying to disarm Iraq through a peaceful monitoring effort. The U.S. and Britain believe that they are justified to launch a war against Iraq due to its failure to comply with U.N. Resolutions.

Thus, Persian Gulf War 2 and its aftermath are filled with potential political and military minefields that can alter the balance of power and the nature of power in the Middle East. The minefields include (1) the issue of legitimacy, (2) international law and obligations, (3) psychological effects of the war, (4) the kinds of weapons being used, (5) potential use of unconventional military tactics, and (6) installing a post-Saddam Hussein government.

1. The Issue of Legitimacy

Although seventeen resolutions were passed by the United Nations to deal with Iraq, the efforts by the U.S., Britain, Italy, and Spain to pass another (eighteenth) resolution authorizing clearly the use of force to disarm Iraq did not pass. The failure puts into question the legitimacy of the ongoing war against Iraq. Since it is being fought without international approval, those who oppose the war view it as an unjust war. On the other hand, the U.S., Britain, Italy, and Spain believe that the war is justified under Resolution 1441.

Due to the question of legitimacy, some countries which support the war are doing so very secretly and do not want to be openly identified as supporting the U.S. and Britain. Countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Poland, etc., do not want to be openly associated with the war because a majority of their citizens oppose it. Some American and British citizens are torn by the scale of bombing and destruction that are being inflicted upon the Iraqis. Likewise, as the war drags on a little longer, the psychological trauma for the Arab and Islamic supporters of the war are increasing. Some countries waited until the war began before voicing their support. South Korea and Japan just recently announced their full support for the war. Some countries are still contemplating and would probably announced their support for the coalition as soon Baghdad falls and President Hussein is driven away.

On the other hand, countries like South Africa, Nigeria, France, Germany, China, Russia, Libya, Indonesia, etc., openly opposed the war with Iraq without U.N. backing. In Africa, for example, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa agreed to draft a letter on the African position toward the war. A letter was drafted accordingly and Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki signed it. At the last minute, it appeared that Senegalese leader Abdoulaye Wade made an about face and quietly drafted another letter with a very different language. The Senegalese leader signed and sent the second letter to the United Nations, instead of the first one. The U.N. ended up with two letters from the three African countries. Nigeria and South Africa were furious at Senegal’s timid behavior. The United States tried to pressure Nigeria to change its mind but Nigeria refused to do so. The U.S. reacted by announcing the cancellation of a military assistance program in Nigeria and Nigeria reacted by saying “Nigeria is a sovereign country and has a right to take a position on world issues, we must resist any attempt by anybody to undermine this sovereignty” (Techmail, 2003, March 21).

2. International Law and Obligations

As a result of the fact that the war is being fought outside the framework of the United Nations, the U.S. is increasingly going to find it difficult to cite international law or justify its actions based on international law when dealings with other countries. For instance, the countries which oppose the war do not seem to take the U.S. and Britain seriously when the two countries make reference to Iraq’s potential violations of the Geneva Convention. Likewise, not much consideration is paid to the American allegation that Russian firms had sold very sensitive radar technological equipments to Iraq by the countries which do not agree with the war. They view the U.S. and Britain as violating international law (Mohammed, 2003, March 24). The reaction toward the Russian involvement in the selling of electronic jamming, night vision goggles, and anti-tank missiles would have been very different if the U.N. monitors were allowed to continue their work. As a result, those who oppose the war feel that the U.S. is not in a position to cite international law since it attacked Iraq outside the support of the United Nations. In other words, it is illogical for a country to cite international law when its actions are also tantamount to the violation of international law.

The U.S. should find a way to end the war very quickly. Any prolongation can be disadvantageous to the U.S. position since it does not have the support of the U.N. As it is, any country in the world can quietly assist Iraq without being afraid of violating international sanctions under the current military situation. Such a nation can rationalize that since the U.S war is illegal, other countries too have a right to come to the aid of Iraq. Moreover, President Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials believe strongly that the U.S. and Britain are aggressors while they are victims of unprovoked aggression.

3. Psychological Effect of the War

Although Iraq will be defeated and Saddam Hussein will be removed from power, nevertheless, Iraq has a psychological edge over the United States and Britain in the ongoing conflict. Since the war was not authorized by the United Nations, the Iraqis believe that they are fighting a war of resistance against foreign invaders. Evidently, Iraqi military officials are assuming and rationalizing that they have a right to use whatever means necessary to repel American and British attacks. A high ranking Iraqi official announced that Iraq would use suicide bombing as a tool of the war.

Due to the issue of legitimacy, the U.S. and British forces would have to uphold every international war convention as the Iraqi war goes on. If the U.S. repeatedly makes mistakes after announcing to the entire world that it has “smart bombs”, it would be portrayed as behaving criminally for killing innocent civilians through reckless use of force. Already, some Arab lawyers are planning to file cases against the U.S.

Iraqi soldiers are aware that the United Nations did not approve the war against their country, therefore, they assume that they have a right to inflict as much damage on American and British troops as possible. On the other hand, most American fighters are aware that the U.N. did not approve the war against Iraq. This realization tends to force them to constantly agonize about the legitimacy of the war as well as making sure that they do not violate war conventions. The eyes of the world are focused on the behavior of the coalition forces.

Iraq also seems to have a psychological advantage since the war did not go as intended. The U.S. and Britain had strategized on knocking off Iraqi forces as quickly as possible based on “shock and awe.” The theory was based on the belief that the Iraqi forces would collapse and surrender on the weight of massive air campaign. The Iraqi forces have not collapsed despite massive bombing. Instead, Iraq came up with a multiple military strategy which involves the use of both conventional and unconventional tactics. The regular military forces use conventional tactics while the Fedayeen uses unconventional tactics to harass, surprise and complicate matters for the coalition forces. The failure of the original military plan forced Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace to comment “The enemy we we’re fighting against is different from the one we’d war-gamed against” (Kellmand, 203, March 28). Reporter Kellman quoted the general as saying publicly that “Pentagon war strategists had misunderstood the combativeness of Iraqi fighters. The miscalculation had stalled the coalition’s drive toward Baghdad” (ibid.).

4. The kinds of Weapons being Used

Since the war is not sanctioned by the United Nations, the U.S. has to be careful in the kinds of weapons it uses against Iraq. Likewise, the U.S. has to be very careful about constantly bombing Baghdad. Excessive use of high tonnage bombs could be considered to be a violation of the principle of noncombatant immunity. The reason being that dropping high-tonnage bombs on a crowded city like Baghdad would automatically affect both combatants and noncombatants. Dropping such bombs repeatedly for days would turn the world against the United States for using excessive force. Watching the constant bombardment of Baghdad reminds one of the German excessive bombardment of London and the allied repeated bombardment of German cities, especially Dresden, during the Second World War.

If the U.S. keeps dropping those awe-inspiring high-tonnage bombs on heavily populated cities, it could even force people to accept Iraqi use of biochemical weapons as a defensive tactics to stop American effort to bomb them to defeat through the air. Likewise, as the Arabic and the Islamic world watch with dismay the constant bombardment of Iraqi cities, many Arabs and Moslems could volunteer to fight on behalf of Iraq as guerrilla fighters using terrorist means. Therefore, the most effective way to minimize universal condemnation of excessive American bombardment of Baghdad is to end the war very quickly. It is doubtful whether the world would tolerate another three or four weeks of heavy tonnage bombardment of Iraqi cities, especially Baghdad.

The coalition forces also have an image problem in the sense that the prewar military strategy which assumed that immediately the U.S. started dropping the awe-inspiring high-precision bombs, Iraqi forces would be shocked to surrender has not come to pass. Instead, the Iraqis continue to change tactics, thereby minimizing the “shock and awe” effect. On the other hand, every Iraqi stratagem to delay the final collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime is being viewed upon as a courageous effort to confront the mightiest military power on the face of the world. Each day that passes without the collapse of the Iraqi regime is viewed upon by an increasing number of people as a brilliant and courageous Iraqi defensive strategy.

5. Potential use of unconventional war tactics

The probability that the U.S. and Britain would face innumerable challenges even after the country has been totally purged of Saddam Hussein’s influence is very high. The reason being that some Iraqis would still regard the U.S. and Britain to be the aggressors and wage a guerrilla war using terrorist tactics. It is very likely that some of the Iraqi soldiers would surrender for now and then clandestinely apply hit and run tactics against the coalition forces later on. The Fedayeen fighters are already adopting guerrilla tactics. Even after Saddam Hussein’s forces are thoroughly defanged, not all the Fedayeen fighters are likely to disarm. Those who escaped the demilitarization effort could easily become marauding bandits and roam the country to eliminate anyone who supports the American/British presence in Iraq. The Fedayeen can easily become the Algerian equivalent of the Islamic Salvation Front and wage a nasty war against any American imposed regime in the country.

As part of their effort to frustrate the U.S. control of Iraq, some of the countries which oppose the war can also quietly sponsor various guerilla groups or militias to harass and frustrate American and British interests, just as the Hezbollah did in Lebanon against Israeli occupation in the 1980s. Already, there are rumors and news reports that arms are flowing into Iraq through Syria (Slevin, 2003, March 29). The U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently warned both Syria and Iran. “threatening that the United States would hold them accountable for interfering in the U.S.-led war against neighboring Iraq” (Slevin, 2003, March 29).

To avoid being entrapped after Persian Gulf War 2, the U.S. must be very cautious in dealing with the Shiites and the Kurds. Southern Iraqis, sometimes refer to as “Marsh Arabs,” are predominantly Shiites who share the same religious and political values with the Iranians. The Iranians can easily align with the Shiites in an effort to create an independent Shiite state. Likewise, having been trained, financed and equipped by the U.S., the Kurds of Northern Iraq can threaten Turkey in an effort to create an independent Kurdistan. The Sunni Moslems of Central Iraq would be seriously offended by their possible marginalization in a new Iraq, as the Kurds and the Shiites become the new superstars in a deSaddamized Iraq.

Fearful of losing their strategic advantage following the US/British defeat of Saddam Hussein, countries like Russia, France, Syria etc. could make political life very difficult for the two countries. They could sponsor and supply arms to resistant groups and thereby frustrate the U.S. It should not be forgotten that the U.S. was responsible for preventing the Soviet consolidation of a communist system in Afghanistan during Soviet occupation. The Russians could decide to pay the U.S. back in kind by supplying Iraqi anti-American dissidents with arms.

6. Installing a Post-Saddam Hussein Government

A major political minefield that the U.S and Britain could face after the war is won against Saddam Hussein is putting a new government in power. For over nine years, due to the No Fly Zones in Northern and Southern Iraq, the Kurds and the Shiites have been separated technically from the other parts of Iraq. In particular, the Kurds have actually experienced some form of self rule. Thus, it would be very monumental to establish a new government in which the Sunnis, Kurds, and the Shiites coexist as political coequals in Iraq. Moreover, the power struggle among the major ethnic groups would be incredulously fierce. If a Sunni were put in power, after Saddam Hussein, the Kurds and the Shiites could rebel, having been ruled continuously by the Sunnis. If a Kurd were put in power, the Sunnis and the Shiites could rebel. In addition, Turkey and Iran would be scared, fearing that the Kurdish president of Iraq would be very supportive of sponsoring a Kurdish rebellion in Turkey and Iran. If a Shiite were put in power, the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia would be frightened of a possible alliance between the Shiites and Iran.

The possibility of these ethnic groups receiving clandestine support from outside elements to destabilize an American installed leader in the country is very high. In Afghanistan, after almost two years, President Ahmid Karzai is still looked upon as an American imposed leader by other political and military factions. The same could happen in Iraq. If Saddam Hussein is killed, his home town could easily serve as a rallying center of Sunni resistance against any outside imposed political leadership in the country.

Already, some friction seem to be developing between the United States and the Iraqi opposition. Journalistic reports indicate that as soon as Saddam Hussein is driven from power, the U.S. intends to set up an interim authority to oversee Iraq until a very broad and representative government made up of all Iraqi ethnic groups is put in place. The Iraqi opposition wants a provisional Iraqi government run by members of the opposition to take place as soon as Saddam Hussein is overthrown. The opposition views the U.S. “interim authority” plan as a form of American occupation and frowns at the idea. According to the Iraqi opposition, “On the eve of the liberation of Iraq, the leadership committee will announce an independent, transitional coalition government to run the affairs of the country and protect the dignity of its people, and its independence, national sovereignty and unity” (Reuters, 2003, March 27).

Thus, the U.S. and Britain could end up quarrelling with their Iraqi allies over liberated Iraq. In particular, the Kurds can easily turn against the United States after having been trained by the U.S. to assist in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It should be recalled that the U.S. helped to train Al Qaeda and Taliban members during the anti-Soviet War in Afghanistan in the 1980s. These freedom fighters (Mujahedin) then turned against the U.S. and launched terrorist attacks against it. To reduce political friction, it would be better for the U.S. and Britain to encourage U.N. participation, after Saddam Hussein’s regime is toppled, in order to stabilize Iraq.

To Avoid the Minefields

The best and most effective way of avoiding any current and future political and military minefields is for the United States to involve U.N. in Iraq’s political and infrastructural reconstruction. As soon as the United Nations is involved, those countries which have opposed the war would become much more receptive and willing to cooperate in transforming Iraq from the dictatorship of the Baath Party to the democracy of the people. The Guardian of London quoted the Foreign Minister of France, Dominique de Villein as saying “The UN must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq” (The Guardian, 2003, March 28).

Of course, some Americans detest the idea of inviting the United Nations to get involved after the United States might have driven away Saddam Hussein. Those Americans who oppose any U.N. involvement believe that the U.N. had failed to carry out its mandate, thereby leaving the United States and Britain to bear responsibility for enforcing U.N. resolutions on Iraq. They feel that the U.S. should do it alone. In this matter, President George Bush should listen to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has suggested a role for the U.N. in post-Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is politically significant to involve the United Nations. This is to allay fear and suspicion that the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq for the sole purpose of controlling and manipulating Iraqi oil. Already, there are speculations that only American companies are being considered for the reconstruction of Iraq. The AFP of France noted “The USAID has tendered eight civilian contracts for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq since January 31 to a select group of US companies (AFP, 2003, March 24). Britain is pleading with the U.S. to include some British companies in the reconstruction effort.

One inescapable fact of the current Persian Gulf War 2 is that more countries are going to increase the development and production of mass destruction weapons. Thus, while Iraqi possession of such weapons will definitely be degraded after this war, other countries would build up as an insurance toward the prevention of an Iraqi-like experience.


AFP-Middle East, (2003, March 24). Britain presses US for share of work rebuilding Iraq.
Online: 3/24/03.

Kellman, L. (2003, March 28). Outspoken army general upsets White House.
The Associate Press, online: htpp:// 3/28/03.

Mulligan, T. (2003, March 20). Protests flare across globe as U.S. strikes Iraq.
Reuters, online. htpp:/

Reuters, online.(2003, March 24). U.S. believes Russians in Baghdad aiding Iraq. 3/24/03.

(2003, March 27). Iraq opposition plans own post-Saddam government.

Slevin, P. (2003, March29). U.S. warns of interference in Iraq.
The Washington Post, online: 3/29/03.

Techemail, online. (2003, March 21). We won’tsuccumb to intimidation, Nigeria tells US.

The Guardian, online. (2003, March 28). Iraq’s future.
Htpp://,2703,924226,00.html. 3/29/03

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