Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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February 27, 2003

US Bush Administration Looking Beyond Iraq to Promote Change in Iran, Libya and Syria

Analysis. Key US defense figure Richard Perle — Chairman of the US Defense Advisory Board, which reports directly to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — has told Arab journalists in London that the US would seek to change the leaderships of Iran, Libya and Syria, following the war against Iraq.

The comment, which was not elaborated, was significant because it demonstrated that there was some consideration of future goals, beyond Iraq. Richard Perle is one of the few policy-level figures in Washington who is both influential, and sufficiently outside the day-to-day machinations of policy implementation that he can think in terms of post-Iraq strategies. At present, virtually no US Administration or Defense official will discuss broader issues, or, indeed, anything beyond the immediate military-political objectives with regard to Iraq.

There is no doubt that the comments will cause significant re-thinking in Tehran, Tripoli and Damascus, although the Iranian clerical Government was already convinced that the US Administration was committed to the overthrow of their rule. Libyan officials, on the other hand, have been hoping to put in place a successor leadership to Col. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi before his anticipated death from cancer within the coming months or year. Indeed, buoyed by the appearance of support from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the US State Department, Libyan officials loyal to Col. Qadhafi and his designated heir and son, Saif al-Islam, have believed that they could put a change of face — but not a change of substance — on the Libyan Administration while the US and its allies were distracted over the Iraq issue.

Saif al-Islam and Col. Qadhafi, who now works only a few hours a day, have moved onto the offensive in attempting to move Libya away from its outlaw status.

For example, the embassy of Libya in The Gambia on February 25, 2003, released what it called “forward looking” proposals from Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi aimed at ensuring Iraq’s compliance with the international community and preventing a US-led invasion of Iraq. Col. Qadhafi’s proposals arose out of meetings he held with the Spanish Prime Minister Husey Maria Aznar and other world leaders the previous week to seek ways of preventing war with Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Maria Aznar was quoted by the Libyan Embassy in Banjul as informing Col. Qadhafi of meetings held between NATO and the European Council and on going high-level talks between Spain and America aimed at finding a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis.

As well, the Libyan Government has used the offices of the Malaysian Government to propose mediation between Filipino Muslim rebels and the Philippine Government.

Libya also officially — and while attentions were drawn elsewhere — recently admitted that it had been engaged in the development of medium-range strategic ballistic missiles, for defensive purposes and not aimed at Israel. As with the North Korean and Iranian announcements of nuclear programs, the Libyan move was specifically designed to put its missile program on the table as a legitimate and, de facto, accepted factor. However, as outlined in a variety of GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs reports [see particularly, Libya Special Reports], the Libyan missile program is, in fact, intimately linked with the longer-range ballistic missile programs of Egypt and Iraq, and involved Libya taking delivery of North Korean No-Dong 1 MRBMs on behalf of Iraq and Egypt.

However, there have been no moves by Libya to stop its own chemical and biological warfare programs after having moved and hidden its laboratories and stockpiles during the period up to 1999.

Meanwhile, however, the Libyan opposition is beginning, for the first time in several decades, to work together and may soon meet to name a leader who could replace Qadhafi in the near future. Significantly at this time, the US motion picture studio, Twentieth Century Fox, is looking for partners to come aboard its expensive “Tripoli” project, which is slated to begin shooting on the coast of Morocco in the Summer of 2003. The film “Tripoli” tells the true story of William Eaton, an US citizen who helped the heir to the throne of Tripoli lead an overthrow of a corrupt ruler in the early 1800s. Today, the one Libyan leader who appears capable of representing a united face of the opposition and public is the designated political leader of the Sanusi movement, Prince Idris al-Senussi, who is currently in Rome.

At the same time, however, the State Department view is that Prince Idris represents a risk to the status quo, and as a result the State Dept. has advocated seeking some kind of accommodation with the Qadhafi Administration. The problem with this is the probability that the Libyan Armed Forces would not accept Saif al-Islam as a successor to his father, nor, indeed, any other of Qadhafi’s sons.

GIS sources have reported that there is now a growing program of “containment” of Libyan senior military officers. All the senior officers are being questioned as to how they obtained their assets, whether they have foreign bank accounts, and so on, in an effort to find any links to foreign sponsorship. Qadhafi has, in the past two years, consistently used allegations of “corruption” against senior officials to constrain, demote or imprison them.

In Syria, Libya and Iran, Richard Perle’s comments have caused significant reverberations. The question remains, however, as to what the comments mean. It is known that Mr Perle does not favor US military action against Iran, rather letting the Iranian public know that they have international support in removing the clerics from office without outside interference. Equally, given Mr Perle’s historic support for Israel and Turkey, his opposition to the Syrian leadership is, in fact, not new.

Was the comment by Mr Perle a statement of his own, or was it meant as a sounding board for post-Iraq actions?