We in the Gulf can no longer avert our eyes from the terrible carnage and suffering in . For too long, we’ve tended to adopt the attitude that the Americans ‘broke it’, so it’s up to them to ‘fix it’. The problem is not only are they incapable of ‘fixing it’ their very presence makes the situation worse.
According to a survey carried out by a team of Iraqi doctors under the supervision of the John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, more than 655,000 Iraqi civilians have died due to the occupation.
only is the death toll spiralling, the killings are becoming more random and brutal. During the last week of November, for instance, six Iraqis were burnt alive and homes and mosques incinerated as acts of revenge.
That week, 215 Iraqis were slaughtered by insurgents while US troops allegedly shot and killed 11 Iraqi civilians in a suburb of Baghdad. These deaths were just the tip of the iceberg during that period.
Hatred has fomented to the extent that injured survivors of such attacks risk being murdered while in hospital, a Baghdad doctor told the Inter Press Service. Doctors are coming under attack too. Some 2,000 have been killed and more than 17,000 forced to flee to neighbouring countries.
In all conscience how much longer can we stand by and do virtually nothing? Besides the moral imperative of helping our neighbours in , our inactivity opens the door to the cancerous spread of sectarianism. only is in danger of disintegrating, the longer this chaos continues, the longer the Gulf and the wider region are at risk.
Until recently I was against the idea of Arab armies working in tandem with occupation forces. But I now believe the blame game has to stop – or at least be put on hold - for all our sakes. There will be plenty of time for finger pointing. For some, this may be a bitter pill to swallow but if you’re on a sinking vessel do you go down complaining about the crew or take steps to save yourself?
We must all put our heads together to come up with a solution before there is no solution to be had. This will require compromises and perhaps painful concessions from everyone involved but I cannot stress the urgency enough.
Ideally, the 22 member countries of the Arab League should come up with a joint force to assist in policing ’s troubled regions, guard schools, hospitals and other public buildings, protect beleaguered minorities and train Iraqi police and military.
On that score, the Americans have tried and failed dismally because, as we now know, ’s Ministry of Interior as well as its new police-force and army have been infiltrated by militias and insurgents. would be more successful in weeding out the bad apples not least because they share the same language and culture.
This plan would allow the occupation forces to withdraw as they would no longer have a pretext for remaining. Hopefully, Arab armies would be perceived as friendly peacekeepers rather than hostile foreigners out to grab ’s natural resources.
But there is one potential obstacle, which can be overcome. Any Arab peacekeeping force sent to must not be perceived as having a sectarian bias, which could end up exacerbating an already fragile divide.
Any such military contingent, mandated by the Arab League, should be strongly supported by GCC countries in terms of weapons, manpower and ancillary services. Troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations should play a leading role in rescuing this deteriorating situation.
This plan is contingent upon Arab peacekeepers being welcomed by all parties within the Iraqi government and allowed the necessary authority to do their job.
In return for such Arab assistance, which would enable the coalition to extricate itself from a Vietnam-style quagmire, the United States must issue a time-table for its total withdrawal. A total withdrawal means no bases left behind or rapid reaction forces stationed nearby. This must be made public before Arab peace-keepers land on Iraqi soil so that they are not accused of rubber-stamping the occupation or colluding with the Americans.
As a further pre-condition, Washington must agree to launch an equitable compensation programme for victims’ families. The US government and its allies should further finance a long-term phased reconstruction plan. This would be implemented by an unbiased Iraqi government committed to its people as well as to the territorial integrity of , and overseen by an independent international body.
Crucially the rebuilding of should not fall foul of corporate cronyism or come under the influence of any foreign power. Otherwise reconstruction funds can be used as a weapon of political control. This stick/carrot strategy was advocated by the outgoing US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a leaked memo on , published in the New York Times on December 3.
It should be made crystal clear that Arab armies would not overstay their welcome, in which case their mandate to remain in a country would be restricted to a specified time period, renewable only in case of absolute necessity.
As the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have a major stake in subduing sectarian violence in due to their proximity and the risk of a sectarian over-spill, they should be the ones to take up the initiative.
That said they should not have to bear the costs of such an initiative, which should be the responsibility of those whose aggression and serial blunders devastated and triggered what is now being openly termed ‘civil war’.
However, Arab peacekeepers must not be on the American payroll otherwise they risk being equated to mercenary or sub-contracted forces. To avoid this scenario and to ensure their absolute independence, participating Arab countries should be entitled to unconditional reimbursement, via the UN or the World Bank, subsequent to their troops exiting .
It’s becoming clear there’s little time to spare. We’ve been armchair warriors long enough. We’ve had plenty of long discussions over coffee and wielded our pens to bemoan the situation in newspapers but things have gone far enough.
This is our neck of the woods. is our neighbour. Iraqis are our brothers and sisters. We have to get involved. Whether we like it or not, we are involved.
Finally, I would strongly encourage leaders of the GCC and all Arab heads of state to act as a matter of urgency before it’s too late to prevent the disease of sectarian violence spreading into neighbouring countries.
Why should we leave our future in the hands of others while we stand around shaking our heads? For goodness sake, let’s act…and let’s do it now.