The debate over whether Iraq should become the next target of U.S. military action has intensified in Washington, encouraged by the success of the military campaign in Afghanistan. Regional policy experts say toppling Saddam Hussein poses a host of problems, including opposition by Iraq's neighbors and setting up a credible government in Baghdad.
Graham Fuller is the former vice chairman of national intelligence at the CIA and currently a senior consultant at Rand, a nonprofit research institution. He says Saddam Hussein is one of the worst rulers in modern history of the Middle East. A tyrant at home and a threat to regional stability, Mr. Fuller says, Saddam Hussein waged wars against two of Iraq's Muslim neighbors, Iran and Kuwait. For Mr. Fuller, Saddam Hussein should be removed from power. The question is when and how. "I think right now it would be very difficult and undesirable to move against Saddam Hussein directly," he says. "I think many preparations, diplomatic and political, have to take place long before any action is taken against Saddam."
The preparations include rallying the support of Iraq's neighboring countries, especially Turkey, but also Iran and Saudi Arabia. Professor Edmond Ghareeb, an expert in Kurdish studies at the American University in Washington, says, "I think the Turkish support is going to be very important. Actually, it is going to be very difficult for the United States to move into the area without [it]. If it [U.S.] wants to go in militarily to try to bring down the regime, it is going to be impossible unless you have the support of the neighbors."
Mr. Fuller says Turkey is afraid toppling Saddam Hussein's regime would endanger its own integrity. He explains: "Well, Turkey for example, has always opposed efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein because they are afraid that Iraq might break up. This would lead to instability in Iraq and to the creation of a Kurdish independent state perhaps in the North. Turkey is very afraid of this possibility because of [its] problems with [its] own Kurdish minority. This problem has not been solved inside Turkey."
As to Iran, Mr. Fuller says, the challenge is reassuring Tehran that changing the government in Baghdad would not be a move against Iran. Mr. Fuller says Iran does not want to see a pro- American, puppet regime there. The Saudis, in turn, are nervous because establishing a democratic government in Iraq would make Saudi Arabia and other non-democratic countries in the area look bad.
Then there is the question of who should rule post-Hussein Iraq. Mr. Fuller believes that the London-based Iraqi National Congress is interested in establishing a democratic regime. But, as Henry Barkey, professor of International relations at Lehigh University, points out, the INC does not have a grass-roots structure in Iraq.
"The problem with the INC at the moment is that the INC only exists in Washington and London," says Mr. Barkey. "But it doesn't exist on the ground. On the ground you have the Shiite forces, but mostly they're in Iran not many of them are in Iraq, and the Kurdish forces. But those are nominally part of the INC. But they have in recent years moved somewhat away from the INC. In a way, I think, it would be unfair to say the INC is composed of the Kurds and the Shiite forces in the South because it isn't anymore. And that, unfortunately, is a weak point of the INC."
Sharif Ali Bin-Al Hussein, the INC spokesman and member of its leadership council, disagrees. "The INC is the coalition of the most important political forces opposing Saddam Hussein inside Iraq and outside," he says. "We have our own networks inside Iraq and we have been confronting the regime at many levels. Of course, what the world sees is the visible part of our activities and that's the activities outside - the media activities, the diplomatic and the political activities. Any reasonable person would understand that it would be impossible to reveal or to highlight any of the activities that we do inside Iraq because of the potentially lethal consequences [for our infrastructure inside the country]."
Mr. Sharif stresses that the INC represents the entire political, ethnic and religious spectrum of Iraqi society. "I would guess about 80 percent of the Iraqi opposition is affiliated, one way or the other, to the INC," he said. "We have all the significant Kurdish parties involved. We have nationalists and of course a cross section of the Arab Sunni community as well in the leadership, in the council, and in the national assembly."
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials themselves say they are not concerned Saddam Hussein might become the next target of the U.S.-led war against terrorism. An Iraqi representative to the Arab League told the VOA correspondent in Cairo recently that possibility is just media speculation.