The Michigan Daily’s Neal Pais recently interviewed journalist Simon Reeve on the repercussions of war in Iraq. Reeve is an expert on al-Qaida, author of The New York Times’ bestseller “The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism” and a former staff writer for The Sunday Times of London.
The Michigan Daily: Is Saddam as dangerous to global security as the media purports him to be?
Simon Reeve: Yes, I think he is an extraordinarily dangerous individual who could launch forces against his neighbors in the future just as he has done in the past. Trouble is, like any wounded animal, he’ll be most dangerous when cornered. So the United States and its allies could now be provoking him into using weapons of mass destruction.
I also agree with the Bush administration that there are links between Iraq and terrorist groups. But there are links between several countries, such as Pakistan and Qatar, and terrorist groups including al-Qaida, and nobody is talking about invading Pakistan.
I simply don’t accept the basic notion that tackling Iraq in this fashion will help to prevent future terrorist attacks and will save American and Western lives. I think this war will achieve the opposite, and in the longterm could be disastrous for the United States and its Western allies.
TMD: How credible is the threat of imminent terrorist attack upon U.S. soil?
SR: There is a strong likelihood that terrorists will try to launch another major apocalyptic terror attack in the United States within the next few years. I cannot tell you exactly when it will occur, but I don’t think anyone should doubt that even now al-Qaida will be plotting more atrocities.
TMD: Do you feel that the Bush administration had Iraq on its agenda before Sept. 11?
SR: I don’t think the Bush administration was taking any interest in Iraq at all before September 11. But those attacks have made the U.S. government realize that it can’t just isolate the country from the rest of the world. The United States needs to engage with troubled countries, get involved and make a difference.
TMD: Precisely what type of reaction is to be expected from the Arab world?
SR: The Arab world is already reacting extremely negatively to the invasion of Iraq. The longer the war goes on, and the more casualties there are, the more trouble there will be for the United States in the Middle East. Arabs do not want U.S. forces to be in the region, and they certainly do not want the United States to establish permanent bases in Iraq after the war.
TMD: What are the implications of this war on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
SR: Difficult to say. There are some indications now that the Bush administration and the British government are finally realizing that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is the single most effective step they could take to discourage and prevent terrorist attacks on the West by al-Qaida and affiliated groups.
I believe they will have to launch a major new initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict when the fighting ends in Iraq.
Currently, the West is still not doing enough to address this cancerous conflict. Europeans were prime movers in creating the problem in the first place (by annihilating European Jewry and thus encouraging the creation of the Israeli state in 1948), and yet they are doing nothing to force the two sides to the negotiating table. It is an utter disgrace and a criminal neglect of duty.
TMD: Is there any substantial proof that war in the Gulf will be waged in order to protect Israel from Saddam?
SR: I don’t think America is going after Saddam to protect Israel. America is going after Saddam to protect America. And that’s perfectly normal behavior for a major power.
However Israel has certainly been talking up the dangers posed by Saddam to encourage the West to tackle him.
TMD: In your view, what are the true motives that are propelling this war?
SR: I think most of the powers involved truly believe that Saddam and the Iraqi regime poses a threat to them now or in the future. But that doesn’t mean they are right. And of course there are other issues involved, including oil, xenophobic fear and distrust of Islam.
TMD: How does this campaign fit in with the war on terror and Sept. 11?
SR: It is hard to see how Gulf War II is an integral part of the war on terror. The Iraqi regime certainly has links to terrorists and in the future it may pose a threat to the West. But Saddam has been successfully contained for several years, and other countries also have strong links to terror groups including al-Qaida.
A full-scale invasion of Iraq is exceptionally dangerous and could result in a wave of massive terror strikes on the West. One of my main problems with this war is that it is simply not the best way of saving innocent lives by stopping future terror atrocities.
There should be a much greater emphasis on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, the most important cause of international terrorism, before the West turns on despotic regimes such as Iraq. There should also be a greater acceptance in the West that we created many of these monsters in the first place – understanding our past mistakes is vital if we are to avoid repeating them in the future.
TMD: Won’t this war just create more terrorists?
SR: Militants around the world are already using the threat of Gulf War II to attract new recruits for their cause.
Even in Europe, hardline preachers are delivering increasingly fiery sermons about Iraq which are drawing young men into the arms of terror groups such as al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida and other militant organizations ignore the atrocities perpetrated by Saddam against his own people, and instead see this as yet another example of the West attacking Muslims. It will be very hard to counter that view, particularly if the war is not over in a couple of weeks, or if there are heavy civilian casualties.
In many ways, a new war in the Gulf will be a win-win situation for Osama bin Laden and his men. I think Gulf War II could be just what al-Qaida needs to attract new recruits and regenerate itself after a series of setbacks for the group and after a number of its senior operatives have been captured.
TMD: How is the Middle East divided over this war?
SR: The Middle East is always hopelessly divided at the best of times.
Most leaders in the region are now afraid that if they fail to support the United States in the war on terror they could be next for the chop. But they also fear the reaction from their people if they are seen to be helping the United States wage war on a Muslim nation.
Most people in the Middle East recognize that Saddam is an evil dictator, but they also believe the West is hypocritical and targeting Muslims. And they are furious that nobody is doing anything to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including their own leaders.
TMD: What would be the likely consequences if American and British troops occupied Iraq during the installation of a new government?
SR: It all depends how long the war lasts and how U.S. and British troops are seen by the Iraqi people. If they are seen as invaders bent on destroying Iraq then clearly there is going to be anger and hatred. It would be far better if the “invading” army was withdrawn as quickly as possible and replaced by peace-keepers who could ensure there were free and fair elections.
TMD: Will American and British troops face armed resistance from Iraqis and any anti-American supporters?
SR: Quite possibly. The Iraqi people are heavily armed, and it is likely there will be isolated outbreaks of violence against occupying Western troops. But I don’t believe there will be organized armed opposition. As long as the West can install a democratic, representative government in place of the current dictatorship, I am confident most Iraqis will be glad to see the back of Saddam. The question is, what price will we all pay for their freedom? How many will have to die?