The Future of Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 26-Jul-06 | Author: Abbas Ali

"For many observers, the current mess and disorder in Iraq has accelerated and deepened the Iraqi catastrophe without hope of…
"For many observers, the current mess and disorder in Iraq has accelerated and deepened the Iraqi catastrophe without hope of surcease."
Middle East experts and political commentators in Washington assert that in his cable to the State Department (June 6, 2006), U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, depicted a gloomy picture of Iraq. The cable reported that there was a belief that “the U.S. – which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise—is punishing populations as Saddam did” and “the central government . . . is not relevant. . . . People no longer trust most neighbors.”

For those who are intimately familiar with the current affairs in Iraq, the situation is much darker than what has been conveyed by Khalilzad. The Los Angeles Times (June 28, 2006) almost captured the sad picture when it reported; “Bloodshed has turned Iraq into a country defined by disguise and bluff. Violence in the streets has begun to defy logic, and this is part of the fallout: A lively city where people used to butt gleefully into one another's business has degenerated into a labyrinth of disguises, a place where neighbors brush silently past one another like dancers in a macabre costume ball.”

Some Iraqis believed that the American invasion of their country in March 2003 would place Iraq on a path of healthy recovery and that Iraq would regain its recent past. In fact, the majority of Iraqis sincerely trusted President Bush and his public pronouncements to turn Iraq into a functional democratic model in the Middle East. Since the invasion, however, those same Iraqis have, with bewilderment, witnessed their country degenerating into a slaughterhouse. Terrorists have started to freely roam throughout their country spreading misery and bloodshed wherever they move and the never ending presence of foreign troops has become an intolerable nightmare.

Sadly, two additional frightening trends have taken root since the invasion: increasing sectarian and ethnic strife and the drive to divide the country. The social fabric and the patriotic identity and pride that has sustained Iraqi continuity for the last fourteen centuries has been drastically weakened and instead fear, suspicion, and defeatism have taken a strong hold. Consequently, the normal sense of security and the progressive outlook, which were the hallmarks of most Iraqis, have mysteriously and rapidly eroded, stimulating sectarian, tribal, and or ethnic zealousness.

Iraq, which used to be the envy of other countries in the region, in terms of economic prosperity, cultural openness and contribution, social inclusiveness, and generosity has been mysteriously transformed into a dysfunctional society. And since Saddam’s consolidation of power in 1979, new generations of Iraqis have become disconnected from what used to be the dominant aspects of Iraqi culture: civility, thoughtfulness, and hospitability. In fact, reading or listening to media reports from inside Iraq of daily kidnapping and the killing of neighbors and fellow citizens makes one wonder if this new generation can ever identify with the values and norms of previous generations where kindness and sincerity, safety and security were taken for granted.

Since the invasion, the cultural norms of hospitability and hope have suddenly disappeared and been replaced by barbarism and cruelty. Despite President Bush’s assertion that (July 6, 2006), “We’re obviously in the lead when it comes to Iraq,” the reality presents a completely a gloomy picture. Savage killing and car bombs have become a normal part of the Iraqi scene. In fact, for many Iraqi and Middle East experts, Iraq is passing through its darkest era in history. It is in this era, according to a Washington Post report (May 29, 2006, A 19) that people have become numb to massacres as after “ three years of war that has been fought in their streets and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, people in Baghdad could spare little more than subdued expressions of sympathy Sunday after hearing reports of a U.S. Marine massacre of 24 men, women and children in a faraway western town.” The report quoted one Iraqi saying, “So what if more innocent people were killed . . . Dozens of them die daily.”

The pressing question is how a foreign venture that was undertaken by the most powerful country and is touted by president Bush as a model for molding the Middle East and winning the hearts and minds of the people in the region turned into a cruel disappointment? Experts seem to attribute the failure to a lack of planning, unfamiliarity with the societal conditions, or over enthusiasm. These may provide a partial but never an accurate answer. The rivalry among competing groups that planned the venture and their conflicting visions and goals hold the key to understanding the puzzle. Before any analysis of the objectives of these groups is undertaken, however, the strategic significance of Iraq should be examined in its historical context.

Strategic Significance of Iraq

Abbas J. Ali: "Abolish all militias, whether they are regulated or not."
Abbas J. Ali: "Abolish all militias, whether they are regulated or not."

American Ambassador Khalilzad in his meeting with President Bush (July 6) underscored the significance of Iraq when he stated; “Iraq is the defining challenge of our time.” Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of Defense, argued that "the road to peace in the Middle East goes through Baghdad" (quoted in Muravchik, 2003). This particular interest and emphasis on Iraq has religious and historical precedents. This very present reality is well expressed by Slvan Shalom, former foreign minister of Israel when he stated, “the tyranny of Iraqi rulers today has its roots in ancient Babylon of biblical times. The prophet Jeremiah referred to the dangers posed by Babylon, Iraq of today, to the region, and to God’s punishment for the cruel despots of the land of two rivers. Some would say Jeremiah prophesied current events.”

In the collective memory of the Arab and Muslim people, Iraq occupies a central place. It was in Iraq that the cultural renaissance reached its fullness during the Abbasid era (750-1242). Since then, Iraq has been the center for Arab cultural openness and forward thinking and a source for pride and hope for people across Muslim countries.

Across its history, though successive invaders have passed through Iraq, since the early seventh century Iraq has generally maintained its cultural and national identity. Historically, most of the inhabitants of Iraq were Semitic people: Assyrians, Chaldaeans, and Arabs. The first two dominated the north and the Arabs from northwest to Arabian Gulf. Ethnic minorities later settled the northern part when the Saljug tribes (Turks) invaded Iraq in 1055. The number of these minorities increased as the Ottoman (Turks) invaded Iraq in 1534 and then in 1638. Consequently, many of the native Assyrians and Chaldaeans lost their home land.

When Britain invaded Iraq during the WWI, the primary aim was strategic and economic control of the region. The discovery of oil reinforced British interest in Iraq. The July 14, 1958 revolution, however, ended British control of Iraq and constituted a threat to its oil interest. The U.S. and Britain determined to replace the popular regime by a friendlier one. This was achieved in 1963 as the Baath regime came to power. The 1963 coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA was powerful proof that the U.S. was not only capable of removing a popular regime, but also in arranging the Arab political scene with considerable ease. In its editorial on April 2, 2003, USA Today succinctly summed it up: “In 1963, the CIA intervened in Iraqi politics to help Saddam’s branch of the Baath Party seize power. A violent purge followed.”

Washington‘s Iraq policy, at the time, was shaped by oil interest and the desire to prevent the Soviet Union from having any influence in a strategically important region. Writing in the American Conservative, Kevin Phillips (2006) argued that Iraq is important for Washington for two primary reasons: its centrality in Biblical prophecies and its oil reserve. In terms of the first one, an influential Christian fundamentalist leader, Michael Evans, suggested that Iraq is the seat of Satan’s evil. He stated, ‘“According to the Book of Revelation, there are forces beneath Iraq- the area referred to as Babylon . . . that have other targets besides America. . . . the Battle for Baghdad [is seen] as God mustering the “great nations of the north” for the final assault on Babylon and all the evil it represent.”’ Similarly, David Klinghoffer wrote that the Bible identifies Iraq as the land of lies. He stated, where “you find evil, you find lies . . . America must not lose heart in this conflict, for our involvement in Iraq, critically important, is about nothing less than the struggle of truth against lies.” The link between alleged Biblical prophecies and the invasion of Iraq appeals to some quarters and certainly prevents policymakers from acting rationally. The link, too, may convince policymakers that their actions are divinely inspired and must not be questioned.

Oil, too, plays pivotal role in Washington’s calculation and its strategic relations to the region. In fact, oil situates Iraq on the policymakers’ top list of primary concerns. This is because the world’s demand for oil is steadily growing and the capacity of the existing oil producing countries to smoothly and proportionally increase their production is doubtful. Consequently, it is not a unlikely reality, in the near future, that the price of oil per barrel may increase well above $100 placing the economies of many countries under great distress. The second important factor related to Iraq is that credible energy experts indicate that the country may hold the highest reserves of oil in the world. Specifically, the area between Nasiriyeh and Amara in the south contains the largest undeclared oil reserves. This may explain the secrecy with which Washington purses its energy policy for Iraqi oil. The bottom line for this policy was partially explained by Bruce Riedel (1999), then Director of the U.S. National Security Council when he stated, “Energy experts believe Iraq may have the largest reserves of oil in the world and the last barrel of oil pumped might just be Iraqi. . . . The international community must control Iraq’s finances.”

Competing Forces

The unfortunate turn of events and the tragic consequences that Iraqis have experienced since the invasion, despite successive general elections, have shocked many people in the world and left some experts in a state of great bewilderment. Experts and ordinary citizens have had high expectations of the ability of the greatest superpower in history to steer the whole venture into an exemplary model of democracy with considerable ease, minimum costs, and a few setbacks. However, a critical factor is often overlooked—there are three competing major groups in Washington who have sought completely different outcomes. In spite of their general agreement on the strategic vitality of Iraq, economically and militarily, to the U.S. and its policies in the region, these groups are driven by conflicting visions. These conflicting visions have hindered Iraqi enterprises and critically endangered America’s leadership stance in the world. These groups are:

  1. Idealists (the liberation model) -. This group is represented by President Bush and his chief speech writer, Michael Gerson. The idealists thought that the invasion of Iraq would turn the country into a model of democracy, prosperity, and peace in the Middle East. However, they have not established any mechanism to facilitate the translation of this model into a reality and subsequently their commitment has been mostly rhetorical. Those who attempted to translate idealist vision into a reality have been either replaced immediately (e.g., General Jay Garner) or disappointed. For example, Major General Raymond Odierno (2004) indicated that people in Iraq started to react positively to “the successes we were having with the water treatment projects, with the school projects, with the sewage projects . . . .” but funds were suddenly cut. Similarly, Infantry officer, Joe Guthrie, argued that his experience in Iraq demonstrates that civilian leadership was neither interested in letting Iraqis participate in charting their future or have proper security training, stating, “Our supervisors were so uninterested in the training program that they would have voiced equal approval of Iraqis riding pigs. . . . I wanted the Iraqis I was training to run their own country. But this wasn’t an American priority.”

  2. Nationalists (Balance of Power). This group believes that Iraq should have a functional and strong central government run by technocrats who are capable of maintaining Iraqi territorial integrity. Their goal is to maintain a regional balance of power essential for optimizing American interest in a vital part of the world. They envision an Iraq that is not a threat to its neighbors, especially the Gulf States, and is friendly to the U.S. Keeping free access to oil and containing anti-American sentiments tops their priority list. Chief advocates of this vision are Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and John Negroponte. Before the invasion, this group made concentrated efforts to set the foundation for a stable and functional Iraq, but none of its effort has seen fruition.

  3. Neoconservatives (Antagonistic Pluralism). This group has developed a coherent vision and introduced clear strategies to deal with Iraq by creating or encouraging the emergence of various competing groups and preventing any homegrown powerful patriotic movement from rising or achieving legitimacy. The group, however, allows an ethnic group to assume disproportionate military and economic power to the deterrence of the majority. This model is based on a deep understanding of the strategic role that Iraq had played in Arab politics and in the collective memory of the Arab masses throughout history. That is, Iraq was instrumental in the articulation of the Arabs’ aspiration for a better future. Neoconservatives recognize that Iraqis are generally principled people who display pride and have independent minds, attach high value to dignity and moral integrity and are mostly secular. They conclude that any change in the Middle East is impossible without terminating Iraq’s role in Arab affairs. According to Margolis, for the neoconservatives, the “primary objective was to destroy Iraq, not to rebuild it; for Iraq, once the Arab World’s best educated, most industrialized nation, had to be expunged as a potential military and strategic challenge.” In an interview, with a leading neoconservative, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, the New York Times Magazine reported (September 22, 2002) that Wolfowitz focused on targeting Iraq in the late 1970s. The report indicated that in a Camp David meeting after September 11, Wolfowitz kept persistently pushing Iraq toward the front burner and this prompted the White House Chief of Staff to take him aside and asked him politely to “shut up.”

    The Guardian reported in 2002 that the neoconservatives’ determination to invade Iraq aimed at creating create chaos not only in Iraq but the whole region. It stated, “disorder and chaos sweeping through the region would not be an unfortunate side effect of war with Iraq, but a sign that everything is going according to plan.” The neoconservatives are not apologetic and are very clear in their end-goal. Michael Ladeen, (2002), former Under Secretary of State and a leading neoconservative, expressed this view stating, “Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.” The destabilization of the region and the accompanying chaos are certain to create perpetual grief.

Implementation of Antagonistic Pluralism Model

"Since Saddam's consolidation of power in 1979, new generations of Iraqis have become disconnected from dominant aspects of Iraqi culture:…
"Since Saddam's consolidation of power in 1979, new generations of Iraqis have become disconnected from dominant aspects of Iraqi culture: Civilty, thoughtfulness and hospitaltity"
The antagonistic pluralism model is thought to ease the implementation of the ultimate goal of terminating the Iraqi role in Arab affairs. Advocates of the Model have believed that geopolitical environment and the deterioration of Iraqi morale, after years of Saddam oppression and harsh economic sanctions, have created the necessary conditions for quick and smooth implementation of their design. The underlining assumption of the model is that inciting sectarian and ethnic discord and rivalry ultimately leads to fragmentation and anarchy. Daily carnages in Iraq and the looming threat of all out civil war demonstrate that the implementation of the Model is steadily moving forward.

Writing in Kivunim [Directions] in 1982, political strategist, Oded Yinon stated that Iraq constitutes an immediate threat and that its dissolution has become a priority. He suggested that Iraq should be divided “into provinces along ethnic/religious lines. . . . So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will be separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.” Late in 1990s, David Wurmser, current Vice President Cheney’s Middle East adviser and a neoconservative thinker, accentuated the need to expedite the collapse of Iraq. He stated that, after removing Saddam from power, Iraq would be “ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families. . . . The issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that will be ensured in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance” (quoted in Dreyfuss, 2006).

Unlike President Bush who frequently asserted that the Iraqi venture is about liberating Iraqis, the neoconservatives highlight its core objective: oppressing Iraqis and changing their way of life. An adviser to the Iraqi Occupational Authority was quoted in December 2003 in New Yorker Saying, “We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” Likewise, James Steele, a neoconservative and Paul Bremer’s Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces, viewed Iraqis as people who have been “used to being defeated” and thus force and discrediting their leaders ensure their submission.

Through careful planning and alignment of allies, the neoconservatives have outmaneuvered the first two groups in Washington and, inside Iraq, have cooperated with and strengthened Iraqi forces that espouse ethnic and sectarian division in the country. In particular clan-based Kurdish parties (e.g., Kurdistan Democratic Party & Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and sectarian groups (e.g., Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution & Iraqi Accord Front) have been given strong support to the deterrence of the democratic order, and the future and welfare of the country. Militias belonging to these groups have been legitimized and have been given a free rein in areas under their immediate control.

Critics argue that the appointment of Khalilzad, a seasoned neoconservative strategist, as Ambassador to Iraq has been a turning point in the history of Iraq. It has enabled the neoconservatives to accelerate the translating of their “Antagonistic Pluralism” model into reality. It is under his forceful guidance that Iraqis produced a constitution that legitimizes sectarian/ ethnic division, grants the area dominated by ethnic Kurds a legal separation that resembles true sovereignty with full entitlements yet without any obligation, creating a central government of limited reach, allowing any ethnic or communal group to select its own official language, and creating a government system that mired by confusion, rivalry, and conflict. Furthermore, Khlalizad has exhibited exceptional ability in creating and cementing a network of politicians and media outlets that are committed to promoting his vision and design for Iraq. This enables him to remove and or appoint prime minister, ministers, and other important government posts, especially in security. His successful removal of the transitional Prime Minster, Ibrahim al-Jafari, and the appointment of interior and defense ministers who met his specifications are a testimony for his forcefulness and intrusiveness. These actions, among others, appear to not only infuriate Iraqis, but also polarize the society and inflame sectarian tension.

Salvaging Iraq

For many observers, the current mess and disorder in Iraq has accelerated and deepened the Iraqi catastrophe without hope of surcease. In fact, there are many who believe that Iraq has passed the point of no return. There are, however, two points that need to be addressed before introducing any reasonable strategy to save Iraq. The first is that Iraq has historically gone through several occupations but in the end, Iraqis have managed to survive and assume their responsibility to run their society. One cannot dispute that prior occupiers did not have the same military might and the intent to profoundly change Iraqi culture. Nevertheless, the difficulties that Washington has had in subduing Iraqis may promote policymakers to consider a compromise to abandon the current strategy of “staying the course” and espouse a solution that is rational and practical.

The second point is that fear, humiliation, and forceful suppression have brought to surface alien sectarian tendencies and discourse. These developments have enlarged the gulf among Iraqi ethnic and religious communities. Without underestimating the surge of nationalistic tendency among the Kurdish minority, the majority of Iraqis are deeply conscious of their cultural identity and hold widely shared beliefs and pride that under normal conditions would ebb minor differences. Indeed, once patriotic Iraqis have the opportunity to chart their future without foreign dictate, they would set aside their secondary differences and focus on building their country. Even political factions which are currently intoxicated by foreign support will ultimately regain their sense of patriotism once the foreign support subsides or is no longer provided. These groups constitute a threat to any profound democratic transformation as stability and law and order would curtail opportunities for corruption and unlawful accumulation of wealth.

"Warn Iraq’s neighboring Arab States of serious consequences resulting from interfering in Iraqi affairs and facilitating and financing terrorism."
"Warn Iraq’s neighboring Arab States of serious consequences resulting from interfering in Iraqi affairs and facilitating and financing terrorism."
Recently, several strategies have been introduced to exit Iraq and/or to contain chaos and bloodshed. These strategies range from immediate withdrawal of foreign troops, dividing Iraq across sectarian / ethnic lines, to increasing the level of American troops. Dividing Iraq or increasing the level of foreign troops is in line with the neoconservative thinking and seek to deepen American involvement in the region and further fragmentation of Iraq and other neighboring countries. The immediate withdraw of foreign troops would be a serious attempt to let Iraqis manage their affairs and minimize the damage to America’s stance in the world and eventual reduction of terrorism. The problem in Iraq, however, does not only revolve around the presence of foreign troops, but also around the material and financial support to various factions benefiting from maintaining instability and the presence of foreign troops. In fact, any credible strategy to save Iraq and sustain democratic transformation should be based not only on ending foreign presence but also on significantly reducing interference in Iraqi political affairs. That is, for any successful peaceful transformation of Iraq, including the withdrawal of foreign troops, dismantling the “Antagonistic Pluralism” model and associated infrastructure is a must.

The catastrophic events in Iraq can only worsen as the chains that restrict Iraqi liberties have become tighter and crueler than during Saddam’s era. Reversing this man-made tragedy requires practical and responsible action. Specifically, the following steps must be taken for establishing a functional government and a free of terror sovereign democratic Iraq:

  1. Treat the Iraqi venture as an Iraqi-American rather than a neoconservative one. That is, relations with Iraq should not be left directly or indirectly in the hands of the neoconservatives. Perhaps President Bush considers the invasion of Iraq a great enterprise. But with neoconservatives on board, the great vision is mere illusion.
  2. Curtail all forms of assistance to current sectarian and rigid ethnic groups and encourage homegrown patriotic organizations to form and evolve.
  3. Dismantle the Facility Protection Service (FPS) and related armed groups. The BBC reported (April 12) that there are more than 150,000 strong FPS which are not under the government control. These armed groups are under the supervision of foreign troops and are accused by the government of acting as death squads. Iraqi political analyst, Heskel Kojaman, argued (May 23) that the presence of these forces constitutes a threat to the existence of Iraq and to its peace and stability.
  4. Abolish all militias, whether they are regulated or not. There are more than twenty militias; chief among them are the Bader and Kurdish Peshmerga. The first receives moral and financial support from Iran and tacit encouragement from the occupational powers to intimidate homegrown political organizations. The second is accused of getting financial and material support from foreign forces, and for its role in changing the demographic landscape in the north and eliminating individuals defending Iraqi pluralism and territorial integrity.
  5. Warn Iraq’s neighboring Arab States of serious consequences resulting from interfering in Iraqi affairs and facilitating and financing terrorism. In spite of the fact that most foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Syria, the Bush administration, irrespective of the Iraqi government’s position consistently blames Iran. Both Saudi Arabia and Jordan have a vital stake in hindering Iraqi democratic transformation. Their intelligence agencies play a significant role. In fact, the rise and demise of Zarqawi is a testimony to the Jordanian intelligence’s ability to create and terminate terrorism, as they wish.
  6. Allow the office of prime-minister to regain its integrity. Critics argue that currently, the office is just an extension of the Ambassador Khalilzad. When the transitional prime-minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, attempted to act according to Iraqi national interest, Khalilzad blocked his nomination for permanent prime-minister stating, “there may be a new candidate for prime minister.”
  7. Allow the Iraqi Constitutional Review Commission to carry out its mandate freely and independently. The current constitution was framed in such a way as to polarize the country, paralyze the central government, and ultimately break the country.
  8. Abolish sectarian and ethnic allocation of ministers, government jobs, and congressional seats practices and encourage passing a law that prohibits sectarian and ethnic incitement.
  9. Release all Iraqi prisoners held by foreign troops or transfer them to Iraqi custody.
  10. Encourage families who were victims of ethnic and sectarian displacement to return back to their homes with full protection. Abolish any regulations in some provinces that outlaw the rights of citizens to move and settle freely in any part of the country.
  11. Allow Iraqi ministries and parliament to carry its duties outside the fortified Green Zone.
  12. Encourage current politicians and government ministers to act according to Iraqi interests and not on what they perceive as desired by foreign powers.
  13. Prohibit foreign troops from being stationed in cities or near major population centers.

The above preconditions set the stage for seriously eradicating the roots of malignancy in Iraq and allowing a peaceful withdrawal of troops. Acting upon these preconditions is more likely lead to two significant developments. First, Iraqi will gain confidence in charting their future and thus they will invest energy and resources in building their country. Iraqis are proud people who resent foreign dictate and see the presence of armed foreigners as a gigantic barricade that prevents them from serving their country. Second, once Iraqis feel they are free, they will use their utmost potential to eradicate terrorism and build their communities.

Both developments constitute a strategic milestone on which Washington should capitalize, declare victory and withdraw its troops. The alternative, staying the course, is a recipe for perpetual grief. President Bush, who ultimately shoulders the responsibility for the current debacle, must get a grip and profoundly change directions.


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