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Crucial tests

March 21st, 2003

Although the war has just begin, a lot of crucial decisions about the post-war shape of the Middle East are going to be made over the next day or so. The post of Palestinian PM has been accepted by Mahmoud Abbas, thus meeting Bush’s stated condition for the publication of a “roadmap” for an Israel-Palestine settlement. Sharon has already rejected crucial elements of the roadmap inclduing the ultimate goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Bush has the choice between publishing the roadmap now, as he is committed to do, or deferring it until after the war with Iraq is resolved, as the Israeli government hopes and expects, knowing that delay will give them enough time either to force their desired changes through or to derail the process altogether. I expect he will defer, but I would be very glad to be proved wrong.

On another front, it appears likely that the Turkish government will mount what is, in effect, an independent invasion of Iraq, with the stated objective of coping with refugees, but the barely-concealed motive of keeping the Kurds in check. Ken Parish has a good post on the problems this will raise.

Turkey’s moral position may be weak, but, as I note in Ken’s comment box, the legal position is trickier. Turkey can use all the same arguments as the US about resolutions 678, 687 and 1441, as well as the right of self-defence. Again this will be a big, and difficult, test for Bush. Will he seek to protect the Kurds, risking the loss of Turkish airbases and airspace, or leave the problem to be resolved after the war, when the Turkish army may be well-entrenched? Again, I expect the worst, but hope for the best.

One hopeful sign is that the much-heralded “shock and awe” attack has not been launched (at least not yet). Again, Ken Parish has a good post on this. I expressed the hope a few days ago that talk of “shock and awe” was the product of a misinformation campaign. It’s still unclear whether this is correct or whether the delay has been due to the confusion about whether Saddam had been killed in the opening surprise attack. Given that war had effectively been declared, an attempt to end it quickly by killing Saddam was justified, but it appears not to have succeeded. The chances of a sustainable peace will be greatly enhanced if the “shock and awe” option is forsworn.

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