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Voices of Dissent: Eric Margolis

By LOU MARANO   |   March 25, 2003 at 2:25 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- The United States will be bogged down in a protracted guerrilla war in Iraq even after Saddam Hussein is killed or captured, an analyst with 25 years' experience in covering the Middle East predicted.

"I believe there still will be resistance," Eric Margolis, foreign affairs columnist for the Toronto Sun, said in a telephone interview. "The Iraqis consider themselves the leaders of the Arab world. They're sending a message to the Arabs. There will be violence of some kind."

Margolis drew a parallel with Afghanistan.

There, he said, the United States has "overthrown the government" and "put the Afghan communists back in power in the north, and it's got (Hamid) Karzai as kind of a puppet ruler in Kabul protected by foreign troops. But the rest of the country is in chaos.

"I see this as probably what will happen in Iraq. The U.S. will find some general or smooth-spoken person to put in charge in Baghdad with an American garrison, but the rest of the country will be sort of like a free-fire zone with the Kurds feuding up in the north and possible Turkish intervention, and chaos in the south.

"I think Iraq will just be Afghanistan by a factor of 10. I don't see any way the Americans are going to pull out of Iraq, because I don't see who they're going to convince to come and act as a police force, particularly now after there have been such bad relations with the U.N. The Americans will have to keep the country together, or it will disintegrate on its own.

"My feeling is that America is sticking its head in a hornet's nest and is going to be stuck just like in Afghanistan. We (Margolis is American) have 10,000 troops there, and if they pull them out the Taliban will come back. They are there (at a cost of) $1.3 billion a month forever, as far as we can see."

Margolis said the United States would be faced with a low-grade guerrilla war to protect oil exports.

"The pipelines go to the pumping stations, and those are prime targets for any kind of guerrilla attack," he said. "And the U.S. wants to finance its occupation of Iraq by 'plundering' Iraq's oil. I guess the Bush administration calls it 'liberating' the oil. But they've got to get the oil out. And that's not going to happen quickly, either, because it's estimated that $5 billion to $20 billion of refurbishing has to be done to bring (the pipeline) up to just 1990 standards; it's decayed so much. It's a very saline area there, and there's been a lot of corrosion, and they haven't had any spare parts.

"So there's not going to be a flood of oil. There's going to be a very large investment in the oil infrastructure. And a prime guerrilla target will be the oil exports to undermine the American control."

He said most "terrorist" incidents in the world today are FARC attacks on oil pipelines coming out of Colombia.

It's going to be "a long civil war," he said, and "enormously expensive."

Margolis specializes in military matters and radical Islamic groups. He is author of "War at the Top of the World" (2002), which is about Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

He said the current war was "trumped-up" and unjustified.

Margolis said he was in Iraq in the 1980s when Saddam was an American ally, and he saw the United States supply Iraq with money and the precursor germs from which Iraq made its bioweapons.

Asked how he knows this, he replied that the information came out in Senate hearings.

In October it was reported that in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran, Iraq ordered pathogen samples from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, saying it needed them for legitimate medical research. The transfers were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate. The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department.

"But more important," Margolis said, "when I was in Baghdad in the fall of 1990, I uncovered a group of four British technicians who had been seconded to the Iraqi government's top-secret weapons manufacturing group. They had been sent by MI-6, British intelligence, and by the British Ministry of Defense. They told me their job was to weaponize the germs for anthrax, Q fever (Coxiella burnetii), botulism, and -- I think -- tularemia. They told me they had gotten these germs from the United States.

"There's a long record of arms supplies and American covert support to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. And if you go right back (to 1963), there's also a fair amount of CIA support for the Baath Party overthrow of Gen. (Abdul Karim) Kassem in Iraq.

"I never saw Iraq as a major threat to the United States, and I never understood why if we could bribe North Korea to be good, we couldn't bribe Iraq to do the same thing. It's cheaper to bribe than fight."

Margolis was asked about the prospect of democracy in the Middle East.

"I believe 100 percent that if free elections were held, every single Arab country -- with the possible exception of Lebanon -- would produce an Islamist government that would kick the Americans out. ... Talking about democracy is utter hypocrisy. (The Americans) have no intention of doing it. Whenever I hear Bush talking about the dictator of Iraq, I wonder why he doesn't talk about the dictator of Egypt or Tunisia."

Margolis contributes to the American Conservative magazine, whose editor -- Patrick J. Buchanan -- writes that the war is the first of many in the Middle East that Israel's "amen corner" in the United States wants America to fight.

"My view is that Israel, through the neo-conservatives in the States, has played a primary role in engineering the war," Margolis said.

"They do not speak for all Israelis. They speak for the Likud Party and further-right elements in Israel, and they believe what's good for Israel is good for the United States.

"Remember that the neo-cons ... have all been consistent in saying that Baghdad is the first step and that Iran is next. And Gen. Sharon said the day after the American army enters Baghdad, it should march on Teheran. The Israelis know perfectly well that Iraq is not a major threat to them at this point, but may be at some point way down the road if allowed to develop. I think Iran is their principal target.

"Or at least (the motive is to) position United States forces in the heart of the Fertile Crescent so they're able to move either against Syria, against Lebanon, or against Iran. The U.S. will be perfectly positioned in Iraq to do this."

In a November interview with the Sunday Times of London, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying he considers Iran "behind terror all around the world" and that after Iraq is conquered, he would push for Iran to be put on the top of the "to do" list.

"Again I want to say that this comes from the Likud Party and its right-wing allies," Margolis said. "Many Israelis are opposed to this imperial thinking, just as there are many American Jews who are bitterly opposed to this war. So it's not a Jewish conspiracy; it's a group of Likudniks who have brought us to this war.

"The neo-cons have been working for 20 years to get the U.S. into a major war with a large Arab country to set the U.S. in opposition against the Arab world. Now they've succeeded in doing this."

Almost half of the U.S. armed forces are in the region, Margolis said. "What happens if something happens in Korea?

"I've never seen America's good name and reputation around the world damaged so quickly as I have in the last few months, and I'm afraid this is going to continue."

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