While the U.S. sets its military sights on Iraq, including contemplating a nuclear strike, a growing chorus of observers warn that a regime change in Baghdad would do more to destabilize the Middle East than to secure lasting peace. Here's what they have to say:
"Any attack on Iraq is not imminent and rather unlikely. Tactically, it's too difficult a proposition so long as the United States is so heavily involved in Afghanistan. The Gulf states around Iraq don't consider Iraq to be a military threat. Saddam's army is a shadow of its former self. He is boxed up in his cage. His ability to make mischief is severely curtailed. Also, it's politically impossible for the Saudis to give the Americans the support they're looking for -- namely, Saudi soil on which to base extra U.S. troops and aircraft -- so long as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is an issue. You can only change the regime if you control the ground. And the U.S. military is significantly smaller, probably 30 to 40 per cent, than it was in 91. Exactly what is Washington's objective? I'm not entirely sure Washington has decided."
DAVID RUDD, executive director, Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies
DISMISSING THE DANGERS
"The people who are pushing for a war against Iraq are dismissing the dangers of a suicidal attack by Saddam Hussein against Israel and Israel's response, which would be nuclear.
"What is being talked about in the U.S. -- a pre-emptive nuclear strike -- is about the most dangerous thing I've heard. Once you cross that psychological barrier, you have destroyed all the efforts at arms control.
"This is a fight about who controls American foreign policy, and Colin Powell needs all the allies he can get to question the nonsense about Iraq.
"In Canada, the difficulty is that all the debate we get is in Question Period, which means nothing. Foreign Affairs here never talks to anybody. They think the press is the enemy and they don't leak anything. The result is enormous frustration (and no meaningful debate). Anyone who criticizes what's going on in Washington is labelled anti-American.
"If they wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, they should have put in a trade and aid program right away, which would have strengthened the progressive forces in Iraq. Instead, the U.S. put a punitive peace on him instead of a generous peace, like in Europe in 1945. You simply strengthen the dictator by a punitive peace."
JOHN SIGLER, professor emeritus, political science, Carleton University, and former strategic analyst in the Eisenhower administration
MIDDLE EAST IMBALANCE
"Unlike in Afghanistan, where a local fighting force was on the ground, the opposition forces in Iraq cannot provide such a cushion for the Americans. The U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC) has almost no political credibility or military capability inside Iraq. Ironically, the Kurds in the north, who now enjoy some level of autonomy, are happy with the severely weakened Saddam and have expressed doubts about the eventuality of the American attack. The Shi'ites of the south, led by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, take their orders from Iran, not from the Americans.
"Even if Americans succeed in removing Saddam Hussein, the war will create further instability in the region, to the advantage of the Iranian government -- something the Kuwaitis and Saudis are shivering about."
SAEED RAHNEMA, expert on Iraq and the Middle East, York University
"If you really want to extend the Afghan war to Iraq, you should know that the nightmarish internal politics of Afghanistan are nothing compared to those of Iraq. Saddam's opponents... are such a corrupt, feckless and out-of-touch lot that they make the Butcher of Baghdad look good. They have conducted an on-and-off civil war for years over how to divide the money they get from the CIA, which pays them to keep Saddam off balance. They fight over the proceeds from smuggling goods, including oil, between Iraq and Turkey. And they compete for the bribes Saddam offers them. Their hostility to each other keeps them from doing anything to bring down the Iraqi regime."
SAID ABURISH, author of Saddam Hussein: The Politics Of Revenge, writing in the New Statesman
THE KURDISH QUESTION
"Several years of prosperity and an unclear future are making the Kurds (in northern Iraq) unsure about allying with Washington... which promised much but has delivered little in the decade since the Persian Gulf War. Kurdish population centres are relatively prosperous, especially compared with the rest of Iraq, with well-stocked pharmacies and supermarkets. The Kurds are also enjoying a fair amount of political autonomy and are not convinced life after Hussein will be as rosy. Turkey's intransigence has squelched any international discussion of an independent Kurdish state, which Ankara fears would encourage separatist fighters in eastern Turkey. Formal autonomy would be nice, but the Kurds already have it in everything but name."
Stratfor Global Intelligence Report, U.S.-based intelligence provider
PLAYING WITH FIRE
"It would be very unfortunate if we inhibit our ability to remove what is not only a great threat to international peace but also an extraordinary burden on the Iraqi people. The main reason to go after Saddam is fear (of what he might do). Think of the World Trade Center and an airplane with nuclear bombs, and think of the impact. What if instead we instituted a regime of weapons inspections and deterrents to contain Saddam? We would be taking an extraordinary gamble."
Aurel Braun, political science professor, University of Toronto
"Should Canadian troops be sent to fight? On the ethical level, I would say yes. One of the lessons we have in modern history, from the second world war to South African apartheid, is that one can't part from the need to bring about profound changes for human well-being and safety.
"It's a regime that works at a level of brutality so astounding that when there is a meeting of the revolutionary command council, its own members are strip-searched.
"I don't doubt there is a looming campaign. The vice-president of the United States does not go visiting 11 countries in the Middle East because he enjoys falafel."
MARTIN RUDNER, Centre for Defence and International Security, Carleton University
"We have to be careful right now not to allow the events of September 11 to determine our future for the next century. A group of fringe losers become driving forces of history when we let them. There's no good evidence that Iraq has suddenly become more dangerous. "There's a very bad prognosis for democratization in Iraq. Some of the younger people coming up behind Hussein are probably tougher toward the U.S. than he is. "I don't see why we can't combine a security approach with a humane approach -- a return to arms inspections and an end to sanctions."
GRAEME McQUEEN, professor of peace studies, McMaster University