Neo-conservative hawks in the US take the view that the invasion of Iraq is only the first step in a wider conquest of the Middle East.
Michael Leeden, of influential right-wing thinktank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said on 19 March: 'Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war. and spread freedom throughout the region.'
There is a continuing battle to shape Bush's foreign policy between the neo-conservative hawks at the Pentagon and the 'realpolitik' types in the State Department.
The AEI has hawks peppering President George W Bush's administration including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Its influence stretches deep into Washington policy circles, shaping the US attitudes to Iraq and Israel.
The AEI also houses the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). PNAC thinkers unashamedly talk in terms of an American empire, maintained by force of arms. The Project's founding statement asks: 'Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American interests and principles?'
Iraq has been a target of PNAC since well before the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. In 1998 PNAC wrote to Clinton criticizing him for not re-invading Iraq. They have funnelled millions of dollars into funding the Iraqi National Congress to create an opposition to Saddam Hussein.
They see US occupation turning Iraq into the focus of international trade and US foreign investment, thereby spearheading the further integration of the Middle East into the global economy. PNAC thinkers have developed what they call the 'democratic domino theory' in which, after the occupation of Iraq, the nations of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, then Lebanon and the PLO, and finally Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia will capitulate, collapse or face US military action. Richard Perle, of Pentagon advisory group the Defense Policy Board and AEI member, says that to those states: 'We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: "You're next."'
A Washington insider, when asked why Rumsfeld had invaded Iraq with so few US troops, said: 'So we can do it again.'
Other countries named as potential targets include oil-producing Venezuela, where the Bush administration endorsed a failed coup to depose the left-wing Chavez last year, North Korea and, some say, even China.
On 26 February George Bush made an impromptu appearance at the American Enterprise Institute to deliver a speech on Iraq, indicating the extent to which the AEI had won the battle for the direction of US foreign policy.
But pragmatism may yet win out over dreams of a new imperialism. The neo-conservatives underestimated Iraqi resistance and have lost some credibility. Facing the 2004 election, Bush may find the US population has a weakened appetite for bloody military adventures with haemorrhaging budgets. The damage done by the hawks who have the ear of the President is, however, already incalculable.
President Bush defined Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as part of the 'axis of evil', creating alarm that 'regime change' for Iran is on the cards. Iran, Iraq's neighbour to the east, is the country of most consequence in the region, and no friend of the US since the Islamist revolution of 1979. The US right accuses Iran of funding the Lebanese group Hizbollah and has pressured Iran to give up its support for Palestinian opposition to Israel. Evidence that members of al-Qaeda have entered the country, along with fears of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction, have made the country a target. However, including Iran in the 'axis of evil' could fuel a nuclear arms race in the region as countries that feel threatened by the US seek to defend themselves against potential attack.
Saddam Hussein is hated in Iran since the war in the 1980s in which he used chemical weapons on Iranian troops. Yet the country's hardline cleric Hashemi Rafsanjani has proclaimed that the occupation of Iraq by the 'Great Satan' America would be even 'worse' than rule by Saddam Hussein.
A victory in Iraq would allow the US Administration to pile up the pressure on Iran, though this might take the form of economic and propaganda measures directed against the regime rather than outright military action. However, stray US missiles have hit Iran near the border with Iraq while Colin Powell has warned Iran to stop supporting terrorists or 'face the consequences'. Iraq under US occupation might destabilize Iran, causing internal upheaval in the country. While the theocratic state rulers do not have the trust of much of Iran's population - especially the young, who wish for democratic reform - an occupying force next door is fuelling nationalist and anti-American sentiment.
Meanwhile the war in Afghanistan goes on, forgotten by the world's media. As the main theatre of war has moved to Iraq, talk of reconstruction for Afghanistan has fallen silent. Hamed Karzai's visit to the UN in New York in January went almost entirely unreported. Even as he spoke to request greater commitment from the international community to Afghanistan's peace and security, fighting broke out in the town of Gardez, capital of Paktia province south of Kabul. He left well short of the funds he had requested.
Since then the Taliban, taking advantage of anti-US feeling, have announced they have resumed co-ordinated fighting under the leadership of Mullah Omar, further fuelling fears of increased violence in the country.
Critics have accused the US of being more concerned to secure its bases in strategic countries around oil-rich Central Asia than to foster a democratic Afghanistan.
Authorities believe that well over half of the attackers responsible for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US were Saudis. Yet the war on terror has to date bypassed the Saudis. Close connections between the leading families of the US and Saudi Arabia could help explain why. However, pressure from inside the US, together with the changing attitude of the Saudis to their US allies, may now put the home of Mecca - that most sacred of Islamic sites - in the firing line.
Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest oil-producing country in the world, with reserves twice the size of second-placed Iraq. For the US, Saudi Arabia was the top source of crude oil imports in January 2003: it is an oil source worth securing.
But the country is in trouble. Some 5,000 US troops are currently stationed in Saudi Arabia. The US military presence in Islam's Holy Land, plus the corrupt rule of the Saudi royal family, has provoked fears of an Islamist revolution. The US is increasingly reluctant to be dependent on such an unstable state for oil. An occupied Iraq would solve their problems, allowing them to access that country's oil wealth and be less heavily reliant on Saudi Arabia. Some neo-conservatives have even intimated that an Islamist revolt in Saudi Arabia would occasion a US military intervention there.
In interviews conducted for an article in the New Yorker magazine in October 2001, current and former US intelligence and military officials portrayed the growing instability of the Saudi regime - and the vulnerability of its oil reserves to terrorist attack - as the most immediate threat to American economic and political interests in the Middle East. The Ayn Rand Institute, a high-profile US promoter of free-market capitalism, characterizes Saudi Arabia as a US enemy: it advocates that the Saudi oilfields nationalized in the 1950s should be returned to US, British and French companies that discovered and drilled for the oil.
Many were surprised about North Korea's inclusion in President Bush's 'axis of evil'. In 2000 the North Korean Government had engaged in three rounds of terrorism talks with the US that culminated in a reiteration of its opposition to terrorism. Public evidence indicating its 'evil' was at that time scanty. It had remained on the US State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism because it continued to provide safe haven to a group that participated in the hijacking of a Japanese Airlines flight to North Korea in 1970, and there was also some evidence that it might have sold weapons to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines.
North Korea responded to being declared 'evil' by announcing that it has a uranium-enrichment programme and something 'more powerful': perhaps nuclear weapons?
On the one hand, this strategy is necessarily defensive. During the Korean War (1950-53), the US threatened several times to use nuclear weapons and Washington continued to brandish its nuclear sword throughout the 1990s. In March 1997 the chief of US Strategic Command told Congress that - just as the US threatened Iraq with nuclear weapons in 1991 - 'that same message was passed on to the North Koreans back in 1995'. And documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act show that the US air force carried out simulated nuclear strikes against North Korea in 1998. Some fear the Pentagon is contemplating how to 'take out' North Korea's nuclear reactor without contaminating the region with radiation.
The cash-strapped country - in which at least a million people have suffered from famine since 1995 - is thought to have sold nuclear-capable missiles to Iran, Libya, Syria and, most recently, Yemen.
The US has 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea, and recently moved 24 long-range bombers into Guam. The newly elected South Korean administration of Roh Moo Hyun has made clear his dissatisfaction with President Bush's policies toward North Korea and has stressed the need for dialogue. Behind the US' manouvres lies its determination to develop and implement Theatre Missile Defence Systems near North Korea - and therefore near China. If China responds by increasing its nuclear capability, it will fuel an arms race in the region which includes India and Pakistan, nuclear powers already at loggerheads.
'We are afraid of a war on Iraq,' says Haitham al-Killani, a Syrian political columnist. 'There is a view in government that Syria will be next.'
On 28 March Donald Rumsfeld delivered a carefully worded warning: 'shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts.'
Syria, Iraq's northwestern neighbour, has a population of 18 million people - 90 per cent of whom are Arab. According to a 1997 report, Syria had about 600 ballistic missiles in service and was considered the leading nation in the Arab world in chemical-weapon development. Now a member of the United Nations Security Council, it is nevertheless on the US State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism because it continues 'to provide safe haven and support to several terrorist groups. on Syrian territory', including four anti-Israeli Palestinian groups with headquarters in the capital, Damascus.
Syrian commentators say that it is this tacit opposition to Israel - which Fahd Diab, editor-in-chief of Syria Speaks, calls 'the legitimate resistance of our people in the face of the Zionist occupation' - which has attached the label of terrorism to Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and annexed it in 1973 after being attacked by Syria and Egypt. Talks between Israel and Syria broke down in January 2000 and have not been resumed.
Many Syrians believe that a hidden goal of the present war is to strengthen Israel by breaking up countries like Iraq. Some analysts say that few governments have more to lose from a new pro-US leadership in Iraq than Syria. 'Syria would find itself surrounded by hostile or unsympathetic neighbours - Israel and Jordan to the south, Turkey to the north, and Iraq to the east,' says analyst Nicola Nasee.
'HOW is it that we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world?' asked James Morris, executive director of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) as the UN Security Council held a rare session on the food emergency in Africa on 7 April.
The UN humanitarian operation in Iraq is expected to be the largest in history, surpassing similar emergency food operations in the Horn of Africa last year. Meanwhile, according to UN estimates, about 200 million people in Africa are malnourished, and about 40 million Africans are in even greater peril. The causes include, Morris added, 'a lethal combination' of recurring droughts, failed economic policies, military conflicts, and the widening impact of HIV/AIDS - all of which 'had damaged the food sector and the capacity of African governments to respond to need'.
According to Bill Fletcher, president of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum, 44 million people in southern Africa have been 'declared virtually dead' since September. 'Yet the world has ignored this.'
'[US President George] Bush has put billions of dollars into an illegal war with Iraq when the real threat to humanity can be evidenced in the horror unfolding in Southern Africa,' said Fletcher. 'Does more need to be said?'
Continuing shortfalls for food emergencies in North Korea and Afghanistan, as well as future demands in Iraq, further darken the outlook for Africa, he added.
In April the United Nations launched a global appeal for $2.2 billion for post-war Iraq, including $1.3 billion for food aid alone. The response was quick, totalling over $1.2 billion, including pledges from the US and Japan.
Morris emphasized that Western donors must not pay for Iraq's humanitarian crisis by shifting funds from other needy regions, including Africa. 'Money for Iraq must be new funds, and not taken from our work in Afghanistan, North Korea and Africa,' he said. Only two countries, he noted, had promised not to do this - Japan and Germany.
Morris said that chronic hunger is actually on the rise in the developing world, outside of China, while the World Health Organization has announced that hunger remains the world's number one threat to health.
Vaginas and violence
Enter Mumbi Kaigwa, Kenya's feted actress, producer and director, with a daring dream to stage Eve Ansler's play The Vagina Monologues - based on hundreds of interviews with women about their relationships with their vaginas - in the capital Nairobi.
The monologues range from the jokey - 'What would your vagina wear? What would it say?' - to horrific testimonies of rape and abuse.
Out of the original play came the 'V-Day' movement to raise funds and awareness to stop violence against women and girls, with events being staged everywhere from Nova Scotia to Manila.
Actress Lorna Irungu, taking part in the Nairobi performance, says: 'I've had people insulting me, telling me, "We'd better not see you in the streets. We thought you were a more respectable person, how could you be associated with something like this? You are making our women rebel".'
So is Kenya really ready for The Vagina Monologues?
Kwaiga says: 'Before you answer that question, describe how a day, from the time you wake up, will change when there is no more violence. How will it change the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you treat other people, the way you expect to be treated? Then ask yourself if Kenya is ready.'
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