The US president’s description of the “war on terror” as a “crusade” in September 2001 still angers many in the Arab and Muslim world who say the campaign is religiously motivated and based on a misinterpretation of biblical scripts.
George Bush has tried to distance himself from the term. The word crusade has quietly dropped from his vocabulary, but some in the region believe this was for political purposes, not due to a lack of conviction.
Dr Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMS), says: “It is common among politicians when they want to announce something controversial. [First] they say it and, when negative reactions come up, they say ‘we did not mean that’.”
Dr Muhammad al-Sammak, an expert on Christian Zionist affairs, believes religion plays a central role in the decision-making process in the US.
“It is not a secret,” he says.
“Most of the US presidents are very religious and George Bush is one of them. They definitely act according to their religious beliefs.
“For example, the late US president Ronald Reagan predicted in a TV interview that his generation would live to see the Battle of Armageddon. This is very biblical. No person would use such terms unless he was supported by his religious beliefs.”
Al-Sammak says Christian Zionists believe they can bring about the Second Coming by influencing critical current events.
“They believe that the Christ will not descend to Earth unless Greater Israel is achieved and all Jews in the world gather in it. They think they should work to pave the way for that to happen,” he said.
“Helping in creating Greater Israel was one of the main reasons why Iraq was under 13 years of sanctions which ended by launching a devastating war that wiped out the Iraqi government and army, which did not accept any peace terms with Israel.”
State of chaos
But Harlan Ullman, a former Pentagon adviser, says Bush only wanted to stabilise a Middle East that was in a “state of chaos and violence” and not wage war for religious reasons.
“Bush’s aim behind launching the war on Iraq was to bring peace to the region and promote democracy,” Ullman told Aljazeera.net.
“Achieving these goals would have resulted in several positive changes in the region – like bringing democracy to other countries. Iraq would recognise Israel, because both of them would be democracies, and a settlement might be reached between Iran and Israel.”
Iraq’s official position vis-à-vis Israel during Saddam Hussein’s government has been a source of contention and speculation during the past two decades.
Uday Hussein wrote to his father saying the brother of Boutros-Boutros Ghali, the then UN secretary-general, was offering to lift sanctions in return for Iraq’s involvement in the Middle East peace process.
Aljazeera.net has obtained a scan of a letter written in 1994 by Saddam Hussein’s secretary in reply to his son.
The letter declared Hussein’s refusal to recognise Israel and partake in the peace process in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions.
Ahmed al-Najdawi, a Jordanian pan-Arab nationalist, believes Hussein’s position against Israel helped pave the way for the 2003 invasion.
“Saddam Hussein represents certain principles of an era in the Arab history that they want to wipe out from Arabs’ memory,” he told Aljazeera.net.
“The war was intended to remove from the Arabs’ memory the values of rejecting Israel and foreign occupation of Arab lands.
“Saddam Hussein’s image in the court while his country is under occupation is the only image they want to print in the minds and hearts of Arabs and Muslims,” he said.
Babylonian history revisited
Al-Sammak believes that ancient history may have also played a part in the occupation of Iraq.
“They [pro-Israel US politicians] do want to take revenge on the Iraqi Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who invaded the Jewish territories in Palestine some 2500 years ago and brought Jews as prisoners to Babylon,” he said.
Other Iraqi analysts point to the numerous visits by US politicians to ancient Babylon near the south central city of Hilla.
On 21 November, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, and Democratic Senator Joe Biden chose Babylon to announce their support for the Iraqi constitution and launch a reconstruction initiative.
Liqa Makki, an Iraqi political analyst, believes Babylon was chosen rather than the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad because of its politico-religious importance.
“The visit proves that the slogan of establishing Greater Israel from the Nile river in Egypt to the Euphrates river in Iraq; this is still a goal,” he said.
US serves own interests
But David Ha’ivri, head of Revava, a grassroots Zionist organisation in Israel, disagrees that the war was fought for Israel’s security or strategic goals.
“I don’t think Israel’s wellbeing was a factor at any level when the orders were given to invade Iraq,” Ha’ivri told Aljazeera.net.
“Bush’s aim behind launching the war on Iraq was to bring peace to the region and promote democracy,” Harlan Ullman
“America does not send its soldiers to war for the safety of the Jews. They go to war to serve their own interests, no more and no less.”
Nevertheless, Ha’ivri did express his satisfaction that Hussein was ousted from power because he was “an enemy of the Jewish people”.
Ullman also added that the security of Israel was a secondary issue in the Iraq war.
Divide and conquer
Nevertheless, Arab analysts believe the US and its Western allies are executing a “divide and conquer” policy in Iraq.
They cite a 1982 report, A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s, written by Israeli strategist Oded Yinon which states the break-up of Iraq was an imperative for Israel.
Al-Najdawi says the US war on Iraq was designed to fracture the country.
“Definitely they ruined the Iraqi state because it was calling for Arab unity and refused to shake hands with Israelis,” he said.
“What are they doing now in Iraq? They are doing everything to divide the country, it is their final aim, and anybody who cannot see that is acting like an ostrich trying to bury its head in the sand.”
He pointed to recent calls by some Iraqi Shia parties to establish an autonomous region in the south of the country as evidence of that aim.
Al-Sammak also believes that fragmentation is a strategic goal in the Middle East, modelled after the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided Arab lands formerly under Ottoman rule to British and French hegemony.
“They do not want states; they are working to establish easy-to-control micro entities. They believe that state-of-the-art arsenals are not enough to secure the Jewish state. What would really secure it is the breaking up of Arab countries,” he said.
Ha’ivri, however, sees “American/European imperialism” as a dangerous precedent in Iraq that could play out to be a threat to Israel’s sovereignty.
“They very well may try to impose their rule on our land as well,” he said.
“The USA and the European Union are all Christian countries; of course their beliefs influence polices and decision-making when they pick countries that they chose to enlighten with ‘democracy’ – the latter being no more than an excuse for their invasion [of Iraq].”