The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Mr Major’s Article in the Wall Street Journal – 25 March 2002

Below is the text of Mr Major’s article in the Wall Street Journal, published on 25th March 2002.


All wars are uncertain but some predictions about the outcome of the present conflict can be made safely. When the fighting is at an end, the US and her allies will have won the military conflict. America is the most powerful military force the world has ever seen and the large, but ramshackle, Iraqi defence capability cannot stand before it. Saddam Hussein will be dead or fled or awaiting trial for his many crimes. His sons and other senior advisers will share his fate. The whole apparatus of the Iraqi Government will have gone, together with the upper echelon of the Republican Guard.

Iraq herself may dependent upon how the war evolves – be in chaos: at best, she will be in confusion. There will be a shortage of food, water and medicine, and a potentially huge refugee crisis. Civil insurrection is a real risk if the Shias and other victims of Saddam seek to exact retribution on the remnants of a cruel regime that has repressed and murdered them for years. Coalition troops may enter Baghdad as liberators but events may force them to remain as peacekeepers. Ahead of them lies a messy, uncomfortable – and potentially hugely expensive – task.

And yet, in many ways, even these difficulties pale beside those that must then be faced: How will Iraq be governed? How can the rifts in the UN, the EU, NATO and the transatlantic alliance be healed? And – most delicate of all – how can relations be repaired with a large part of the Islamic world that, by the day, becomes ever more suspicious of the motives of the US and Britain?

Such suspicions are misguided and foolish but potent. They are a hymn of hate for the US and Britain and their echo can be heard in market places throughout the Moslem world. The common belief is that the coalition has an agenda to dismember Iraq and control its oil; that the war has more to do with Imperialism and aggression than liberation and self-defence. Nonsense though this is, it is a fear which will not be dispelled by words alone which is why the actions of America and Britain will be scrutinised so carefully in the months ahead.

Whatever the immediate post-war arrangements for governing Iraq may be – probably a Military Governorship – it is desirable for the UN to be involved as swiftly as possible in any interim Administration. Some sounding board for local opinion – perhaps a Consultative Council representing the main tribal interests – should also be put in place. This will be uncomfortable and rancorous since the views of the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds are unlikely to be as one, but the effort must be made – and be seen to be made. It is important, too, that Arab opinion accepts beyond any doubt that the present territorial borders of Iraq are sacrosanct and that the management and ownership of oil will remain in Iraqi hands.

The establishment of any longer-term Government in Iraq is fraught with difficulty. Iraq is not a natural democracy. The depth of bitterness between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds is such that any “grand coalition” is improbable to the point of absurdity. Yet, unless Military Governorship or UN Administration is to be lengthy we must anticipate a legitimate Government that may reflect the numerical dominance of the Shia tribe who make up over 60% of the population. Such a majority Government would install a Shia Iraq beside a Shia Iran which is an uncomfortable omen. Saudi Arabia is one of many countries that will look uneasily at the future if collaboration between these two countries were to become likely.

One of Saddam’s more baleful legacies will be rifts between the coalition partners and France, Germany, Russia and China – as well as with mainstream opinion across the Islamic world. It will require Statesmanship, and a generosity of spirit, to quell the fears that give rise to these divisions. But it would be foolish to let them fester: an effort at reconciliation must be made or we will all come to regret it.

There is a menu of healing actions from which we can choose. We must be generous to post-war Iraq in her travails. We would be wise to consult Arab opinion – the Arab League and the Gulf Co-Operation Council for example – about how to reconstitute a free and democratic Iraq. We should discuss our plans with the EU, China and Russia and seek their active political support: we may, after all, need them to open up their wallets as well. As we do so, we should not neglect the views of our allies, Australia, Spain, Japan prominent among them. In victory, magnanimity may heal many wounds.

President Bush has already announced his intention to move forward on the issue that is, above all, the poison in the well of relations with Islam: Palestine.

The strong support that the US and Britain has given to Israel is based on admiration for a talented nation that has overcome many ills with courage and fortitude yet still finds herself in a hostile environment. And yet, that support rankles with many in the Moslem world who see it as one-sided and look on with dismay at the truly pitiable position of the Palestinians.

In the post-Saddam era, Israel will be safer and it is time for President Bush to take Mr Sharon and Mr Arafat by the elbows and demand progress.

Both sides need a settlement. Israel needs security and Palestine needs a future. An active Peace Process is vital –for without one there is a vacuum into which terror and mayhem steps too readily.

After the Gulf War in 1991, the Madrid Conference held out hope for the future. It faded. Now, something similar is needed. The forthcoming “Road Map” offers hope once more, but this will only be realised if it is accompanied by action and a route to political progress. There will be a need, too, for economic assistance for the embryonic Palestinian State, for a land without hope breeds only resentment. There are many donors – in and beyond the Middle East – who might be expected to contribute.

No-one should expect trust to spring forth from suspicion. It will not be easy to wrong out the compromises that both Israel and the Palestinians must make. But, perversely, war over Iraq provides an impetus for peace in Palestine: the prize is very great indeed.

The removal of Saddam’s odious regime could change the face of the Middle East, but a settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute would assuredly do so. It will be a tragedy if such an opportunity is not grasped with an open heart and a ready will.