London (AFP) March 21, 2011
Twenty years after the First Gulf War against Iraq, the Western airstrikes on Libya have similar backing from the UN and Arab states but are raising similar questions.
The 1990-91 conflict that drove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces out of neighbouring Kuwait featured a broad coalition of 34 countries -- bigger than the alliance now arrayed against Moamer Kadhafi.
Like Libya it was triggered by a UN Security Council resolution approving "all necessary" means to achieve its goals; had support from Arab nations; and began with an aerial campaign.
But in Iraq two decades ago airstrikes were followed weeks later by boots on the ground, meaning this time around there is extra scrutiny of coalition assurances that there is no mandate for an occupying force.
"The decision has been made that the mission is regime change in Libya. The strategic sequence is the routine buildup to war since 1991, this time with a heavier European component," said George Friedman of the US security consultancy Stratfor.
"The early days will go extremely well but will not define whether or not the war is successful," he added in a commentary.
The big issue, then as now, is regime change.
In 1991 then-US president George Bush senior stopped short of sending his forces on to Baghdad to topple Saddam. Ousting the Iraqi leader would have to wait until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 under his son George W. Bush.
In Libya 2011 the line is finer, with leaders saying they want Kadhafi out but saying the UN mandate does not explicitly allow action against him.
US President Barack Obama said Monday that US policy is that Kadhafi has to leave power -- while stressing that Washington would stick to the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated that the resolution "excludes an occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory" and did not give the legal basis for Kadhafi's ouster by military means.
Another similarity with 1991 comes from the no-fly zone established in northern Iraq immediately after the Gulf War to protect the Kurdish minority from Saddam's forces, which stayed in place for a decade.
In Britain's parliament on Monday, lawmaker Nadhim Zahani said there were "similarities between this campaign and that to protect the Kurdish people," while calling for assurances against regime change by Western forces.
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox dismissed the comparison and said there were no prospects of the Libyan no-fly zone remaining in place for as long.
"When you are talking about the size of the assets they have, in terms of the air force and army, Libya is not Iraq," he told the BBC.
But former British army Colonel Bob Stewart, who operated under a no-fly zone when he was the commander of British forces in Bosnia in 1992-3, said the principles would be the same -- and would require action.
"Ultimately, you have to be prepared to bring down aircraft or helicopters," he told AFP.
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