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[] Asia Times 14.12.02: Operation Internal Look (OIL): Signal fire in the desert,

Dec 14, 2002
Middle East

OIL: Signal fire in the desert
By Ian Urbina

It's acronym notwithstanding, Operation Internal Look reveals little about 
overall US goals. Officially, the massive seven-day military exercise 
taking place at Qatar's As-Sayliyah base is meant to test the US ability to 
rapidly establish a forward command post for invading Iraq. But less an 
internal look, the operation is really an external show, not just for the 
Iraqis, but even more for the Saudis, the United Nations and the American 
TV-watching public.

In part, the operation is the first major shot fired in the US psy-op 
effort to undermine Iraqi military morale. As Saddam Hussein's soldiers 
await their fate, many sit in barracks alongside rusting Soviet-era 
hardware with parts pillaged during 1991 war. Over the next week, these men 
will watch the dazzling digital prowess on display, listening to Pentagon 
officials brag every chance they get about the significant improvements 
made since the recent victory in Afghanistan.

But most telling about the operation is what it is not.

It is not happening in Saudi Arabia, where it belongs. In setting up shop 
in Qatar, the US is opting not to use the state-of-the-art command center 
at the Prince Sultan Air Base, which the US spent more than US$1 billion to 
build after the Gulf War. The Saudis have suggested that they will allow 
the US to use the base to fly sorties into Iraq only if such an invasion is 
sanctioned by the UN. But not everyone has such qualms.

A small country in a rough neighborhood, Qatar is eager for new friends, 
and has put out a welcome mat for the US military. As accusations of 
financial links to terrorism continue to dog the House of Saud, the Bush 
administration is sending the message that the US can move elsewhere if the 
Saudis do not meet Washington's needs. And if the point wasn't clear enough 
already, two senior US politicians, Senator Joseph Biden and Senator Chuck 
Hagel, both of whom are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 
made high-profile visits to Qatar for the opening of the exercises before 
heading off to Riyadh to discuss the worsening status of US-Saudi relations.

In some ways the recent cold shoulder is representative of one of the 
larger reasons for an Iraqi invasion. If the Bush administration removes 
Saddam, it can replace him with a friendlier leader, and restore US access 
to Iraq's massive oil reserves. This would allow the US to wean itself from 
its precarious energy dependence on the Saudis.

The operation is also decidedly indiscreet. During the exercise, officers 
will direct tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of tanks, fighter jets 
and bombers as well as four aircraft carrier battle groups now in, or 
converging on, the Persian Gulf. However, the whole thing will take place 
in cyberspace. Surely, had the US wanted, it could have conducted the 
operation beneath the media radar screen since the real exercise will 
happen behind closed doors at computer terminals. But that would have 
defeated the point.

The Pentagon invited all the television networks to Doha, and sent out a 
press release announcing General Tommy Franks' departure from US Central 
Command in Florida to Qatar, because it needs to begin reassuring the 
American public of the extent of its gadgetry so as to assuage increasing 
fears of a drawn-out war that might cost American lives. Furthermore, if an 
actual invasion were to follow closely on the heels of the exercise, it is 
not a bad idea, from the Pentagon's perspective, to have the media tucked 
away in one place, where footage will, much like during the 1991 war, offer 
images of the accuracy of smart bombs rather than brutality of civilian 

Most of all, the operation is not meant to give the UN much breathing room. 
It is hardly coincidental that the exercise is taking place almost 
simultaneously with the arrival of the mammoth weapons report. Were 
Operation Internal Look to have occurred later or with less fanfare, the 
news cycle would surely have focused exclusively on the course of weapons 
analysis, which implicitly would defer full authority to the UN as the 
master of Iraq's fate.

Instead, the US has successfully split the current focus. Part of the time 
the news-watching public is met by UN policy wonks tediously re-stating a 
wait-and-see rhetoric against the backdrop of 12,000 pages ploddingly 
turned. The rest of the time the lead story covers Qatar's dazzling 
digitalized command center fluttering with activity against a backdrop of 
fully loaded military aircraft waiting on the runways. The irony here is 
that while the weapons inspectors painstakingly look through their 
haystack, the US continues to brag that it already has the needle in hand.

Despite the fact that UN Resolution 1441 clearly stipulates that all member 
countries should provide any intelligence they have which will help in the 
discovery of Iraq's weapons of destruction, the US still refuses to ante up 
its allegedly solid proof.

As an exercise in rapid deployment, Operation Internal Look will certainly 
pass muster, but its real success will be in the realm of media management. 
In this sphere, few countries can compete with US capabilities.

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