War Talk Grips Iraq as Storied US Carrier Returns to Gulf

Saturday, 18 May, 2019 - 18:00
Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraqis have endured successive wars but spiraling tensions between Washington and Tehran have many convinced that new conflict looms between their key allies and that they will pay the price.

In Washington, some commentators shrug off the bellicose talk towards Tehran saying it will abate when President Donald Trump reins in his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton to avoid a new -- and potentially far larger -- foreign military commitment, said an AFP report Saturday.

But in Baghdad, the Pentagon's deployment to the Gulf of a carrier group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln accompanied by B-52 bombers has many people persuaded the US threats are very real.

In March 2003, warplanes from the Lincoln flew sortie after sortie over Iraq in the "shock and awe" bombing blitz that signaled the start of the US-led invasion.

The carrier had first deployed to the region in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War which ousted Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.

In May 2003, it was from the Lincoln's flight deck that president George W. Bush announced the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq in front of a large banner proclaiming: "Mission Accomplished".

The victory declaration was to prove horribly premature, but to Iraqis the nuclear-powered carrier remains a potent symbol of Washington's readiness to use its formidable military might.

The Lincoln "does not move just for the sake of exerting psychological pressure", said civil rights activist Aysar Jarjafji.

"It is deployed for a reason and returns home only when it has accomplished its mission," she said.

Columnist Hussein Rashid agreed. "There is no question about it, there will be war," he said.

"And Iraq will be the first loser.

"The Abraham Lincoln bombed Iraq. We have a bad memory of that."

Taxi driver Abu Hammudi too believes war is coming.

It is Ramadan and the streets of Baghdad are largely deserted during the day as Muslims await the iftar meal that marks the end of their dawn-to-dusk fast.

"The city is empty, it's like wartime," he said.

"I remember perfectly well how Baghdad was bombed in 1991. It was a horrific night. No one had expected it to happen but it did."

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