There is a sense in which the people of Darfur, too, are victims of the war in Iraq.  --  On Tuesday, the Financial Times reported on the reluctance of the U.S. and Britain to confront the Darfur conflict, which many believe has taken about 400,000 lives (a figure used by the Coalition for International Justice) and has displaced about 2.5 million persons.[1]  --  Some momentum for concerted action by the U.S. and the U.K. seems to have come out of the meeting in Washington, D.C., last week between U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.  --  In a separate piece, the Financial Times reported that Blair endorsed the imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur on that visit, and since then "[m]ilitary planning has moved ahead, one [British] official said, adding:  'The Americans mean business.'"[2]  --  But "[m]ilitary action in another oil-rich Muslim country almost four years after the Iraq invasion would be risky," reporter Guy Dinmore observed.  --  "As long as they remain bogged down in Iraq, [Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's Islamist regime] believes, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are mouthing empty threats.  Many in Washington would agree," wrote Dinmore and Daniel Dombey.[1] ...

By Guy Dinmore (Washington) and Daniel Dombey (Brussels)

Financial Times (UK)
December 12, 2006

The crisis in Iraq has left U.S. and British officials wary of waging a further unilateral action in a hostile Muslim country. "You must go to the dance with a partner," says one Washington official.

But the intractable crisis in Sudan's Darfur region has drawn out a series of military plans that would see Washington and London involved in a naval blockade of Sudan's Red Sea coast, targeted airstrikes against sites within the country, or the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur. That last option has received Tony Blair's backing, with the important proviso that United Nations approval would be an essential prerequisite.

Both Mr. Blair and President George W. Bush are said to feel a deep commitment to end a crisis in Darfur that London labels a "crime against humanity" and Washington alone calls genocide. Aides describe concerns about their historical legacy hanging over two leaders already weighed down by the debacle in Iraq and a fear of being seen to have allowed a repeat of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

A rare coalition of interests would be prepared to back Mr. Bush over action on Sudan. While Republicans would see military moves as a blow against President Omar al-Bashir's Islamist regime, Democrats would also support an initiative to end one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

In October, a call for U.S. military strikes was penned by two former Clinton administration officials, Susan Rice and Anthony Lake, and Democrat congressman Donald Payne, who will soon take over leadership of the House subcommittee on Africa.

The U.S., they said, should press for a U.N. resolution to give Sudan an ultimatum to accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences, including strikes against airfields and other military assets, and a blockade of Port Sudan to stop oil exports. If the U.N. balked, then the U.S. should go ahead anyway.

The preferred option for Washington and London is that Khartoum accept the latest international proposal for a "hybrid" force combining U.N. troops with the 7,000 hapless peacekeepers of the African Union (AU) already deployed over an area the size of France.

Both Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush have cited the newly enshrined but vaguely defined U.N. doctrine of "responsibility to protect" as justification for Darfur action. Washington has already raised the stakes by publicly giving Mr. Bashir a January 1 deadline to accept international demands or face "plan B."

The components of this plan are secret but officials hint that it involves financial sanctions targeted against individuals and corporations, using measures applied with some success against North Korea and Iran to put pressure on the financial sector to freeze accounts and halt business.

The Bush administration may also put to one side its ideological dislike of the International Criminal Court and supply evidence needed to convict Khartoum's leadership of war crimes.

British officials hope that they could pass future resolutions on Sudan at the U.N. Security Council with the abstentions of Russia, China, and Qatar. If such measures fail, however, the U.S. plans would call for another ad hoc "coalition of the willing" to pursue coercive measures, preferably with U.N. backing, but probably not because of China's veto power in the Security Council.

"Plans B to F are on the table," the official added. She was not authorized to speak about possible military intervention but confirmed that the U.S. wanted to work with France in Chad, where Paris has a small contingent of troops, to help President Idris Deby fend off Sudanese-backed rebels.

French diplomats said there had been no approach yet from Washington about military action and Paris would only envisage military initiatives within a multilateral framework.

Stephen Morrison, Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the idea of military intervention in Sudan was "a fantasy that draws on the neocon vision that got us into Iraq."

The "Iraq syndrome," as some diplomats call it, plays mainly to Mr. Bashir's advantage. His government is buoyed by anti-Western sentiment among Muslim allies, kept afloat by soaring oil revenues and cushioned by diplomatic support from China, its main customer.

As long as they remain bogged down in Iraq, Mr. Bashir believes, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are mouthing empty threats. Many in Washington would agree.

--Additional reporting by Peggy Hollinger in Paris


By Guy Dinmore

Financial Times (UK)
December 12, 2006

Tony Blair has backed imposing a no-fly zone over Sudan’s Darfur region while military planners in Washington are also developing plans for air strikes and a naval blockade to pressure Khartoum to stop the violence, the *Financial Times* has learned.

The British prime minister declared his support for a no-fly zone for the first time during his visit last week to Washington, during which he told President George W. Bush that they had to deal with Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, in the next two to three months.

“If rapid progress is not made, we will need to consider alternative approaches, with international partners,” Mr. Blair warned on returning to London.

Military planning has moved ahead, one official said, adding: “The Americans mean business.”

Mr. Blair said he would seek United Nations backing for a no-fly zone which would be enforced by the U.S. and U.K.

Military action in another oil-rich Muslim country almost four years after the Iraq invasion would be risky. But some officials in Washington and London suggest it may be the only way to deal with the situation in the western Sudanese region, where between 100,000 and 400,000 people have died through famine and slaughter and 2.5m more have fled their homes since 2003.

A no-fly zone would be designed to prevent the Sudanese government from using its air force or helicopter gunships in attacks against villages in Darfur. Such attacks have been alleged by U.N. monitors and human rights organizations.

No decisions over possible military action over Darfur have been reached, and such a course would be considered only if Mr. Bashir resists U.N. demands for the deployment of a “hybrid” force of U.N. and African Union peacekeepers.

Opposition from the U.S. military is said to be strong. Analysts and diplomats are also sceptical the U.S. and U.K. will conclude that military intervention against Khartoum’s wishes would rescue a complex situation.

China, which consumes almost two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports, is said to be concerned its image is being tarnished by its close association with Khartoum. But envoys doubt that Beijing would back any U.N. plan that might affect its oil purchases.

Mr. Blair spoke in Washington of his fears that the violence and “terrible suffering” in Darfur might destabilize the whole region and called for “tougher action,” but with U.N. approval.

Andrew Natsios, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, flew to Khartoum at the weekend to make another diplomatic push, though U.S. officials doubted Mr. Bashir would allow the deployment of peacekeepers.

“We are very concerned that [Mr Bashir] is buying more time to continue with military operations in Darfur. We need a different game plan,” one official told the *FT*, referring to what the U.S. is calling “Plan B,” believed to be a package of sanctions and coercive action.