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An Alternative to War in Iraq

by John Absood

As the impressive U.S. military rout of the Taliban regime and the terrorists they harbored enters a new phase, some in Washington propose a similar strategy for Iraq. I argue against this for several reasons and propose a non-military solution. Indeed, a carefully revamped weapons inspections process may well provide the answer.

As a primary matter, all of Iraq’s neighbors prefer a united Iraq to a fractured one. It would be difficult to guarantee Iraq’s unity by arming Kurdish forces in the North and Shiite forces in the South. The Shiite rebels in Iraq maintain ties with Shiite Iran. Iraqi Kurdish groups have a long history of struggling for Kurdish autonomy from Baghdad and a newly formed Iraqi Kurdistan could incite the restless Kurdish minority in Turkey to rebel against Istanbul. This eventuality could well spiral into a wider and undesired conflagration. While U.S. military superiority is certain to unseat the Baghdad regime, the aftermath is far less clear and America could well loose control of the situation on the ground.

More importantly, war should be the last resort and not the first priority. This leads to the question of why weapons inspections have failed and whether they can be redrafted to work. It is difficult to answer the first part precisely. Although UNSCOM has admitted to destroying much of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it was unable to certify full Iraqi compliance. Certainly, the fact that the U.N. commission dismantled more chemical and biological weapons than the allies had destroyed during the Gulf War is evidence that weapons inspections have worked and can work.

But attitudes need to change if a new weapons inspections regime is to be effective. Clearly, Baghdad must demonstrate greater willingness to cooperate than it has in the past. Political roulette is a sure recipe for failure. But equally important, Washington must unequivocally declare its respect for Iraq’s independence and integrity. This would require that the United States abandon its long standing commitment to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and embrace the U.N. mandate to disarm Iraq instead.

Clinton administration affirmations that the United States had no intention of lifting the crippling economic sanctions on Iraq until the Baath regime was overthrown served to undermine the weapons inspections process. The public debacle over Washington’s alleged interference with UNSCOM’s mandate and the resignation of key members of the commission only reinforced the perception in Baghdad that Washington was not really after Iraq’s compliance or disarmament but after the regime’s ouster. Baghdad’s perception that it is “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t” must change if weapons inspections are to be effective.

Therefore, what is called for right now is a serious reexamination of each side’s attitude and of the inspections process itself. A newly reconstituted inspections regime must address a few loopholes in the original formulation.

First, the specific steps that Iraq must take to satisfy the commission’s requirements of “full compliance” must be spelled out in detail. Any ambiguity can create a situation of an ever moving “goal post.” This scenario would cause each side to question the motives of the other and would frustrate the process.

Second, some oversight would be required to ensure that the new inspections team remains wholly scientific and independent of any external pressure or interference. Secretary General Kofi Annan may even assume this oversight role himself or delegate a trusted associate. The possibility that the new team could be comprised of capable inspectors from “neutral” countries (particularly European) should be seriously considered.

Third, the new mandate must unambiguously endorse the lifting all economic sanctions once Iraq has fully complied.

Fourth, some meaningful monitoring mechanisms need to be put in place after economic sanctions have been lifted to ensure that Iraq does not reconstitute its weapons programs.

Finally, I believe that these collective steps can form the basis of a long overdue resolution to the Iraq dilemma. The economic sanctions have exacted a heavy toll on the Iraqi people. We have a moral obligation not only to protect ourselves from weapons of mass destruction but also to end the decade of suffering of the Iraqi people. This proposal can form a blueprint for achieving both.

John Absood lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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