Must We Attack Iraq?

In October 1998, the US Congress defined US policy on Iraq and passed the ‘Iraq Liberation Act’. It contains a passage which confirms that the ultimate objective of the United States authorities is the removal of Saddam Hussain and his government. This puts the tug of war between the US Departments of State and Defence into its real perspective.

With the recent demise of the US Iraq containment policy the issue is not ‘whether’ Iraq should be next on the list but ‘how’ this can be justified and made palatable to the governments in the Middle East and to the so-called coalition partners, particularly in Europe. The American public is not the problem. The majority either does not know the issues and therefore does not care or is traumatized by the humiliating atrocities of 11 September and receptive to the medicine of a military response.

There can be no disagreement that perpetrators must be brought to justice. The rhetoric escalation of recent months by US politicians and their media followers in accusing Iraq of supporting international terrorism is void of evidence. Not a single incident can be traced to Iraq from the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Daresalaam to the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Centre bombings. The anthrax crime is an internal US affair. US intelligence agencies, moreover, know that Iraq no longer possesses the weapon systems which would allow the use of the WMD capacity which still exists in the form of Iraqi scientists. To admit this, however, would be the death nail to the entire self-serving US Iraq policy.

The US ‘case’ for an attack against Iraq is therefore nowhere convincing, not even in Britain. The list of those who warn against military action grows day by day. Bundeskanzler Schroder recently warned in the German Parliament that choosing new targets in the Middle East would backfire and ‘could explode in our faces’. Leaders in the Middle East among them King Abdullah of Jordan, Presidents Mubarak and Assad, Dr. Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, the former Saudi intelligence chief Turki Ibn Faisal and even the two Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, Barzani and Talabani echo this concern. The US authorities can not ignore these apprehensions. The long struggle against terrorism can not be won without allies. An attack against Iraq would endanger fragile partnerships and not contribute to eliminating the causes of conflict in the Middle East. Quick fixes with military hard-ware will not produce the civilian soft-ware for stability and peace.

Eleven years of a self-serving US policy of economic sanctions against Iraq have not removed Saddam Hussein, the ally of the 1980s, but destroyed a society and caused the death of thousands, young and old. Evidence of the damage attributable to sanctions is contained in many reports of reputable international organizations. To say this is not to overlook human rights violations carried out by the Iraqi authorities. National lawlessness, however, is no justification for international lawlessness. The International Bill of Human Rights and other international law in the case of Iraq have simply been ignored, creating conditions of double punishment for innocent civilians.

The question that needs an urgent answer is what kind of an international road map is required in the case of Iraq to get things straight? First and foremost, Iraq must be given the opportunity to show its face where it counts, the UN Security Council. This will only be possible when the US displays statesmanship and begins to talk to its adversary. Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has repeatedly offered dialogue on all issues. This should no longer be rebuffed. There is a wealth of intelligence information about Iraq on military and political issues in the hands of the United Nations to gauge the sincerity of Iraq’s willingness to dialogue. The repeatedly postponed meetings between the Government of Iraq and the UN Secretary General which finally took place in New York on 26 February constituted a good beginning. At that time, the Iraqis placed before Secretary General Annan a comprehensive position paper on all outstanding issues from missing Kuwaitis to stolen property, compensation and disarmament. Even if this submission was defective, it should not have been dismissed by the US/UK as ‘nothing new’. It could have been a useful base-line for talks. Regrettably, after this first meeting, the UN Secretary General was muzzled by US /UK insistence that their bilateral policies had to be sorted out before these multilateral talks could resume. There has not been another meeting since then. The deadlock with the resulting exhorbitant human costs thus continues.

The negotiating role King Abdullah of Jordan had accepted at the March Arab Summit in Amman for similar reasons has not fared much better. Both UN and Arab League initiatives should be given a chance. Confidence building measures of this kind would prepare the ground for ‘hard thinking and plain speaking’ at the forthcoming 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut and in the UN Security Council. In fact, King Abdullah has visited Kuwait. He should no longer postpone his visit to Baghdad.

Those who argue that this would constitute a propaganda victory for Saddam Hussein should be reminded that the resolution of this major international conflict is a pre-condition for averting a deepening global crisis. They should also understand that the resolution of this conflict is not about saving political faces but about saving human lives. The urgency of the moment is for the international community to end one of the great injustices of our time.

The oil-for-food programme, the aging life-line for the civilian population has just been extended by the UN Security Council for another six months. No agreement has been reached on improving conditions under which this programme is implemented. Its severe limitations in terms of funding and scope means that the civilian population is forced to remain a hand-out society. People will continue to die prematurely. Those who live will face more hardship and deprivation. At the beginning of this year, the mortality rate for Iraqi children under five, according to UNICEF, had increased by 160% compared to 1990, the highest increase among the 188 countries UNICEF had surveyed. Should this alone not be a strong motivating force for the UN Security Council to intensify efforts to find a political solution?

Having the removal of Saddam Hussein as a declared objective, it can not be expected that the United States will bilaterally be willing to negotiate with Baghdad. The US, however, also knows that the replacement of governments can not be the order of business in the multilateral context of the UN. This presents a difficult dilemma for the Americans. It could only be overcome if they were to agree to a discussion of the draft resolution for the resumption of arms inspection and the lifting of economic sanctions presented by the Russian Government to the UN Security Council last June. This proposal foresees the return of arms inspectors to Iraq as demanded by the Bush administration and the lifting of economic sanctions after 60 days. The Iraqis have neither accepted nor rejected this proposal.

Here is an opportunity that presents a political option to another military confrontation with Iraq. It must not be missed. Friends and allies of the US and the UK should not avoid the obligation they have to play their part and do so with commitment and perseverence. It will not be easy. This is a call on the European Union which, as an entity, and through individual member states has so far participated only half-heartedly in the Iraq discussion. It is also a call on Iraq’s friends, other than Russia, to impress on Iraq that cooperation with the Russian proposal could be the beginning of a comprehensive process to normalize its relations with its neighbours, to begin national reconstruction in exchange for re-accepting arms monitoring and verification and the continuation of a military embargo on Iraq, as a potential buyer of armament and on potential exporters of arms to Iraq.

Such an approach would also be an important contribution to the wider Middle East Peace Process. Iraq and Palestine are no longer issues that can be handled separately. Solving one without the other will mean that peace will not return to the area. This leads to only one conclusion, the international community including the United States must accept a multi-pronged intervention as a first step towards solving the crises in the Middle East. Dialogue and negotiations, not military confrontation, should be the basis for this approach.