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Black Cat in a Dark Room.

The following appeared in today's the New York Times:

August 20, 1998

A Black Cat in a Dark Room
uch has been said and published about the current standoff between Iraq
and the United Nations arms inspectors. But those criticizing Iraq for
suspending its cooperation with the United Nations special commission on
arms inspection, better known as Unscom, give no recognition whatsoever to
the underlying reasons that led Iraq to adopt this position. It is time to
set the record straight. 

Iraq's side of the story is rarely being told.  


First, the whole world knows by now that Iraq has lost well over a million
of its people as a direct result of the sanctions that have been in place
for eight years. A former President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson,
was chillingly correct when he called sanctions "a peaceful, silent and
deadly remedy." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright herself
characterized them as "the toughest multilateral sanctions in history."
Many critics seem to think the Government of Iraq is supposed to stand
idle while watching a whole generation of its people melt away like
Second, Iraq has complied with all the fundamental requirements of
disarmament in Security Council Resolution 687. Unscom itself admitted
this reality in its April 11, 1997, report to the Security Council, when
it said, "The accumulated effect of the work that has been accomplished
over six years since the cease fire went into effect between Iraq and the
coalition is such that not much is unknown about Iraq's retained
proscribed weapons capabilities." But the United States and Britain refuse
to recognize this fact. Their role in preventing the Security Council from
closing the clearly done nuclear file a few weeks ago is a case in point. 

The disagreement between Iraq and the inspectors is not on existing
weapons. No weapons or sites have been discovered by the Unscom inspectors
on their own since 1991; those that have been found have been produced by
the Iraqi Government itself. Rather, the current dispute involves paper
documentation that precedes the gulf war. Those issues can be pursued in
the context of the already established ongoing monitoring regime. 

There are two main questions that need to be asked when assessing Iraq's
compliance with disarmament requirements: does Iraq still possess
proscribed weapons or the means to produce them, and is the monitoring
process working? The answer is no to the first, yes to the second.
Unscom's allegations about documentation are nothing but excuses to
manufacture a crisis whenever one is needed to prolong the sanctions. 

Iraq has said all along that there must be a creative way to reconcile the
two goals: the need for more documentation and the easing of the suffering
of the Iraqi people. Unscom, unfortunately, is insisting on either
everything or nothing. 

Iraq will never be able to satisfy Unscom because it is being asked to
prove the negative: that it does not have any more weapons. There is, of
course, no way Iraq can prove that it has nothing if it has nothing. How
many more Iraqis will have to die because Richard Butler's team has not
yet found another document, which cannot be located because there is no
such document in the first place? The inspectors are searching for a black
cat in a dark room, where the cat does not exist. 

Third, many American officials have stated that even if Iraq complies with
the Security Council's resolutions, the United States will not approve the
lifting of sanctions. The declared goal of Washington is to remove the
current Government of Iraq. We wonder if this goal is in line with the
letter and the spirit of international law and the United Nations
resolutions. Iraq continues to believe that the resolutions are used by
the United States as a cover for an illegal political agenda. The
allocation of money to the Central Intelligence Agency for subversion in
Iraq is just a unit in this series. One might wonder why Iraq should
continue being part of this futile and endless game. 

Fourth, Ms. Albright claims that every Iraqi receives a daily ration
basket equivalent to the recommended caloric intake of the average
American. Perhaps she needs to review the latest reports by the United
Nations and other organizations, which state that millions of Iraqi
children and women are still suffering and that the oil-for-food program
is not adequate. For instance, the 1998 World Disaster Report by the
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies described
Iraq as a country under siege and said 16 to 27 percent of the population
is malnourished. 

Finally, many high-ranking American officials keep speaking about Iraq as
being a threat to American interests and to the region. We would like to
assure these officials, and through them the American people, that Iraq is
eager to live in peace with its neighbors and the world. But Iraq will not
submit to intimidation, bullying and coercion. Peace will come only
through dialogue based on mutual respect for the principles of
independence, sovereignty and the observance of international law.

Nizar Hamdoon is Iraq's permanent representative to the United Nations. 

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