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[Fwd: Why not call it genocide?]

Al-Ahram Weekly
18 - 24 November 1999
Issue No. 456

By Hassan Nafaa *

Iraq is still trapped in the tunnel it entered on 2 August 1990 when it
invaded Kuwait. Consultations and mediation within the Security
Council, at regional and global levels do not seem to augur well. With
the British-American strike launched last December, which brought
UNSCOM's mission (to inspect and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction) to an end, the crisis entered a new phase. The world
community -- even the US -- recognised that the UN inspectors could not
return to Iraq under the same terms of reference; hence the search for
a new, defined, more effective approach to the Iraqi crisis, one
achieving the consensus of the international community, which continues
to preoccupy the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Numerous proposals have been tabled, including a joint proposal by
Russia and China, a French proposal, and a joint British and Dutch
proposal, none of which was put to the vote. Talks seem to be gradually
broadening the common ground of understanding between the parties,
however, as indicated by the numerous amendments introduced to the
three proposals mentioned above, none of which has so far won majority
support. After its amendment, the British-Dutch proposal seems to have
the best chances.

The differences that divide the five permanent Security Council members
have not been resolved, granted; still, the gaps between their
positions remain ambiguous. For the first time, the US seems more
prepared to suspend the sanctions imposed on Iraq if Baghdad responds
to certain conditions. But the change in the US position is still
limited, and could be simply a tactical move. The US's harsh conditions
are aimed at maintaining Iraq under US supervision for the time being
-- possibly until efforts in the Arab-Israeli conflict have made
headway towards peace. The three other proposals stemmed from the
assumption that it is time for the sanctions against Iraq to be lifted
completely, not merely suspended. The other permanent members, however,
have backed down under US pressure, and speak today more of suspending

Whether the sanctions are suspended or lifted, at any rate, will depend
on the way in which three major issues are settled: the elimination of
weapons of mass destruction; alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi
people; and the whereabouts of the Kuwaiti prisoners of war. As regards
the first issue, the Russian, Chinese and French proposals were
conceived on the basis of a distinction between Iraq's continued
possession of such weapons, and the need to prevent it from building a
greater arsenal in the future. The three states were inclined to accept
-- to varying degrees -- that Iraq's arsenal has been eliminated and
that what little remains, wherever it may be, cannot be put to any use.
In other words, they felt that Iraq is no longer a threat to its
neighbours, and accordingly recommended that the inspection committee
be replaced by a committee to monitor any attempts to acquire or
develop weapons in the future. The US, on the other hand, still
believes that Iraq possesses weapons, that inspections must continue,
and that it is still too early to think of setting up a monitoring

The world community as a whole, not just the five permanent members of
the Security Council, is aware that the sanctions have done the
greatest harm to the Iraqi people, and served only to strengthen Saddam
Hussein's grip on power. In other words, the sanctions have defeated
their own purpose. The US, however, continues to blame Saddam Hussein,
not the sanctions, for the tragedy, and insists that the sanctions must
stay in place until Saddam goes. Given the increasing pressure of
international public opinion, however, the US today is a little more
amenable to consider improving the terms of the oil for food programme
and seeking other means to channel food and medicine to the least
privileged categories of the population.

The US, of course, will not lift the sanctions completely before
Baghdad accepts all the conditions it has set. Although for the past
few weeks the media has been highlighting this "softer" position on
sanctions, and the US's proximity to the British position (which
suggests that sanctions be lifted after a "trial period" of 120 days),
it is still not clear whether the US will in fact adopt this position.
It is more likely that the US will link its position on the
British-Dutch proposal to developments in the current negotiations
between the permanent members of the Security Council regarding the
composition and mandate of the inspection or monitoring team.

Nevertheless, under no circumstances will the US accept less than a
permanent or quasi-permanent committee vested with a wide range of
functions, and so constituted as to allow full US control. Once the
issues of weapons and sanctions are settled and the international
community is relieved of the moral responsibility for the suffering of
the Iraqi people, the issue of "disappeared" persons or prisoners of
war can be dealt with easily.

The US is in no hurry today to scale down its offensive against Iraq or
to end the crisis. After the failure of the joint strike last December,
the US today is better able to bring military and moral pressure to
bear on Baghdad and to justify another military strike, which, it
believes, will reinforce the Iraqi opposition awaiting a more opportune
time to overthrow the regime. The war of attrition seems to signify
that the US cares little for questions of legitimacy or international
law in situations where its interests are jeopardised, and that it is
ready to act alone if necessary to protect its interests and achieve
its aims in this part of the world. The US is confident that none of
the permanent members of the Security Council will raise a serious
challenge to its policy on Iraq. It is also clear that no Arab
government has any say in the matter; the Iraqis themselves are
resigned to their fate, having grown accustomed to surviving the war.
Its victims have become an everyday part of life, to be watched on the
news in the Arab world.

Ten years after the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqis are still the symbol
of indescribable suffering; the US is a stock predator, brutally
tearing its victim to pieces as the world looks on impassively. Iraq
has few options in this scenario. The only rational option is for
Saddam Hussein to be ousted, but this is less likely to happen today
than at any other time in the past. He will not willingly step down;
nor can his opponents overthrow him. If anything, the sanctions have
strengthened his grip on power. With the population totally focused on
finding food and medicine, it views the world as cruel and insensitive
-- far worse than Hussein himself. What, then, if Saddam Hussein
remains in power for another decade or so? How will the people survive?
Can the international community accept responsibility for the mass
murder of an entire people?

In The Torture of Iraq: Sanctions, Legality and Justice, Jeff Simons
surveys reports from international organisations on the genocide of the
Iraqis. He quotes the regional representative of the World Food
Programme as stating that the weakest and most vulnerable members of
the population are suffering the most: children under five, pregnant or
nursing mothers, female household heads and destitute older women. Ten
per cent of the population has access to little or no food. The social
structure is disintegrating and people can stand no more. The survey
also quotes a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. In 1995,
according to this report, one million Iraqis had died as a result of
the economic sanctions. Over half a million were children.

The Iraqi people, then, are being exterminated. The international
community is indifferent to their plight. Saddam Hussein will continue
to play on the people's suffering to consolidate his grip on power, and
the US will continue to play on the suffering of the Iraqi population
to oust Saddam Hussein. Alternatively, Hussein could make a few
concessions with regard to Iraq's traditional position on the
Arab-Israeli conflict and somehow lend a hand in solving the problem of
the Palestinian refugees. The UN will probably buy whatever Saddam
Hussein has to sell, but will never sell him what he needs most. Thus
the conflict will rage on, until every last child in Iraq is dead. Can
we stand by and watch?


The writer is a professor of political science at Cairo University

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