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Abdullah al-Arian: The Trouble with Sanctions on Iraq

The Chronicle
Tuesday Feb. 27, 2001
Column: The trouble with sanctions

   Why does the United States continually attack Iraq if it supports
   a policy of economic sanctions? 

By Abdullah Al-Arian

ON FRIDAY, Feb. 16, in a fearless act of self-defense, the United States
sent 18 fighter jets into Iraqi territory to destroy dangerous military
installations and radar sites just outside Baghdad. 

Over the past 10 years, British and American planes have engaged in daily
bombings on Iraqi soil, but this was the first bombing to bypass the
no-fly zone, since former president Bill Clinton did so on the eve of his

This particular mission, authorized by President George W. Bush, was set
to defend American presence in the region against targets that "threaten
our forces," according to the President.

Officials in Washington have failed to expand on the nature of that
threat, but attempted to depict the recent attacks as simply "a routine
mission to enforce the no-fly zone," despite it being anything but

Surprisingly, recent information suggests that the mission did not even
achieve its desired objectives. According to the Pentagon, less than half
of the 22 Iraqi radar sites near Baghdad were hit with the technologically
advanced AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (J-SOW), a bomb with a supposedly
high accuracy rating. In fact, the aftermath of the attack revealed that
some of these bombs missed their targets by at least a couple of hundred
yards. Iraq has shown instead that many civilian sites have been hit,
killing three and injuring more than two dozen civilians. These recent
events have left many people within the United States questioning the
effectiveness of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations
since 1991.

The sanctions regime came under scrutiny on an international level long
ago, when the effects were being widely publicized worldwide.

The ban on virtually all Iraqi imports and exports has crippled the Iraqi
population. Large amounts of depleted uranium left by the allies after the
Gulf War have multiplied the occurrence of cancer in children. And because
hospitals are not allowed to buy any equipment or medication, now
treatable diseases are responsible for the deaths of thousands.

This is particularly disturbing considering that Iraq was one of the
wealthier countries in the region with a top-notch infrastructure prior to
the imposition of sanctions. Dennis Halliday, who resigned in protest from
his position as coordinator of the U.N. Oil for Food program said of the
sanctions, "we are in the process of destroying an entire society-it is as
simple and as terrifying as that."

The opposition to the sanctions has been led by the remaining U.N. 
Security Council-France, China and Russia. The Arab nations, along with
Turkey and Iran, have also voiced their desire to remove this suffocating
policy. Faced with such staunch objection, the U.S. government now has to
justify the continuation of an ineffective policy whose only real effect
is the decimation of a people. 

Thus far, however, this has involved nothing more than exaggerating the
Iraqi threat, in an attempt to tell skeptical Arab neighbors what is good
for them. The chief U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter acknowledged,
"Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction and [it]
does not currently possess the capability to produce or deploy chemical,
biological or nuclear weapons." And even if one were to assume that Iraq
did possess these means, it is evident that these economic sanctions are
no solution.

One of the chief objectives of economic sanctions is that military action
will not be necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. From what we have
observed in Iraq in recent times, military action on a regular basis has
been used, despite the existence of sanctions. If this has become such a
readily available option, why not simply abandon the sanctions regime and
enter Iraq full-force to secure our mission objectives and end once and
for all this decade-long soap opera? While this is probably not a
possibility at this stage, the Bush administration is considering a change
in policy nonetheless. Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently in the
Middle East discussing the prospect of changing the sanctions regime into
what he terms "smart sanctions." 

These smart sanctions would replace the less-than-intelligent ones
currently in place, directing them more toward Saddam Hussein and not the
people of Iraq. Although this is certainly a welcomed step in the right
direction, it comes after a decade of what one Congressman has called
"infanticide masquerading as policy." 

The key will be to give into pressures for change without giving an
impression of American weakness, admitting fault while maintaining
strength-perhaps a more accurate description of the events of Feb. 16.

Abdullah Al-Arian is a Duke University junior majoring in Political
Science and History. 

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