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A 'New' Iraq Policy: What About International Law and Compassion? Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday The conveyor belt theory that economic pressure will produce political change has once again proved to be false. A change in government has not taken place but the conditions of life facing civilian Iraq is today are desperate, far worse than what senior UN officials described already in 1991 as apocalyptic. At the end of World War II, a Marshall Plan came to the rescue of a civilian population in Germany devastated and traumatized by six years of war. At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 following the earlier Iran-Iraq war of eight years, Iraqis were sentenced to the most comprehensive sanctions ever extended by the international community to a country. Not surprising the human cost for a decade of failure is horrendous. Today Iraq has the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest increase in child mortality during the period 1990-99 of all the 188 countries surveyed according to a UNICEF report released in December 2000. As two former Humanitarian Coordinators who have lived in Iraq for lengthy periods and who have had the rare opportunity to see conditions on the ground and interact with Iraqi officials and normal citizens, we would like to express our deep apprehension over the current UK/US proposals for a new international policy on Iraq. What is proposed as an international road map for change seemingly suggests a well-surfaced international highway to civilian recovery. The brutal truth is that the road is full of potholes. The US State Department and the British Foreign Office must be aware that eventually the 'true story' will come out just as in the cases of Chile and Vietnam. The tragedy is that it will come too late for millions of Iraqis who will have died or become permanently disabled by self-serving and dishonest policies of others. Our first concern is that the international community and the Iraqi authorities do whatever is in their power to allow the restoration of genuine socio-economic normalcy and dignity of life in Iraq. The proposals the UK has made to the UN Security Council will, as presently foreseen, not lead at all to a betterment of the human condition in Iraq. An enlarged 'green list' of items which can come into the country more freely does not constitute a removal of external restrictions on a normal civilian life! Only the full lifting of the economic embargo will contribute to this. What is proposed at this point in fact amounts to a tightening of the rope around the neck of the average Iraqi citizen. The question that needs an answer is; how much does it cost to run a nation, particularly a nation disabled by ten years of sanctions. Where should resources come from for the maintenance of Iraqi roads, ports, bridges and railways? What about money for the civil service, the payment of teachers, or for the up-keep of hospitals and schools? Sanction regulations do not permit any funding for such purposes. Does this not put into perspective the amounts of money the Iraqi government obtains in addition to the legal sale of oil? The proposed 'civilian-friendly' new policy for Iraq is trying to eliminate this source of revenue. If successful, it will deepen, not lessen the suffering of the Iraqi people. US and UK representatives at the UN Security Council argue that their proposals are tantamount to lifting most, if not all, restrictions on the import of civilian goods. Consequently, any continued suffering by the Iraqi people will be on account of the Government in Baghdad. This is not only false but malicious. A genuine international contribution to ending the tragedy in Iraq will only come when economic sanctions are lifted. The status of a hand- out society will only end when Iraq's economic engine is running again and when people have a chance to fend for themselves, rather than waiting for the monthly food basket. Without foreign investment of financial and human resources this will not happen nor will it happen as long as the Iraqi oil revenue is managed from outside. The so-called 'new' sanction policy maintains the old bridgeheads of the current sanction regime: the oil escrow account remains with the UN, market-based foreign investment in Iraq will not be allowed and an oil-for-food programme stays in the hands of the UN. The smell is of diluted wine in the same restricted bottle. No reasonable person will want to drink it and the Iraqi Government will refuse to pay for it. For the Iraqi people with an immune system which has all but disappeared, it will be fatal. Ultimately, this circuitous approach in dealing with Iraq is based on the pretension that Iraq still constitutes a military threat. The anti-Iraq lobby has tried hard to suggest that major recent acts of terrorism have an Iraq connection. No facts are offered. All this is designed to justify a policy of punishment of a nation for having failed to get rid of its leader. Iraq today is no longer a military threat to anyone. Intelligence agencies know this. All the conjectures about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq lack evidence. An Iraq that at the height of its military prowess in the war against Iran failed to win a clear victory is not an Iraq that can be a danger after ten years of sanctions and seven years of disarmament. William Cohen was therefore right when he conveyed to incoming President Bush on 10 January that "Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbours". The new majority leader of the US House of Representatives, Tom Daschle, in talking about the Middle East referred to the need for compromise. We too, believe that there will be no progress in any aspect of the Middle East peace process without compromise. This includes Iraq. The cornerstone of such compromise has to be that all parties accept the principle of dialogue. The second round of talks between the UN Secretary-General and an Iraqi delegation is an important step towards a fuller dialogue with the UN Security Council. The US/UK Governments have the position papers presented by the then Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Sahaf to Secretary-General Annan in February. A full dialogue must begin with a substantive, not a political, reaction by the UN Security Council to these papers. This would set the stage for a review of all outstanding matters from missing POWs to compensation payments and disarmament. If there is an honest concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, then there must also be a sense of urgency in finding a humane way out of the present political cul-de-sac. Let not hate but sympathy for a human catastrophe be the guide for the next steps. H.C. von Sponeck Denis L. Halliday UN Humanitarian Coordinator UN Humanitarian Coordinator For Iraq For Iraq (1998-2000) (1997-1998) Geneva/Dublin, 29 May 2001 -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk