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18th December 1999
New Security Council Resolution continues to punish Iraqi citizens
A national campaign group opposed to the non-military sanctions on Iraq has sharply criticised Friday's Security Council Resolution on Iraq. The resolution would suspend sanctions on Iraq after 120 days of co-operation with a new weapons inspection body; Britain fought to keep the definition of co-operation deliberately vague.
"The resolution contains some fairly obvious good ideas but, at heart, we're back to 1991", warned Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) co-ordinator, Colin Rowat. "As in 1991, sanctions are being used to punish Iraq's civilian population in the hope of swaying its leadership. As our government claims that the Iraqi regime doesn't care about its population, this is a tragically confused strategy. In 1991, it might have been excused because we were making decisions quickly and didn't know better; we can't use these excuses now."
In August, Unicef estimated that an extra half million Iraqi children under five have died under the sanctions. The British government denies that the sanctions have led to hardship in Iraq, preferring to blame the collapse in living conditions on the Iraqi leadership. This position is at odds with the purpose of economic sanctions, which restrict economic activity by design. They therefore intentionally create economic hardship, to which the poor are the most vulnerable. The new Resolution acknowledges this by noting that "the fundamental objective" of suspending sanctions is "improving the humanitarian situation".
France, Russia and China all abstained from the vote, objecting to the 120 day compliance period. They argued that the non-military sanctions should be suspended once Iraq began to co-operate with the new weapons inspectors. As the Security Council can re-impose the sanctions at will, the purpose of the 120 day period is questionable. "We don't think that this is about Iraq's weapons: diplomats involved in the negotiation tell us that the US is afraid to be seen as weak, to be seen to make concessions to Saddam", explained Rowat.
The waiting period forces Iraqi citizens to wait longer for the benefits of suspended sanctions. It may also encourage the Iraqi government to keep its promise to not implement the resolution. "Why would the Iraqi government implement it?", asked Rowat. "They don't trust the US and the UK: these countries bomb them without Security Council authority; Bush, Clinton and Albright have all stated that the US will lift sanctions when the Iraqi regime changes - nothing to do with the weapons talked about in UN resolutions. The new resolution asks the Iraqi government to comply for 120 days in the hopes that the US will change its mind and start to respect UN resolutions. This would be quite a gamble even if Britain had not insisted on keeping the definition of compliance vague. If the Council had agreed to suspend sanctions once the Iraqis began to co-operate, we would have had the opportunity to build some trust. Instead, I fear that we're doing the reverse."
When pressed, Foreign Office spokespersons have expressed confidence that the Iraqi regime would comply, but have refused to substantiate their beliefs. "This is na´ve," accused Rowat. "In 1991, weapons inspection was supposed to last 120 from start to finish. Non-compliance by the regime started on day one and has lasted over eight years. The Iraqi regime is less vulnerable now than it was then, and is not being offered anything more. Attempts by the Foreign Office to ignore these details suggest that they're not particularly concerned about the humanitarian consequences of this resolution."
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