14 November 1998

High time U.N. ended U.S. rampage in Iraq

November 14, 1998
The Times of India


By Siddharth Varadarajan

With war clouds gathering over Iraq for the second time in a year,
it is looking increasingly as if the US will ultimately launch
airstrikes against that beleaguered country. CNN has begun wheeling
out the usual experts from central casting to declare that there is
``no other option'' and the statements of Clinton administration
officials have acquired a hysterical tenor which suggests
Washington has gone beyond the point of no return. The US threats
have nothing to do with international law, morality, or even the
stated objective of smashing Iraq's ability to develop weapons of
mass destruction. From now on, the credibility of what Ms Madeleine
Albright calls the world's only indispensable nation is on the
line. In this Manichaean scheme of things, Iraq, of course, is
highly dispensable.

Human Disaster

Despite eight years of intrusive weapons inspections in which UN
inspectors have gone to any site they wanted to, Pentagon
spinfuehrers are putting out maps in which previously unheard of
``weapons facilities'' figure prominently as targets for possible
airstrikes. No `expert' ever asks a basic question: If such
facilities really exist, why did the UN Special Commission on Iraq
(UNSCOM) never come across them? UNSCOM chief Richard Butler is not
exactly the shy and retiring type. He would surely have loved the
chance to poke around.

Those who blame Iraq for the present crisis must say what Iraq is
supposed to do in order to bring an end to the nightmare of
sanctions. UNSCOM's inspections have long since degenerated into a
charade. Files once closed are again reopened on flimsy pretexts
and every attempt is made to prolong the process. The aim is not to
locate and destroy whatever allegedly remains of Iraq's capability
to manufacture weapons of mass destruction, but to ensure that
sanctions continue until the regime is overthrown.

To that end, the US Congress has sanctioned $100 million for the
so-called ``democratic'' Iraqi opposition. From time to time, US
legislators also make boorish calls for the murder of the Iraqi
president. The most recent gentleman to advocate such an
astonishing course of action -- technically illegal under US law --
is Senator Richard Lugar, who told reporters on Friday that ``if
need be, he should be killed''.

Any analysis of the present crisis must base itself on the fact
that after eight years of sanctions, the humanitarian situation in
Iraq is catastrophic. The `Oil for Food' programme has not been
able to halt the decline in living conditions. Thanks to the US and
British representatives on the UN 661 sanctions committee,
essential imports are blocked or delayed. When I was in Iraq last
February, UN humanitarian workers bitterly criticised the delay in
lifting sanctions. One even described the UN embargo as a ``weapon
of mass destruction'' because it has led to the death of several
hundred thousand Iraqis. Last month, Mr Denis Halliday, the UN
Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, quit his job in frustration and
called for an end to sanctions.

The Iraqi leadership wants a roadmap which stipulates a time frame
within which sanctions will end. When UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan visited Baghdad in February to resolve a dispute over access
to presidential sites, the Iraqis were led to believe that the
Security Council would soon make a concrete proposal in this
regard. But this never happened. Instead, just before the last
quarterly review, UNSCOM claimed that Iraqi missile shards under
analysis at a US army lab had tested positive for traces of VX
nerve gas. Although laboratories in France and Switzerland said no
VX traces could be found, UNSCOM continues to claim that Iraq is
hiding something.

UNSCOM Deadline

There is a way peacefully to resolve the present stand-off and that
is for the UN to establish a deadline for UNSCOM to complete its
work. The Iraqis will certainly agree to provide unfettered access
to neutral, impartial teams during this period if they know that
sanctions will be lifted at the end provided nothing incriminating
is found. The Secretary General's envoy in Baghdad, Mr Prakash
Shah, would no doubt have conveyed to Mr Annan the gravity of the
situation in Iraq and the desperation of its leadership and people.
US bombardment -- without the sanction of the UN Security Council,
or even the cover of morality or good sense -- will only cause
further suffering and hardship. It must be averted at all cost. Mr
Annan has a duty to intervene. He should travel to Baghdad once
again and strive for a peaceful solution. As for France, Russia and
China, the moment has come for them to prove how serious they are
when they say they are in favour of a multipolar world.

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