Global Policy Forum

Has Iraq Not Suffered Enough?

New Straits Times Press
September 27, 2000

Did they think the worm will not turn? Maybe someone in Washington did, but it is clear now that to try and justify prolonging the sanctions against Iraq would be impossible, and inhuman. The US is finding itself alienated over the issue. Within a month, France, Russia and China allowed their non-commercial planes to land at the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad, a show of blatant defiance against the United Nations sanctions. The arrival of a plane carrying European Union lawmakers and businessmen is said to be due later this week. Only Britain seems to be standing by the US and the crippling decade-old sanctions.

Increasingly, however, the US and Britain have to come to terms with the fact that the rest of the world has become extremely restless. The action against Iraq was necessary then but it is no longer appropriate now. It is estimated that some 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the Gulf War, mostly as a result of disease, malnutrition and deplorably poor medical care. The Oil-for-Food programme is a flop. The survivors cannot be put through the punishing sanctions just because Saddam Hussein still rules. Sure, the Iraqi president is not, as Edward W. Said observed, "the innocent victim of American bullying". But the Iraqi people should not pay American imperialism and fear and hatred for the man.

The West has been known to be kinder to greater evils. Even Hitler's Germany and its allies, Japan and Italy, were not punished with such venom for their crimes in World War II. This is not to say that the Americans were justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Serbia went on an ethnic-cleansing rampage for years against the mainly Muslim population of Bosnia after the Gulf War before the West did anything to stop the carnage. Today life goes on for the Serbs. And no action was taken by the UN against Russian invasions of Afghanistan and Chechnya. Israel has been occupying territories illegally for three decades, violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts invasions, terrorist attacks and assassinations against Arabs, and still the US vetoes every sanction against it in the UN.

Iraq's neighbours, because they are wary of Saddam and are extremely dependent on the US for security, are comfortable with a shackled Baghdad. The sanctions, however, have gone on too long. The UN has been sending its officials and investigators in and out of Iraq long enough to establish that the country never had the kind of prowess it was boasting of after the invasion of Kuwait and before Desert Storm. Certainly the sophisticated Western technology in intelligence would have detected otherwise. If Iraq had been capable of staging the "mother of all battles", its forces would have fared like desert lions intead of the lame ducks they were during the brief and lopsided Gulf War.

The sanctions against Iraq would be a massive violation of human rights if they do not end soon, unless - which is highly unlikely - the UN can prove that lifting them will cause terrible danger to the region and to world peace. Whether or not Saddam continues to rule is not the most relevant factor. The US can increase its presence in the Gulf if it makes its friends in the Arab world, who are Saddam's enemies, feel more comfortable and secure. What is important is to give back to the Iraqi people, especially the children, their basic rights that have been taken away from them as a result of the sanctions. They deserve a fair opportunity to grow in a world where there is enough to eat and medicines to cure.

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