5 - 11 August 1999
Issue No. 441
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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'A monster far worse than UNSCOM'By Dina Ezzat
Nine years ago this week, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in the wake of the allied attack forcing it to withdraw remain in force until today. The economic siege has evolved into a system for the mass punishment of the Iraqi people.
Iraq's GDP has dropped dramatically since the 85 per cent decline in oil production estimated in 1990. The mortality rate, especially among children under the age of five, has soared. Malnutrition, poor health care and a collapsing primary education system are facts of life for most Iraqis. Agricultural growth is erratic, and industrial output virtually non-existent.
Today, the UN Security Council faces a quandary. What should it do with Iraq? There is no hope that sanctions will be lifted, at least as long as the US has a say in the matter. The Arab countries recognise the need to support the Iraqi people but insist that relations with the Iraqi regime remain at the lowest level possible.
The crisis is compounded by continuing US-UK air strikes against the "no-fly zones" in the north and south of the country, despite protests by Russia and China and the reservations expressed by France.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Iraqi Foreign Minister Said Al-Sahhaf insisted that it was time to lift the sanctions. According to Al-Sahhaf, four countries are blocking movement in this direction: the US, the UK, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Relations between Iraq and the UN Security Council are still very much on hold, it would seem. What is going on?
Relations are in terrible shape. They are poisoned. The reason is simple: there is a strong current against Iraq's rights in the Security Council.
Two permanent members in the Security Council, namely the US and the UK, are trying to prevent Iraq from obtaining its legitimate rights: having the sanctions lifted, now that it has honoured all its commitments as stipulated by Security Council Resolution 687. What the US and the UK are trying to do is against the letter and spirit of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq.
Now, the US and the UK are trying to keep sanctions in force to serve their agenda, which is to exert greater political and economic control over the region.
Since 6 August 1990, Iraq has been subjected to the most comprehensive regime of sanctions ever imposed by the UN Security Council. Following the Gulf War, the Security Council adopted Resolution 687, in which a number of obligations were imposed upon Iraq as requirements for a formal end to the military operations. Iraq accepted those obligations, which included the recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Kuwait, respect for the borders demarcated by the UN, and disarmament.
But the Council also decided to review the sanctions regime every 60 days in light of Iraq's record of implementation, with a view to reducing or lifting the sanctions.
For over nine years, Iraq has devoted itself to implementing those obligations, despite their cruel nature and although some of the sanctions in fact violate the norms of international law. Until now, the Security Council continues to adopt a punitive approach, ignoring Iraq's record of implementation and the dire consequences that have resulted, for the entire country and the population.
Sanctions, according to the UN Charter, are envisaged as a means of preserving or restoring international law, peace, and security. In the case of Iraq, however, the comprehensive embargo has become an end in itself, because the US and the UK -- the countries that are taking the lead in imposing this approach -- are using the embargo to achieve their declared goal of changing the political regime.
The sanctions imposed upon the people of Iraq, harsh and unprecedented in their injustice though they may be, have failed to undermine the steadfastness of the people in their determination to obtain justice under international law and the UN Charter.
But there have been many recent developments in the Security Council, notably the proposed British-Dutch resolution that some British officials have described as a way for Iraq to restore its role in the international community. Is there a chance that Baghdad could accept this draft in any form?
In December 1998, the Security Council was driven into a tight spot by the US and the UK, when they went ahead and used force against Iraq without the Council's authorisation, taking UNSCOM and its reports as a pretext for this attack.
The argument advanced as a pretext for this attack, and for the continued imposition of sanctions, is UNSCOM's claim that Iraq has not fully met its disarmament obligations as specified by the UN.
But this claim can be refuted easily by a number of incidents and facts, including those testimonies of former UNSCOM members which prove beyond doubt that UNSCOM acted as a tool for the implementation of American policies and that Iraq has in fact fulfilled its substantive requirements as stipulated by the Council's resolutions on this point. This was precisely the reason that prompted the US and the UK to conduct their military assault against Iraq independently from the UN Security Council. So from the day that the US and the UK launched their unauthorised attack, the Council has been in a quandary over how to administer its relations with Iraq.
A struggle for power is currently taking place within the Security Council. The lack of consensus over the Council's relations with Iraq has far more to do with the Council itself than with the assessment of Iraq's situation.
What we are witnessing now -- what seems, on the surface, to be a disagreement over the issue of Iraq -- is in fact an attempt by China, Russia and France to reintroduce certain facts with regard to their relations with the US and the UK. It is within this context that we need to look at the British-Dutch draft resolution. This draft was an attempt on the part of the US and the UK, with the help of some non-permanent Council members, to push certain ideas through without prior consultation. In other words, it was an attempt on the part of the US and the UK to make the other three permanent states feel that they are facing a fait accompli.
The wording and content of this draft were never submitted to any discussion or consultation with Iraq, whose interests are at stake. This discussion was avoided because those who worked on the proposed draft are well aware that what they are suggesting is detrimental to Iraq and violates its rights. This draft resolution, therefore, is not about settling the problem of Iraq. It is about the US and the UK trying to convey a message of supremacy to China, Russia, and France.
Meanwhile, as per the usual US tactics, the non-permanent members of the Council are either won over in return for certain rewards, pressured, or even blackmailed.
But why are you opposed to this draft?
The proposal, which is still subject to much give and take, is a clear attempt to rewrite Security Council resolutions on Iraq. When Iraq undertook to discharge certain international obligations, it did so in accordance with certain resolutions. Now, an attempt is being made to alter, or even replace, the text of these resolutions by introducing a new resolution.
According to the resolution under which Iraq undertook to discharge its international obligations, the Security Council was required to consider "lifting" the sanctions imposed on Iraq. But what the British-Dutch resolution is offering is the "suspension" of sanctions. Now, this "suspension" was never referred to in the UN Security Council Resolution 687 [the centrepiece of Iraq-Security Council relations after the Gulf War]. Moreover, this "suspension" is made conditional upon certain criteria that were also not mentioned in Resolution 687.
What the British-Dutch resolution suggests is the imposition of UN supervision of the Iraqi budget. In other words, according to this proposal, the Iraqi government must refer its budget to the Security Council every year before this budget is ratified and enters into force. This means that the Security Council will have to approve all the items of the budget, including such details as the salaries of civil servants. So the British and the Dutch are suggesting that the Security Council can decide whether or not Iraq is allowed to import beans or lentils.
So this draft is an attempt to transform Iraq from a sovereign state into a protectorate -- in other words, the draft is a monster far worse and more destructive than UNSCOM ever was.
What do you make of the other ideas that are being mooted in the Security Council?
France had proposed certain ideas that were originally presented to the Security Council as discrete elements, then shaped into a draft resolution last June. Again, what the French are suggesting is "a preliminary suspension of sanctions", not the "lifting of sanctions" stipulated by Resolution 687.
The language of the French proposal does make room for an eventual move from "suspension" to "lifting". But again, it makes this progress conditional upon Iraq's commitment to financial supervision. So from our point of view, what the French are proposing is a fluid situation.
But you have contacts with the French. Why not work with them on this text?
We have spoken with the French, and asked them to explain the rationale behind this approach to our problem. They told us that they wanted to win the Americans over. Our reply was: "At whose expense?". Their reply was: "Such is life." Obviously, they are trying to win the Americans over at our expense. The French draft is simply an attempt to blend the US-UK line with other slightly more progressive views.
We simply told the French that there was no way we could accept their proposed financial monitoring programme, not even on a temporary basis. We believe that this proposal is based on an erroneous and unacceptable concept.
Then there is the Russian-Chinese draft.
This one refers to the "gradual lifting of sanctions", and stipulates the adoption of the previously accepted criteria. It accepts Iraq's right to return to a normal situation, and argues that existing international organisations, not special bodies like UNSCOM, should be involved in dealing with remaining concerns regarding Iraq's disarmament situation.
But again, let me say it plainly: for the Security Council to be able to establish a correct relationship with Iraq, it must first settle its internal disputes.
So what are you telling the Council at this point?
Iraq finds the situation at present very fluid. It looks as though this fluidity will prevail for a while. Our position is simple: We are not dealing with any of this. As a matter of principle, we will not accept any draft resolution that is presented to the Security Council without prior consultation with Iraq. Nor will we accept any draft that does not start with the "lifting of sanctions".
Is an Iraqi initiative to open up to its Arab neighbours at all plausible, particularly at this stage, where the UN's marginalisation is coupled with acute Arab weakness?
If we assume, for argument's sake, that Iraq was to disappear tomorrow, would that solve the problems of the Arab world? If the answer is "yes", then let the Arab world disregard Iraq. But since the answer is not "yes", then it is hardly fair to expect Iraq to take the initiative alone.
The Arab world as a whole is in a miserable situation. I believe it is time for a collective initiative.
What about Egypt in particular?
Iraq's relations with Egypt have ups and downs. This fluctuation is often due to the "public" nature of bilateral relations. Ultimately, sensitivities come into play, but these do not last for long.
I hope both sides can overcome any misunderstandings that could interrupt the course of our improving relations, and I think both are aware of the need to establish good bilateral relations. We have been trying to do this by fostering closer economic and commercial relations. This is a practical approach.