Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Old woes revived

By Salah Hemeid

In a move that ends a year of deadlock over a new policy towards Iraq following last December's bombing of the country, the UN Security Council last Friday adopted a resolution that would consider easing the international economic sanctions on Baghdad if Iraq agrees to cooperate with a new disarmament agency that would bring UN weapons inspectors back to the country.

However, the initial Iraqi response to the resolution was negative, with Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz saying in a statement that "the real objective of Britain and America in this resolution is not to lift the sanctions but to deceive international public opinion. Its circumstances and conditions mean that it has dubious political goals."

"Regardless of speculations and threats made on the basis of our position, Iraq is bound by its principled and lawful position and is ready to face the consequences in defense of its sovereignty and legitimate rights," he added in comments carried by the official Iraqi News Agency.

Meanwhile, protesters in state-orchestrated demonstrations took to the streets of Baghdad to denounce the resolution and vow to resist possible American 'aggression' in retaliation against Iraq's refusal. Some reports in the Arab press have suggested that Iraq has put an emergency plan for its armed forces into effect and has mobilised the elite Republican Guard, security forces and ruling Baath Party militia in preparation for possible military confrontation.

The Security Council resolution, which was agreed after months of painstaking negotiations, was passed by the 15-member Council by 11 votes for and zero against, with three of the permanent members -- Russia, France and China -- abstaining, together with Malaysia, which is a non-permanent member .

For Britain and the United States, which drafted and pushed for the resolution, the vote was a victory for their efforts to continue political and economic pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. The resolution is the 49th in a series of resolutions adopted by the Council against Iraq since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Following the resolution's rejection by the Iraqi authorities, Baghdad and Washington seem now set for a series of standoffs over the next few weeks or months, as has been the case in past crises involving Iraq and the United Nations. Many observers however believe that the situation may resolve itself without conflict, with Iraq eventually backing down and resuming cooperation with the new disarmament agency following a period of political brinkmanship.


Zahi Hawass

Iraqis protest in a Baghdad street following Iraq's rejection of last week's UN resolution
(photo: AP)

Such a view is based on past experience as well as on the fact that the present resolution, Number 1284, is ambiguous and has details that are yet to be agreed upon, and these may provide Iraq with a way out following divisions within the Security Council.

However, whatever the case may be, the United States' determination to pass the resolution, especially without the kind of consensus it has always sought in regard to policy on Iraq, has raised questions about Washington's future intentions towards the country. Observers are concerned that the Clinton administration may have pushed hard for the resolution for domestic political purposes, since US policy towards Iraq is likely to be high on the political agenda in a US election year for both the Democratic and Republican parties.

There is a general agreement among observers that a more hard-line policy towards Iraq will emerge in the United States as the election campaign there starts heating up, possibly driving the administration further to tighten the knot around Saddam.

Iraq's defiance of the resolution and refusal to cooperate with the inspectors may therefore be an opportunity for Washington to launch a new wave of missile attacks on the country.

Such a move on the US's part however would be a propaganda triumph for the Iraqis in the protracted crisis and would only highlight once again the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and put Saddam back in the headlines.

Strictly speaking, observers say, it seems hard to believe that the new resolution will resolve the Iraq crisis whether by way of getting rid of Saddam or of finding an accommodation with him. The continuation of sanctions and the new weapons inspection agency may be effective instruments to weaken the Iraqi leader, but it is doubtful that they can topple his regime.

As debate continued about what would happen now, Baghdad announced last Sunday that some ten thousand Iraqis, most of whom were children, had died in November because of a lack of food, medicine and proper health care. By timing this announcement with the adoption of the new UN resolution, Saddam may once again be trying to turn his people's suffering to his own propaganda advantage, but it certainly also raises the argument again against the effectiveness of the sanctions as an instrument in the continued Iraqi-US confrontation.

Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac told The New York Times last Friday that the sufferings of the Iraqi people caused by the continuation of the economic sanctions were only "advantageous to Saddam".

"If there is a possibility of suspending the embargo and people are better treated, then people might start asking where Saddam is taking them and why they had all become victims," Chirac asserted in a statement that was seemingly at odds with official US policy.

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