The Common Good
November-December 2000

Seeking an Iraqi Endgame

by David Cortright | November-December 2000

U.N. inspections remain key to resolving the impasse.

Once again Saddam Hussein has made the task of ending sanctions against the people of Iraq more difficult. By rejecting the new U.N. arms panel, Baghdad has dismissed a plan that could lead to the suspension of sanctions and end an ordeal that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

The provisions of the new U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) were designed to be more favorable to Iraq than those of the previous U.N. commission. The new team of 44 inspectors is drawn from 19 different countries rather than predominantly from the United States and Great Britain. The inspectors now report directly to the U.N. secretary general, who has shown a strong interest in ending the Iraq crisis. UNMOVIC is charged with providing a list of final inspection tasks that is specific and finite rather than open-ended. Under the terms of the plan, sanctions could be suspended within nine months of UNMOVIC beginning its work in Iraq.

Iraq's rejection of UNMOVIC raises suspicions that the regime may have something to hide and that even the more lenient inspections of the new agency might uncover prohibited military capabilities. Much of Iraq's weapons program was dismantled during previous U.N. inspections, but some arms experts are worried that Baghdad may be attempting to rebuild its military capacity.

Iraq's defiance may also reflect its long-term strategy of attempting to wear down the resolve of the U.N. Security Council in the hopes that sanctions will simply collapse. Whatever the motivation, Saddam Hussein has shown again that he is more interested in pursuing his military and political ambitions than relieving the suffering of his people.

IRAQ'S REFUSAL to cooperate with UNMOVIC bears striking similarity to its previous rejection of the oil for food program. In August 1991, the Security Council responded to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq by authorizing the sale of oil for purchases of food and medicine. Baghdad refused to accept the program, asserting that it was a violation of sovereignty.

The Security Council offered a new oil for food plan in 1995, but again Iraq balked. Baghdad finally accepted the program in 1996, and the first deliveries of food and medicine began to arrive in early 1997. Revenues from permitted oil sales have steadily risen since then, surpassing 8 billion dollars in the first six months of 2000. Malnutrition and preventable illness still afflict many of Iraq's most vulnerable, although the availability of food and medicine has slowly improved. If Baghdad had accepted the oil for food program when it was first offered, some of the suffering of the Iraqi people in the intervening years might have been prevented or at least ameliorated. Iraq's refusal to do so was a callous act of human rights abuse.

Saddam Hussein may bear much of the blame for the continuing humanitarian and political crisis in Iraq, but the United States and the U.N. Security Council cannot escape responsibility. As long as civilian trade sanctions remain in place, Iraqi children will continue to suffer and die prematurely, regardless of who is at fault. The moral imperative for lifting trade sanctions remains overwhelming, even if the political argument for ending sanctions has been made more difficult by Iraq's new intransigence.

The United Nations must find a way of relieving the suffering of Iraqi children while maintaining diplomatic pressure and military containment of Saddam Hussein's regime. It can do so by lifting civilian trade sanctions while maintaining and strengthening the embargo on weapons and military-related technology.

If Baghdad continues to defy UNMOVIC, the Security Council could deploy customs and security officers at Iraq's border crossings, thereby creating a new external inspection mechanism that does not depend on Iraqi cooperation. By vigorously monitoring all entry points to prevent the import of weapons and military-related technology, the Security Council could place the focus of U.N. action where it belongs, on containing Iraq's military potential, rather than on the morally untenable and politically counterproductive policy of sanctioning Iraqi children.

DAVID CORTRIGHT is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum.

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