As the war against terror in Afghanistan nears its end (or so we hope), the United States begins its search for the next target, which in all likelihood would be Iraq, an old friend and indeed an old foe. George Bush Senior coined the phrase “New World Order” to describe the international scene set post Cold War, and in this new order, there were “rogue” states that needed to be brought in line. The US believed that “rogue” states were wreaking havoc and were a direct threat to American Security. US foreign policy has since been based on protecting its own interests in the regions where the “rogue” states are dominant, recruiting its allies the United Kingdom of Britain and Israel to stand side by side against the onslaught of terrorism.
The error made by the United States was selecting single human beings responsible for the evil in world, and then unleashing its wrath on whole nations. Demonisation of these individuals worked only where the propaganda was used effectively, mostly in the West, often having the reverse effect where it would have been important i.e. in the home countries.
Similarities in American reaction to Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are uncanny. Often these men are categorized together, yet in reality they are starkly different, united only in their anti-Americanism. The strategies adopted by the American government in response to unruly behavior by these men have been similar, hence producing similar results. Neither of them have been captured, nor defeated, while the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq suffer at the hands of America’s retaliation.
Having successfully ushered in an interim government more suited to their needs in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration is considering returning to Iraq for “unfinished business” with the aim of ousting Saddam Hussein. However, unlike in Afghanistan where the opposition to the Taliban was relatively strong, opposition to Saddam’s government remains weak and disunited. The exiled Iraqi National Congress leader, Ahmed Chalabi continues his campaign for support in Washington and London, while Ayotollah Seyyed Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (the largest Shiite political party) seeks assistance from Iran. In addition to these two parties, there are several others opposing the government, but not in a united effort.
Speculation about a post-Saddam Iraq is not new but has resurfaced with the possibility of the war against terrorism being extended to the Gulf. In the absence of any likely leader to follow, fears of a fragmented Iraq have been ignited and this is of particular concern to Turkey, bordering Northern Iraq, and sharing a large Kurdish community. The Turkish government is afraid of the establishment of an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, which would then spark Kurdish nationalist fervour within its own borders. Turkey has therefore joined Iraq’s other neighbours in urging Saddam’s regime to consider allowing UNSCOM inspectors back into Iraq.
UNSCOM was established immediately after the Gulf War to investigate and eliminate Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). By 1998, shortly before Operation Desert Fox, UNSCOM was expelled from Iraq with allegations that many American members were spying for the CIA instead of fulfilling their duties as UN investigators. However, by this time, many senior UN officials in Iraq were convinced that Iraq’s WMD capability had been significantly reduced and therefore, they believed that Iraq no longer presented a grave threat to international peace and security. Unfortunately, the American government was not persuaded to rethink its position pertaining to Iraq.
The US did not give in to mounting pressure from civil society and some sympathetic governments to lift sanctions in order to prevent further disintegration of Iraqi society. Up until 1990-91, Iraq had a booming economy (despite having been embroiled in a bitter 8-year war with Iran) and boasted the best education system and the best medical facilities in the Middle East. With the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, an economic embargo was imposed on Iraq by the UN as a coercive measure for Iraq to withdraw from its neighbouring country. Having achieved this by early 1991, sanctions were extended, citing the biological and chemical weapons potential Iraq had. Realising the effects the punitive sanctions were having on Iraqi civilians, the United Nations proposed an oil for food deal in 1994, with the to normalising the humanitarian situation. The deal was initially rejected by the Iraqi regime in the hope that there would be a complete lifting of sanctions. By 1996, a Memorandum of Understanding was reached, putting into effect resolution 986, commonly known as the Oil for Food Program, allowing Iraq the sale of a limited amount of oil in order to purchase food and medicine. This program was flawed due to the severity of the restrictions imposed by the 661 sanctions committee who oversee and authorise or reject any purchases Iraq wishes to make. The oil for food program did not curb the horrific increasing mortality rate but seemed rather to perpetuate the suffering of Iraqis.
The latest statistics indicate an increase rate of 2875.97% in mortality of children under the age of 5 years since 1989 as a result of curable and preventative diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, respiratory infections and malnutrition. Over 600 000 children under the age of five have died as a result of embargo-selected causes, with a monthly average of 7000 deaths. In addition to this, there seems to be a cancer pandemic; leukemia and lymphoma amongst children over the age of five, breast cancer in women in their twenties, and colon and thyroid cancer amongst older members of society. This is attributed to exposure to Depleted Uranium (DU) used by the US during the Gulf War (Greenpeace estimates that 700 tonnes or more of DU was dropped on Iraq, leaving it radioactive). Birth defects and deformities have increased as a result of mothers’ exposure to the DU, particularly in Southern Iraq.
Such war crimes and acts of terror committed by the US and its allies should have been punishable by law. However, in the last decade, the US has been able to manipulate international law to its advantage, often acting outside of the United Nations, thereby nullifying the power and purpose of the international body of law. The US, the torchbearer of democracy, tends to reject democracy in international politics and instead, displays dictatorship-like behaviour, holding itself above any laws declared. The Bush Administration should be wary of acting impulsively based on its success in Afghanistan and should think carefully about the implications of an attack on Iraq. The Iraqi defense force is well trained and better equipped than the Taliban was. America should supply sufficient evidence of Iraqi involvement in acts of terror (as they should have prior to an attack on Afghanistan) before embarking on an expedition to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Any action taken against the Iraqi regime should be executed with a UN mandate and within the confines of international law, bearing in mind the humanitarian consequences.
Saddam Hussein is now faced with the option of re-allowing UNSCOM on Iraqi soil to investigate WMD capability. This should be considered in the interests of peace and on the condition that sanctions will be lifted once it is determined by UNSCOM officials that Iraq’s WMD capability is significantly reduced. Sanctions should not be maintained on the premise of ousting Saddam Hussein. It would be in the best interests of Iraqi society to compromise and have investigators instead of sanctions without UNSCOM. This may well be a preventative measure against another Gulf War.
Zeenat Adam is a Masters graduate of International Relations and has recently returned from Baghdad.