The Longest War

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This war has dragged on for too long. The time has come to end it and offer a helping hand to the people of a great Arab nation.

Mr. Osama El-Sherif is the Editor-in-Chief of arabia.com.

Ten years ago a war was waged against Iraq. That war continues until today. The motive then was to evict Iraqi troops from neighboring Kuwait. There was an unusual world support for that war; limited to forcibly removing the Iraqis from an occupied sovereign Arab state.

Attempts to find a political solution had previously failed. And weeks of aerial bombardment, which began in January 1991, could not convince the Iraqi leadership of the seriousness of the coalition position. In February 1991, the ground war began and on 3 March it was over. Iraq had accepted the cease-fire conditions and Kuwait was liberated.

But that was not the end of a bloody and tragic chapter in the lives of the Iraqi people. The following phase dragged on and on, tough sanctions biting into the lives of every ordinary Iraqi as UN inspectors combed that vast country for traces of banned weapons. For years they uncovered and destroyed and harassed until it became clear that Iraq had nothing else to hide. Meanwhile, the sanctions continued and the human toll began to rise.

People were dying of disease, radiation and malnutrition. Main victims were children and the elderly who were perishing by the thousands every month. The war against Iraq became a form of genocide sanctioned and approved by the international community. It also became an international disgrace.

The war’s objective had changed. The US and Britain could not end the sanctions before seeing President Saddam Hussein removed or eliminated. The two countries were now implementing their own agenda in the name of the international community and the United Nations. They cared less for the death of innocent victims. That was, and remains, a side issue.

The war had lost all justifications. It became, many years ago, a naked aggression against an isolated and helpless country. It is simply an egregious policy that begs to be thrown out of the window. The coalition is a thing of the past, and the threatening words of Bush’s US Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell carry little weight in Baghdad and other Arab and world capitals. Washington’s objectives and excuses fade before one horrific reality; the systematic annihilation of the people of Iraq.

Still, there is much hypocrisy and weakness both among the Arabs and the West. But most sinister, there is a conspiracy of silence in the UN Security Council. Iraq has paid a dear price for its actions. The world is not an organized and peaceful place where Iraq is the exception. We write these words as Israel continues its vicious occupation of Palestine and its suppression of the Palestinian people. The US itself stands accused of crimes against humanity, particularly, in Iraq.

We have called for a responsible political dialogue with Iraq aimed at resolving whatever issues remaining on the road to total rehabilitation and reconciliation. But such dialogue cannot take place so long as the US continues to claim a self-righteous position when in fact it stands as an accessory to crimes committed against the peoples of Iraq and Palestine.

The Bush administration, which takes over in few days, is already bellowing smoke and fire. It makes threats and promises more pain against Iraq and its people. This is a disgrace that is only equaled to the outgoing Clinton’s administration policy of keeping Iraq kneeling under the yoke of sanctions for so many years without attempting to ease the suffering of millions of innocent Iraqis.

The Arab leaders will meet in Amman in the last week of March. Iraq must be a central issue on that summit’s agenda. The removal of sanctions should be an Arab demand regardless of political differences that remain between Iraq and its neighbors.

This war has dragged on for too long. The time has come to end it and offer a helping hand to the people of a great Arab nation.

Mr. Osama El-Sherif is the Editor-in-Chief of arabia.com.

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