Two flaws exist in U.S. policy toward Iraq Points include sanctions, weak curbs on arms sales, undermining of consensus

December 07, 1997|By PHYLLIS BENNIS

An article in the Perspective section Dec. 7, "Two flaws exist in U.S. policy toward Iraq," suggested that Syria's dominance in Lebanon is a violation of United Nations resolutions. In fact, Syria's presence in Lebanon was requested by the Lebanese government, and the United Nations was never asked to consider it.

The Sun regrets the error.

THE LATEST skirmish between Iraq and the United States, while provoked by Saddam Hussein's expulsion of Americans on the United Nations monitoring team, demonstrates two fundamental flaws in U.S. policy.

First, the combination of brutal economic sanctions and historically insufficient curbs on arms sales by the United States, Germany, Russia, France and other allied countries is hypocritical from humanitarian, political and arms-control perspectives.


Second, the U.S. claim to represent a global consensus against Iraq is belied by Washington's consistent undermining, through selective enforcement and rewriting the terms of U.N. decisions.

When Iraq lost the Gulf War, the United States used the United Nations to dictate the terms of Iraq's surrender, pressuring reluctant Security Council members to back Resolution 687, its punitive cease-fire. Ambassador Abdullah al-Ashtal, then representing Yemen on the council, said: "With this cease-fire we are still in a state of war. We need peace."

Certainly, some aspects of 687 worked: U.N. inspectors agree Iraq's nuclear program has been destroyed, and monitors found and destroyed significant materiel for forbidden chemical, biological and missile efforts.

On the other hand, the economic sanctions have not toppled Saddam Hussein, and they have brought Iraq's civilian population to its knees by creating shortages of food, water, electricity, medicine and other basic necessities.

Originally, 687's sanctions stopped all oil exports from Iraq. In 1996, the United Nations began to allow Iraq to export small quantities oil to purchase food. In October, a joint study by the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organization and its World ,, Food Program, noted that "malnutrition still remains a serious problem throughout the country." The sanctions have "significantly constrained Iraq's ability ... to import sufficient quantities of food to meet needs. As a consequence, food shortages and malnutrition became progressively severe and chronic during the 1990s."

In a new Iraq study released Nov. 26, the United Nations' Children's Fund reports that "32 percent of children under the age of 5, some 960,000 children, are chronically malnourished - a rise of 72 percent since 1991." UNICEF's Baghdad representative said: "What concerns us now is that there is no sign of any improvement since Security Council Resolution 986 [oil for food] came into force."

The Iraqi regime, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, obtained American, French, German and other materials for a significant program constructing weapons of mass destruction. And to this day, no effective sanctions were ever imposed against any countries that provided or may still be providing the Iraqi military with its dangerous components. It is no coincidence that the five largest weapons exporters in the world (along with Germany in ** the case of Iraq) happen to be the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. Arms from all these countries continue to flood into the Middle East, adding to the region's instability.

U.S. policy toward Iraq, despite the frequent rhetoric of coalition partnership and multilateral decision-making, has severely undermined the United Nations.

Washington has consistently moved the United Nations' goal posts, undercutting its stated commitment to lift oil sanctions as soon as monitors certified that weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. Instead, President Clinton, Secretary of the State Madeline K. Albright and others have continued the Bush administration position that the United States will not allow sanctions to be lifted as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. The result, of course, is a negative incentive: Why should a recalcitrant Iraqi government make any effort to comply, knowing that sanctions will not be lifted no matter what it does?

Perhaps even more serious is the United States' double standard toward U.N. resolutions. If the basis for imposing sanctions against Iraq was its occupation of Kuwait, what about Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor, or Israel's occupation of Palestine or Syria's occupation of Lebanon?

If the concern is human rights, what about Saudi Arabia, China or Kuwait? If it's the treatment of the Kurds, why should Turkey be exempt?

Even within Resolution 687 itself, only the punish-Iraq sections appear to be taken seriously. Washington ignores 687's reaffirmation of the United Nations' call for a nuclear-free zone throughout the Middle East, because that would require disarming Israel's 200 nuclear bombs - not on the U.S. agenda.

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