United States bears guilt for tragedy in Iraq

Policy: By shipping weapons to the Middle East and conducting airstrikes in Iraq, Washington undermines the purpose of the resolution it drafted and guided to U.N. passage in 1991.

April 11, 1999|By Denis Halliday and Phyllis Bennis

PRESIDENT Clinton has changed our TV channel from war in Iraq to the new war raging in Kosovo. But we should not lose sight of the continuing military and humanitarian tragedy in Iraq. In a clear breach of the goals of U.N. Resolution 687 -- the 1991 Iraqi cease-fire and sanctions resolution -- new weapons are being shipped, escalating tensions and threatening further death and destruction in the unstable and arms-bloated Middle East.

But this time it's the United States, not Iraq, that is undermining international law and standing in violation of the resolution Washington drafted and guided to Security Council passage.

The latest U.S. arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others in the region -- including the sale of the Pentagon's most sophisticated Amram air-to-air missiles -- starkly violate the purpose of Resolution 687's calls for "comprehensive control of armaments in the region."

The missile deals are not the only U.S. violation. The "no-fly" zones in Iraq were created by the United States, Britain and France (France has since withdrawn) without the approval of the United Nations. Airstrikes in those areas occur almost daily and are eclipsed only by the bombing in Kosovo. Opposition to the airstrikes continues to grow among U.S. allies and throughout the Arab world; the New York Times identified the new Amram missile sale to Saudi Arabia as a "clear sweetener" in Washington's diplomatic campaign to staunch that opposition.

Human toll

U.S. policy in Iraq, consisting of crippling economic sanctions, escalating airstrikes and fruitless efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein, has failed. What remains missing is a commitment to disarmament throughout the region, as called for in Resolution 687. What is needed is an effort to disconnect economic sanctions from military sanctions -- to end the economic attack on Iraqi civilians while tightening military sanctions aimed at real disarmament.

Iraq's civilian population is losing 150 to 200 children daily because of economic sanctions. The March 30 report of the U.N.'s humanitarian impact panel says that "the gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is indisputable and cannot be overstated." But beyond those vulnerable civilians, disarmament remains a key victim of U.S. policy in Iraq. Washington refuses to take responsibility for the human toll of economic sanctions -- in 1996, then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children was "worth it" -- but also claims falsely that economic sanctions will bring about Iraq's disarmament.

Shut down suppliers

In fact, disarmament has been essentially abandoned as a cornerstone of U.S. policy in Iraq. And the commitment to disarmament -- real disarmament -- throughout the undemocratic and often unstable Middle East, as called for in Resolution 687, must be reaffirmed if Iraq policy is to have any hope.

To start with, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) should be allowed to go public with the records in its possession documenting the sources of Iraq's weapons programs. (Currently, and since its creation, UNSCOM has been prohibited from such such disclosures.) This would facilitate efforts to identify and shut down supplier companies, and target supplier countries with diplomatic pressures. The effort to stop creation of new weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and elsewhere in the region, must start with keeping weapons stocks (chemical, biological and others) from being shipped in the first place.

Many will say that U.S. arms manufacturers should be exempt from such disclosure. But without such unmasking, serious efforts at stopping -- or slowing -- the weapons glut in the Middle East would be impossible. The United States is responsible for more than half of all international arms sales and is by far the largest weapons supplier to the Middle East. Shipping new killing technology such as the Amram missiles to undemocratic governments such as Saudi Arabia does nothing for the cause of Middle East peace.

Taking responsibility

We should recognize and take responsibility for our current and past roles in the overarming of that region -- including Iraq. Throughout the 1980s, for instance, U.S. companies were licensed by the Treasury Department to ship the most deadly weapons -- including biological weapons -- to the Iraqi military. One company, the American Type Culture Collection in suburban Washington, was licensed to ship lethal germs for E. coli, botulism, anthrax and other horrifying biological weapons to Iraq. Arms shipments continued even after the Iraqi regime used illegal poison gas and nerve agents to kill thousands of Iraqi Kurds and thousands of Iranian troops in 1988. Commerce trumped disarmament.

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