The routine bombing of Iraq by the US and Britain, and the UN sanctions kept in place by their vetoes, have taken a heavy toll of Iraqi lives, destroyed the country’s once-thriving economy, and reduced its people to poverty. But the two western allies, now faced with independent evidence (such as the recent UN Children’s Fund report) of the mass-murder and destruction they are committing, have become even more intransigent, blaming their action on Saddam Hussein’s crimes against his people, and invoking the right of ‘self-defence’ to justify the bombing.
Even France, a member of the coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait and helped to establish the so-called ‘no-fly zones’ over Iraq, has now condemned the bombing as senseless and is seeking the suspension of the sanctions in return for Baghdad’s agreement to readmit the UN weapons-inspectors, Unscom, who withdrew last December. Paris argues that it is better to secure compliance through peaceful means than through bombing.
But it is not pointing out, for obvious reasons, the logical conclusion: that it is Israel - given its US-funded nuclear, biological and chemical arsenals - that should be subject to international inspection, rather than Iraq, whose weapons-industry was destroyed during the Gulf war and has not been rebuilt since. The Americans, who neither deny nor acknowledge that Israel has nuclear and chemical capability, admit that Saddam has not succeeded in reviving his arms industry.
More surprising than the censure by France - which is peeved by the arrogance of its Anglo-Saxon rivals and their tendency to monopolise the exercise of imperial power - is the public criticism of the US stance by Scott Ritter, a former member of Unscom noted for his anti-Iraqi attitude. Ritter, who resigned from Unscom last year when he discovered that it had been infiltrated by the US Central Intelligence Agency, argues that sanctions should be removed in exchange for the resumption of effective weapons-inspections.
Ritter, like the French, will not lose sleep over Iraqi deaths, but he is concerned about the implications of Washington’s emphasis on the military option for US foreign policy as a whole. Writing in the New York Times on August 16, he argued that “a diplomatic solution to the problem” would bring “credibility to US foreign policy in ways that the current military intervention never can”.
The US and British stubbornness is despite a new UNICEF report that provides independent and undisputable evidence of the havoc that the UN sanctions have wrought on Iraqi children. The survey, released on August 12, is the first to be conducted since 1991, the year after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It found that in the centre and south of the country, where 85 percent of the 22-million population live, the child mortality rate has doubled. Under-five mortality increased from 56 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1984 - 1989 to 131 in 1994 - 1998. In the northern Kurdish region of the country, which is outside central-government control, under-five mortality was found to have declined from 80 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1984-89 to 72 in 1994-99.
The publication of the survey has driven the US and Britain to desperate attempts to blame Saddam for the mayhem rather than admit their responsibility. They argue that Saddam is not spending enough money on food and medicines, and that he is misappropriating the funds provided by the oil-for food programme.
The programme allows Iraq to sell oil worth $5.2 billion every six months to buy food and medicines. However, the oil-industry is in such a state of disrepair that it cannot produce enough oil to earn even a fraction of this sum. The sanctions do not allow Iraq to import equipment to repair its oil-installations. That is why the UNICEF report recommends that Baghdad should be allowed to make additional money and to spend it with greater freedom.
But Washington and London, far from listening to reason, are clutching at straws to justify their behaviour. The say, for instance, that a boat, recently stopped by Kuwait, that was found to be carrying an Iraqi cargo of baby-foods, showing that Saddam is selling them abroad instead of giving them to his starving people. If that is all the evidence (which is highly suspect) that they can find to ‘prove’ that sanctions are not responsible for mass deaths, then they must be pretty desperate.
But they must feel encouraged to behave as they do by the silence of the Muslim world over the mass-murder of Iraqi Muslims. And there are those who argue that the real culprits are the Muslim collaborators, because of their silent acquiescence with western policies, rather than the Americans and the British.
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1999