Iraq: The beginning of the end of sanctions?

Published October 2nd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The increasing number of planes flying to Iraq, is the strongest message yet of international rejection of efforts to maintain the 10-year-old sanctions against Iraq. It is also the strongest challenge yet to the ridiculous contentions about the scope of the sanctions and the enforcement of the related UN Security Council resolutions.  


But does it signal an early crumbling of the sanctions against Iraq? Does this mean that the international community will brush aside UN coercion and set about dismantling element after element of the Atlantic allies' interpretation of the UN resolutions pertinent to Iraq? Indeed, the challenge should have come years earlier, but somehow those who wanted to raise the challenge were kept at bay by the combined political and economic clout of some Arab and Western capitals. Today, they have decided that enough is enough and it is time that Western and some Arab capitals were told that their interpretations of and insistence on what the resolutions mean and how they are enforced are no longer acceptable.  


Furthermore, the flights' symbolic significance increases, coming as they do amid what some capitals are drumming up as Iraqi intentions to undertake “military adventures” against its neighbors. If we go back two weeks and look at the US-Patriot-missiles-for-Israel” episode, it becomes clear that Israel and its allies are masters of the art of twisting situations to suit their thinking and purposes. Of course, the challengers have also been careful to remain within the legal technicalities of the resolutions through a compromise that implies that anyone who wants to send a humanitarian flight into Iraq need only notify the UN Sanctions Committee and need not wait for an actual clearance by the panel.  


It is only a matter of time before the “requisite” of such notifications will also be abandoned. The Iraqis, of course, see the “solidarity” flights to Baghdad as the crumbling away of sanctions. Well, it might indeed be the beginning of the end of the sanctions, but the actual lifting of the curbs on Iraq's economy — not on its military capability — will take much longer to materialize unless the Arab world and its friends come together on a common platform.  


There is no question over the basic prerequisite that Iraq has to implement the relevant UN resolutions before the sanctions can be lifted. But the demand of a majority in the international community is a scrutiny mechanism for the vague parameters that Western capitals insist are to be applied in verifying Iraq's compliance with UN demands. For instance, it was once affirmed by the UN teams assigned with the verification process that all except some 10 Scud missiles remained unaccounted for out of the total such projectiles Iraq ever possessed and developed.  


The Iraqis explained the they were simply unable to produce “unaccounted” for missiles since such information was never possible, given the intensity of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. But that was not enough for the UN inspectors, and hence the “missile” file remains open. If the UN continues to insist that those 10 missiles be located and accounted for, there will never be an end to the sanctions. So are the many other loopholes that are being very conveniently used by the powers that are made to ensure that the goalpost is moved every time the ball crosses the center line. 


In the Arab context, there is increasing pressure to ensure that Iraq is rehabilitated as a member of the Arab family. Syria and Egypt, two political players in the Arab arena, have clearly stated that Iraq has to be invited to an Arab summit as and when convened. And the Arab voice is gaining strength in sympathy for the people of Iraq. If we look at the recent flare-up in the war of words between Iraq and some of its neighbors, we can easily detect an Iraqi desire that its allegations of oil theft against Kuwait, one of the factors cited by Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990, should not be taken as a threat of military action. However, it was as if the US was waiting for Baghdad to make any statement that could be turned out and used to highlight the perceived Iraqi threat to the region.  


Little attention is given to the possibility that the Iraqi allegations against Kuwait were designed to somehow weaken the Kuwaiti quest to obtain up to $16 billion as compensation for immediate damages from Iraq for the August 1990 invasion and seven-month occupation of the emirate. The Kuwaiti claims total nearly $170 billion.  


Obviously, in the din of perceived Iraqi threats to its neighbors, the US administration is playing a very careful game. It does not want any scaling up of military action against Iraq apart from the air attacks being launched at will in retaliation for allegedly challenging them while patrolling the so-called “no-fly zones”, again an abrasion of the relevant UN resolutions. But Washington might want to use the heightened tension in the Middle East as a platform for Democrats and of course presidential candidate Vice-President Al Gore to talk tough and gain a few votes in his race for the White House.  


Well, that is a different story. The very fact that several countries have sent civilian flights to Baghdad on “solidarity mission” and many others are planning to follow suit is also a resounding rejection of contentions that Iraq is planning military action against its neighbors.  


The Iraqi leadership and the state media have gone out of their way to reassure the world that Baghdad has no intention to undertake any military move to secure its demands. But those statements are conveniently ignored. However, for us in this region, it is a clear signal that Iraq is ready to launch itself on the way to rehabilitation within the Arab world. — ( Jordan Times )  

Musa Keilani  


© 2000 Mena Report (

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