Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Iraq, Whose Interests Are Served by Killing an Entire Nation by Starvation, and Threatening Still More Bombings? Repeated U.S.-Iraq Confrontations Reflect Deep Mutual Misperceptions

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Iraq, Whose Interests Are Served by Killing an Entire Nation by Starvation, and Threatening Still More Bombings? Repeated U.S.-Iraq Confrontations Reflect Deep Mutual Misperceptions

Article excerpt

In Iraq, Whose Interests Are Served By Killing An Entire Nation By Starvation, and Threatening Still More Bombings? Repeated U.S.-Iraq Confrontations Reflect Deep Mutual Misperceptions

"Any fair-minded observer anywhere in the world knows very well that Iraq is the aggrieved party in what's been going on in the last seven and a half years."

-- Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Nov. 22, 1998.

"[Richard Butler's] gone back to them and asked for further information...We would hope that they would respond positively and quickly."

-- White House National Security Adviser Samuel (Sandy) Berger, Nov. 22, 1998.

"We told [Butler] we cannot provide documents that do not exist. It's quite provocative if you want to dig into the whole archive of the government of Iraq, which might take decades to investigate."

-- Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Nov. 22, 1998.

"It's a very bad start, and it seems to me very clear that when the president returns home...we'd better be prepared for the military strike."

-- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Republican member Richard Lugar -- Nov. 22, 1998.

The cacophony of totally conflicting statements quoted above, issued not over a long period but all on the same day by responsible U.S. and Iraqi officials, led to the conclusion that more U.S. military strikes were about to be launched against Iraq, perhaps on a more sustained basis than in recent years. That would have led to heavier "collateral damage," meaning loss of lives and probably of infrastructure essential to the health of Iraq's people. In turn this could have taken an even heavier future toll than the grim price Iraqis already have paid over the past seven years.

As to what causes such repeated clashes, perceptions in the U.S., in Iraq, and among its Arab neighbors could not be farther apart than they are now. There are some basic facts, however, upon which all can agree.

The sanctions were imposed upon Iraq in August 1990, four days after its military occupation of Kuwait. They remain, in the words of New York Times correspondent Philip Shenon, "among the toughest imposed on a nation in the modern age and are estimated to have cost Iraq more than $120 billion in oil revenues."

After Iraqi troops were forced out of Kuwait, U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 of April 3, 1991 kept most of the economic sanctions in place, prohibiting all trade with Iraq except that involving such "essential human needs" as food and medicine. The resolution specified that the sanctions would remain until Iraq had revealed and destroyed its ballistic missiles and its capability to make nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council agreed to review Iraq's compliance with the resolution every 60 days to determine when the sanctions could be lifted.

Since then most of the 20 million Iraqis have been left without adequate food, clean water, and medicine. Based upon statistics supplied by Iraq, the United Nations estimates that one million Iraqi children are malnourished and that 700,000 children have died from malnutrition and disease since 1990.

In August 1991, the Security Council offered to allow Iraq to sell up to $1.6 billion worth of oil every six months, with the proceeds to be used for reparations to victims of Iraq's invasion and the purchase and distribution of food and medicine to the Iraqi people under U.N. supervision. Iraq refused the plan as a violation of its sovereignty.

In 1996, however, as evidence of a humanitarian disaster mounted, Iraq agreed to a similar arrangement which permitted it to sell $2 billion in oil every six months, with the money still to be divided between reparations and relief supplies. In February 1998 the figure was raised to $5.2 billion every six months, although this is more petroleum than Iraq can pump until basic repairs are completed in its production facilties. U.N. personnel have been supervising the distribution in Iraq of food and medicine purchased with the proceeds since 1997. …

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