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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Rising Tension, Unrelieved Deadlock over Iraq

In the absence of any political breakthrough in UN-Iraq relations, the issue of the suffering of the civilian Iraqi population under UN sanctions continues to dominate international discussion of the crisis. By the end of the period under review, speculation was once again mounting that US and UK forces were contemplating major military action - in addition to routine airstrikes to enforce the 'no-fly zones', including strikes on August 17 described by the Russian Foreign Ministry as "massive" - in response to what one unnamed Western diplomat described as a "pattern of provocation", specifically increased activity by Iraqi jets in the 'no-fly zones' and hostile rhetoric directed at Kuwait. According to the diplomat (September 15): "The West has been holding back so far, but if this pattern of provocation continues, I'd be very surprised if we get through the next few weeks without some serious military action." The same day, White House spokesperson Joe Lockhart commented that Saddam Hussein had "had time where he's miscalculated. But he should not miscalculate our resolve..."

In Geneva on August 18, the UN Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights - comprised of 26 human rights experts appointed by their national Governments but mandated to act independently - adopted, without a vote, a resolution proposed by Morocco's representative calling for the lifting of an embargo described as having "condemned an innocent people to hunger, disease, ignorance and even death." A second resolution, proposed by Norway's representative and adopted the same day, also without dissent, urged states to reconsider their general position of continuing to support sanctions which "after a reasonable period...have not brought about the desired changes in policy." The Subcommission was meeting two days after the publication of a damning case study of the legality of the embargo by Belgium's representative, Professor of Law Marc Bossuyt (see last issue). During the August 17 meeting, Bossuyt characterised the sanctions as "unequivocally illegal" and responsible for a humanitarian disaster "comparable to the worst catastrophes of past decades." The meeting was also addressed by the Permanent US Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, Ambassador George Moose, who derided the Bossuyt study as ill-founded and misguided:

"We are greatly disturbed by the working paper prepared by Marc Bossuyt on the effects of sanctions, and in particular his case study of UN sanctions against Iraq. Any observer who understands the facts can only find this section of the report to be incorrect, biased and inflammatory. It risks the credibility of the Subcommission. Let me review a few facts... The sanctions regime, even from the beginning, never limited or prohibited Iraq from importing humanitarian goods... For five years, the Iraqi regime resisted the international community's efforts to institute the Oil-for-Food Programme. ... Oil-for-Food works. The humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people has improved. If Oil-for-Food is able to operate free of interference by the Iraqi regime, prospects for continued improvement are excellent. We will continue to insist that Iraq comply with the Security Council resolutions, including those mandating procedures to improve the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people, despite the worst efforts of Saddam's regime."

On August, Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement starkly illustrative of the gulf between Washington and Moscow on the issue, welcoming the resolutions adopted by the Subcommission and echoing the call for the "United Nations Security Council to abrogate those elements of the regime of sanctions which exert a negative influence on the humanitarian position of the Iraqi population."

On September 11, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan submitted his latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of the Oil-for-Food Programme, noting an overall increase in effectiveness and impact despite the ongoing non-cooperation of Iraq in important areas of the Programme's implementation. In Rome on September 13, a joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) claimed that "significant improvements in the nutritional situation" for children had been detected in the north of the country, largely as the result of the impact of the Oil-for-Food Programme. The situation in central and southern Iraq, however, is described as remaining extremely serious. The study criticises the Iraqi Government for not having acted to implement a Supplementary Feeding Programme recommended by the UN Secretary-General in 1998. The FAO/WFP also criticise the "extremely weak" response by international donors to appeals for funding and support. The full study is available on the FAO website, http://www.fao.org.

Also on September 13, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, acknowledged to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that there was little prospect of a relaxation of sanctions unless Iraq reverses policy and elects to cooperate with the UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) established by Security Council resolution 1294 (1999). According to the Minister: "[W]hen I spoke to [Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister] Tariq Aziz the other day I told him that he would be making a very serious mistake if he were counting on the gradual erosion of the current system without Iraq's compliance." Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, also met with Aziz at the UN (September 12). As summarised by a Russian Foreign Ministry statement, the Ministers considered a range of "practical ways to expedite the settlement of the Iraq problem in line with the US Security Council resolutions [and] the principles and norms of international law. In this context, the need was pointed out for removing the obstacles which impede this, including an end to the illegal bombings of the territory of Iraq and unlawful interference in the internal affairs of Iraq. In the opinion of the two sides, the resumption of air links with Baghdad and the lifting of the ban on the humanitarian contracts 'frozen' at the UN Sanctions Committee would contribute to creating a favourable atmosphere for this."

Note: Notwithstanding strong US and British opposition to the resumption of flights to Baghdad, both Russian and French planes landed in Baghdad in late September - see next issue for details and reaction.

Reports: Text - US statement to the UN subcommission on report on Iraq sanctions, US State Department (Washington File), August 17; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 776-17-8-2000, August 17; UN rights body calls for lifting Iraq embargo, Reuters, August 18; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 799-25-8-2000, August 25; Iraq refuses to cooperate with UN on humanitarian aid survey, US State Department (Washington File), September 12; Child malnutrition in Iraq 'unacceptably high' as drought, lack of investment aggravate food and nutrition situation, UN Press Release WFP/1055, September 13; Child malnutrition plagues Iraq, Associated Press, September 14; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 861-13-9-2000, September 13; Risk of Iraq clash grows despite US caution, Reuters, September 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.