Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 52, November 2000
Iraq Sees Beginning of End of Embargo
The period under review saw fresh, seemingly unavailing attempts to persuade Iraq to allow a resumption of arms inspections, stalled since the December 1998 US-UK bombardment. Iraq, however, is voicing increasing confidence that the ten-year UN embargo imposed after the invasion of Kuwait is finally beginning to crumble. In the words of Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, quoted on November 10: "The embargo has started fizzling." Part of the '', in Baghdad' estimation, has been the resumption of international flights to Baghdad from France, Russia, and other states. As detailed in the last issue, Moscow and Paris do not regard the flights as in violation of the sanctions regime, whereas London and Washington are characterising them as flagrant contraventions.
In mid-November, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held talks in Baghdad with President Saddam Hussein. At a press conference on November 14, Ivanov noted: "We discussed means of finding a speedy solution for the situation in Iraq and the Gulf region... Russia sees that the time has come to take steps to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people and annul the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in return for Iraq' restoring international monitoring... " Ivanov expressed himself "satisfied with the talks with Saddam, the most important results of which are the joint practical actions we will undertake to settle the Iraqi issue..." He also repeated his call for the British and American ' zones' in the north and south of Iraq to be "scrapped". On November 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued its latest, strongly worded condemnation of the zones:
"The sharp build-up by US and British planes of missile and bomb strikes on Iraq in the so-called no-fly zones, set up in circumvention of the UN Security Council, is causing serious concern in Russia and the world as a whole... Overall, more than 1,300 civilians have been killed and dozens of farms, houses, hospitals and other civilian targets destroyed since the bombing of these areas began in December of 1998."
On November 5, Iraq recommenced domestic air flights for the first time since 1990. On November 7, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon was quizzed about the implications of the new traffic for the regulation of the no-fly zones. Asked whether there was "any danger to those civilian aircraft," he replied: "Well, that' actually a very interesting point. The Iraqis have been firing wildly at times at the coalition US and British planes enforcing the no-fly zone. And obviously, there is some risk that, due to lack of communications or overenthusiasm, they might fire at one of their own planes. We don' - we are being very careful to deconflict civilian from military planes. We hope they are being as careful." On November 3, the US State Department cautioned all civilian aircraft that "the areas of Iraq south of 33 degrees north latitude and north of 36 degrees north latitude are areas of continuous military operations and present significant dangers to aircraft and passengers. ... We advise any aircraft operating in Iraq to avoid these areas completely. Foreign aircraft operators proposing to conduct flight operations to or from Iraq should comply fully with United Nations Security Council resolutions and all applicable Iraq sanctions Committee procedures." On November 5, the Department issued a reiteration of its demand that "the Iraqis should notify the UN of all civilian flight schedules and routes no less than 48 hours in advance of each flight," a proposal rejected by Baghdad. The same day in the UN Security Council, France reportedly rejected new US proposals that would have permitted flights to Iraq once the cargo has been certified as consisting solely of humanitarian supplies.
On October 19, Tun Myat, coordinator of the UN' humanitarian relief effort in Iraq, told reporters that he had drawn up new procedures, for submission to the Sanctions Committee, designed to improve the volume and effectiveness of supplies reaching the country. Myat stressed that there needed to be a broad definition of the humanitarian assistance required: "You can give them all the food and medicine they want, but the overall condition is not going to get better unless the other accompanying basics like housing and electricity and water and sanitation are also put back. That is what we are all about at the moment..." Myat pointed out that 36% of applications before the Sanctions Committee for supplies for the electricity sector were on hold, principally at the insistence of Britain and America.
Addressing the Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Doha, Qatar, on November 13, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his sympathy for the civilian suffering in Iraq, while stressing that the onus for an improvement in the situation chiefly on the government in Baghdad:
"I deeply regret the continued suffering of the Iraqi people... I am fully conscious of the perception on the part of OIC member states and others that there is a double standard when it comes to the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. As I have stated in the Security Council, I also believe that the humanitarian situation in Iraq poses a moral dilemma to the United Nations, which has always stood with the vulnerable and sought to alleviate their suffering. But let me also say that I believe the Iraqi leadership will achieve more through cooperation with the international community, including its neighbours, than through confrontation. It is my duty as Secretary-General to remind each and every member of the United Nations of their commitments under the Charter and the obligation to comply with the resolutions of the Security Council. I appeal to the Iraqi leadership to review its position with a view to cooperating with the international community."
Reports: UN urges sanctions committee to lift holds on Iraqi supplies, US State Department (Washington File), October 19; UN - Iraq aid a '' gesture, Associated Press, October 19; Regulations governing flights to Iraq, US State Department statement, November 3; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1197-4-11-2000, November 4; Iraq resumes domestic flights, Associated Press, November 5; Baghdad flights in limbo as France rejects US plan, Chicago Tribune, November 5; Iraq challenges no-fly zones, chips at sanctions, Reuters, November 5; UK criticises French policy on Iraq, BBC News Online, November 7; Excerpts - Defense Department spokesman on Iraq, USS Cole, US State Department (Washington File), November 7; Iraq says UN embargo is collapsing, Associated Press, November 10; In speech to OIC summit, Secretary-General addresses Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, Iraq and other issues, UN Press Release SG/SM/7621, November 13; Russian FM wants fair settlement for Iraq, Agence France Presse, November 14; Russia urges Iraq to allow inspectors, Associated Press, November 14; Iraq chipping away at sanctions, Associated Press, November 14.
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