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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 60, September 2001

News Review

Tensions Abound, No Sign of Progress in UN-Iraq Dispute

In the absence of a diplomatic breakthrough in relations between Iraq and the United Nations, concern is mounting that major military action against the Saddam Hussein regime may form part of the US-led campaign against terrorism. Although there is no clear evidence of any connection between Iraq and the September 11 atrocities, and although no short-term military action appears likely - aside from incidents in the controversial 'no-fly zones' patrolled by US and UK aircraft - the Bush administration has made clear its conviction that Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism, and that Baghdad itself poses a threat to the region, not least through its assumed determination to reconstitute its military power and programmes to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Two days before the attacks, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told Fox television that, since the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors in December 1998, Iraq had been "working diligently to increase their capabilities in every aspect of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology. And as they get somewhat stronger, the problem becomes somewhat greater. That problem, particularly [with regard to] biological weapons, over the coming decade is going to be an increasingly serious one. It will have to be attacked from a whole range of methods..."

Following the attacks, speculation that Iraq might be a target of US military action at some point was raised by sweeping comments from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a September 13 Pentagon briefing: "I think one has to say it's not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism." On September 17, Secretary of State Powell distanced himself from these remarks, stressing: "We are after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations, that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interests to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself."

On September 16, Powell told reporters that "just about every country has come forward" with messages of support and sympathy for the United States. Iraq had not, Powell added, and "we wouldn't expect it to come forward. It is that kind of regime that causes so much trouble in the world. ... [Saddam Hussein] is an irrelevant individual sitting there with a broken regime. He pursues weapons of mass destruction. He is the greatest threat in that region because he refuses to abide by the simplest standards of civilised behaviour. So we'll continue to contain Saddam Hussein. We will keep his regime under sanctions, and we will do what is necessary when it becomes necessary and when we choose to."

On September 20, an unnamed administration source was quoted as saying: "I think Rumsfeld has basically moved to what [Vice President] Cheney and Powell have been saying - the focus ought to be on bin Laden and the Afghan network first. ... Iraq's day will come." On September 22, Jesse Helms, former Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated on CNN: "I think they [Iraq] will be a target. ... [S]ome of us have been guaranteed that it would not happen until we are ready for it to happen, because if we go in there with the wrong kind of preparation that would be another disaster. But we're pretty near there..."

For its part, Iraq has expressed its sorrow at the loss of civilian life in the September 11 attacks, while laying considerable blame at the door of US policy in the Middle East. According to Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, speaking in a September 16 interview with Reuters: "We hope that American politicians will take this as a stimulus for quiet reasoning and reassessment of America's role in the world. ... It is hoped around the world that US officials and politicians assess in a reasonable manner why the attack happened to them on a large scale and not to others..."

Referring to the ongoing sanctions against his country, Sabri noted: "The regime of sanctions, which American officials [have] described as the harshest and most comprehensive in history, could not kill the Iraqi state, society and people." On September 5, an unnamed UN official in Iraq used remarkable language to describe the effect of the embargo: "The sanctions are the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb... So-called civilised countries do not treat other nations like this, even one which lost a war." As reported in the last issue, on July 3 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1360 extending for a further five months the 'oil-for-food' programme designed to provided humanitarian relief in Iraq. During this time, the Council hopes to resume the search for a formula allowing either the lifting or substantial reform of sanctions - a search brought to a temporary, acrimonious halt on June 26 when Russia announced its outright opposition to a UK-proposed, US-backed plan to introduce 'smart sanctions' lifting the prohibition on the import of civilian goods. Russia argued that the proposed new arrangements tackled none of the underlying political and disarmament issues craving resolution, and that the UK and US wanted to include far too many items in a Goods Review List of products, materials and equipment to remain banned from entry into Iraq.

On September 3, Iraq announced it was expelling five UN humanitarian relief workers, four Nigerians and a Bosnian, from its territory on grounds of espionage. A Dutch employee of a Swiss goods inspection firm working for the UN, and two Argentine peacekeepers from the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), were also expelled in the following days, also in retaliation for alleged espionage. At a tense meeting between the two sides in New York on September 7, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohammed al-Dhouri reportedly shouted at Benan Sevan, the director of the UN humanitarian programme in Iraq: "Why are you sending me spies?" Al-Dhouri told reports after the meeting: "They were spying, and we hope to prove that soon."

Attacks by US and UK aircraft in the no-fly zones continued throughout the period under review. Increasing Iraqi air-defence capability was illustrated on August 27 and September 11, when two unmanned RQ-1B Predator reconnaissance aircraft, or 'drones', were apparently shot down. On August 30, a US Defense Department statement detailed ongoing activity in the zones:

"Coalition strikes in the no-fly zones are executed as a self-defence measure in response to Iraqi hostile threats and acts against coalition forces and their aircraft. If Iraq were to cease its threatening actions, coalition strikes would cease as well. ... To date, there have been more than 1,010 separate incidents of Iraqi surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery fire directed against coalition aircraft since December 1998, including more than 375 in this calendar year. Iraqi aircraft violated the southern no-fly zone more than 160 times during the same period. Coalition aircraft never target civilian populations or infrastructure and go to painstaking lengths to avoid injury to civilians and damage to civilian facilities."

On September 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued its latest strong condemnation of the US and British actions and the civilian toll, however inadvertent, they are taking:

"Moscow is noting with concern the mounting activity...in the 'no-fly zones'... As a result of the bombing of Iraqi territory on August 30, 2001, civilian targets were destroyed in the southern province of Basra... We firmly believe that solution to the Iraqi problem is achievable not by air strikes, but along the lines of a responsible constructive dialogue based on principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state. It is important not only to demand that Baghdad should comply with the decisions of the world community, but also to create favourable conditions for that. ... In this regard, we consider it necessary to again declare the need to put an end to the practically daily violations of Iraq's air space, of which innocent civilians of that country become victims in a majority of cases."

Reports: Text - Defense Dept on missing reconnaissance plane, Washington File, August 28; Officials play down loss of US spy plane in Iraq, Reuters, August 28; Pentagon verifies Iraq plane wreck, Associated Press, August 28; Text - coalition warplanes strike at radar in southern Iraq, Washington File, August 30; Regarding US and British air force regular violations of Iraq's air space, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1547-03-09-2001, September 3; Iraq expels five staff - UN protests, Reuters, September 5; Life in sanctions-hit Iraq is harsh and shirt, Reuters, September 5; UN - Iraq must explain spy charges against 8 staff, Reuters, September 7; UN explains Iraqi 'expulsion' of peacekeepers, Reuters, September 7; Security Council questions Iraqi expulsion of UN staff, Washington File, September 7; Rumsfeld worries about Iraq weapons, Associated Press, September 9; Rumsfeld concerned about Iraq, Associated Press, September 9; US says it lost contact with drone plane in Iraq, Reuters, September 11; Transcript - Wolfowitz says military retaliation to be sustained, Washington File, September 13; Transcript - Powell welcomes support of Pakistan in anti-terrorist effort, Washington File, September 16; Iraq hopes attacks will force US policy change, Reuters, September 16; Transcript - Powell pleased with support for anti-terrorism coalition, Washington File, September 17; Go after Saddam, Conservatives say, Reuters, September 20; Helms says Iraq, Saddam should be US targets, Reuters, September 22.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.