the SC will never lift
the sanctions on Iraq
When, in 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, the
Security Council decided about inspections and sanctions
it must have suffered from some kind of hubris. Iraq
should be punished for the invasion of Kuwait - and it
did invade and it was foolish and illegal to do so.
Sanctions should put pressure on the regime and, it was
hoped, turn the people against the leadership. Hard as
the sanctions were, they were designed to last for a
short time, the time it was assumed to take to find and
disarm Iraq's weapons of mass-destruction.
The winners of the war dictated the conditions. Iraq,
the loser, had to obey unconditionally. Lifting the
sanctions was made dependent upon the delivery of an
inspection report to the Security Council that would
state that all that could be used in the production of
nuclear, biological or chemical weapons had been found
and destroyed and there was nothing left anywhere in
Here is the trap produced by the victors' hubris. This
has lead to the sanctions being our moral problem;
we dealt with that in PressInfo
173. The major players seemingly were so triumphant
and self-assured about the rightness and the justice of
their cause - the punishment of Iraq - that they didn't
even think of asking a few practical and philosophical
questions such as these:
1. Will it at all be possible for inspectors to state
that no amount of a substance pertaining to weapons of
mass-destruction exists in a country that covers about
half a million square kilometres and is not exactly eager
to reveal everything about its military?
2. Is it wise to make the lifting of the sanctions
conditional upon such a declaration by inspectors, i.e.
to use sanctions as leverage for the disarmament
3. What if the inspection process takes a much longer
time and inspectors will still be there in, say, 2003? If
we want 100% compliance and a guarantee that Iraq is 100%
clean, that will take time. Sanctions are known to have
negative effects on citizens. So, isn't it a risk that,
if we make slow progress, we will be made morally
responsible for the increasingly destructive humanitarian
Today it is easy to see that the answers to these
questions are no, no and yes.
To comb half a million square kilometres for a few
kilos of some chemical or biological substances is quite
a task. There is sand; there are stones, rivers,
mountains and buildings of all kinds. The Iraqis know how
to drill deep down for oil; they could drill a hole, hide
something at the bottom and cover the hole. Or they could
place the stuff outside Iraq, in another country or on
boats in international waters.
Alternatively, imagine that every kilo and gram was
actually found and destroyed - then what? Given that the
knowledge of how to produce these materials remains with
thousands of Iraqi scientists, engineers, assistants,
workers and others, it would probably not take long
before they could re-introduce these substances or divert
them from civilian production facilities and
laboratories. If so, would we re-introduce sanctions?
We seem to be so afraid to self-critically recognise
that we, i.e. the Security Council and then most
governments and media, took for granted that all this
would be simple and quick. In December 1995, some
quick-fix U.S. diplomats also put together the Dayton
Accords for Bosnia wishfully thinking that it would all
be implemented in 12 months; it still won't work.
Another not-so-easy problem is this: while Iraq is
obliged to disarm its weapons of mass-destruction, it has
a sovereign right to self-defence (UN Charter Article 51)
and security by means of a conventional military.
Security Council resolutions emphasise that the country's
sovereignty and integrity shall be respected during the
But that is not how the Iraqis can see it. Inspectors
go to any place with only a few minutes notice. Any
place! Require to see everything, collect anything, ask
any question, interview anyone they find interesting.
This goes for purely civilian sites and sites of
conventional defence; and that's in a country that is
threatened by history's strongest military power who also
reserves the "right" to, if necessary, use nuclear
weapons on Iraq.
When Iraq has had the slightest dissenting opinion
about reasonable inspection versus intrusive,
intelligence collecting inspections, if they insist on
their sovereignty as a member of the United Nations, they
are told that they'll be bombed because they don't
co-operate, because they are not in compliance with our
ultimatums. Thus, the philosophically nonsensical
statement made time and again that Saddam is the one who
decides whether there will be a war.
Finally, there is the problem of burden of proof. The
inspection regime is so constructed that anyone can state
that he or she believes that Iraq possesses something it
should not possess. The US time and again practises the
method of stating that it knows that Iraq is hiding
something that the inspectors have not and cannot find
and the Iraqis say they don't have. Remember the palace
site issue? In that case Iraq could prove that there was
nothing there by opening them up to inspection. But the
philosophical question remains why the international
community forced Iraq to unilaterally prove that it had
not violated the rules of the game, that it was
not guilty. In a constitutional state and in
international, lawful behaviour, the burden of proof is
normally on the side of the council for the
Most things can be seen from more than one angle. This
is not only a matter of right and wrong, it is also a
matter of psychology: perceptions, feelings of pride,
honour, sense of being ignored and humiliated. And it is,
ultimately, about trust. Why?
Because the inspection mission is mission
impossible. No inspection team will be able to
guarantee that every kilo of prohibited substances in
Iraq have been found; it could be disproved the next day.
Even if it were proved, the substances and weapons may
come back, sooner or later. And solving the
categorisation problems mentioned above (civilian,
conventional and mass destructive) will invariably cause
conflict between the parties - with good arguments (and
not-so-clean motives) on both sides.
These essential issues have never been seriously
discussed. Given that nobody seems to have thought them
through carefully at an early stage, the only answer has
been that Saddam is a criminal, a cheater, a liar, a man
playing for time, etc. It was easier to blame than to
think - not to speak about being self-critical. (There
were enough negative lessons about sanctions that could
have been used by the Security Council in its
deliberations back in 1991).
The best we can hope for is an inspection report that
will, one day, state that "there are reasons to believe"
that the Iraqis have give up 95, 96, 97, 98, or even 99
per cent of their physically identifiable
mass-destructive weapons and materials for them. Some
countries would be satisfied with that and insist that
the sanctions be lifted. Some, among them the United
States, would not. The argument would be something to the
effect that "we can't trust that guy to even have 1 per
cent left. We can't let him or, later, his son acquire
them after we have lifted the sanctions. No, keep up the
pressure and get a new regime we can trust."
If the inspections regime aims at 100 per cent
certified disarmament of Iraq's mass-destructive weapons
and potential, the inspection will remain an absurd
theatre. Waiting to lift the sanctions will be like
waiting for Godot. It's a meaningless "mission
If it aims at less than 100 per cent, it must build on
trust to compensate for the fact that there won't be 100
per cent guarantees by anybody. That trust is simply not
there after 12 years of inspections, sanctions,
quarrelling, threatening, mistrust, bombing and mutual
These are some of the more philosophical reasons why
we think the UN SC will never lift the sanctions. Such a
decision depends on 100 per cent certified disarmament
and that will never be stated on paper.
This inspection-sanctions link was never of Saddam
Hussein's making; he can't be blamed for the foggy
thinking it is based upon. The UN SC thoughtlessly and
without vision, decided this in a mood of triumphalism,
victor's hubris and out of a wish, one must assume, to
humiliate the President of Iraq that they hated.
We have described the results of this policy in
PressInfo 173, backed up with facts from the UN on the
ground. It was hardly intentional, but the UN Security
Council and the international community have caused a
genocide affecting one-half to one million innocent
Iraqis. Our sanctions have destroyed the economy, the
school and health-care system, the standard of living,
the hopes and the social strength of the only ones who
could, in the best of cases, have toppled that President:
the Iraqis themselves.
Could it be that some countries in the West have such
bad consciences that the living witnesses to this morally
bankrupt policy must die because their suffering reminds
us, painfully, of our complicity in crimes, of our
violations of the human rights of the citizens in
If there are decent leaders in the international
community, they should begin today, rather than tomorrow,
to discuss how we can cut the link between inspections
and sanctions-lifting. Until now, we have been wasting
innocent lives every minute we discuss and plan a war - a
war to cover our deep feeling of guilt.
Please ask yourself, when have the Iraqis suffered
enough for their non-elected President's decision to
invade Kuwait 12 years ago? When does the civilised West
become so civilised that it is able to admit its
mistakes? If it denies these mistakes and conducts war
instead, it is morally so feeble that the centre and all
the rest may not hold.
How can leaders and governments, who know perfectly
well what they did, have done and continue to do, seek
reconciliation and ask forgiveness from the people they
have hurt so much? This, not war, is the question that
should occupy us. Is it already too late?
See also PressInfo
173 with the facts about the human consequences of
the sanctions and our moral responsibility
© TFF 2003
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