The US and the Iraqi people

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Recently a prominent Iraqi exile suggested to me that the US, in its statements on Iraq, should put more emphasis on UN Security Council Resolution 688.

Resolution 688 was passed in 1991 in the wake of the Gulf War and demands an "end to repression and an open dialogue to ensure respect for human rights" in Iraq. It also calls for Iraq to allow access to humanitarian organizations and for the UN secretary-general to use all resources to help refugees and displaced persons.

The Clinton administration has referred to Resolution 688 on several recent occasions. Martin Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, mentioned its importance in an extended statement before the House International Relations Committee on June 8. Similarly, Elizabeth Jones, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the same bureau, cited the resolution before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 23 as did Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a statement on the occasion of a meeting of the Free Iraqi Leaders in New York on Sept. 20.

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What my friend may have been suggesting is that the US concern for the rights of the Iraqi people has been drowned out by the continued US bombing, an emphasis on the removal of weapons of mass destruction, and insistent calls for a change in the Baghdad regime.

Washington's concerns for the health and welfare of the Iraqi people should be clear. The US has led in sponsoring the oil-for- food program that enables Iraq to sell its petroleum and use the proceeds for food and medicine. On Oct. 4, the US was instrumental in gaining Security Council agreement to increase the amount of oil Iraq may sell. But Washington's efforts face obstacles. Saddam Hussein drags his feet in implementing the oil-for-food program. He appears to prefer a starving population to whom, with his controlled media, he can plead that UN sanctions are responsible.

Not all members are helpful in pressing Baghdad to respect human rights. Cuba, Yemen, and Zimbabwe voted against Resolution 688, and China and India abstained. These countries were obviously averse to voting for any UN actions that might, at some time, be applied to them.

Others failed to point out where the onus lies for the hardships imposed on the Iraqi people. The French have continually demanded the end of sanctions. On Sept. 24, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine accused the US of insensitivity to the "human disaster" in Iraq caused by economic sanctions. Another consideration may be at work. Those who rhetorically oppose UN sanctions may be looking to the future.

At some point, a change of regime in Baghdad will occur. If other revolutionary situations are any guide, such change may not necessarily come from exile groups. Unknown leadership may arise from within. The attitudes toward major foreign countries formed by those within Iraq during the present situation will affect how those nations are perceived by new leadership and by the people who support them.

Countries that have not been conspicuously involved in the bombing and are on record as opposing sanctions may be more favorably positioned to renew normal ties, both political and economic.

The US today is not in a position to abandon its policy of containing Iraq or maintaining sanctions and the no-fly zones. In calling for the end to Baghdad's weapons program, US policy is further hampered by Saddam Hussein's intransigence and Washington's own equivocal position on nuclear nonproliferation. Under these circumstances, if the US is to look to its future in Iraq, official statements should place as much emphasis as possible on American interest in the rights of the Iraqis as called for in UNSC Resolution 688.

*David D. Newsom, a former US ambassador and undersecretary of state for political affairs, lives in Charlottesville, Va.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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