Global Policy Forum

U.N. Vote Condemns Iraq Without Mentioning Force


By Farhan Haq

November 8, 1998

United Nations - The U.N. Security Council Thursday condemned Iraq for provoking a new standoff with U.N. weapons inspectors, but stopped well short of calling for any military response to the latest crisis. Even so, the Security Council's unanimous demand that Iraq ''rescind immediately and unconditionally'' its decision to cease cooperation with the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) has helped to bolster U.S. efforts to build pressure on Baghdad.

U.S. diplomats were happy that nations normally supportive of the need to ease the pressure of eight-year-old sanctions on Iraq - notably France, Russia and China - backed the resolution and levelled their own criticisms at Baghdad. French Ambassador Alain Dejammet said that with the vote, ''the Council would demonstrate its unity in the face of an Iraqi decision which right away was described as irrational and unacceptable.''

''Iraq must immediately reconsider its position,'' said Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, adding that the Oct. 31 halting of cooperation with UNSCOM - which has in effect ended the UN's inspection of Iraqi weapons sites but kept in place monitoring cameras - ''has jeopardised the search for a solution to the Iraqi problem.'' U.S. officials believe that the vote, along with an effort by Defence Secretary William Cohen to muster support among Arab states this week, has provided Washington with the leverage to use air strikes to force Iraq back into cooperation if necessary.

''We believe we'll have the support we need, and all options are on the table,'' U.S. President Bill Clinton said Thursday in response to questions about whether U.S. troops might become involved in the crisis. Already, thousands of U.S. troops are deployed throughout the Middle East, with one aircraft carrier - the 'Eisenhower' - and dozens of combat and support ships and warplanes ready for action in and around the Persian Gulf.

However, Washington had to pull back from an earlier standoff involving UNSCOM in February when it clearly lacked international support, and may yet have to do so this time. For one thing, Cohen's trip - which has taken him so far to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - has yielded as little support for military action among pro-U.S. Arab states as in February, according to diplomatic sources here.

Although Washington clearly hoped that Clinton's direct involvement in recent peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at Wye, Maryland, would bolster the United States' standing in the Arab world, further action against Baghdad remains a hard sell. Even the vote in the 15-nation Council showed signs of tension among the body's five permanent members, with only Britain and the United States eager for a military authorization and France, China and Russia resisting that option.

Although Moscow and Paris are clearly irritated by the latest crisis from Baghdad, both nations have stood out so solidly against authorising force that the Thursday resolution did not even mention ''consequences'' for Iraq if it does not comply. Such language is the Council's code for using force, such as air strikes, if its demands are unheeded. In addition, pressure from China forced the resolution's backers to delete language which argued that the current standoff ''continues to pose a threat to international peace and security'' - words Beijing took as a rationale for military action.

''It is a contradiction to try to further the cause of peace by advocating military means, so we cannot support it,'' one Chinese envoy told IPS. Chinese Ambassador Qin Huasun argued that the best option for a way forward was to follow U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plan for a ''comprehensive review'' of Iraq's relationship with the United Nations, which could examine its past cooperation and even make the case for a phasing out of sanctions.

Since Aug. 5, Iraq has suspended cooperation with UNSCOM, voicing anger at the duration of the sanctions and objecting to what it deems are intrusive UNSCOM inspections. Ironically, a U.S. inspector on the team, Scott Ritter, resigned that same month after accusing the U.S. government and Annan of softening the inspections regime for fear of provoking a new crisis with Baghdad - a charge both Annan and the White House deny.

In any case, after months of trying to demonstrate a more moderate approach with Iraq following the embarrassing climbdown from its February military buildup, Washington now has returned to rattling its sabre, without explicitly threatening bombing. Diplomats here believe that, if more Arab countries offer support for U.S. troop action in the next few days than did over the winter, Washington may attack within the next two weeks. But if Baghdad keeps UNSCOM troops in the country over that time - or even allows a resumption of some inspections - Iraq may yet avoid another military conflict with the United States.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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