Global Policy Forum

Keeping Score in Iraq


By Salah Hemeid

August 4, 1999

The UN Security Council has again failed to reach unanimous agreement on a proposal to restart discussions with Iraq on the unresolved questions regarding its banned weapons programme. The failure is expected to give some hope to the government of President Saddam Hussein that victory might finally be at hand in its nine year battle with the United Nations over Iraq's hidden weapons. Such hopes might be premature. The 15-member Security Council has not yet reached the stage of declaring itself satisfied with the investigation into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which means that President Hussein is not yet off the hook.

The Council is still divided on the issue six months after UN inspectors were ordered out of Iraq by President Saddam and the programme was suspended. France, Russia and China, Iraq's closest allies on the Council, want to suspend all sanctions if Iraq cooperates with a new commission that would monitor its banned weapons programmes. Britain and the US insist that Iraq should first disclose key information about its remaining weapons programmes. So far, there seems to be no immediate prospect of bridging the gap between these two groups. So why should President Hussein rejoice?

The Iraqi leader sees an opportunity to use the disagreement inside the Council to his own advantage. He now sees his policy of putting his arch-enemies, the United States and Britain, in an unsustainable position as at last bearing fruit.

But is the present deadlock sufficient reason for him to believe that he stands on the brink of victory over the Council? Once agreement is reached, will this lead to a lifting of the crippling economic sanctions -- Iraq's main condition for resuming cooperation with the UN -- shortly there after?

To begin with, all the 15 council members agree that Iraq should not be allowed to use its massive oil wealth to rebuild its arsenal. They also agree on the need to resume weapons monitoring before there is any easing of the sanctions that were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Even when these conditions have been met and regardless of the bickering in the Council the US enthusiasm for containing President Hussein's regime and weakening it through the sanctions is not expected to founder. Indeed, Washington wants a formula that will enable it to keep a tight grip on the regime while improving living conditions for the 22 million Iraqis who are suffering as a result of the sanctions.

President Hussein knows perfectly well that the Clinton administration is no closer to letting him off the hook or to making life easier for his regime. However, he tries to isolate Washington in the Security Council by undermining its international credibility and exposing its ineptness as part of his strategy of defiance towards the United States. What matters most to Saddam now is that the disarmament programme has been stopped in its tracks and Iraq has been free of UN weapons inspectors since December.

Among other reasons for Hussein to feel optimistic is Washington's bungled attempt to unify exiled Iraqi opposition groups wishing to oust him from power. The Clinton administration has outlined plans for bringing these dissident groups into one organisation that would coordinate efforts to topple Hussein. Under the Iraq Liberation Act passed by Congress, the administration voted $97 million to help get rid of Hussein's regime. The American officials charged with coordinating the dissidents' efforts even indicated that the countdown for the Iraqi leader's disappearance from the political scene may be sooner than many expect. Some have even predicted that this might take place as early as this summer.

In spite of months of debate, the different groups of Shi'ites, Kurdish and leftist factions who formed the Iraqi National Congress in 1992, have failed to agree on a serious agenda or practical strategy for toppling the Iraqi president. This failure has demonstrated yet again their impotence and inability to pose a serious threat to the regime. By mid summer, Hussein seems to have come to the conclusion -- probably rightly -- that his enemies are confined to making rosy predictions about his downfall as part of their psychological warfare against his regime.

Hussein may have other reasons to feel comfortable and even to exult. Some Arab leaders are now talking about convening an Arab summit to which Iraq will be invited for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War. There is as yet no sign that such a summit meeting is in the offing. However such talk about Iraqi participation encourages the Iraqi president to feel that his Arab brethren are now ready to come to terms with him and that Iraq's presence in such a summit might even help end his political isolation and contribute to the lifting of the UN sanctions.

With his usual political adroitness, Hussein welcomed the proposal and used the suggestion to play the Arab card. "Let us move from words to deeds," he urged Arabs in a speech on the 17 July anniversary marking the coup which brought his party to power. A few days later in Babil, the newspaper run by his son Uday, it was suggested that a three-man committee of Arab leaders be formed to prepare for the summit. The three -- from Algeria, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates -- should tour the Arab countries to convince their heads of state to convene the conference without delay, the Babil editorial suggested.

Unfortunately there are inescapable facts for Hussein. His regime is still isolated and UN sanctions continue to play havoc with the country. The Iraqi leader might have scored a few points but he will be mistaken if he believes that a victory in his decade-long war with the United Nations, and indeed with the United States, is near. America's efforts to maintain the embargo and the campaign to topple him are still high on the agenda in Washington. Saddam Hussein will certainly need more than wishful thinking for his luck to change.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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