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Iraq and Resolution 1409: A Mouse Was Born!

By Hans Von Sponeck,

EastWest Record, 6/7/2002

In June 2001 the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) concluded its debate on what had been announced as the introduction of 'smart sanctions' on Iraq. If sanctions were to become 'smart', what had they been during the previous eleven years asked some of the more astute Iraq watchers?

There was considerable discomfort in the U.N. Security Council with a British attempt backed by the United States to introduce changes that would ensure that the Iraqi people remained the bargaining chip of the international community. Governments of countries bordering Iraq rejected outright this draft resolution citing that it ran against their economic interests. Others viewed the proposed changes in the sanctions regime as unenforceable, and still others perceived it as a sinister attempt at strangulation. In the latter view, if adopted and enforced, 'smart' sanctions of this kind would prevent Iraq from earning much needed extra income from smuggled oil.

The U.K. and U.S. governments argued that such additional oil income was exactly what Iraq did not need. It would continue to be squandered for palaces and luxury goods. It cannot be denied that in some measure this has been the case. However, the overwhelming portion of this extra income is desperately needed to maintain civilian infrastructure, to pay civil servants and teachers and for the upkeep of hospitals, roads and bridges.

Under existing sanctions, Iraq does not receive even a fraction of its legally earned oil revenue for national support costs. The protagonists insist: no cash in the hands of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein!

Sanctions as imposed have forced the Iraqi government to adopt extra-legal ways of finding resources to meet such expenses. In making their case for 'smart sanctions’, the British and American governments chose to conveniently forget to mention this fact. The U.K. and U.S. authorities insisted that 'smart sanctions’ were meant to reduce the negative impact of sanctions on the civilian population and instead focus ‘international wrath’ on the Iraqi leadership as the perpetrator. Thanks to the Russian veto, 'smart sanctions’ proposal was sent to the shredder. The Iraqis were saved from another onslaught on what little has remained of their ability to survive.

Since that time, another year of 'punishment as usual' has gone by for the Iraqi people, yet not without hard work by those who wanted to make good on what they had lost through the demise of their 'smart sanctions’ initiative. British brain and American muscle seemed to have been the combination that guided much of the efforts for a change in the Iraq policy during the past twelve months. Exhausted by their efforts at 'smartness', the U.K. authorities passed on the lead role to their U.S. counterparts once a first draft text of a new resolution was completed. This was the time when details of the draft had to be negotiated with other members of the U.N. Security Council. Another defeat similar to the one of June 2001 would be politically disastrous--particularly at a time when both governments in Europe and in the Middle East had become wary of the standoff between Iraq and the U.N. Security Council on how to end the conflict. Sanctions had been successful in destroying a society but had failed in meeting American and British demands for Iraqi compliance in disarmament and in fostering political change in Baghdad.

On May 14th, a new Iraq sanctions policy embodied in Resolution 1409 was unanimously adopted by the 15 members U.N. Security Council. Until the last minute, Syria had objected to the draft resolution. Damascus considered the proposals as "too little, too late". Less well known is the fact that the U.K. had to do some hard convincing to get the U.S. to agree to the British draft. Once this had been achieved, the U.S. had the task of selling the draft resolution to the Russians. This did not happen without months of haggling between the two delegations over the question of which items were considered safe to be allowed into Iraq without the screening eyes of U.S./U.K. experts in the U.N. Sanctions Committee and which items were to be declared as ‘military or dual use’ and subject to Sanction Committee scrutiny.

Protracted negotiations between American and Russian officials prepared the ground for what the U.S. government has termed as a breakthrough for the Iraqi people. Evidence to this effect is offered in the form of a 300-page goods review list that identifies a wide range of items considered dual use. These include goods that are needed for medical treatment, clean water, sewerage treatment, communication and transport, education, agricultural production -- items indispensable for sustaining life.

Non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council feel that they have been largely left out in the creation of the new resolution. "It was a 'P-5 affair”, a reference to the five permanent members of the Security Council. This is the perception of some of the non-permanent members.

Once the U.N. Security Council had adopted the new Iraq resolution, the Western media was quick and hasty in hailing this as a major step forward. Civilian goods, it was believed, would from now on be allowed to come into Iraq unimpeded. Some went as far as pronouncing that this signaled the end of the plight of the Iraqi population--an indirect assertion that the Security Council had until then contributed to Iraqi suffering.

The U.S. State Department shrewdly added the caveat that this resolution would only make a difference in the life of the civilian population if there were full cooperation by the Government of Iraq. This is a reminder of June 2001 when the U.S. and UK governments argued that the adoption of their 'smart sanction’ proposals would show that the real villain behind Iraqi deprivation resided in Baghdad and not in Washington and London.

Contacts with current members of the Security Council reveal that behind the unanimity of support for the new Iraq resolution is an array of doubts over the benefits of the new policy for the Iraqi people. The adopted procedures for implementing the new resolution show that these reservations are fully justified. All civilian goods procured under the oil-for-food-programme will be subject to "review and registration" by the U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme and "evaluation" by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The screening process has been handed over by the U.N. Sanctions Committee to the U.N. and the IAEA. Formal responsibility for the release of civilian contracts has become multilateral and so has the blame.

Should something go wrong, it is no longer the U.S. and the U.K. that seemingly can be accused of 'blocking', 'holding back' or 'delaying' but instead the U.N. and the IAEA. At the same time, the U.S. and the U.K. governments have made sure that they retain 'control from a distance'. Provision 17 of the procedures for the implementation of resolution 1409 states that " the (UN) secretariat will provide to members of the (UN Sanctions) Committee at their request copies of the applications approved…"

The resolution took effect on June 1st, 2002. Nothing else will change. Foreign investment to rehabilitate a shattered infrastructure will not be allowed. Using oil revenue within Iraq thereby re-starting the Iraqi economy will not be possible. Iraq's Central Bank will not be given the authority in managing Iraq's resources. This means that the pillars of the Iraq sanctions regime remain the same. This can only lead to one conclusion: there will be no end to the human catastrophe in Iraq. "The mountain went into labor pains", goes a Middle Eastern saying, " and in the end a mouse was born!"

U.N. Resolution 1409 is indeed a mouse but with sharp teeth which will continue to hurt the people of Iraq.

Hans von Sponeck was UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq from 1998-2000. Von Sponeck is a regular columnist for EWR’s Worldview section.

Publisher: Samia Baalbaki
Editor: Jareer Elass
© 2002 East West Record. All Rights Reserved

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