Posted on May 02, 1994 in Washington Watch

As Secretary of State Warren Christopher noted last week, the U.S. Administration adamantly refuses to lift the economic sanctions imposed against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. has taken this stand in the face of pressure from France, Russia, and other allies which have argued that the sanctions be eased in response to reports of widespread malnutrition and untreated diseases in all parts of the country.

While the Administration holds firm in its sanctions policy, there is growing concern in Congress and among a number of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that some action must be taken to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. These organizations, including religious and human rights organizations, realize that the sanctions which were meant to punish the Iraqi government are instead doing much more to hurt the people of Iraq.

In none of the proposals offered by these groups is the suggestion that sanctions be lifted, for to do so would, in effect, reward Saddam despite his failure to honor UN Security Council Resolutions – especially those that require the Iraqi government to end repression and respect the human rights of the Iraqi people. And reports over the last several months of an intensive Iraqi government campaign to eradicate the Marsh Arab culture and society of southern Iraq has further fueled anti-Saddam sentiment among all segments of the U.S. body politic.

So in place of calling for a lifting of the sanctions, these U.S. groups are calling for alternative approaches to meet the needs of the Iraqi people without appearing to appease the regime of Saddam Hussein.

For example, the spokesman for the powerful U.S. Catholic Conference argued in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of State that:

“We understand that the Iraqi government, while seeking to have the sanctions lifted, has resisted using the existing exemptions to relieve the suffering of its own people and that it is not in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Still, we believe action must be taken to relieve the suffering of Iraqi civilians resulting from the sanctions regime.

“In the face of the failure of the Iraqi government to serve the basic interests of its people, the international community has a continuing responsibility to find ways to prevent unnecessary deaths and unmerited suffering on the part of the Iraqi people. The responsibility of the international community and of the United States does not end with Saddam’s refusal to use the existing exemption provisions. Means must be found in the short term for Iraq and in the long term for humane provisions for the populations of other rogue states placed under UN sanctions.”

A Congressional resolution on emergency food and medical relief which was offered two years ago Congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota is being offered once again this year. The earlier Penny resolution called on the U.S. and other member nations of the UN to use some of the $8 billion in frozen Iraqi assets to purchase food and medicine, and to distribute the supplies through UN agencies on the ground in Iraq.

Other powerful members of Congress, including members of the increasingly influential Congressional Back Caucus (CBC), are also searching for methods to get food and medicine to the people in Iraq who need it, while maintaining the sanctions regime.

A number of assumptions underlie the proposals being offered by advocates of relief for the Iraqi people.

First, as I have mentioned, since they all believe that Saddam’s regime refuses to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, he should therefore not be rewarded with a lifting of the sanctions. Both an Iraqi American association and the Arab American Medical Association have agreed in a report that having “watched the torment their family and friends in Iraq [under the regime of Saddam Hussein, they] have no illusion that the Iraqi regime would use funds [derived from ending the sanctions] for humanitarian ends.”

These groups, therefore, do not believe that ending the sanctions would have the immediate effect of helping all the people of Iraq, as much as it would benefit the government and allow it to pursue its own ends.

Notably, as Saddam refused to honor UN Security Council Resolution 688 that demands that the Iraqi government end the years of oppression it has forced its people to endure, the regime has also refused to implement resolutions 706 and 712 which exempts food and medicine from the sanctions and allows the government of Iraq to earn the foreign exchange needed for these items by selling oil. What UN Security Council resolutions 706 and 712 stipulate, however, is that the proceeds from these oil sales should be administered by the UN relief agencies to insure a fair and equitable distribution of food and medicine to all parts of the country and all groups in Iraqi society. This Saddam refuses to accept, and so the exemption provided by the resolutions goes unutilized.

The American groups calling for a new humanitarian policy toward the people of Iraq also feel that while it is clear that the Security Council has taken firm action to ensure that Saddam complies with the its resolutions relating to the monitoring and dismantling of weapons of mass destruction, the UN has not been used to enforce the key provisions of resolutions 688, 706 and 712. This lack of resolve on the part of the international community to provide the same guaranties for humanitarian needs as it does for security needs is what has provoked a response from U.S. religious and human rights organizations.

In fact, some of these U.S. groups are calling on the U.S. to return to the Security Council and seek a new resolution that would force implementation of resolutions 706 and 712. Just as the Security Council’s actions essentially forced Saddam to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction and nuclear program, it is felt that the UN could similarly act to force Saddam to accept an on-the-ground humanitarian relief campaign to aid the Iraqi people.

It is argued that if Saddam were to refuse to comply such a UN role or were to interfere with UN efforts, he would be exposed for denying food and medicine to his own people. By imposing such a program the UN would either be able to get the needed help to the Iraqi people or, should Saddam attempt to physically stop such efforts, undermine the Iraqi regime more effectively than any propaganda effort. In either case, the effort would be helpful to the Iraqi people in ways that the international community has not been helpful until now.

And so it is that in the face of reports of increased suffering of the Iraqi people and continued intransigence of the Iraqi regime, some members of the U.S. Congress and NGOs, are searching for a way to maintain the sanctions while addressing the genuine needs of the Iraqi people. It is their stand that a people should not pay the price for the sins of the government, and that for far too long the world has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Iraqi people.

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