Showdown with Iraq: War isn’t the only solution

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

Published by The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario)

While it’s possible to win the battle only to lose the war, it is also possible to win the war only to lose the peace. It happened in Iraq 12 years ago and could again.

We, meaning the U.S.-led coalition that included Canada, won the war against Iraq in 1991. Iraq’s aggression on Kuwait was reversed and the regime of Saddam Hussein was forced into a commitment to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction.

But the peace was lost when, in the process, tens of thousands of soldiers and several thousand civilians were killed, when the destroyed infrastructure and subsequent economic sanctions contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more, especially children, in the months and years to follow, and when the fundamental problem of Iraq remained.

Now Washington wants to fight another war to fix the Iraq problem – that problem being a still tyrannous regime that is not yet in verifiable compliance with its obligations related to weapons of mass destruction.

A number of credible studies, including a recently leaked United Nations report, warn us that in the event of such a war, we should expect similar results – many thousands of lives lost, physical and environmental destruction, widespread hunger, resources wasted, some hatreds retrenched and extremism re-energized, and the fundamental problem of Iraq unresolved.

War won’t solve the problem of Iraq for the same reasons that the simple avoidance of war won’t. Peace is more than the absence of war and thus the status quo in Iraq, even without further war, does not constitute peace and should not be accepted.

At a minimum, the Security Council’s critically important effort to secure Iraq’s permanent and verifiable disavowal of weapons of mass destruction, must succeed.

But the prospects for such success being sustained cannot be separated from two other important efforts – genuine progress toward accountable governance in Iraq (call it regime change if you like) and toward the establishment of the Middle East as a region free of all weapons of mass destruction.

Accountable governance is linked to Iraqi disarmament in the sense that any government of Iraq will be much more likely to permanently forego the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction when it is accountable to its own people, and when they in turn have the means to define and mandate alternative national priorities. There are no guarantees, but it is unlikely that Iraqis, if they were free to choose, would continue to support a nuclear weapons program that only earned them devastating sanctions and permanent pariah status.

“For many decades now, Western policy has undermined the pursuit of democracy and human rights in Iraq”

Rule of law that honours the will and the rights of the people, and that is built on an empowered population, is thus key to the reliable rejection of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq.

Yet, for many decades now, Western policy has undermined the pursuit of democracy and human rights in Iraq, relentlessly disempowering the very people on whom constructive change depends. The West’s active military and political support for the regime of Saddam Hussein until 1990, as well as comprehensive economic sanctions since then, has left the regime strengthened and enriched and the people demeaned and impoverished.

Progress toward a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction has already been emphasized by the Security Council as a critical element of creating a context conducive to successful and sustainable Iraqi disarmament. The key resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm (Resolution 687 of 1991, and Resolution 1441 of 2002) place the demands on Iraq into the context of efforts to establish the Middle East as a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. As long as Israel and Iran possess or pursue nuclear weapons, Iraq’s interest in pursuing the same capacity is likely to remain.

Thus, while there is no quick fix, no miracle cure, to the problem of Iraq, the basic outline of long-term international action to reject both a destructive war and a destructive status quo has been widely articulated. It includes at least five broad elements.

  • Persistence in the strategy of containment, that is, preventing Iraq’s further acquisition and/or retention of weapons of mass destruction by means of internationally mandated inspections and ongoing monitoring, is essential. The UN inspectors must be allowed to do their work.
  • Iraqis must be supported in their efforts to claim their rights and governance prerogatives, through the lifting of the punishing sanctions and through active diplomatic and political engagement in support of human rights and accountable governance, including material support for Iraqi civil society internally and in exile.
  • The international community must engage in reinvigorated diplomacy toward establishing the entire Middle East as a region free of all weapons of mass destruction.

Security Council 687 on Iraq specifically calls for a regional dialogue on the issue, and countries like Canada, Norway and Jordan, all members of a small group of states known as the Human Security Network, should see that such a dialogue is initiated.

  • Reinvigorated diplomatic attention by and with the states of the region to address outstanding issues, notably the Israel/Palestine conflict, as well as other issues such as the still unresolved Iraq/Kuwait border question, is also essential. Indeed, such diplomacy should take place in the context of proposals for region-wide approaches to security and cooperation in the Middle East.
  • And then there is a need to explore legal/judicial or other measures (such as truth-and-reconciliation-style processes) to deal with accusations of crimes against humanity.

It bears repeating, there is no quick fix, military or diplomatic, to the tragedy that has been decades in the making in modern Iraq. It has become a place of extraordinary hardship, and neither war nor avoiding war will change that in the short-run.

The road to genuine transformation is inevitably slow and troubled, and it is the responsibility of the international community to accompany Iraqis down that difficult road to durable peace, not with more bombs and cruise missiles, but with moral, political and material support.

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