War and Peace in Iraq

Tasneem Jamal

A sign-on statement opposing war on Iraq occupied this space from early this year until the end of April. The statement received extraordinary levels of support – more than 40,000 individuals and more than 370 community groups, congregations, and parishes representing tens of thousands more Canadians formally endorsed the statement.

In rejecting the resort to war, the statement did not claim that easy solutions were available. “We know,” the signatories said, “that simply avoiding war will not solve the fundamental problems of Iraq.… Peace and justice require more than the absence of war.” The statement went on to say that “the tragedy of Iraq has been decades in the making,” and that whether or not war could be averted, “the road to genuine transformation will be slow and troubled.” The statement was clear on the international community’s responsibility: “to accompany the people of Iraq, not with more bombs and missiles, but with moral, political, and material support.”

Yet, for the better part of four weeks, bombs and missiles did greet the people of Iraq. As wars go these days, this has not been a long one, though it is certainly not over. Unexploded cluster bombs and landmines still lie in wait, and they will not discriminate among their victims. The uncounted thousands of small arms that were dispersed among the population during the war will continue their deadly work among Iraqi society for many years to come. The physical rebuilding will soon begin, but the psychological and social recovery will take longer – now pursued without the benefit of significant elements and artefacts of Iraq’s extraordinary heritage.

Political rebuilding can now also resume. The war on Iraq did not produce regime change. It produced regime demolition, and constructive, sustainable, change is not the automatic consequence. Our statement said that war can not deliver a sustainable movement towards democracy – a point echoed just recently by US Secretary of State Powell in comments about Syria. Now, as we hope that Iraq is truly moving into a post-war era, we see that the requirements for sustainable change are much the same as they were before the war.

The now deposed regime in Iraq presents enormous challenges to the international community. Not only in Iraq, but wherever people suffer extraordinary human rights abuses, the world faces the question of how to meet its responsibility to come to the aid and protection of the vulnerable. And not only in Iraq, but wherever States violate their commitments and international covenants against the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, we face the question of how the world can effectively assure compliance with treaty obligations and global norms and standards – and through such compliance protect the vulnerable from the threat of nuclear, chemical, or biological attacks.

Now that the CNN phase of this war has run its course, we are no closer to answering those questions. All of the pre-war challenges remain and must now be addressed amidst the rubble and ashes that remain – the rubble and ashes of war, but also of decades of misrule carried out for the most part with the active connivance of those who now preach liberation.

1. Iraq will still need to be contained.

To the extent that regime demolition was linked to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it was pursued under the mistaken assumption that Iraq’s pursuit of such weapons had no strategic rationale and was simply the product of malevolence. But even a cursory look at the strategic environment that any post-war Iraqi regime will face – notably, that two of its traditional adversaries will still be in possession or pursuit of nuclear weapons (Israel and Iran respectively) – suggests that it will not be a surprise to find that any new regime will be tempted to believe that its security would be enhanced if it could acquire a credible deterrent to the weapons of mass destruction of its neighbours.

2. UN inspections are still needed.

No matter how friendly a new regime may be to Washington, the rest of the world will still need UN inspectors to provide credible assurance that all weapons of mass destruction programs are fully dismantled and will not again be pursued. Iraq is still a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and obliged to show that it is in compliance with the Treaty (a task the inspectors were carrying out with increasing assurance when they were forced out by war). During that war, American forces reportedly broke seals at the UN-inspected Tuwaitha nuclear research centre. IAEA chief inspector El Baradei reminded Washington that “until our inspectors return to Iraq, the US has responsibility for maintaining security at this important storage facility. As soons as circumstances permit, the IAEA should return to verify that there have been no diversions of this material” (“No new signs of Iraqi nuclear program, UN says,” Globe and Mail, Apr. 11, 2003).

3. Regional disarmament will still be an urgent requirement.

The sustainable, long-term rejection of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq, or any other state in the region with the capacity to pursue them, will still depend on the removal of weapons of mass destruction from all states in the region, as the UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq have repeatedly insisted. Iran and Iraq will have to confirm their full compliance with the Treaty, and Israel will have to join the Treaty, dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and open its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspectors.

4. The United States will also have to address some compliance issues.

The degree to which the United States and other nuclear weapon states are in compliance with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a matter of active debate. That Article commits them to complete nuclear disarmament, albeit without reference to any timeline or deadline. The US and other nuclear weapon states point to the progress made in reducing arsenals since the end of the Cold War; most of the rest of the world points to the thousands that still remain and to American and NATO pledges in particular that insist they plan to retain such weapons indefinitely.

In addition, nuclear weapon states are obliged to offer formal security assurances to non-nuclear signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that they will neither use nor threaten to use nuclear weapons against them (the point being that nuclear weapons are to be confined to deterring nuclear weapon use by other nuclear weapon states). In spite of that obligation, the US Nuclear Posture Review and subsequent National Security Strategy            have both indicated that US nuclear weapons planning includes retaining the options to use and threaten to use such weapons against non-nuclear weapon states in particular circumstances. The US has a UN Security Council-mandated obligation to formally disavow such nuclear options.

5. Iraq’s military build-up will still need to be constrained.

There is a very real danger that when UN sanctions against Iraq are lifted, the former oil-for-food program will become in effect an oil-for-arms program (which in turn will reinforce the insecurities of its neighbours and their interest in retaining or acquiring weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent). Iraq’s military capacity is but a shadow of what it was in 1990, when Iraq was on friendly terms with the US. The possibility, even probability, now returns that there will be a major focus on rebuilding Iraq’s military capacity, particularly if a reasonably stable regime emerges that stays friendly to the US. That would be a dangerous development in an over-armed and conflict-ridden region and would go against the intent of UN resolutions calling for the region to become free of all weapons of mass destruction in the context of significant conventional disarmament. Rather than the re-arming of Iraq, the region requires other states to make systematic reductions of their own military forces and expenditures.

6. Iraqi civil society still needs to be empowered.

Respect for human rights and accountable governance in a post-war Iraq will still depend on the active engagement and empowerment of Iraqi civil society. Active material support is needed for education and training, the promotion of human rights and democracy, and facilitating Iraqi participation in international civil society networks focussed on a range of human security issues – in addition to human rights, environmental protection, disarmament, and so on. Such support needs to be made available in the knowledge that the Saddam regime was actively hostile to the development of independent civil society organizations and that for the majority of its existence such repression was carried out with American and Western support. Indeed, the Opendemocracy web site calls for a policy of “atonement” – that is, a formal apology to the Iraq people for the West’s long-term support of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

7. Regional security.

Diplomatic efforts involving states of the region will still be needed to address outstanding conflict issues, notably the Israel/Palestine conflict. And specific conflict issues will still be best pursued in the context of region-wide talks on security and cooperation in the Middle East.

8. Crimes against humanity.

The vexatious questions of how to deal with accusations of crimes against humanity, violations of international humanitarian law, and the illegal resort to war will all still need the active attention of the international community.

All these issues were tagged in our pre-war statement as requiring urgent attention, and were identified as issues that would not be resolved by war. War was nevertheless chosen, and the result is a situation that is both radically changed and disturbingly unchanged. An outlaw regime has been deposed, but it has been deposed by an unauthorized, unlawful attack that raises serious long-term questions about respect for international law and the United Nations, the global institution that is the primary custodian of a rules-based international order. The war produced new opportunities for the people of Iraq, but also robbed them of  life and material resources and many of the material manifestations of their extraordinary human heritage.

The war leaves the people of Iraq with many of the same challenges they faced before the war. Now the international community must show that its commitment to Iraq extends beyond regime demolition to sustainable change that has the safety and well-being of the people of Iraq at its core. 

Spread the Word