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David Miller: The Bombing of Iraq

The Bombing of Iraq, Why the US and Britain Persist With This Policy.

It was interesting to see that the New Zealand government has criticised the United States and Britain for their renewed air offensive over the skies of Iraq, with Disarmament Minister Matt Robson labelling them an “arrogant use of power”. The government has questioned the military action of the two allies claiming that this latest round of bombing will only serve to strengthen the cause of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by allowing him to further gather sympathy throughout the world for his country. The government also maintains that Saddam will use the air strikes in his bid to have the sanctions lifted, pointing to the continued suffering of his people. This synopsis is correct, but given the position the US and Britain have put themselves in since the end of Desert Storm, what other course of action is open to them with an enemy who they defeated on the battlefield but have far from vanquished?

The United States and Britain are in a difficult position when dealing with Iraq to say the least. First, the sanctions over which they launch their bombers have failed to remove Saddam from power ten years after the Liberation of Kuwait. They have failed to prevent United Nations weapons inspectors from being allowed to return to the country and oversee the decommissioning of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme and they have become an issue of debate as to whether they are humanitarian and effective as a tool in foreign policy. While the US and Britain have no doubt addressed both sides to this debate they have nevertheless made it their policy to enforce the sanctions through military means if necessary and this has led to them becoming increasingly isolated over their actions.

The bombing raids at the weekend have led a to a worldwide chorus of criticism. As with actions in the past, Russia and China immediately spoke out against the strikes, claiming they undermine stability in the region as did several Middle East states. However this time the concern from within NATO Europe appeared to be somewhat louder than before. France complained that it had still not received an explanation for Operation Desert Fox two years ago and the governments of Turkey, from which the planes where launched and Spain complained about the lack of consultation.

Wellington, for its part, claimed that the bombing undermined world peace initiatives and efforts to get the decade long sanctions against Iraq lifted. Mr Robson said that undermining the efforts for sanctions lifting is what is motivating the US and that Washington aims to create a climate in which it is easier to establish the controversial National Missile Defence programme, also known as Star Wars.

The debate over the sanctions stems from the effects they have had on the civilian population. While they where put in place to punish Saddam it is the citizens of Iraq that have suffered instead, and the result has been a humanitarian crisis. UNICEF has reported that Iraqi infant mortality rates have doubled over the past decade and Denis Halladay, a former assistant UN secretary general has labelled them as being ‘genocide’.

This statement is rather extreme and lays the blame for the situation in Iraq squarely with the allies and the UN. The US and Britain maintain that the Iraqi regime has manipulated the effects of the crisis for its own survival and has little concern for the plight of its people except when trying to gain international support for its position. There is the charge that Iraq only accepted the oil-for-food program in 1997, six years after the policy was established by the United Nations. By this stage the humanitarian crisis had reached its worst levels. Iraq also insisted on receiving all revenue payments in euros rather than dollars and while making a political statement about the dollar cost itself several hundred million dollars in the process.

So what is the answer to this particular Middle East stalemate? This is a question that must be answered by the New Zealand government if it is to come out and support the lifting of sanctions. Mr Robson is correct in saying that the bombing jeopardises the search for a solution, however perhaps he could make it clear as to what kind of solution the government favours. If this is done then maybe there can be progress made towards resolution.

In the meantime, the future course for this ongoing tension over Iraq will continue to be characterised by stalemate and contradiction. Economic sanctions are useful for bringing a regime to the negotiating table, as was the case with former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic but they do not work as an ambitious foreign policy tool such as toppling a regime and they have clearly failed in this case.

However the fact of the matter is that there will be no resolution to this ongoing situation or lifting of sanctions without a dramatic reversal of policy by Washington and London. The fall of Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi presidency or at very least his full compliance with the UN would precipitate this and put an end to allied air operations, but this is not likely to happen. It would become a glaring defeat for the Iraqi leader to accept this course of action and the allies will not back down as they do not wish to show that their policies where flawed and that Saddam has triumphed over them. As neither is likely to happen in the immediate future, the sanctions and bombing will therefore continue, as in lieu of a withdrawal this remains the only path open to Britain and the US in their increasingly difficult position.

Footnote. New Zealand has a Disarmament Minister, but could someone please email and remind me just what we own that could be possibly be disarmed?

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