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Iraq: A Way Out?

Iraq: A Way Out?


Tony Blair is clearly aware that a solution to the crisis with Iraq is intricately tied up with the impasse in the Middle East and the plight of the Palestinians. That problem however is going to take time to resolve, and in the meantime the profound risks involved in an attack on Iraq need to be avoided. It is therefore worth examining the situation from the perspective of the needs and wishes of the key protagonists, because if these can be satisfied a way forward may become clear.

- President Bush needs to be able to head into the next election with Saddam Hussein removed from power.

- US oil interests want a figurehead government in Iraq, allowing them to pump 4-5 million barrels per day of Iraqi oil to Europe and North America; according to this plan Saudi oil will flow East to the Pacific. The Russians want the oil to flow (to repay debts) as do the French.

- The Pentagon wants a military victory in order for the US to be able to carry out anti al-Qaida operations without restrictions and to become the defining power in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

- European states like France, Germany and Italy, as well as countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, do not want the US to be able to use Iraq as a base to extend control throughout the Arabian peninsula, with inevitable political and economic consequences

- Saddam Hussein wants to survive and hold on to power.

- The Iraqi people, and there are few professionals or intelligentsia left, want food, medicine, dignity, to stay alive, and to regain control over their lives.

- Many of the Iraqi diaspora would like to return, but are rightly afraid to do so.

- OPEC members want to continue to negotiate prices for their oil.

A possible solution to these needs and wishes could lie in some version of the following. Saddam Hussein could be offered ‘retirement’, possibly outside Iraq in one of the countries so far mentioned such as Libya or Belarus.

He is being strongly pushed toward the exile option, but he is unlikely to accept it. What he might accept would be to retire with his family within Iraq, possibly to the vacation city 130km North of Baghdad known as Saddamiat Al-Tharthar, into which he has poured money and care.

This option would require adequate policing and security guarantees, possibly to be provided by the UN. Some form of indictments would be put in place to detain members of the current Iraqi regime guilty of human rights violations. Saddam himself would know that if he left his refuge or manipulated politics in Baghdad he would immediately be arrested and tried for war crimes.

Saddam Hussein’s ‘retirement’ would leave room for an interim government – possibly a protectorate or trusteeship that would build on the civil rights reforms already begun, namely to introduce a multi-party system and continue to abolish the laws restricting civil and political rights. [The Iraqi government has already reduced exit visa fees from $200 to $10, has abolished the ‘special courts’ on security violations, and has given amnesty to political prisoners. There are therefore foundations to build on.]

Under this arrangement sanctions and the Oil-for-Food programme would be removed, enabling ordinary Iraqis to get enough to eat and build up their infrastructure, especially medical services.

The Iraqi diaspora, consisting of hundreds of thousands of professionals, could return to Iraq with guarantees for their safety, possibly provided by an agreement whereby any violations of their security would entail the arrest of Saddam and the immediate sequestering of oil revenues.

Commercial arrangements for the export of Iraqi oil would return to a free market basis when an elected government was in place. In the meantime, negotiations with oil companies would be handled by the UN, in an extension of present arrangements.

OPEC could continue. Such a settlement would not include the establishment of US military bases in Iraq, but it would imply the final dismantling of any remaining CBW (Chemical and Biological Weapons), a residual UN inspection force, and a UN resolution making clear that any return to the development/deployment of WMD was strictly and would be enforcably prohibited.

There are two advantages for the European Union in offering a plan along these lines. It is not in the EU’s interest to have the US dominate access to and/or distribution of the oil reserves of the Gulf and Iraq, reserves so vast that even at double present extraction rates they will last for a century.

Second, the EU has up until now been relatively uninvolved and is thus perhaps an acceptable “honest broker” for negotiations given that the UN, the US and the UK are already so deeply mired in the conflict.

17th January 2003

This proposal is based on interviews in Baghdad with the Deputy Prime Minster, the Foreign Minister and the Oil Minister, followed by conversations with analysts in London and Washington. It is put forward by Dr Scilla Elworthy, director of the Oxford Research Group, established in 1982 to research decision making on weapons of mass destruction, and Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.

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