- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

The suffering of the Iraqi people is indisputable, as described for instance by this newspaper's Betsy Pisik in her recent report from inside Iraq. Where Iraq has previously been a closed land to reporters, a few are now being allowed to witness the hardships of the Iraqi population first-hand.
Even Scott Ritter, the former U.S. arms inspection team member, now argues for the lifting of sanctions. Interestingly enough, though, the Iraqi regime remains so intent on controlling contact with outsiders that it will not allow independent experts to report to the United Nations this according to a statements by Secretary General Kofi Annan to the U.N. Security Council on Monday. Even those who want to help Iraq are finding it a tough case. Well, that hardly comes as a surprise.
The question is whether removing U.N. sanctions would ease that suffering or simply allow Saddam Hussein a more aggressive pursuit of Iraq's programs of weapons of mass destruction. Richard Butler, former head of the U.N. inspections team in Iraq (UNSCOM), is in no doubt at all, as he told me last week at the American Enterprise Institute. "People who think lifting sanctions will make any dramatic change for the Iraqi population will soon be very disappointed, I think." In Mr. Butler's well-informed view, Saddam wants to be recognized as chief protector of the Arab world against perceived threats from Persians and Jews that would be Iran and Israel to the rest of us.
Mr. Butler is now a fellow in residence at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and was in town last week to promote his new book, "The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Crisis of Global Security." On this topic he speaks with commanding authority, having been in charge of weapons inspections in Iraq from 1997-99. Being quite a blunt sort of fellow, Mr. Butler's account of dealing with Iraq and the U.N. Security Council (which seems almost as intractable at times) is deeply worrying. Not only does Mr. Butler foresee a strongly armed Iraq emerging, but he also describes a U.N. Security Council that is in crisis.
The main topic of Mr. Butler's talk was the disintegration of the UNSCOM inspections regime. By the middle of 1998, it had become clear that circumstances had changed; Russia had broken the Security Council consensus, and public opinion on sanctions had changed. Whereas sanctions had originally been linked to Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections, this principle had somehow ceased to apply.
At that time, Mr. Butler put together a list of the necessary items Iraq would show it had destroyed and materials it must account for. The countries who had broken ranks with Security Council consensus, Russia, China and France, were not happy about this. In fact, then-Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had asked Mr. Butler to lower the bar for Iraq, which he refused to do. He had also been asked by Mr. Annan himself, but told him, "It might look easier now, but your United Nations would look very foolish if we declared Iraq disarmed and they then fired a missile at someone 12 months later."
When the Iraqis were presented with the list, Prime Minister Tariq Aziz took the list and told the team to come back in August, six weeks later. When the UNSCOM team did so, nothing had changed, however; the same old deceit and cheating had occurred. As Mr. Butler expressed his disappointment to Mr. Aziz, he simply replied, "Iraq is disarmed. There is no more that we can or need give you … You, Mr. Butler, will return to New York and tell the Security Council that 'Iraq is disarmed. This is on your conscience.' " Mr. Butler, of course refused, but thanked the Iraqi for his concern about the state of his conscience.
That was Aug. 3, 1998, and it was the effective end of arms inspections in Iraq, though that fall saw a rather humiliating aftermath, which finally culminated in the Dec. 16 bombing of Iraq by the British and Americans.
Why were the Iraqis able to get away with their brazenness? "Because something terrible had happened in the U.N. Security Council," Mr. Butler said, pointing particularly at Russia, but to some extent also at France and China. "The enforcement of the law here, had itself walked out on the job." Whenever Iraq misbehaved, as many as three members would stand up and defend it. Mr. Butler has some particularly bitter words for the French. In November 1998, yet another attempt was made to bring the Iraqis back into compliance. "The council that night gave me the job of reporting subsequently whether Iraq had kept its promise," Mr. Butler said. Which if course it had not. Pressure was applied by the French U.N. ambassador, and when Mr. Butler declined to change his mind, "He then told Paris that I had been wicked and had inadequately consulted with my staff. That was the French position."
The crisis in the Security Council, so Mr. Butler believes, can only really be solved when Russia realizes that it is not in its interest to continue to oppose the United States. In his book, "The Greatest Threat," he proposes a "solution from within" to re-establish the working relationship between the council's members, and end to the client-itis that has made Russia protect Iraq. This will depend on the United States making it a top priority of U.S. foreign policy. "This should be an important part of the relationship with the United States," he says.
And where is Saddam now? He is still seeking to acquire long-range missile capability, he has recalled his nuclear weapons design team, and his chemical and biological factories are being rebuilt. He clearly has no problem keeping his people at starvation levels if that is what it takes.

Email:bering@washtimes.com.

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