This month marks the 10th anniversary of U.N. sanctions against Iraq -- the longest and most severe economic boycott in modern history.
Despite a massive oil-for-food relief program, U.N. agencies acknowledge the sanctions, which went into effect on Aug. 6, 1990, have contributed to a humanitarian disaster in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have died prematurely.
The recalcitrance of the Iraqi regime regarding arms inspection and the absence of compromise within the U.N. Security Council -- especially by the United States -- have produced a political stalemate. The result is a brutal ordeal for innocent Iraqis with no end in sight.
Iraqi women try to get medicines at a hospital in Baghdad August 2, 2000. Iraq marked the tenth anniversary of its invasion of Kuwait on Wednesday with defiant rhetoric despite difficult economic situation caused UN trade sanctions. (Faleh Kheiber/Reuters) .
The United States now finds itself isolated in its policy toward Iraq. Even Great Britain has recently urged Washington to ease sanctions. There is growing support in the Security Council for suspending the general trade sanctions while maintaining a strict embargo on weapons and military technology.
There are two compelling arguments that should motivate U.S. support for this approach.
First, by lifting the civilian trade sanctions, the United Nations could concentrate on the arms embargo that has been instrumental in degrading Iraq's war-making capacity. Prior to their ejection from Iraq in December 1998, U.N. weapons inspectors were successful in locating and dismantling most of Iraq's nuclear, ballistic missile and chemical-weapons capabilities.
The U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, UNSCOM, certified in 1997 that ``there are no indications that any weapon-usable nuclear materials remain in Iraq'' and ``no evidence in Iraq of prohibited materials, equipment or activities.'' The arms embargo part of U.N. sanctions has blocked imports of military equipment. As a result, the Iraqi armed forces suffer from ``decaying, obsolete or obsolescent major weapons,'' according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
These gains could be preserved through a policy that focuses on blocking military-related shipments while permitting the controlled recovery of Iraq's civilian economy. But these inspections can't be carried out as long as economic sanctions remain in place, since Saddam Hussein has no incentive to cooperate.
Second, a policy that leads to the death of hundreds of thousands of children is morally unacceptable. The human costs of the general trade sanctions have far exceeded any political gains. From Patrick Buchanan to Rosie O'Donnell, Americans have expressed outrage about the Iraq sanctions.
Lifting civilian sanctions while maintaining a vigorous arms embargo is a humanitarian imperative, but it also makes sense politically and diplomatically. Such a policy would recognize the progress that the United Nations achieved in Iraq, and it could be offered as an incentive to encourage less hostile relations between Iraq and the rest of the world.
The stakes are huge, not only for the people of Iraq, but for the U.S. leadership position within the United Nations. Sanctions against Iraq have eroded international support for the United Nations and the United States. If we act now to lift civilian trade sanctions while maintaining an arms embargo, it would relieve the United Nations of responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
It also would bolster the legitimate commitment of the United Nations to peace and security in the Gulf region and beyond. Economic sanctions have taken a terrible toll. They must be lifted now.
Cortright and Lopez are authors of ``The Sanctions Decade: Assessing U.N. Strategies in the 1990s.'' The authors can be reached at the Progressive Media Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison WI 53703. Distributed for the project by KRT News Service.
© 2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press