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A consensus for war

The US draft resolution that the United Nations Security Council passed on 8 November imposes impossible conditions on Iraq. 

Sukumar Muralidharan

ON 8 November, the United Nations Security Council capped a week of triumph for the United States administration by unanimously approving a tough new set of conditions for Iraq to comply with when weapons inspectors return to the country. Just over eight weeks had lapsed since President George Bush delivered his arrogant ultimatum to the UN, to either ‘act or face irrelevance’. And those eight weeks had seen the US draft resolution on Iraq hold the field virtually unchallenged. Russia and France had their alternative proposals ready. But neither was inclined to take the bit between the teeth and incur the displeasure of the US by formally introducing rival resolutions into the debate. The desperate holding action was effectively abandoned when Bush pulled off a completely unanticipated victory in the 3 November mid-term elections to the US Congress. Having converted the contest against a timorous and indecisive Democratic Party into a referendum on war, Bush overwhelmed the odds posed by a collapsing stock market, weakening welfare and an economy in recession, to notch up dramatic gains for the Republicans.

Illusory victory

Although the furrows on European brows got a little deeper, few governments chose to comment on the alarming prospect that the Bush administration would now be unrestrained by any other branch of government in pursuit of its hard-Right agenda. For France, the argument in the UN had been more about the US than Iraq. But with the war party in the US winning decisively, France and Russia effectively chose to quit the argument after declaring an illusory victory against the US’ unilateralist urge. For all the posturing by France and Russia, the final outcome was very much as the US had designed. The last two days of supposedly intensive negotiations involved all of two words. In one place, ‘or’ was replaced with ‘and’. In another, ‘restore’ made way for ‘secure’. These two changes make for a substantive difference in the French narration.

Paragraph 4 of the 5 November draft resolution stipulated that Iraq, already in ‘material breach’ of the Security Council resolutions, would be held in further violation if it failed to comply with the terms freshly imposed. The head of the weapons inspections team would report back to the Security Council in accordance with the stipulations of paragraph 11. Paragraph 12 then enjoined the Security Council to convene at the earliest to ‘consider the situation’ and deliberate on the means available to ensure ‘full compliance’ and ‘restore international peace and security’. In the 5 November draft, the US had put in the clause that the Security Council could consider the weapons inspectors’ report in terms of paragraphs 11 or 12. Effectively, this meant that any country could decide its future course of action on the basis of a report filed under paragraph 11, without waiting for the Security Council to ‘consider the situation’ as required by paragraph 12. This was not admissible for France, which insisted that any action in future should be premised upon both the inspectors’ report and Security Council deliberations. Thus, paragraphs 11 ‘or’ 12 in the 5 November draft became paragraphs 11 ‘and’ 12 in the 7 November version. And the requirement to ‘restore international peace and security’, which implied that Iraqi non-compliance constituted a breach of the peace, was transformed into the less definitive demand that the Security Council should act to ‘secure’ these ends. With these changes, agreement was sealed among the permanent five of the Security Council by 7 November. The rotating members then had little incentive to hold out. At least four among them - Mauritius, Mexico, Ireland and Cameroon - had been following the French lead, while Syria was firmly opposed to a fresh resolution to govern the renewed arms inspections. The dissenters within the Security Council were won over through a variety of stratagems. Mauritius, for instance, was compelled abruptly to withdraw its envoy to the UN for being less than effusive about the US draft resolution. As a recipient of aid under the US’ African Growth and Opportunity Act, Mauritius is obliged not to ‘engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests’ if it values the sustenance afforded by this source.

Volte face

On 7 November, Syria was the only holdout, though an important one since it was seen as the voice of the Arab world in the Security Council. Eager to close out the issue, the US chose to put the matter to vote the next day, while working on more acquiescent states in the Arab world to bring Syria around. The only element of surprise in the 8 November vote was that 15 hands went up in assent, rather than 14.

Explaining the overnight volte face, the Syrian envoy emphasised his country’s ‘concern to achieve international unanimity in commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and the resolutions of international legitimacy, be they regarding Iraq, the Palestinian cause or the Arab-Israeli conflict’. He did not clarify whether his government had received assurances of future Israeli compliance with UN resolutions or of the US’ determination to use force to ensure that the will of the ‘global community’ was respected in Palestine. But he did offer the rather lame alibi that Syria had, ‘through high-level contacts’, reassured itself that the resolution ‘would not be used as a pretext to strike Iraq, and does not constitute a basis for any automatic strikes against’ that country. In remarks just preceding, John D. Negroponte, the US Ambassador to the UN, had partly gone along with this fiction. The resolution, he conceded, contained no ‘hidden triggers’ or ‘automaticity’ with respect to military action. A further Iraqi breach would be reported to the Security Council for appropriate action. But, if this were not forthcoming, then there was nothing in the resolution to ‘constrain any member from acting to defend itself against the threats posed by Iraq, or to enforce relevant UN resolutions and protect world peace and security’.

The British envoy was only a little less definitive. An Iraqi violation, he said, would definitely come back to the Security Council for consideration. But then the Security Council would have to ‘meet its responsibilities’ or, in other words, authorise the use of force. Russia saw merit in the resolution having reaffirmed the principle that all UN objectives would be met through peaceful means. It also demanded that UN members respect ‘the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq and all other states in the region’. And for France, the best part of the resolution was that it maintained the Security Council’s ‘control of the process at each stage’.

Inevitable confrontation

However, the provisions of the resolution are of a character that makes confrontation inevitable. It holds that Iraq ‘has been and is in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991)’. Since this is the resolution decreeing the ceasefire in the Gulf war, there is a clear intent to resume hostilities in the reading that Iraq ‘has been and is’ in breach of its terms. Resolution 1441 of November now lays down a tight schedule of commitments for Iraq to meet and threatens massive retaliation at virtually every stage. Iraq’s acceptance of the new terms is called for within a week of the adoption of the resolution. Thirty days on, it is required to submit ‘a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material’. As Phyllis Bennis of the Institute of Policy Studies, Washington, points out, this paragraph is quite clearly ‘an effort to ensure Iraq’s inability - regardless of intent - to comply’. It extends the inspections regime to sectors and areas that were not covered in Resolution 687, such as ‘unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft’. It is also applicable to all ballistic missiles, rather than missiles with a range of 150 km or above as mentioned in Resolution 687. Resolution 1441 then decides that ‘false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq... shall constitute a further material breach’. There is no clarity here on the standard of reference for determining between truth and falsehood. Iraq has for long been insisting that it does not have the vast programme for the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that the US and the United Kingdom have been accusing it of. It is unlikely to recant in the near future. Besides, the resolution conceives of disclosures across a broad range and threatens to punish ‘omissions’. Since every paint, pesticide and vaccine factory, metalworking establishments of all varieties, and any facility handling radiological material and equipment is potentially covered by this resolution, it is easy to engineer a situation where Iraq would be accused of ‘omission’. Iraq is required to provide the weapons inspectors ‘immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all’ buildings or facilities. The earlier terms of conditional access, prescribed for presidential sites, have been removed. The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would now be empowered to arrive without prior warning at any site in Iraq and demand that it be opened up for inspections. They would have the right to interview any person within Iraq at any location of their choice, possibly even outside the country. The security of the inspections teams under Resolution 1441 would be ensured by a ‘sufficient number of UN security guards’. UNMOVIC and IAEA would have, ‘for the purposes of freezing a site to be inspected’, the right to declare ‘no-fly/no-drive zones, exclusion zones, and/or ground and air transit corridors’. They would also have the right to the ‘free and unrestricted use and landing of fixed and rotary-winged aircraft, including manned and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles’. An earlier draft included a provision for any member state of the UN to provide troops to enforce ‘no-fly/no-drive’ zones. But even in its present shape, the resolution perilously blurs the distinction between inspection and armed occupation. As Bennis points out, the UN inspection agencies could use these clauses to ‘control potentially huge swathes of Iraqi territory’. The concept of a ‘no-fly zone’ itself reflects the ‘US history of taking control of large parts of Iraqi air space, and consequently Iraqi land, through the unilateral creation of no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq’. This was never authorised by the UN and has always been held to be a gross breach of its resolutions on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. Resolution 1441 now puts the multilateral imprimatur on the US’ persistent defiance of the UN.

Iraqi reaction

There was little likelihood that Iraq would refuse to play by the new rules crafted by the UN. Just days after gaining UN assent for its resolution, the US administration was carefully scripting a series of media leaks about its war plans. The initial phase of the war would involve the insertion of about 80,000 troops, said the ‘highly placed sources’ in the US Defence Department. They would enter after about 10 days of intensive aerial bombing and seize certain strategic enclaves. The larger invasion force of 250,000 would then begin gathering for the push towards Baghdad. Eagerly joining the war frenzy, the UK announced the mobilisation of 15,000 soldiers for swift deployment in the theatre of operations.

Condemned to face a massive military assault either way, the Iraqi government chose to play for time and seek every opportunity to avert further human suffering. But it was not going down without a fight. Summoned into session by President Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi National Parliament on 11 November condemned the terms of Resolution 1441 and voted unanimously to reject it.

Significantly, Odei Saddam Hussein, the son of the President and one of the weighty figures within Parliament, urged the acceptance of the resolution, with the proviso that officials and citizens from neighbouring Arab countries be invited to oversee the conduct of the weapons inspection teams. Hesitant gestures of support from the Arab League - a collective promise that it would not be a silent witness to the abuse of the inspections process as in the past - were meanwhile issued from an emergency meeting of the Foreign Ministers of its member countries in Cairo.

On 13 November, in a severely worded letter that was a stinging rebuke to the conduct of the UN, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri conveyed his country’s acceptance of Resolution 1441. ‘You may recall the huge clamour fabricated by the President of the United States’, ‘supported in malicious intent... by his lackey Tony Blair’, spreading the ‘wicked slander’ about Iraq’s WMD programme, said Sabri. ‘They both know, as well as we do, and so do other countries, that such fabrications are baseless,’ he continued. But unfortunately, there was no ‘good to be hoped for’ from the US administrations, which had been transformed ‘by their own greed, by Zionism as well as by other known factors, into the tyrant of the age’.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister condemned the members of the Security Council for failing to incorporate into the resolution any reference to the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq. He referred to the manner in which the earlier UN weapons inspections mission had been converted into an espionage operation on behalf of the US, reprising a theme that was virtually endorsed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999 and reported widely by the US media, though now dismissed as allegation when it is mentioned at all. He said that the Iraqi government nevertheless ‘would deal with Resolution 1441, despite its bad contents’, since the main aim was to ‘spare our people any harm’. ‘We are eager,’ he said, ‘to see the [weapons inspectors] perform their duties in accordance with the international law as soon as possible.’ He continued: ‘If they do so, professionally and lawfully, without any premeditated intentions, then the liar’s lies will be exposed... It will then become the duty of the Security Council to lift the blockade and all other unjust sanctions on Iraq.’

Depending upon the conduct of the weapons inspections teams led by Hans Blix, designated Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, the US could in the next few months confront a number of choices. Will it wait for UNMOVIC to certify a material breach before going to war, or will it rely on its own, possibly contrary, information inputs? Will it seek to coax and cajole UNMOVIC into giving it the kind of reports it wants to hear, as it did with its predecessor body UNSCOM and its egregious chairman Richard Butler? Or will it just decide that its own determinations of fact enjoy precedence? Finally, will it feel compelled to seek UN authorisation for war, or will it, as it says now, go it alone if necessary?

Blix himself flew to Washington for an intensive debriefing by the leading hawks in the US administration, including Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. He was urged to consider changing the composition of his team by taking on board more US nationals. Blix reportedly declined, arguing that his team of near-50 disarmament experts had been assembled from a cross-section of countries to ensure its credibility and already gone through intensive training about operating in the Iraqi environment. In remarks to the media shortly after the Resolution 1441 was adopted, Blix rejected any possibility that UNMOVIC would be used for espionage. Any inspector found wearing ‘two hats’, he said, would promptly be ejected from his team. In a memorandum detailing his observations on the US draft resolution, he had recorded the following comment on the clause guaranteeing access to all sites within Iraq: ‘The provision... touches upon some of the most sensitive and difficult parts of our future activities. Access to sites is vital, but it must be coupled with information about what sites may be relevant. We have much information ourselves.... However, this information needs to be supplemented from Member States’ intelligence... The providers of such information can legitimately require that we be organised and operate in such a fashion that there are no leakages and that no sources are endangered. They cannot, however, expect us to conform to a common two-way pattern of exchange. We are not engaged in some quid pro quo activities.’

It remains to be seen if Blix can stick to this resolve and resist US demands that Iraqi disarmament be held up to impossibly high standards. However, the possible uses that the US could make of intelligence received from the ground were chillingly illustrated by the 3 November missile strike in Yemen to assassinate six men. The Yemeni government has maintained an enigmatic silence about its own inputs into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation, carried out using an unmanned aerial vehicle or ‘drone’. But human rights groups and most Arab governments are convinced that the operation was a gross violation of international law, a most unwelcome transfer to another operational theatre, of the ‘targeted assassination’ policies that Israeli occupation forces have been using on Palestinians, with little regard for civilian casualties.

UNMOVIC’s choice

All the ingredients are there in the UN resolution. The weapons inspectors on the ground with intrusive powers to tread into the sovereign domain of the Iraqi state, the provision for manned and unmanned aerial vehicles to aid them in their mission, and the possibility of injecting armed troops into the country, ostensibly to protect the inspectors. The intent clearly exists in Washington, where Bush has already authorised the assassination of Saddam Hussein by US forces in ‘self-defence’, and his official spokesperson has, with all the finesse of the gangster, spoken of resolving the Iraq problem with ‘one bullet’. All that is lacking in this picture is an accurate assessment of the intent of UNMOVIC and the IAEA. If they are true to their mission, they should, within the mandated period ending 23 February next year, provide a road map towards the lifting of sanctions on Iraq. If they are to persist in being an instrument of the design jointly scripted by the US and Israel, then they will continue with the prevarication and the dissembling of earlier inspection teams. The choice facing UNMOVIC is quite simple: to either be true to its mission or to compromise its own legitimacy by being an accessory to the US plans for an illegitimate and grossly unjust war.

Bush’s triumphal romp was rather rudely halted when Al Jazeera, the Arab news channel based in Qatar, broadcast a tape purporting to be in the voice of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. After running numerous tests, US intelligence certified the tape as authentic. Breaking out of his lockstep march with the administration, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle questioned whether the ‘war on terror’ was really going anywhere. And, in an informal appearance before a Washington advocacy group, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, General Richard Myers, conceded that the situation in Afghanistan, a whole year after the fall of the Taliban, was rapidly slipping out of control.

Meanwhile, the hazards of the kind of prolonged occupation that the US envisages in Iraq were highlighted by an attack on an illegal Jewish settlement in the Palestinian town of Hebron. The thuggish Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, locked in a bitter tussle for leadership of the Likud Party with the urbane but no less truculent Benjamin Netanyahu, responded the only way he knows, by sending in the heavy armour and the helicopter gunships. The greater the effort by the US to get the Arab world onside for its assault on Iraq, the more difficult the obstacles posed by Israel’s continuing brutalisation of the Palestinian people. If, as the chicken hawks in the US would have it, force is the only viable arbiter in the situation, then the West Asian region, and the world as a whole, could be on the verge of a firestorm that could engulf all.     

The above article is reproduced from Frontline (Vol. 19, No. 24, December 6, 2002) with the kind permission of its editors.

Sukumar Muralidharan is Frontline’s Chief of Bureau, New Delhi.

 


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