Baghdad's brutality backfires on regime

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The Independent Online
The disclosure by the Independent of a mass campaign, to punish draft-evaders, deserters and petty thieves by cutting off their hands and ears, is likely to undermine Baghdad's case for the lifting of UN sanctions..

The crunch for Iraq will come later this year as France and Russia argue in the UN Security Council that the embargo can no longer be justified.

Earlier this week, the US was able to rebuff an attempt to relax sanctions, imposed in 1990 at the start of the Gulf crisis, on the grounds that Iraq recognised its new border with Kuwait.

"Hundreds of people may have been mutilated but 18 million people are suffering from sanctions," said one Iraqi, who called himself Mr Hassan. "I am very upset by the repercussions of the story because people in Baghdad have nothing to eat. Why don't we read about people who have their hands cut off in Saudi Arabia?"

Emma Nicholson, Conservative MP for Devon West and Torridge, a campaigner for human rights in Iraq, said that in the south of the country the regime was singling out Shia Muslims who had committed no offence. "The branding on the forehead defines them assecond-class citizens," she said, linking the stepping up of oppression with efforts by Baghdad to send Shias to provinces in the south. She added that modified sanctions, would be difficult to enforce, because President Saddam Hussein controls the supply system.

After moving 60,000 troops to just north of Kuwait last October, the Iraqis first withdrew them and then, under pressure from Russia and France, recognised the new border which includes territory previously under the control of Baghdad.

Amid reports from Iraq of mass impoverishment as the official ration is cut by half, there is growing pressure in the UN Security Council at least to modify sanctions on the grounds that Baghdad has implemented many of the measures demanded by the alliesat the end of the Gulf war. This is being resisted by the US in the face of accusations from Iraqi dissidents that Washington wants to keep President Saddam weak, but does not necessarily want to overthrow him.

Britain has largely supported the US position on continuing sanctions but does not want to rival exporters like France to establish a dominant position in Iraq in the future. A British trade delegation is to go to Iraq on 15 February.

Although Iraq has destroyed most of its weapons of mass destruction, the latest UN report said that Baghdad continued to conceal details of its chemical and bacteriological warfare research and development. In a further demand the US is now asking that Iraq return Kuwaiti weapons captured in 1990. This would include Kuwaiti tank transporters which were extensively used last October to move Iraqi armour south.

It is unlikely that sanctions will be simply dropped but they may be suspended or modified. Although US diplomats are determined to retain them the US position is becoming increasingly isolated. It is also being undermined by threats by American politicians unilaterally to breach the UN arms embargo on Bosnia.

Signs of European unease include a French decision to receive the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Paris and to open a French interest section in the Romanian embassy in Baghdad. An Iraqi delegation is also to visit Germany this month for the first time since the end of the Gulf war to discuss disarmament and sanctions.

Many Arabs regard the continuing Western interest in human rights in Iraq hypocritical since it is accompanied by a refusal to criticise similar abuses in friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There is also suspicion that the Iraqi opposition is in league with the US and its Arab friends.

"Why did the Iraqi opposition choose this day of all days to give the amputation video to the press?" asked Dr Mohammed Said Moussa, a Bahraini human rights activist who has relatives in Saudi Arabia. "Why don't we see reports condemning amputating handsin Saudi Arabia."

Other Arab diplomats see the US giving in to pressure from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who want to keep Iraqi oil off the world market in order to maintain prices. They are also fearful that a weak Iraq strengthens Iran. In the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as in Jordan and Egypt, newspaper readers are reminded that Iraq protected them from Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

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