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Clinton leads call to keep Iraq sanctions

FOUR YEARS after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, President Bill Clinton has declared that Saddam Hussein's regime continues to defy the terms of the Gulf war peace, thus inviting the continuation of sanctions.

In a marked departure from a tough policy towards Iraq, however, the most influential newspaper on foreign policy has questioned the legal basis for the re-imposition of these sanctions. The New York Times argued that the sanctions were imposed to ensure Baghdad observe its arms control obligations. This it has done. 'That according to the terms laid down by the United Nations should entitle it to relief from the international embargo on its oil sales some time next spring.'

Britain and the US, however, now cite other reasons not to lift the embargo, such as sponsorship of assassinations. This, says the New York Times, means 'in effect, Britain and the United States are changing the rules'.

In a report to Congress, Mr Clinton justified his stance by arguing that little had changed since Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait on 2 August 1990. 'The United States, together with the international community, is maintaining economic sanctions against Iraq because the Iraqi regime has failed to comply fully with United Nations Security Council resolutions,' he said.

'Four years after the invasion, a pattern of defiance persists,' Mr Clinton concluded, saying Baghdad still does not recognise its border with Kuwait. The regime was guilty of 'sponsorship of assassinations in Lebanon and in northern Iraq, incomplete declarations to weapons inspectors, and ongoing widespread human rights violations . . . as a result, the UN sanctions remain in place; the United States will continue to enforce those sanctions'.

He has the support of the leader of the main Iraqi opposition grouping. Ahmed Chalabi, who presides over the US-backed Iraqi National Congress, said sanctions should be maintained despite the worsening economic climate in his country. 'The people need food and medicines, which they can get if Iraq implements UN Security Council resolutions 706 and 712.' These allow for the sale of Iraqi oil with proceeds used for the purchase of food and medicine under UN auspices, and for compensation to be paid to Kuwait.

'The problem is that Saddam would rather see his people starve than accept international supervision of the proper distribution of food. He cites this would impinge on Iraqi sovereignty, but he accepted resolution 687 (on eradicating weapons of mass destruction). If Saddam Hussein gets money, he will not put people first.'

Mr Chalabi was scathing about countries seeking to lift the sanctions so that they can exploit what some see as a bonanza of reconstruction contracts. Three members of the security council - Russia, China and France - have all sought to relax the sanctions, reviewed every 60 days, as recognition of the progress Iraq has made in eradicating its weapons of mass destruction.

This wavering was worrying, he said. 'There is no passive strategy to unseat Saddam. We think there should be an active strategy to get rid of him.'