Letter: What now for Iraq?

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THE AGREEMENT reached over the weekend in Baghdad can be attributed to the show of force in the Gulf, unanimity at the critical moment in the UN Security Council, and the determination and skill of the Secretary General. While the immediate task is to ensure that the work of the inspectors will indeed proceed without interference, other aspects of the crisis should not be neglected.

First, the plight of the long-suffering people of Iraq. Last week, on the initiative of the United Kingdom, the Security Council agreed to an increase in the amount of humanitarian aid available to them. The citizens of Iraq deserve to be told, by all possible means, not only that they have the sympathy of the international community but that their suffering will end if their leaders now honour the promises to allow weapons inspectors free movement which they first made in 1991 and repeated last weekend.

Second, respect for the dignity of Iraq, to which representatives of the regime attach special importance. Such respect would be readily forthcoming were it not for the Iraqi regime's persistent disregard of its obligations under Article 55 of the UN Charter. This calls on member states to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all". The 16th of March will mark the tenth anniversary of the slaughter by chemical weapons of several thousand inhabitants of the Kurdish town of Halabja. Nor has the fate of thousands of Shia inhabitants of the marshes in southern Iraq following the Gulf war been forgotten. The United Nations should now pursue the search for a remedy for the inconsistency between Article 55 and Article 2.7, which precludes intervention in matters "within the domestic jurisdiction of any member state".

Third, the emphasis the United States has placed on the importance of strict compliance with UN resolutions has prompted comparisons between American attitudes to Iraq and to the deadlocked peace process between the Palestinians and Israel. The point has been made that Israel remains in breach of a number of UN resolutions. There is an opportunity here for the Prime Minister to use the UK's presidency of the European Union to promote a European appeal to President Clinton, with whom he has established a close working relationship, to adopt a more balanced policy towards the Middle East. This, he could argue, would serve wider Western interests in this important region.

Sir TERENCE CLARK

Ambassador to Iraq 1985-89

Sir STEPHEN EGERTON

Ambassador to Iraq 1980-82

Sir DONALD MAITLAND

UK Representative to the UN 1973-74; to the EC 1975-79

Sir JOHN MOBERLY

Ambassador to Iraq 1982-85

DAVID SUMMERHAYES

Ambassador to the Disarmament Committee, Geneva, 1979-82

Sir HAROLD WALKER

Ambassador to Iraq 1990-91

Bath

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