U.S. Increases Quotient of Suffering on Iraq

While people in the U.S. debate whether the timing of the American bombing of Iraq was dictated by pure military considerations or by domestic political factors, the suffering of the people in Iraq continues to increase. Already shouldering the burden of stiff sanctions, the bombing is certain to further complicate their lives.This is the third time the Clinton administration -- obsessed with proving the president is capable of violence -- has resorted to the reckless bombing of this sovereign country. This has barely been noticed in the U.S. press and the public seems eager to reward a president who resorts to the use of force -- provided the enemy is non-white and poor.The U.S. was so intent to bomb that it acted before the United Nations -- the organization charged with ensuring that Iraq complies with arms control requirements -- had a chance to study the report by its chief arms inspector Richard Butler. Butler's independence has long been questioned and Russia, France, and China -- not only Iraq --have called for his dismissal.After being declared totally cooperative and free of any traces of nuclear weapons capabilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iraqi government refused to go along with yet another set of concessions and humiliations -- the U.S. government's insistence that the country not only open itself for inspections but also provide paper documentation for the entire history of military weapon purchases.If the United States was capable of forgiving Germany and the Germans for Nazi atrocities, how long will it take before Iraq is allowed to begin reconstruction and development?Sanctions were supposedly put in place to force Saddam out of power. That has not happened and is not likely to happen any time soon. The people of Iraq suffer from those sanctions, not the ruling family. Saddam Hussein -- for years a darling of American and Western governments -- is a problem for the Iraqi people themselves.Many Arabs have long suspected that the Americans do not really want to get rid of Saddam, that they in fact prefer him to a more democratic Iraq, which would allow Shi'ites and Kurds to play larger political roles.Democratization is the only logical answer to Iraq's deep ethnic and sectarian divisions, but U.S. policy makers worry because Turkey, a NATO member, opposes any recognition of Kurdish political and national rights in Iraq. Turkey bombs Kurdish targets at will.The United States also worries that under a democracy the Shi'ite majority in Iraq would seek an alliance with Iran. This fear is unjustified because the Iranian government (unlike the U.S. government) is not involved in internal Iraqi affairs and Iraqi Shi'ites are not necessarily admirers of Iran's model of government.Whatever the American public believes about the missile attacks, the Arab public sees American hypocrisy and inconsistency. Demonstrations broke out in most Arab capitals -- in Damascus, 100,000 demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy and burnt the American flag, a significant event because the Syrian government rarely allows for spontaneous expressions of popular anger, even when directed at the United States. Similar demonstrations erupted in Amman, Beirut, and Cairo. While the U.S. government was justifying its attacks by references to Saddam's "threats to his neighbors," the Gulf press carried stinging denunciations and Saudi Arabia refused to let U.S. planes use its territory.The future of Iraq looks as bleak as ever. Not only is the opposition fragmented and emasculated, but the one force favored and handsomely funded by the U.S. -- the Iraqi National Congress (INC) -- is discredited among Iraqis for its connections (widley reported in the U.S. media) with the CIA and its subservience to U.S. foreign policy.While the U.S. should not try to appoint Saddam's successors, the international community should agree on a specific formula for lifting sanctions which have been totally discredited as a tool for political change in Iraq. Once sanctions are lifted, domestic opposition within Iraq would have the chance to develop and begin anew the long road to democratic rule.As'ad AbuKhalil, a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC-Berkeley, teaches political science at California State University, Stanislaus.

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