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Time for Iraq to act
Posted: Monday, February 17, 2003

By Firas Al-Atraqchi,

Friday's U.N. Security Council briefing by UNMOVIC head Blix and IAEA head Al-Baradei allowed the world a short reprieve from talk of war. The condemning report and evidence the U.S. and U.K. delegations had been hoping for from the inspectors never materialized and a new U.N. resolution draft authorizing war was called off for the interim.

Headlines in the U.S. and Canada screamed that the Bush administration had suffered a setback in its bid to persuade world powers to endorse military action against Iraq. Both Blix and Baradei admitted that Iraq had not fully cooperated yet, but that they had seen evidence that Iraq was undertaking an active role and willingness to disarm and cooperate with the inspectors.

Both experts called for more time to ensure a thorough inspections process.

The inspectors' report fueled French, German, Chinese, Russian and Syrian efforts to halt the rush for war. In an increasingly heated debate within U.N. Security Council chambers, the U.S. position appeared to be taking a beating.

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein issued a decree banning and outlawing any import or domestic development of weapons of mass destruction. "All ministries should implement this decree and take whatever measures are necessary to punish people who do not adhere to it," the decree read.

Iraq also agreed on Friday to host a South African nuclear disarmament delegation expected to instruct Iraqi specialists on how to disarm effectively and seamlessly.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said the experts' efforts to dismantle apartheid-era nuclear weapons had resulted in South Africa becoming an international example in disarmament. Mbeki hoped Iraq would make good use of South Africa's experience.

On Saturday, ten million people worldwide took to the streets to protest the rush to war and to plead with world leaders to allow the inspectors more time to do their mandated tasks.

"I welcome you to London where we have the largest demonstration in 2000 years of British history," London Mayor Ken Livingstone told nearly one million demonstrators.

In Hollywood, actor Martin Sheen told a CNN crew, "I'm just moved and so proud to be an American." He was joined by director-producer Rob Reiner and actress Angelica Houston among other cinema luminaries, all protesting against the rush to war.

The outpouring of dissent against war forced U.S. President George Bush to issue a statement that he believed war was a last option and that the president stood for peace and democracy. The onus was on Saddam, the statement concluded.

Has a war been averted?

Hardly. It is the position of this author, who has long studied Iraqi foreign policy, that the time is ripe for Iraq to come forward and be proactive in the current inspections tour. All too often, Iraq has shied away from the responsibility it could have met, and taken measures which have proven counterproductive.

With public opinion so strongly and passionately against a rush to war (a Saturday New York Times poll reveals that 59 percent of the American people want more time to be given to the inspectors), it is Iraq that must take the next step.

Iraq must continue to encourage and actively push Iraqi scientists to submit to U.N. interviews. Iraq must increase its efforts to locate any and all documents that can help the U.N. inspectors. Iraq must work with the South African delegation and implement whatever advice it receives. Iraq must be willing to destroy arms that are considered illicit.

It is understandable that Iraq may be reluctant to fully disarm. However, that is not to say that such retained arms will be used against the United States. Mainstream North American media is guilty of never informing the public that Iraq is located in a belligerent neighborhood. To the east, Iraq must contend with its one-time arch foe Iran. To the northwest, Iraq is faced with a Turkish military that will not tolerate an autonomous Kurdish enclave and has since 1918 been eyeing the oil-rich regions of Mosul and the Nineveh province. Further west, Iraq's nemesis Israel is armed with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Nevertheless, in a bit to avert war and deny the U.S. and the U.K. any substantial reason to wage war in the Middle East, Iraq must act.

Although inspections during the 1990s did prove fruitful, they were tainted by Iraqi efforts to hide armaments and dissuade inspections. The current political environment means that Iraq can no longer do so.

[Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry.]

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