The UN’s Iraq Resolution: What does it mean?

A US war with Iraq may reshape the Middle East, and will certainly have an impact on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hasan Abu Nimah, who frequently contributes to EI, turns his attention to Iraq and considers whether the new UN resolution brings war closer or pushes it away. What does this mean for the UN and how should Iraq and Arab states react to stave off the threat of a catastrophic conflict?

Following two months of heated debate, and often tough diplomatic confrontation at the Security Council, a resolution to disarm Iraq, hopefully peacefully, has finally been unanimously approved. For the US, many see that as a stunning political triumph, for which Secretary of State Colin Powell can claim much credit, and in fact it is. In spite of much talk about changing American drafts, accommodating other Council members’ demands, and even backtracking, the approved text, which is an American text, seems to have earned them a triple victory.

First the Americans got every thing they initially demanded, including a UN cover to go to war against Iraq now, without having to wait for a new Iraqi breach, and there is adequate ground for such action. Resolution 1441 has already decided “that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant (Security Council) resolutions,” including resolution 687 (1991). And by recalling that its resolution 678 (1990) “authorized member states to use all necessary means to uphold and implement its resolutions…” the US can safely act on that basis. If, however that may not be enough, consider the paragraph in the present resolution that denies the validity of the cease-fire declared by Security Council resolution 687 twelve years ago, on the ground that Iraqi non- compliance with the provisions of that resolution annuls the cease-fire, and, therefore the US could if they decide to do so simply resume the previous, unfinished war.

Second, the resolution has inflicted, with UN approval, so much humiliation and imposed so harsh a set of impossible conditions on Iraq as if to precede the anticipated military attack with a caustic diplomatic defeat. The resolution actually strips Iraq completely of its integrity and sovereignty with the absolute and unlimited authority the UN inspectors have been empowered with, including the right to transfer Iraqis with their families to other countries for interrogation. What if they demanded ministers and Army generals to leave the country for that purpose? And does this provision exclude the president himself or any members of his family? The Iraqi government was left with no authority of its own to object to any provocation or degradation.

Third, it will be much easier once the U.S. decides to attack to do that after Iraq has been disarmed and after any means of defense Iraq may posess has been declared and entirely exposed. For Security Council permanent members, France, Russia and China who stubbornly led the opposition to American pressure to pass a resolution that would serve as a mere cover for a war the US had already decided to wage, the resolution was, in their view, also a substantial achievement in the sense that it prevented the war and gave diplomacy a chance.

According to these members, it prevents the possibility of an instant and automatic US resort to force if Iraq fails to fully and unconditionally abide by the tough terms of the resolution. The present resolution requires that any such violation be reported to the Council first for consideration. They can also claim that the resolution re-asserted the authority of the UN, reconfirmed the principle that the American case against Iraq should only go through the UN system, and that their good work has afforded Iraq a precious opportunity to avoid a devastating war by simply complying with the UN resolutions.

In the end, France, Russia and China approved a text which fell well below the expectations raised by their supposedly stiff opposition to US pressure. But they have to put the best spin on it, and given the danger it would serve no useful purpose to challenge their assertions that the resolution does indeed include the safeguards they sought. Most likely and bearing in mind imperative political realities, nothing better under the circumstances could have been achieved.

Resolution 1441 has left Iraq, and indeed all of us in the region with only one choice. And that is to accept the resolution as is, highlight what can be seen in it as positive, and to encourage Iraq by all available means to accept it and to implement it in full, to the best satisfaction of the Security Council in order to deprive the warmongers of any opportunity to resume their arrogant threats of war on the basis of noncompliance.

But while having to do that for compelling and practical purposes, we should not naively ignore some significant and depressing realities. One: is that the conditions which Iraq is required to meet are almost impossible, apart from the fact that they are also cruel, hostile and crushingly humiliating. No doubt they were specifically designed to inflict misery and to ensure failure. Yet it would only be wise for the Iraqis to suppress their agony and try, even if they may believe that only a miracle can avert the worst. There is of course, a distinct difference between an inevitable failure that results from a sincere and a dedicated effort to do one’s best, and one resulting from evasiveness, irresponsibility, recklessness or deceit. While the former will strengthen the hands of those in the Security Council who worked hard to prevent the war so far, and it will most certainly help them to continue to assert their constructive positions, the latter will abort their lofty mission and totally deprive them of any means of defense in a battle which is far from over.

Two: there is no guarantee that any amount of Iraqi compliance will lead to the desired results, and save Iraq from the war. The resolution does not offer any assurance to that effect, neither can the Security Council stop the US from carrying out their war plan once they decide to do so. The only remaining option is to continue the diplomatic pressure, from every possible direction, (and that puts a specific responsibility on the Arab States), on the United States to reconsider its belligerent position and to allow the UN to deal the Iraqi issue correctly and in accordance with the UN resolutions.

Three: the resolution did not in any meaningful sense help restore any of the lost credibility of the UN, perhaps it did the opposite. It is true that the U.S. was pressured to bring its case against Iraq to the Security Council, but what transpired in the end was closer to a UN submission to the American position, rather than asserting the international will by allowing the Security Council to independently and fairly deal with the case. That is why the resolution came out as another example of the application of double standards, a selective approach to International justice, and the unprincipled pursuit of what is convenient rather than what is lawful and right.

The resolution is harsh and unfair. Its tone is clearly meant to humiliate, punish, and provoke rather than seek an objective, and a firm application of the law. Such language has never before been used by the UN in any of its previous resolutions on any case. It unfairly, and certainly deliberately ignores the fact that Iraq did comply for seven years with the inspection regime, it did allow the destruction of most of its WMDs, and continued to do that until the inspectors were withdrawn — not expelled as the media likes to claim — by UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, without even informing the Security Council of his decision, which was meant at the time (December 1998) to pave the way for a US missile attack, for totally unrelated reasons. The resolution also failed to recognize the suffering of the Iraqi people after twelve years of harsh sanctions, as it failed to recognize its own obligations to even mention that the sanctions would have to be removed once Iraq had fulfilled its requirements.

We must also remember that the Iraqi decision last September to allow the arms inspectors back in unconditionally was also not taken because the Iraqis believed it would end the crisis, and it did not. What it did, though, was to help the anti-war camp, in and outside the UN to strengthen its case and to achieve results, very modest and of course inconclusive, yet much better than a destructive and a regionally destabilizing war. The same is required from Iraq again and for the same reasons. It may be hard and painful to meet demands which are only meant to be prohibitive pretexts for war, but in such abnormal times flexibility and patience remain wise and pragmatic.

We are passing through very dangerous times where nothing should be taken for granted. The situation, in our region in particular is so precarious, so fragile and so critically explosive that only maximum wisdom, realism, and meaningful collective efforts can arrest the fast drift to disaster. One sadly wonders why the Arab Nation with all its kinetic potential does not rise to the challenge, indeed the sweeping danger on all of us, and do something.

Hasan Abu Nimah is former Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.