Iraq’s early celebrations
Even if Iraq manages finally to exit from the sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War, their wrecking effects will live on for generations to come, writes Salah Nasrawi
Shortly after the news came through from the UN Security Council last week that its 15 members had decided unanimously to ease some of the international sanctions still in place against Baghdad, a jubilant Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki appeared on state-run television to declare victory for Iraq.
Soon afterwards, fireworks lit up the Baghdad sky and soldiers fired bullets in the air to celebrate what a chorus of Al-Maliki government officials described as a “historic and a joyful day” for all Iraqis.
A flurry of celebratory statements also came from rival political leaders, probably to avoid being thought of as unpatriotic, though some voiced scepticism about whether the new resolution would offer a solution to Iraq’s many troubles, including deteriorating security, lingering political conflict and ethno-sectarian in-fighting.
On 27 June, the Security Council decided to bring Iraq one step closer to ending the international sanctions imposed on Baghdad more than two decades ago after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The sanctions have had momentous effects on the Iraqi people, though at the time they were imposed as a way of forcing Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait.
Under the new resolution, the council terminated provisions in earlier texts relating to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait that have remained in force despite the toppling of Saddam in 2003 after the US-led invasion.
Iraq has already complied with most of these crippling provisions, including disarmament, new border demarcations and the paying of huge reparations.
The council decided that the remaining issues of missing Kuwaiti nationals and property would now be handled under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which calls for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Another key provision of the new resolution was the council’s decision to transfer the mandate formerly assigned to the High Level Coordinator for Iraq-Kuwait Missing Persons and Property to the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.
UN Security Council Resolution 2107 stated that council members were acting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for the military enforcement of any measures taken.
However, the Iraqi government insisted that the new resolution removed Iraq from Chapter 7 and hailed this as a historic turning point for a country that had gone through carnage after the US-led invasion in 2003.
It did not come as a surprise that Al-Maliki and his allies would try to take advantage of the new resolution by presenting it as a victory and a political boost, as the embattled prime minister struggles to stay in power in the face of mounting opposition inside the country and isolation outside.
However, Iraq is not the winner under the new resolution. The sanctions were the most comprehensive and devastating of any established in the name of international law, and they brought about the near collapse of Iraq’s infrastructure and compromised the basic conditions necessary to sustain life.
More than one million Iraqis, including half a million children, died in Iraq as a result of the UN sanctions, which were enthusiastically imposed by Kuwait and its two main allies, Britain and the United States.
The sanctions had far-reaching impacts on Iraq’s food, health, water, sanitation and education sectors. The trade embargo destroyed Iraq’s main economic sectors, including industry and agriculture. Because of the sanctions, the Iraqi civilian population was exposed to punishment for something it had not done, while Saddam was allowed to continue to rule over a crippled nation.
Thus far, Kuwait has received about $40 billion in reparations as a result of Iraq’s seven-month occupation of the tiny emirate. Billions of dollars of Iraqi money have also gone to expatriates working in Kuwait to compensate them for the loss of their jobs.
This money was badly needed in Iraq itself to rebuild the war-devastated nation and make up for its wrecked infrastructure.
Under the harsh provisions of the UN resolutions, Iraq lost hundreds of square km of its land, including ports, oil fields and farms, to Kuwait. UN demarcation of the borders and territorial waters ignored Iraq’s desire for greater access to Gulf waters.
Most significantly, the UN resolutions were used as a pretext for using military force against Iraq and subsequently for its invasion and occupation by the United States for nearly 10 years.
Despite all this, the UN has not fully lifted the sanctions against Iraq even 10 years after the toppling of Saddam in 2003 and after Iraq had complied with most of the Security Council’s resolutions related to the invasion.
Iraq is still subject to a UN arms embargo and asset-freeze on individuals and entities linked to Saddam. The country is also still held accountable for finding missing Kuwaiti persons and property, and it is still liable for some $11 billion in reparations to Kuwait.
Kuwait’s claims have raised questions as to whether they are justified, and the issue of the sanctions has repeatedly resurfaced, especially after the US-led invasion and the ousting of Saddam.
Among the Iraqi public, there is little acceptance of Iraqi responsibility for the invasion and little sense that the Iraqi people were responsible for it. Many Iraqis say that the claims arising out of Saddam’s invasion should have been written off once he was toppled.
Accordingly, there has been growing resentment among many Iraqis at the reparations and other measures, which have been perceived as unduly harsh and imposed as a punishment and not as a matter of justice.
Many Iraqis believe that Iraq’s post-Saddam governments should not have to assume the obligation for the entire debt represented by the reparations, since these governments cannot be held responsible for the invasion of Kuwait.
They also believe that Kuwait should accept some of the responsibility for the occupation because the US and other foreign troops invaded Iraq through Kuwaiti territory during the war.
Such disagreements have cast shadows over relations between the two countries and brought back ghosts from the past. Kuwaitis find it hard to forget that Iraq invaded their tiny country and annexed it, calling it Iraq’s 19th province.
On the other hand, many Iraqis claim that Kuwait is indeed a part of Iraq, having been carved off as a result of British colonialism. This notion was used by Saddam to justify his invasion of Kuwait and its subsequent annexation.
Two of Iraq’s rulers before Saddam, King Ghazi and Prime Minister Abdel-Karim Qassim, also maintained a similar stance.
Even after Saddam’s ouster, relations between Iraq and Kuwait remained cool, signalling difficulties over ending outstanding issues. Tensions have escalated along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border many times over the past ten years, and the consequent political developments have cast long shadows over efforts to normalise relations.
Iraqis have frequently demonstrated at the border and hit back over what they see as Kuwait’s “land grab”. In 2011, clashes erupted between Iraqi protesters and Kuwaiti border guards and rockets were fired from inside Iraq against Kuwait.
In 2011, the two countries were locked in a bitter wrangle over the construction of the Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port by Kuwait that Baghdad says violates the two countries’ UN-demarcated border and encroaches on its territorial waters.
Iraq may now have unloaded most of the burden of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, but the question remains of why Kuwait has finally agreed to help Iraq in clearing the hurdles to exit the remaining UN sanctions after nearly two decades of refusing to do so.
Many analysts believe that Kuwait, which has used the UN provisions as a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of politicians in Baghdad, has acted under the dictate of new regional political realities.
According to these analysts, the removal of Iraq from Chapter 7 provisions was long overdue and keeping the humiliating sanctions on its northern neighbour amid continuous sectarian turmoil in Iraq and a shift in the regional political landscape would have done Kuwait more harm than good.
A broader analysis shows that Kuwait is worried by the escalating tension in the region over Syria and the rising possibility of a closer Iraqi-Iranian alliance that could pit the Arab Sunni governments in the Gulf against the two Shia-controlled countries.
Given the high risk involved of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations erupting into another regional flashpoint, Kuwaiti strategists might have preferred to adjust their long-held policy of using the Chapter 7 provisions as a coercive and precautionary measure to stifle any possibility of Iraqi belligerency to opening up to the Baghdad government.
As Iraq still remains shackled by the inhibiting effects of the UN provisions, it remains to be seen, however, if Baghdad’s celebratory mood towards its southern neighbour and Kuwait’s new conciliatory approach will help the two countries overcome their bloody and acrimonious past, or whether it is just another lull in their long-standing dispute.