“No!” to a U.N. Occupation of Iraq

By Jerry Gordon

(Edited version of remarks delivered October 9, 2003 at a forum sponsored by the Northeast Ohio  Coalition)

We’re meeting tonight at a time when peace activists from around the country are organizing for the October 25 demonstrations whose demands are: “End the Occupation of Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now!”

I support these demands, but strongly disagree with an alternative preferred by some in the antiwar movement: “U.S. Out! U.N. In!” Those who advocate the latter slogan apparently have a concept of the U.N. as being benign, altruistic, humanitarian, neutral, and even-handed. But this image is not supported by the record.

In November 1990, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing military force against Iraq if it failed to comply with demands made by the U.S. As a consequence, the U.N. fully supported the 42-day U.S. bombing attacks against Iraq, along with the other military measures, which killed over 100,000 Iraqis and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, including its water supply system. The war left Iraq poisoned with radiation from thousands of depleted uranium shells, which subsequently resulted in an untold number of casualties.

In the aftermath of this 1991 war, the U.N. did three things. First, it imposed a very intrusive inspections regime on Iraq designed to eliminate weapons systems which that country depended upon to defend itself. This made it far easier for the U.S. to conquer Iraq in this year’s war.

Second, the U.N Security Council passed a series of resolutions directed against Iraq, including Resolution 1441. It was Iraq’s alleged violation of these resolutions which the U.S. used as its pretext to justify its brutal war of aggression against Iraq. (Of course, Israel has ignored many U.N. resolutions, yet there has never been a proposal to impose sanctions against it or to occupy it militarily. So much for the U.N. being even-handed.)

The third thing the U.N. did was to impose a harsh sanctions regime against Iraq, which lasted for 13 years and exacerbated the terrible misery being experienced by the Iraqi people as a result of the war. And make no mistake, the sanctions were directed against the people, not against Sadam Hussein, who, together with his clique, continued to live high off the hog.

So how do the Iraqi people feel about the U.N.? Here is what Dennis Halliday, a former assistant secretary general and senior U.N. official in Iraq, who resigned in 1999 rather than administer the U.N. blockade, said: “In Iraq, the U.N. imposed sustained sanctions that probably killed up to one million people. Children were dying of malnutrition and water-borne diseases. The U.S. and U.K. bombed the infrastructure in 1991, destroying power, water, and sewage systems against the Geneva Convention. It was a great crime against Iraq.

“Thirteen years of sanctions made it impossible for Iraq to repair the damage. That is why we have such tremendous resentment and anger against the U.N. in Iraq. There is a sense that the U.N. humiliated the Iraqi people and society. I would use the term genocide to define the use of sanctions against Iraq. Several million Iraqis are suffering cancers because of the use of depleted uranium shells. That’s an atrocity. Can you imagine the bitterness from all this?” (Scotland Sunday Herald, 8/24/03)

On May 23 of this year, in the aftermath of the conventional phase of the war, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1483. The vote was unanimous, with only Syria out of the room. This resolution rubber stamped the U.S./British occupation of Iraq. It legalized Washington’s military, political, and economic control over Iraq’s wealth and explicitly granted control of Iraq’s oil fields to the U.S./ British Authority.

The U.N. also welcomed to its meetings the representatives of the U.S. handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, despite the fact that this body has no legitimacy or credibility whatever.

Given all of the above, it is no wonder that the Iraqi people feel so much hatred toward the U.N. The fact that the resistance forces in Iraq carbombed U.N. facilities in August and September, killing 24 people and causing 69 casualties is a manifestation of how deep that feeling is.

The demand “U.S. Out! U.N. In!” is indeed surreal. The U.S., after all, is the world’s greatest military power. It invaded and conquered Iraq. The U.S. previously spent $79 billion to finance the war and is now preparing to spend an additional $87 billion to consolidate its control over Iraq. Hundreds of U.S. troops have been killed in this war and nearly two thousand have been wounded. The U.S. has nullified oil concessions discussed or negotiated by two dozen oil companies and 16 countries with the Saddam Hussein regime (Wall Street Journal 2/27/03). The U.S. government believes that to the victors belong the spoils and the victors are the U.S, along with its junior partner Great Britain. The U.S. does not want to share Iraq’s oil or the rest of its wealth with any other country, nor does Washington wish to permit corporations from other countries to profit from lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq. Countries like France, Russia, and Germany, on the other hand, want in on the spoils. They want their share of the loot. They have their own oil contracts they want fulfilled. They want debts owed them by Iraq to be paid in full.

Moreover, these other countries do not want the U.S. to establish its hegemony in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, as they feel this would threaten them. So there are bitter conflicts going on among the imperialist nations. It was a defeat for the U.S. to have to go back to the U.N. and ask for help in terms of troops and money to pay for the occupation. It was a measure of the power of the resistance, which is now everywhere in Iraq, that the U.S. felt compelled to make this approach to the U.N. But the U.S. doesn’t want to see any other power in the country and certainly doesn’t want to relinquish control. Can you imagine the U.S. attending a Security Council meeting, where the U.S. has veto power, and instructing its delegate to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon the U.S. to get out of Iraq and turning over control of the country and its wealth to the U.N.?

Of course, there is an advantage to the U.S. to have the U.N. get involved in Iraq in a strictly subsidiary role and that is spelled out in the September 4, 2003 Wall Street Journal: “America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq are clearly doing jobs of police work and guard duty that they weren’t trained for and that leave them vulnerable to attack. With their discipline, firepower, and mobility, they would be better deployed pursuing Saddam and his Ba’ath Party remnants.”

In other words, U.S. military forces would be in a much better position to exterminate the Iraqi resistance if “peacekeepers” from other countries were present to take care of guard duty and other mundane tasks.

In talking about “U.S. Out! U.N. In!” we have to keep in mind that the U.N. is just a framework entity and it has to depend on national governments to provide troops for its “peacekeeping” operations. The U.N. would encounter huge problems in attempting to be an occupying force. Rumsfeld set a goal of other nations sending in 100,000 troops, but now acknowledges that the U.S. will be lucky to get just 15,000, U.N. or no U.N. France, Germany, and China have made clear they have no intention of sending in troops. Japan was going to send troops, but they have put off the issue until next year. India and Pakistan were candidates for troops but are demurring. Turkey has agreed to send troops, having been bought off by the U.S. with an $8.5 billion loan agreement. However, the Iraqi Governing Council opposes Turkey’s entry into the country and the Kurds will certainly take issue with their presence.

The U.S. hoped to get $20 billion in contributions from other countries, but now will be lucky to get $1 billion. Public opinion throughout the world runs strongly against the occupation. Three-fourths of the French oppose it, 80% of the Germans, 87% of the people of India, almost the entire Turkish population, and so on. (New York Times 7/15/03)

On September 26–28, antiwar demonstrations were held in over 40 countries opposing the occupation of Iraq. Demonstrations have been held in Britain and Spain demanding that their troops be withdrawn. So here we face a major question when we talk about “U.S. Out! U.N. In!”  We give compelling reasons why the U.S. should pull its troops out and we join with military families against the war who want their family members brought home now. How do we argue that it is wrong for U.S. troops to kill and be killed in Iraq but okay for other foreign troops? Are their lives any less important?

The Wall Street Journal ran a large article in its October 1, 2003, issue pointing out major problems that have plagued U.N. peacekeeping operations. A related article, titled “Wealthy Countries in Effect Pay Poor Ones to Handle U.N. Missions,” explains that the rich nations pay the poor nations to do their dirty work around the world. The largest countries subsidize the less developed ones to send in their troops because these “Third World” countries need the money. “Still,” as the Wall Street Journal article points out, “the developing world is growing a bit restive as its citizens become informed of the risks involved in peacekeeping operations. ‘These people are starting to have public opinion of their own,’ says Michel Kassa, a U.N. humanitarian official. ‘Just like people in America and Europe, the public don’t want to see their children come back in body bags.’”

In mobilizing earlier this year to prevent a U.S. war against Iraq,  forces throughout the world were united. We were all out in the streets, over 10 million strong, on February 15 demanding “No U.S. War Against Iraq! But advocates of “U.S. Out! U.N. In!” — despite good intentions — are now raising a very divisive demand. While the antiwar movements in other countries continue to fight to keep their troops out of Iraq, those who advocate a U.N. occupation want them to send their troops into Iraq, which will only put them in harm’s way. What then happens to solidarity and to the struggle to build an international antiwar movement?

Finally, let’s consider the rationale that some peace activists use in support of their call for U.N. occupation. They say that such an occupation will help bring stability and security to Iraq.

In the first place, there is no assurance whatever that a U.N. occupation, as opposed to a U.S. occupation, would make Iraq stable and secure. Today there is chaos, turmoil, and anarchy in much of Iraq. How would a substitute U.N. occupation change all of that? U.N. personnel are being pulled out of Iraq because it is such a dangerous place for them. If they were to go back in in large numbers, who says they would be well received?

The U.N., independent of the U.S., has no capability of bringing in massive military forces to run Iraq. What would its function be? Would it get into the business of rounding up, detaining, interrogating, torturing, and killing resistance forces, as the U.S. is now doing? 

Those of us who call for an end to the occupation of Iraq believe that the Iraqi people have the right to decide their own destiny. We call for respect of the right to self-determination and respect for other nations’ national sovereignty. Looking at the experience of the past half century, starting with the U.N.’s war against Korea, which resulted in the death of three million Koreans, the antiwar movement in this country has never called for an occupation of one nation by another or by the U.N. We have always supported the right of people to build their own societies as they see fit. This is no time to go in the totally opposite direction.

Suppose the Iraqi people, supported by the world’s antiwar movement, were successful in ending all forms of foreign occupation. Having gone through all the wars, bloodshed, destruction, repression, poverty, malnutrition, economic dislocation, and suffering during the past decades, how can anyone automatically conclude that upon the departure of foreign forces the Iraqis will immediately turn upon and slaughter each other? No one disputes that there are sharp class, ethnic, religious, and tribal differences among the Iraqi people, which could result in strife and conflict, but we don’t know for sure what will happen. What we do know is that the Iraqis are a resourceful, intelligent, educated, cultured and skilled people, who may find ways to join together to plan their country’s future and to rebuild their society. When the Ayatollah Hakim, a prominent religious Shiite leader, was killed on August 29, his brother, a member of the Governing Council, told a large crowd, “We will follow Hakim’s ideas! Unity in Iraq between Shiite, Sunnis, and Kurds; a democratic country without dictatorship; and a country not under occupation.” That also could be a theme for Iraqis in the future.

Iraq will, of course, need considerable help in putting its society back together. But it can negotiate material aid from other countries and even the U.N. with no strings attached and without having its territory occupied by foreign troops.

Our priority in this country must be to demand that Washington end the occupation of Iraq. We must oppose a substitute multi-lateral occupation in its place. Let the Iraqis establish a government of their own choosing, not one handpicked by the U.S. or the U.N.

Iraq for the Iraqis! End the Occupation! Bring the Troops Home Now! Money for Jobs, Education and Health Care, Not for War! U.S. Out of the Middle East!