Finding a way out for Iraq

24 March 2003
Of war and peace: Laurie Nathan of the Centre for Conflict Studies (CCR) was part of an international peace mission to Iraq that tried to find ways to avoid war with the US.

LAST WEEK, with less than 24 hours to go before the deadline of United States President George Bush's ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave the country or go to war, the world seemed to have run out of time and options, according to conflict-resolution expert Laurie Nathan.

“I can't see any way out at this late stage,” said Nathan, Executive Director of the UCT affiliated Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), at the time. And, he added, the same sense of fatality pervaded in Iraq when, at the bequest of the South African government, he visited the country at the end of January as part of a civil society group representing South Africa, Europe and the US.

“The Iraqi officials and the people we spoke to believed war was inevitable, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.”

Initiated by the New York-based anti-war group, the Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the aim of the “peace mission” to Iraq was, among other things, to learn more about the position of the Iraqi government, notes Nathan.

During their week-long stay, Nathan and the other delegates met with senior Iraqi officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Foreign Minister Dr Naji Sabri. The Iraqi government, even then, feared that a US attack was inevitable, whether or not they disarmed, noted Nathan. And a US invasion, he indicated in a recent report, could have disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.

Such an invasion would, firstly, fuel already virulent anti-American sentiment in the Arab world and in countries with large Muslim communities, leading to possible violent uprisings and acts of terror in the Middle East, he observed. In addition, while Iraq would be loath to initiate the use of chemical and biological weapons in a war on the US, it would be more likely to do so in response to a US attack.

The Bush administration has also indicated that it would be prepared to use nuclear weapons in retaliation to a biological or chemical attack by Iraq, Nathan pointed out. Such a first-use of nuclear arms could remove the international restraints on nuclear warfare, with catastrophic implications for the India-Pakistan conflict and the North Korean crisis, he added.

A unilateral invasion by the US would also undermine the credibility and authority of the United Nations Security Council as the primary forum for managing and resolving international crises, he said. “Although the Council is a deeply flawed mechanism, the world would be a vastly more dangerous place without it.”

And of course, there is the issue about the loss of human life in Iraq itself. The possibility of a US attack on their country is foremost among the concerns of civilians in Iraq, Nathan pointed out.

“The people I spoke to are afraid of their own imminent deaths and those of their families,” he said.

Ultimately, it comes down to a choice between a contained – in terms of weapons of mass destruction – Saddam Hussein, and the killing of tens of thousands, Nathan observed. “As French President [Jacques] Chirac put it, the first consequence of war is death.”

A copy of an article written by Nathan that appeared in Sunday Argus can be found on the CCR website.

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