David Orchard
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September 4, 2002

Leave Iraq alone

by David Orchard

Published September 5, 2002 in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record as "Canada must urge the U.S. to leave Iraq alone" and in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix as "War bad way to mark September 11."

On the first anniversary of the downing of the World Trade Centre, the drums of war are again beating. No one has plausibly suggested an Iraqi connection to the events of September 11/01, yet we are told a majority of Americans would favour an unprovoked attack on Iraq, provided the U.S. doesn't act alone.

Why would the world's richest and most powerful nation consider attacking one of the world's poorest and what should Canada's reaction be?

Iraq is a small, virtually landlocked country, about 2/3 the size of Saskatchewan. Dependent on imported food and exports of oil, both largely cut off by sanctions, Iraq's population of 20 million has an average income of under $1 per day. (Doctors receive $5 per month; unemployment exceeds 50%.) The majority of the population, according to the World Health Organization, is reduced to semi-starvation. Publicly stripped of most of its military capacity, inspected for weapons 9000 times since 1991, Iraq has also been subjected to bombardment by U.S. and British war planes almost weekly ever since the Gulf war ended in 1991. The bombings over the north and south of the country have targeted everything from sheep to the shepherds guarding them.

Impoverished, weak and vulnerable, Iraq is incapable of defending or even flying over these so called no-fly zones covering approximately 2/3 of its territory.

The once prosperous Iraqi economy has been bled white by war and a decade of sanctions -- the most punitive in modern history. During this decade, over a million Iraqis, mostly children, have died a painful death and millions more are suffering severe damage and face drastically shortened lives. During the Gulf War the U.S. fired 900 tonnes of depleted uranium ammunition into Iraq covering it with radioactive contamination. Cancer and leukemia rates are now several times those preceding the war. Families pawn remaining heirlooms to buy food or medicine for their children. Hospital shelves are barren; even common drugs are rare.

An unprovoked attack on another country constitutes a war crime, in fact the supreme war crime, according to the Nuremberg judgment. The U.N. Charter, Article 4 states: "All members shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

Both the U.S. and Iraq are U.N. members, yet the U.S. has openly threatened the overthrow of the Iraqi government, the assassination of its leadership and calls for "regime change."

Some in the U.S. administration argue that a "preemptive strike" is justified because Iraq may in future obtain weapons of mass destruction.

To my knowledge this argument has never before been made to sanction an assault on a sovereign state in contravention of an entire body of international law.

There is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or that it has the intention or capacity to use them. (In 1998, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors declared Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons technology.) No evidence, in fact, that Iraq is anything other than it appears -- a war-devastated, essentially disarmed nation under a harsh regime of sanctions and long and constant air bombardment.

Iraq does however possess some of the world's largest reserves of oil which it nationalized (with compensation), in the 1970s. Iraq has since refused U.S. demands to privatize the industry.

Around the world governments have, almost unanimously, raised their objections to any U.S. plan to assault Iraq. This includes the governments of Iraq's closest neighbours -- including Kuwait -- nations with the most cause to be nervous about Iraq's intentions, if nervousness is called for.

The unfolding of events in the coming weeks will go a long way towards determining whether or not we live in a world of international law or whether one nation can and will ignore the laws and conventions that other nations are expected, and indeed required, to live by. Without international law, it is the law of the jungle that remains.

With its history of advocating dispute settlement legally, by diplomatic and peaceful means, it is crucial that Canada at this moment speak directly and forcefully for the rule of law and against the trampling of the weak by the powerful. Our government should point out that we as a nation will not support an attack on Iraq.

Canada's voice, if used now, could influence the course of events.

I, for one, hope on behalf of the thousands already dying in Iraq and the thousands more who will die if we don't speak, that we have the courage to act on our traditions. Canada has been a loyal ally of the U.S. for many years. Few Americans doubt the empathy Canadians felt and continue to feel towards the victims of September 11. Canada has a duty to point out that obliterating a defenseless nation half way around the world is not an appropriate step to take on the anniversary of the suffering in New York.

David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada -- Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest. He farms in Borden, SK and can be reached at tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at davidorchard@sasktel.net

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