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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

While there is no way to accurately gauge the level of internal discontent inside Iraq, there are numerous indications that Saddam Hussein's regime is widely unpopular. As one ex-Ba'ath Party member put it: "It is not a matter of who hates the regime, but of who does not." The irony is that U.S. efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein, in part by supporting militarily the discredited INC rebel coalition, are not only illegal, but are also fueling anti-American sentiments in Iraq.

International law is dear that planning coups in another country is illegal, and even U.S. law states that its citizens cannot organize coups abroad. In addition to being illegal, U.S. military support of the Iraqi opposition is an ill-conceived excuse for an effective policy and a feeble public relations response to Saddam Hussein's recalcitrance and tenacity in outlasting three post-Gulf War U.S. administrations.

The U.S. can best support the human rights of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites by helping the UN enforce international treaties and resolutions, not by supporting those minority groups only when they serve narrow U.S. interests. A helpful policy must include not only ceasing the U.S. "no-fly zone" bombings, which have killed scores of Kurds, Shiites, and other Iraqis, but also pressing for an end to similarly lethal Turkish air strikes and land invasions against Kurds in northern Iraq.

The only way for an indigenous, credible opposition to emerge within Iraq is if there is a strong middle class and civil society. Middle-aged Iraqis recall a time when the U.S. was their political model and close friend. Despite political repression in pre-Gulf War Iraq, students and intellectuals did travel and exchange information. Women enjoyed rights in Iraq that Kuwaiti mothers and daughters only dreamed of. And Western European nations sent envoys to study Iraq's emergency and hospital care system, the best in the region.

Sanctions and Iraq's fear of U.S.-led coups, however, have helped push the Baghdad regime to even greater repression, including restrictions on travel, Internet access, and the circulation of information. Parents express dismay at their children's open hostility and belligerence toward the West. A once-thriving job market is now nonexistent. Iraq's education budget has been slashed by billions of dollars. The Iraqi currency, the dinar, is virtually worthless outside Iraq, while profits from black-market oil sales continue to enrich a ruling minority. Droughts in the north and electrical outages in the south make communication between families--let alone nascent insurgencies--impossible. Families spending scarce resources on salvaging health and avoiding starvation hardly have the time and energy to overthrow their leader. Saddam Hussein's grip on power is as firm as ever. Contrary to its stated purposes, U.S. funding of a high-profile but feckless opposition serves only to legitimate Iraq's claims that its very national survival, as well as its sovereignty, is threatened.

The arms-glutted Middle East region does not need a further infusion of arms and violence. The Iraq Liberation Act further militarizes what should and could be a diplomatic dispute. Sending CIA vigilantes into a region already beset by national tensions, ethnic conflicts, rising religious fundamentalism, and a culture of fear adds nothing positive to Iraq. The Iraqi regime must be challenged with a strong, democratically oriented middle class relying on popular protest by open and nonviolent means.

President George W. Bush has inherited a bad policy toward Iraq, as did President Clinton. If Bush reviews the last decade of U.S. policy toward Iraq, however, he will surely recognize that continued funding for the opposition will only mean more wasted U.S. tax dollars and a stronger, more paranoid, and more belligerent Iraqi regime. While some within his administration and military are pessimistic about the opposition's chances, others fear what might happen should the opposition actually succeed. This is not the kind of policy that is worth continuing.

The U.S. has coexisted with, and too often supported, some unsavory leaders and dictators. Saddam Hussein is, in part, a creation of the West. His military arsenal grew during a marriage of convenience in the 1980s between Washington and Baghdad. To even allude to establishing ties with Baghdad may sound like political suicide today, but the successor to Saddam Hussein could easily be worse.

At a March 19, 2001, address to the Israeli lobby, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that "violence is always a dead end." The secretary should put his words into action by engaging the Iraqi leadership in diplomatic negotiations. In doing so, he would prove to the Iraqi people what no other U.S. administration ever has--that Washington understands the difference between a population and their unelected president.

Nicholas Arons <> is a researcher with the Institute for Policy Studies and has led two delegations to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness.

Key Recommendations

* The U.S. should halt its efforts to arm the opposition and foment a coup in Iraq: it is illegal under international law, a waste of U.S. taxpayer money, and pushes Baghdad to even greater repression.

* The Bush administration has inherited a bad policy toward Iraq and needs to move, instead, work with the UN to enforce international treaties and resolutions.
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Author:Arons, Nicholas
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Apr 15, 2001
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