Monday, March 25, 2002

Goldberg & Hirst on Iraqi Kurdistan

Jeff, Thanks for the piece by Hirst. I read the Goldberg piece in the New Yorker and have benn wondereing for some days what to make of it. So I will enjoy reading this--when I get a moment of peace.

Hi X,

In practical terms, what to make of this is not entirely clear, and there are a lot of dilemmas. Goldberg's piece is useful not because he provides practical recommendations (he doesn't really try to), butbecause his account makes helps make clear what's at stake in dealing with the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, and what the realities of the situation are.

Some implications of the realities laid out by Goldberg and Hirst are worth mentioning briefly:

=> The situation in Iraqi Kurdistan (more specifically, in the part oIraqi Kurdistan not controlled by the Baghdad regime) confirm that th suffering of civilians in the rest of Iraq since 1991 is NOT caused by U.N. sanctions. It's due to the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is still in power. Iraqi Kurdistan is subject to the same sanctions as the rest of the country (in some ways even more, as Goldberg points out), and in 1991 it was MUCH more devastated than the rest of the country in both material and human terms. Nor is the political situation there at all ideal. But there has been extensive reconstruction, infant mortality has dropped (not increased), education has improved, etc.

The Baghdad regime has long had more than enough resources to provide food and medical care for the Iraqi population. It's just that it prefers to spend the money on the military and repressive apparatus, on its nuclear/chemical/biological weapons programs, on presidential palaces, etc. (Also, it has good reasons to want to punish the Shia majority in the south of the country, who hate the regime passionately.)

It is widely believed in the Arab world, and elsewhere, that U.N. sanctions are starving Iraqi children. This belief is politically important, but it's false.

=> All that prevents another massive bloodbath in Iraqi Kurdistan is the fact that Saddam Hussein is constrained by a combination of the sanctions (which have unraveled considerably, but still haven't broken down completely) and fear of U.S. military retaliation. American protection (buttressed to some degree by British political support) is what's keeping these people alive.

=> If Saddam Hussein breaks out of the box he's now in--which would happen, for example, if sanctions collapsed while the present Iraqi regime is still in power, and/or if Saddam Hussein gets nuclear weapons, which will give him impunity--then one predictable outcome, in the fairly near term, is an attempt at some kind of Final Solution to the Kurdish problem in northern Iraq. Since genocide is one likely outcome of ending sanctions while the current regime is still in power, people who advocate such measures should be aware of what they're promoting.


There's more, but that's a start.

Jeff Weintraub