If ever the time has been propitious for hoping to end the nine years of strangling economic sanctions on Iraq, it is now.
The windows of opportunity to affect meaningful change have been few and far between over the years. Some thought the resignation of Scott Ritter would turn the tide. Others felt revelations concerning spying and other questionable acts by UNSCOM, which resulted in Iraq's expulsion of all weapons inspectors, would be the proverbial straw that broke the back of the sanctions. And still others thought the brutality and hypocrisy of the United States' pre-Ramadhan bombing spree on Iraq in 1998 would be the turning point. But none of this resulted in any real change.
The events of the past week, however, could change the scenario completely. The buzz last week was that Hans Spoenek, the U.N. Coordinator of humanitarian efforts in Iraq, would resign. He did that Monday. Following his lead on Tuesday was Jutta Burghart, the U.N. World Food Program representative in Iraq, who also tendered his resignation, voicing opposition to the sanctions program. Also on Tuesday, Syria announced that it would pursue closer economic ties with Iraq, the U.A.E called for an end to the sanctions and Pakistan signed on to export rice to Iraq and repair oil and electricity facilities as well.
The planets seem to be lining up.
On the domestic front, the State Department has scrambled to save face amidst this barrage of anti-sanction activity. But in its haste, the United States is slipping. James Rubin embarrassed himself and the State Department Monday by seeming overly enthusiastic at Spoenek's resignation. It is clear that a real threat to U.S. driven U.N. policy on Iraq exists.
Therefore, Muslims and other anti-sanctions activists must step to the plate now and deliver a crushing blow to the tool that has resulted in so many unnecessary deaths of innocent Iraqis. Letter writing campaigns must increase in magnitude. Call-ins to members of Congress must be done daily. Effective and strategic protests must take place to capitalize on this media moment that Iraq has. And every effort should be made to support Congressmen Campbell and Bonior in their continued efforts to work at the Federal level to uncouple economic restrictions from the overall sanctions program.
Additionally, individuals such as Hans Spoenek, Scott Ritter and Ramsey Clark must be given every opportunity to speak on this issue. Community workers need to solicit local newspapers to accept Op-Ed pieces from them, and university and civic groups such as the World Affairs Council must be approached with regard to scheduling speaking engagements for them as well.
The time is now. We know all too well how quickly the plight of Iraqi civilians fades from the headlines. Such an opportunity, as has presented itself now, may not reoccur for some time. And with enough voices raised in protest, maybe this time we can save our Iraqi brethren from continued catastrophe.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com