As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated.
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Excerpts from previous political updates, by subject:
Is U.S. technology helping Iraq target American pilots?
In mid-February 2001, Iraq was back in the news as U.S. and British jets pounded air defense sites south of Baghdad. The raid was in part timed to take out new air defense equipment that China's Huawei Technologies had helped Iraq develop before the equipment became operational. China has denied its firms were helping with the air defenses, but has admitted they were working in Iraq without UN approval.
How will Powell's new "smart sanctions" work?
The military strikes come at a time when the newly-installed Bush Administration has begun to reassess U.S. policy toward Iraq. When Secretary Powell traveled to the Middle East in February 2001, the broad outlines of a new U.S. policy began to emerge. He announced that he had won Arab agreement to modify sanctions on Iraq by letting in more civilian supplies, but tightening controls on military items - what he called "smart sanctions." With respect to the illegal flow of Iraqi oil, Secretary Powell said he had received Syria's assurance that any revenues from its newly-activated pipeline would go into the UN escrow account. Syria, however, does not seem to have confirmed Powell's stance publicly. Also at issue is the smuggling of oil and other goods through Iranian waters and over land through Turkey and Jordan.
To combat the smuggling of goods into Iraq, Powell reportedly proposes to post UN monitors at Iraq's borders and at the airports from which cargo flights to Iraq would be allowed. To make such a system attractive to front-line states, they might be allowed to buy reduced-rate Iraqi oil, with payments potentially put into special accounts that Iraq could use only to buy goods within the oil-buying state. The costs of patrolling borders, conducting inspections and other enforcement might be paid from the U.N. escrow account. Powell is also said to favor a plan for the United Nations to establish a list of oil companies authorized to buy Iraqi petroleum, cutting out the "nameplate" firms now thought to be abetting Iraq's effort to evade the embargo.
Secretary Powell's new diplomacy must be carried out in a political landscape greatly changed from the one in which he operated a decade ago. Today Iraq can pump as much oil as it wants; the trade sanctions against it are unpopular; U.N. inspections have ended; domestic opposition to Saddam Hussein is weak. In addition, Iraq has launched several successful moves to boost its position internationally - moves it hopes will break open the box in which Secretary Powell hopes to confine it.
The diplomatic chess game
A major crack in the diplomatic wall around Iraq developed in September 2000, when Russia and France started sending airline flights to Baghdad. The flights were the first in a decade to arrive without the permission of the UN sanctions committee, and they carried oil officials, medical staff, medical supplies, and cultural figures. Quickly afterward, flights arrived from Jordan, Yemen, the UAE, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, China and other countries. Following this success, Iraq restored internal airline service between Baghdad and cities in the no-fly zones, a move the United States chose not to oppose.
Iraq has also tried to exploit the turmoil following the breakdown of the Middle East peace talks. To show solidarity with its Arab neighbors, Iraq responded to Israeli-Arab violence by calling called for jihad in Palestine and by sending its elite Hammurabi Division, composed of about 15,000 Special Republican Guard troops, toward Jordan with tanks. Iraqi troops were also moved toward Kuwait and into the Kurdish zone in Northern Iraq. In October, Iraq was invited to attend the Arab summit for the first time since 1990. And in November, Iraq held a trade fair in Baghdad that was well attended even by newcomers, with some attendees flying in despite the embargo on air travel. Iraq has also moved to improve its ties with Iran, Syria and Egypt. Most recently, Saddam Hussein has started making cash payments to Palestinians killed in the clashes with Israel, who have been designated "martyrs," and has reportedly formed a new command headquarters for Iraqi troops who will join the fight against Israel if needed.
The sanctions standoff
By the time the Clinton administration left office, it had adopted a policy of accepting deadlock in the Security Council. The administration's goal was to isolate Iraq, maintain trade sanctions, and provide minimal support to Iraqi opposition forces - a strategy known as "containment plus." Despite a declaration in August 1999 that it was "concerned by activity at Iraqi sites known to be capable of producing WMD and long-range ballistic missiles," and warnings that it would "be prepared to use force again if Saddam takes threatening actions, such as trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction or their delivery systems," the Clinton administration took little action. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated definitively that the United States would not use force to make Iraq allow the resumption of arms inspections.
Any new U.S. policy must contend with the fact that Russia has now [April 2001] become Iraq's champion at the United Nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has openly pledged that Russia will work with Iraq to get the sanctions lifted. And in December 2000, Russia blocked the UN sanctions committee from telling buyers of Iraqi oil not to pay a surcharge that would go to an Iraqi-controlled account instead of the escrow account controlled by the UN. Iraq's action was a clear violation of U.N. sanctions, but Moscow supported it nevertheless. Iraq has also been pushing Russian and Chinese companies to depart from U.N. sanctions by working to develop Iraqi oil fields. Iraqi officials have hinted that if Russia and China do not cooperate, the fields could be given to someone else to develop.
Finally, in an attempt to set up a diplomatic channel independent of the Security Council, Iraq has begun to take its case directly to Secretary General Kofi Annan. In early November 2000, Mr. Annan agreed to see representatives of the Iraqi government at a summit-level meeting of Islamic nations in Doha, Qatar. After the meeting, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said: "We have agreed to open a comprehensive dialogue between the United Nations and Baghdad without preconditions." Mr. Annan then met Iraqi officials February 26-27, 2001, in New York to discuss the resumption of inspections and the lifting of sanctions.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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