Dáil Éireann - Volume 496 - 12 November, 1998

Adjournment Debate. - Crisis in Iraq.

Mr. M. Higgins: I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs for coming into the House. He will recall a visit we made to Baghdad before the Gulf War. We are familiar with the region.

I have raised this issue on the Adjournment because I feel that we are inexorably and silently slipping towards acceptance of a military solution to the Iraqi problem. Within the few minutes available I have to be economic with what I can say.

Lest there be the slightest misconstruction, I have always condemned Saddam Hussein's actions, even before the Gulf War when he used mustard gas against the Kurds. However, I am not satisfied that the non-military options have been exhausted. For example, the decision by the head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, to withdraw personnel from Iraq was taken after a telephone call informing Kofi Annan and at the request of the United States. The UN is a representative body of the family of nations and is responsible to all nations. All Irish Governments have stressed non-military solutions and the importance of exhausting diplomatic solutions to conflicts, even to the point of tedium if necessary.

Irish parliamentarians who recently visited Iraq confirmed what we had suspected. Namely, that the Iraqi people, particularly civilians, children and those suffering from illnesses, including cancers, have been paying an enormous price for the war. I have been struck by the inappropriateness and crudeness of the mechanism which allowed Iraq to export oil under the famous oil for food aid agreement. Irish people do not necessarily know that from the revenue Iraq earns from these exports, it must deduct payment for the war, payment to companies who lost business during the war, and other commercial fines, before it can be [1119] used on humanitarian expenditure. As a result, some have suggested that only 40 cents out of every dollar is available for humanitarian aid expenditure.

On 29 October, I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Minister to make a statement regarding the circumstances which led to the recent resignation of the UN co-ordinator for humanitarian relief in Iraq. On another occasion I asked him to make a statement on the general situation in Iraq. I accept that he cannot comment in detail on the situation regarding the humanitarian co-ordinator and the UN. However, this raises an issue. What was unsaid in my question and not addressed in the Minister's answer, was that the co-ordinator was frustrated at the impossibility of delivering humanitarian relief in the most terrible conditions to those who did not initiate the conflict — ordinary civilians, women, children and those suffering illnesses. He more or less threw in the towel.

I believe we are witnessing a certain kind of macho insistence on utter compliance which is somewhat one-sided. It is difficult for me to say this, but I have a moral obligation to do so; this situation could be more easily resolved if it was known where the goal posts are to be. Are the goalposts to be changed and what is the end point of inspection? Is there a point at which relief can flow and exports can resume? The international community seemed to receive some evidence that if a definite end point or three month period were specified, both parties could reach agreement. I , the Minister and others are implacably opposed to war as a solution. We want to see a greater effort made, even at this late stage, to avert that through the methods to which I have referred.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews): I am grateful to Deputy Higgins for raising this matter which is one of deep and mounting concern for the Government. The origins of the current crisis lie in the implementation of the resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1991 to deal with the threat to international peace posed by the weapons of mass destruction possessed by the Iraqi Government in the nuclear, chemical and biological areas.

Through Resolution 687 of April 1991, the council authorised the setting up of a special UN Commission, UNSCOM, to oversee the disarmament and destruction of these weapons. The resolution also provides for lifting the sanctions which were imposed by the Security Council following the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, once the Security Council has been satisfied that the question of the payment by Iraq of compensation on foot of the war has been addressed and the disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction has been verified.

While much work has been done in the nuclear area, marked reluctance by Iraq to comply with the terms of Resolution 687, as well as the other resolutions passed by the Security Council, has [1120] led to a series of escalating crises between Iraq and the council. Earlier this year, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, diffused the most serious of these situations, until the present one, when he reached an agreement with the Iraqi Government which resulted in UNSCOM continuing its work subject to certain changes in the modalities of its inspections. Shortly after that, the Security Council, in Resolution 1154, stressed that any violation of this agreement, or the previous UN resolutions relating to the destruction of Iraq's inventory of such weapons, “would have the severest consequences for Iraq”. Regular inspections by UNSCOM were resumed after that for a period of several months.

On 5 August, Iraq announced it had decided to suspend co-operation with UNSCOM again. On 9 September, the Security Council agreed to Resolution 1191 which condemned this decision by Iraq. The council called on Iraq to rescind that decision and announced that it would not now conduct a comprehensive review of the sanctions regime established by the UN Security Council which was scheduled for October 1998 until that decision was formally rescinded.

The Secretary General has joined his voice to that of the council in relation to other resolutions, more particularly those of 30 October and 5 November, Resolution 1205. Yesterday, he issued a statement strongly urging the leader and Government of Iraq to rescind the decision and resume immediate co-operation with the disarmament inspectors. He indicated his understanding for the wish of the Iraqi Government to have the Security Council sanctions lifted but pointed out that the only way to achieve this was for Iraq to co-operate fully with the council. He believed the comprehensive review of the sanctions agreed by the council offered Iraq a genuine opportunity and, provided Iraq co-operates, would allow them to see light at the end of the tunnel.

The situation in Iraq was again addressed by the EU General Affairs Council which I attended on 9 November. In a statement issued after its deliberations, the council condemned Iraq's decision of 31 October as totally unacceptable and stated that the EU supported the terms of the Security Council resolution of 5 November.

In addition to the question of neutralising Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Deputy Higgins properly pointed out that there is also a humanitarian dimension to the current crisis. It is clear the sanctions are having a very serious effect on the welfare of the Iraqi people, in particular, of Iraqi women and children. The international community has demonstrated its concern at this. In 1995, the Security Council passed Resolution 986 initiating a food for aid programme, under which Iraq was permitted to export certain quantities of oil and to use the income so earned to pay for food and medical supplies. These supplies were to be distributed under UN supervision. In February of this year, after the Secretary General had reached the agreement with the Iraqi Government, the council doubled the value of the [1121] oil which Iraq was permitted to export to $5.2 billion every six months.

In a report to the Security Council in September, the UN Secretary General estimated that oil revenues for the period 30 May to 25 November could be as high as $3.3 billion. This would provide $2.178 billion for the humanitarian programme, which is still $1 billion less than needed to fully fund the enhanced distribution plan approved by the Secretary General last May and shows that much work still remains to be done.

The Government's position on the overall situation is quite clear. We fully support the Security Council in demanding full compliance by the Government of Iraq with the terms of its resolutions and we call on it to reconsider its position. Its compliance with these resolutions will make it possible for the entire issue of sanctions against Iraq to be addressed. I have noted the media reports regarding the possible use of force to get the Iraqi leadership to resume compliance with its obligations and I am entirely in agreement with the Deputy's views on that. It is clear that both the US and the UK are determined to exert the strongest possible pressure on Iraq to comply with the Security Council resolutions. The Security Council is now actively seized of this issue and held a meeting on the subject yesterday. It is the responsibility of the current members of the council to assess the extent of Iraq's failure to respond to the council's demands and the action that may be needed under the relevant provision of the Charter in order to ensure compliance.

The Secretary General of the UN has a definite role to play in the current crisis. Mr. Annan has interrupted his tour of North Africa and returned to New York where he will be in a position to assess how best he can contribute to a resolution of the current crisis. All opportunities for dialogue and all efforts to avoid the use of force must be fully explored. The Government is following the crisis closely and will keep the House informed of developments.