NATO’s nightly airstrikes against Yugoslavia have ceased, but the periodic Anglo-American bombing of Iraq continues. Between mid-April and July 4, American and British warplanes hit Iraq twelve times, almost always in the northern air-exclusion zone. In the Pentagon’s communiqués on the subject, the city of Mosul, located 250 miles north of Baghdad, appeared with monotonous regularity.
A glance at a map of Iraq reveals why this is so. While almost half the area and the population of the predominantly Kurdish Kurdistan Autonomous Region (KAR), consisting of three provinces, are below the 36th parallel, the area above that parallel–where the British and the Americans established the “no-fly zone” to protect the Kurds–contains a vast swath of the overwhelmingly Arab sector of Iraq, with Mosul as its principal city. This area is administered by the Iraqi government, which maintains a large garrison and many air defense facilities in and around Mosul. Striking such a target practically guarantees continued confrontation between Iraq and the United States.
On the ground, despite tireless efforts by the State Department to bring about a lasting rapprochement between the feuding Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), success continues to elude the Clinton Administration. Following nine days in late June of intensive talks chaired by US officials in Washington, the KDP and PUK leaders achieved nothing more than an agreement to refrain from issuing negative press statements and to permit the opening of party offices in each other’s administered areas. They failed to agree on such substantive issues as dividing the lucrative customs revenue derived from the truck export of Iraqi diesel oil to Turkey along the Iraq-Turkey frontier, worth $400 million annually–a major bone of contention. Nor did they find common ground on the weighty subject of holding elections to the regional assembly, originally scheduled for July, to pave the way for a joint administration of the KAR. This was good news for Ankara, which is bitterly opposed to the consolidation of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, as well as Baghdad, which frets over its continued exclusion from governing the KAR.
On July 2 Iraq firmly repeated its rejection of the Anglo-Dutch UN Security Council draft resolution, which proposes lifting the ban on Iraqi exports, on certain conditions. The conditions are that the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) be replaced by a larger, more generously funded body, the UN Commission for Inspection and Monitoring; that Iraq be required to give UNCIM teams “immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation they may wish to inspect”; and that strict financial controls be maintained regarding Iraqi oil sales. This is a nonstarter, since Baghdad insists that it cooperated fully with UNSCOM and that the sanctions on both exports and imports be lifted unconditionally. Iraqi deputy premier Tariq Aziz argues that the Anglo-Dutch draft imposes restrictions on Iraq that go beyond the existing Security Council resolutions.
A Russian-Chinese draft offers a compromise that would end all sanctions if Baghdad agreed to a monitoring regime for its weapons of mass destruction. While the Russian-Chinese proposal is backed by France, the Anglo-Dutch draft has the support of President Clinton. Optimists detect a welcome shift in Clinton’s stance from his stated intention to invoke Washington’s Security Council veto to maintain sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Pessimists argue that Clinton endorsed the Anglo-Dutch proposal only because he reckoned that Saddam would reject it. But nothing is settled, because the Security Council has yet to vote on either draft resolution.