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Post-conference press release
12 March 2001 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Conference Rapporteur: Colin Rowat 07768 056984 (Monday) / +1 (917) 517-5840 (thereafter)
Conference organiser: Tristan Jones 07977 225480
CASI Research Officer: Per Klevnas 07990 501905
CONFERENCE ON IRAQ POLICY EXPLORES ALTERNATIVES
An international conference in Cambridge this weekend explored the options facing Britain as it prepares to review its Iraq policy. Over 170 people from eight countries discussed smart sanctions, the protection of Iraqi minorities, Iraq's non-conventional weapons and its government. They included academics, analysts, members of NGOs, students, activists, diplomats and journalists.
All agreed that this is a time of change in the Middle East. Heads of state have changed both there and in the United States; the collapse of the peace process and Iraq's growing assertiveness make the region prone to change.
It was also agreed that none of the fundamental problems that had led Iraq to invade Kuwait in 1990 had been addressed. Iraq's foreign debts, spurring the invasion, had grown, making it the world's most highly indebted country; Kuwaitis felt little more secure about their future.
All agreed on the need to lift non-military sanctions. A decade of them has harmed Iraqis without targeting Iraq's government, and they are rapidly losing legitimacy. Alistair Millar of the US think tank, the Fourth Freedom Forum, argued for a use of "smart sanctions", removing bans on commercial trade while tightening those against the Iraqi regime - financial and travel bans on its members. Prof. Tim Niblock of Exeter University disagreed, arguing that applying the good idea of smart sanctions to Iraq, where "dumb" sanctions have been so damaging might turn opinion against them. All agreed that the current arrangement of 180 day "plans" were harmful and should be moved beyond.
Abbas Alnasrawi and Kamil Mahdi, economists from Vermont and Exeter universities, explained that Iraq now had long term development problems that would not disappear overnight. Michael Schneider, from Swiss law firm Lalive and Partners, argued that Iraq's war reparations were more onerous than those imposed on Germany at Versailles. He was also concerned by their disregard for juridical norms, comparing them to the Spanish Inquisition.
It was agreed that Iraq's Kurdish population could be cared for partly by UN retention of some Iraqi oil revenues for their use. Iraqi Kurds Siamand Banaa and Shorshaji Hagi pointed to a unanimous 1991 vote in Iraq's Kurdish assembly calling for autonomy within a federated Iraq as the necessary basis for their future relations with Baghdad.
Husayn Al-Shahristani, an Iraqi nuclear scientist tortured and imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, explained Iraq's non-conventional weapons capacity. Bristol University's Eric Herring argued that British and American politicians have often, desiring to appear tough, actually taken steps that undermine arms control in Iraq, for example the December 1998 bombing of Iraq which predictably led to an end to weapons inspections. SOAS' Charles Tripp explained that the Iraqi government has shown itself to understand deterrence and suggested that a "language of deterrence" might allow for its regional reintegration.
Tripp and Cambridge University's George Joffé explained that Saddam Hussein's government certainly had its own peculiarities but that many of its features would be possessed by any Iraqi government. The next government would most likely be formed by members of the current government or by an uneasy military triumvirate. Against Miller's argument that members of the current regime should be banned from travel, the Next Century Foundation's William Morris was concerned that further isolating the all members of the regime would make it harder to negotiate with them, and possibly prompt them to take more dangerous actions.
The conference was hosted by CASI, the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, a registered society at the University of Cambridge. Founded in 1997, CASI has sought the lifting of non-military sanctions on Iraq for humanitarian reasons. In 1999 it organised the UK speaking tour of former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday and held its first international conference. Its committee members are all students and volunteers.
The conference programme, and speaker biographies, as well as further information about CASI, are available at www.casi.org.uk/conf2001/press.html
Contact details are at the top of this press release