Canada should say no to war with Iraq
UN should put up to 1,000 inspectors to comb the country

The Hill Times
By Senator Douglas Roche

OTTAWA--Debating the validity of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's evidence that Iraq is in material breach of UN Security Council resolutions distracts us from the real question Canada has to answer: should Canada support war against Iraq?

My answer is no.

First, it does not follow that war is necessary because Saddam Hussein is in material breach of Resolution 1441. Rather, the Security Council should now exercise its authority to put ? as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has urged ? up to 1,000 inspectors into Iraq to comb every corner of the country on a permanent basis. Such a robust monitoring regime would ensure that Iraq could not hide or develop weapons of mass destruction.

Carter, who won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, says the cost of a permanent on-site inspection team would be miniscule compared to war. Saddam Hussein would have no choice but to comply, the results would be certain: military and civilian casualties would be avoided, there would be unanimous worldwide support, and the U.S. could regain its leadership in combating the real threat of international terrorism.

Canada is well-placed to advance the argument for the most stringent verification system. For decades, this country has led the way in developing the scientific expertise for verification methods to lock in arms control and disarmament treaties. Canada was a political leader in advancing verification in the UN system long before former U.S. president Ronald Reagan made famous his slogan, "Trust but verify."

Whatever the content of materials possessed by Iraq that could be made into weapons of mass destruction, it is clear that there is no imminent danger of an attack on the West by Iraq. It does not have the capability. Not even Mr. Powell alleges this. Absent imminent aggression, international law does not permit a pre-emptive attack.

Nonetheless, the U.S. argues that, because of Sept. 11, 2001, we don't know where the next attack is coming from and it must be headed off by pre-emptive attack. It is possible that, pressured by the U.S., the UN Security Council may pass a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. Many people argue that Canada should then join in because the war would have been made legal by the UN.

The most fateful decision will then be forced on the Government of Canada: how to say no to a war led by the U.S. and permitted by the UN.

The reason we should not do so is straightforward: based on the experience of the first Gulf War in 1991, and the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, warfare waged by the U.S. far exceeds the military action permitted by humanitarian law. The 1991 war was characterized by more than 100,000 bombing raids over Iraq with an overall death toll of more than 200,000 civilians and combatants. Tens of thousands more deaths followed over the years due to the decimated infrastructure and economic sanctions. The bombing in Afghanistan dislocated the lives of many thousands of persons and destroyed an already battered infrastructure that now has to be rebuilt.

In a new battle for Baghdad, MEDACT, the international medical charity, estimates between 48,000 and 260,000 deaths. If the conflict turns nuclear, which some U.S. officials have said is possible if Saddam Hussein used either biological or chemical weapons, the death toll would exceed four million. A Canadian-led International Study Team of physicians and public health experts, led by Dr. Eric Hoskins of War Child Canada, predicts an extraordinary human disaster if war occurs, with children bearing the brunt of it.

Since U.S. military strategy, already released to the media, is to destroy the Iraqi infrastructure in the first days of the war by intensive bombing with cruise missiles, it is evident that humanitarian law will be breached. The rules for a "just war" ? limitation and proportionality in damage caused ? will be flouted, just as they were in the previous campaigns. It would be one thing for a military force under the direct control of the UN Security Council to take a limited military action against Saddam Hussein; it is quite another for the U.S. to use the legitimacy conferred by the UN to launch an all-out attack that will bring death and destruction to innocent people. Far better for the U.S. to work with its allies to make the whole Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction as called for in an earlier UN resolution.

The only "smoking gun" that Secretary Powell produced was confirmation of Iraq's failure to comply with Resolution 1441. That is not a reason for war. Moreover, as The Independent of London says, war on Iraq will destabilize the whole region, would provoke a backlash from fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and "would virtually guarantee an upsurge in global terrorism."

It is not "pro-Iraq" to oppose war there. It is not "anti-U.S." to say no to a bombing campaign that will devastate the Iraqi people. We should continue to support the whole UN system, which works to build the conditions for peace even if we oppose a Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention. By holding out for a stringent verification system, Canada can help to ensure the de-fanging of Saddam Hussein without a war that can have untold consequences for humanity. We have the ability to achieve the liberation of Iraq without the decimation of its people.