The Common Good
July-August 2002

Why Not Attack Iraq?

by David Cortright | July-August 2002

There are viable alternatives to war, but only if we organize and speak out.

Bush administration officials are making plans for a major air war and ground invasion of Iraq that could come as early as this fall but more likely will occur in early 2003. The advocates of attacking Iraq say that the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein is part of the campaign against terrorism and is needed to prevent Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction.

There are viable alternatives to war. The most effective means of addressing the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is to resume U.N. weapons inspections. Previous U.N. disarmament efforts were successful in eliminating Iraq's nuclear weapons program and destroying most of its long- range ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. Because of these efforts, according to a 1999 U.N. report, "the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated."

To assure the return of inspectors and the completion of the U.N. disarmament mandate, the United States must drop the goal of armed regime change. Washington must also abide by the terms of Security Council resolutions, which promise the lifting of sanctions in exchange for Iraqi compliance with weapons dismantlement. The disarmament of Iraq must then lead to a Middle East "zone free from weapons of mass destruction," as specified in the original Gulf war cease-fire resolution.

War against Iraq would be monumental folly, for at least 10 reasons:

1. There is no justification for war. Iraq has not attacked or threatened the United States. It has not been implicated in the attacks of Sept. 11. There is no casus belli.

2. A military campaign against Iraq could kill thousands of innocent victims, inflicting further torment on a civilian population that has already suffered severely from more than 11 years of sanctions.

3. War and its aftermath would cost the United States tens of billions of dollars. The campaign against Afghanistan reportedly cost almost $2 billion a month. An attack against Iraq would be much larger, with proportionately greater costs.

4. The military overthrow of Saddam Hussein would require U.S. forces to occupy Iraq in hostile circumstances for a prolonged period of time.

5. War could prompt the very use of weapons of mass destruction that the administration seeks to prevent. If pressed to the wall by a U.S. attack, Saddam Hussein might use whatever weapons he possesses—probably chemical or biological weapons—against the only targets he can hit, Israel or the advancing U.S. troops.

6. A U.S. war against an Arab nation would further destabilize the Gulf region and the Middle East, adding fuel to the fires of violence that are already consuming Israel and Palestine.

7. The proposed war would stir further anti-American hatred, especially in Islamic nations. It would strengthen the forces of political extremism and lead to new suicide bombings against the United States and Israel.

8. Attacking Iraq would undermine the international cooperation needed to prosecute and block the funding of al Qaeda and other terrorist networks. Washington might win the battle against Iraq but lose the war against terrorism.

9. An unprovoked attack against Iraq would set a dangerous precedent of pre-emptive war that would undermine the very foundations of international security.

10. War against Iraq would make the United States an outlaw nation. It would violate the U.N. Charter and the principles of international law and lead to the further weakening of the United Nations.

It is imperative that we take action to prevent a military campaign against Iraq. War is not inevitable, as indicated by the continuing debates about Iraq within the Bush administration. If we organize and speak out, we can prevent the coming disaster and begin to build support for a more peaceful and cooperative approach to preventing terrorism and reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction.

David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer, is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum.

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