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Another America
by Hans von Sponeck


During frequent and extensive travels across the United States, I discovered 'another America.' What I found is an America which is concerned, well informed, human rights-minded as well as compassionate toward the plight of others. There is an America which wants to speak out. The growing public protests in Washington and elsewhere in the United States against the Middle East policy of the US government is undeniable evidence.

A good number of United States citizens have had the courage to visit Iraq while ignoring threats of penalty by their government. They have seen the deepening human crisis and returned aware of wrong images they are receiving at home about the causes of Iraqi suffering. To point this out is not playing into the hands of the Baghdad government or worse, spreading propaganda. The Iraq story is simply different from the one US administrations are portraying.

The oil-for-food programme, the humanitarian exemption for Iraq with pitiful annual limits of less than $150 per person as the value of actually arrived civilian supplies constitutes, no doubt, an important yet totally inadequate life-line. It is difficult to comprehend how the US representative could look into the eyes of his colleagues during a recent UN Security Council meeting and state that the US government was satisfied that the oil-for-food programme was meeting the needs of the Iraqi people. The uncomfortable truth is that the Iraqi people are held hostage to the compliance of their leader to ever shifting UN/US demands. Compare the injustice of this with Germany after World War II. The Germans were given massive Marshall Plan assistance when they lost the war and their leader was dead. By contrast, after the Gulf War, the Iraqis are punished because their leader survived.

The US and UK administrations dismiss these facts by pointing out that the Iraqi people are being punished by Baghdad. If true, why do we punish them further? Why is the political battle played on the backs of the Iraqi people? Is it, as Henry Kissinger bluntly observed many years ago, because 'oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs'?

The response to this reality is a deepening apprehension of decent people, in the US and elsewhere, against the sanction policy of punishment of the civilians in Iraq for something which they have not done. There is also an outcry against appalling disinformation. US authorities have made every conceivable effort to link Iraq to international terrorism and to the anthrax scare. They frighten the world with references to a resumption by Iraq of the production of weapons of mass destruction. What they are unable to offer are unambiguous facts. No responsible person would disagree that if such facts were indeed available the international community would have a right to respond.

The British and US intelligence organs have proudly proclaimed that in the war against the Taleban of Afghanistan they did have the technology to identify, from high altitudes, human presence in the caves of Afghanistan. They surely know what is in the ?caves of Iraq.? They know that Iraq is qualitatively disarmed. They have not forgotten what outgoing Secretary of Defence William Cohen conveyed to incoming President Bush on Jan. 10, namely that 'Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbours.' They have been told the same by former arms inspectors in Iraq. However, to admit this fact would constitute the death nail to the US Iraq policy.

To maintain such a false image also provides an important smoke screen at a time when the hawks are arguing for an attack on Iraq. Were there evidence that the Iraq government has been involved in any of the atrocities of terrorism before or after Sept. 11, there should be no delay in finding and punishing the perpetrators. At the same time, international warnings, particularly from the Arab League and its 22 -member governments, against an unwarranted strike on Iraq must be taken seriously. Calling for 'the lifting of sanctions on Iraq' and 'ending the tribulation against the fraternal Iraqi people' and the 'categorical rejection of an attack against Iraq' are strong statements contained in the Beirut summit's final communiqu of March 28, 2002. They cannot be ignored and provide, yet again, a double standard in dealing with the Middle East.

What is needed more urgently than anything else is to bomb injustice, not the Iraqi people. Travels across the United States have powerfully and impressively revealed that there is an America which shares this perception. In a democracy such a voice must be heard and taken into account.

The writer is former UN humanitarian aid coordinator to Iraq. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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