The country Americans fear
By David Orchard

The most powerful country in the world is absolutely determined to go to war against Iraq. It fears that Iraq may, at some future date, attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction.

The world is familiar with the size, the wealth and the power of the United States of America. But few have a true picture of Iraq.

Perhaps the poorest country in the world, Iraq is virtually landlocked and would easily fit inside the province of Saskatchewan, with considerable space left over. Its 20 million people have an average income of $1 per day; doctors receive about $5 monthly. More than half of the people are unemployed. The World Health Organization tells us that most of the people are at a semi-starvation level.

Publicly stripped of most of its military capacity, Iraq has been inspected for weapons 9,000 times since 1991. The Iraqi people have been subjected to bombardment by U.S. and British war planes almost weekly, ever since the Gulf War ended in 1991. The bombings over the north and south of the country have targeted everything from sheep to the shepherds guarding them.

Impoverished, weak and vulnerable, Iraq is incapable of defending or even flying over these so-called "no-fly zones" that cover about two-thirds of its territory.

The once-prosperous Iraqi economy has been bled white by war and a decade of sanctions -- the most punitive in modern history. During this decade, more than a million Iraqis, mostly children, have died a painful death. Millions more are suffering severe damage and face drastically shortened lives.

During the Gulf War, the U.S. fired 200 tonnes of ammunition coated with depleted uranium into Iraq. This resulted in the radioactive contamination that is believed to be causing illness and death amongst the Iraqi people. Cancer and leukemia rates are now several times those preceding the war. Families pawn remaining family treasures to buy food or medicine for their children. Hospital shelves are barren; even common drugs are rare.

In 1998, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors declared that Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons technology. And there's been no evidence, then or since, that Iraq is anything other than it appears -- a war-devastated, essentially disarmed nation, struggling to survive under a harsh regime of sanctions and long and constant air bombardment.

Despite this, the U.S. administration says a preemptive strike is justified because Iraq may obtain weapons of mass destruction in the future. They claim to have proof of this, but they will not produce the proof. Whatever reports the current inspectors return with, they discount, stating with absolute certainty that the proof is there.

How can they speak with such certainty? It only seems possible if one has seen it with one's own eyes. Who among the U.S. administration has seen these weapons that others simply cannot find?

Around the world, governments have raised their objections to U.S. plans to assault Iraq, regardless of what the inspection team finds. This is also true of Iraq's closest neighbours, even Kuwait, who might be expected to most fear Iraq's intentions. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, although himself very supportive of the American administration's plan with respect to Iraq, does not appear to have the full support of his government and his country in this.

An unprovoked attack on another country is considered the supreme war crime, according to the Nuremberg judgment. And the U.N Charter, Article 4 states: "All members shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

The question is, "Do we live in a world where international law is respected by responsible nations?"

With a history of having fought to build a country that espouses democracy, independence, freedom and justice for all, one would expect the United States would want to be a shining example for the world. What they are seen to be doing in this Iraq situation is not. One nation, no matter how rich and powerful, has no right to ignore the laws and conventions by which other nations are expected, indeed required, to live.

If international law is not respected and upheld, the law of the jungle will rule.

Remembering its history of advocating legal dispute settlement by diplomatic and peaceful means, Canada must speak directly and forcefully for the rule of law and against the trampling of the weak by the powerful.

This means we must refuse to support an attack on Iraq.

Canada has been a loyal ally of the U.S. for many years. And although there is no doubt of the shock and sorrow our citizens felt for the victims of September 11, it is Canada's duty to point out that obliterating a defenseless nation that is not in any way even connected to this crime, is not an acceptable step to take.