(Washington, DC--July 1, 2001) The existing system of sanctions against Baghdad has allowed conditions to improve dramatically in northern Iraq, and thus changing them could destabilize that region, according to a Middle East expert who recently spent nine months in that region. And that in turn, he said, could end by helping Saddam Hussein.
Michael Rubin, a Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted that the local Kurdish population in northern Iraq has re-established a functional civic society there despite the burdens of the current UN sanctions against Iraq. Since 1996, he reported, child mortality there is down, 600 schools have been rebuilt, 20,000 houses reconstructed, 800 water systems restored, over 2,300 km of access roads paved, and the local Kurdish-controlled administration collects enough taxes to fund basic government services. This stability would be jeopardized if the current UN sanctions regime is relaxed, Rubin said.
In the ten years since the UN-sponsored "no-fly zone" was established in northern Iraq, Rubin said, more than three million refugees, mainly ethnic Kurds, returned to the region from Turkey and Iran. They originally had fled their homes during the 1980's, because of chemical weapons attacks and other brutal actions by Saddam Hussein that destroyed nearly 5,000 villages populated by Iraq's non-Arab minorities.
The Hussein regime forced another 800,000 internal refugees to leave central and southern Iraq and emigrate north, after having their property and ration cards confiscated. Were the no fly zone to be abandoned, Rubin predicted, many of these people would again flee to Turkey and Iran, thereby adding new strains to the region's fragile peace.