By William Walker
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau Chief
OTTAWA - The United Nations' economic sanctions against Iraq should be lifted to stop a continuing ``humanitarian tragedy,'' an all-party House of Commons committee is recommending.
And Canada should re-establish diplomatic ties with Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government, the unanimous foreign affairs committee report concludes. (See note 1.)
Canada supports the U.S. government-led position of full economic sanctions against Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Saddam's attacks on Kurdish Iraqi citizens and Iraq's missile attacks on Israel.
But Liberal government MPs who control the majority of votes on the foreign affairs committee boldly supported the recommendation for a radical change in policy.
Committee chairman Bill Graham (L-Toronto Centre-Rosedale) will be at the United Nations on Monday to discuss the report with Canada's U.N. ambassador Robert Fowler.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy arrived in New York City last night following a seven-hour flight from Geneva and will attend U.N. meetings there through next Thursday.
It is believed Axworthy supports the committee's report and wants to capitalize on Canada's chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council this month to raise the issue of reforming sanctions - not only against Iraq but in Kosovo as well - to avoid making ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their leaders.
``It's an attempt to put pressure on to get these issues of sanctions reviewed while Canada is presiding at the Security Council,'' Graham said in an interview yesterday.
The move will put pressure on the Americans.
Axworthy has already tried to raise the issue, but was reportedly shot down at a meeting last year in Singapore with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Axworthy had already crossed the Americans on issues such as the land-mine treaty ban, Cuba policy and the International Criminal Court.
So sources say he had decided to let the sanctions issue go - until now.
Canada's foreign affairs committee heard horrifying testimony from former U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, from church groups and other non-governmental organizations about the plight of Iraqi citizens.
Twenty years ago, Iraq was a relatively wealthy and modern country by Mideast standards.
The decade-old sanctions imposed by the West, however, have included a ceiling on the amount of oil Baghdad could export to buy food and medicine as well as a yearly limit on the amount of spare parts and equipment it could buy to support its dilapidated oil industry.
Iraq now has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, one in four children are chronically malnourished, the education system has collapsed and 60 per cent of Iraq's 22 million citizens don't have access to clean water.
The Commons report suggests ``delinking'' economic from military sanctions as well as ensuring that as sanctions are lifted, all measures remain in place to ensure that security and military issues continue to be addressed.
A coalition of groups representing Lutheran, Catholic, Mennonite, Presbyterian and United churches' world relief organizations and physicians' groups welcomed the report's call for an end to sanctions against Iraq.
The agencies said more than 4,000 children die in Iraq each month due to the conditions caused by sanctions and in total, more than 1 million Iraqi civilians have died.
``This is a very important step toward ending a sanctions regime that is illegal, unconscionable and immoral,'' said Dr. Sheila Zurbrigg of Physicians for Global Survival, part of the coalition.
``We've been very disappointed with the Canadian government's past support for U.S. positions around sanctions. (This report) sends a clear signal that a whole new approach is needed.''
Republished under "fair dealing" provisions (section 29) of the
Current list of Membership in all House Committee found here.
Note 1: Astonishingly, 104 - one hudred and four!! - members voted unanimously in favour of this report! Stockwell Day and various Reform party members too. Post-9/11 they can't jump into bed with our neighbour quickly enough.