Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 8 August 2004

Does Iraq invasion inhibit intervention in Sudan?


By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Sudan’s Darfur region may be a prime target for humanitarian intervention but the U.S. invasion of Iraq has given those opposed to any military action some strong arguments, analysts say.

Even if the United States, Britain or any other European nation wanted to send troops, Islamic nations and other countries would voice strong disapproval and immediately invoke the specter of Iraq, where insurgents mount daily attacks against the U.S.-led forces regarded by many as occupiers.

Sudan itself lost no time doing so.

"You know what is going to happen?" Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said when asked about military action to contain Arab militias terrorizing African villagers in the Darfur region, where an estimated 30,000 people have died.

"After one or two months, these forces are going to be considered by the people of Darfur as occupying forces and the same incidents which you are now facing in Iraq are going to be repeated in Darfur," Ismail said.

Sudan’s complaints have found resonance in the U.N. Security Council, where the United States and European members had trouble pushing through a resolution even hinting at sanctions, much less threatening military action.

The Bush administration said it invaded Iraq in quest of weapons of mass destruction and its link to terrorism, neither of which have been proven. Later, U.S. officials also spoke of Saddam Hussein’s crimes against his own people.

U.S. references to human rights to justify its invasion of Iraq was a "misuse" because it did not involve "catastrophic human violations as they occur or are about to occur," said Gareth Evans, a founder of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.

Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against his people — such as the gassing of Kurds in 1988 — came as an afterthought to U.S. leaders, he said in an interview.

"Trawling back through history and hanging your hat on violations in the past can be seen as cynical or opportunistic," said Evans, a former Australian foreign minister. "And when a really genuine case comes along, you get unwillingness.

"That is the tragedy for Darfur."


The concept of humanitarian intervention sparked an impassioned debate in 1999, when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the General Assembly with a warning that national sovereignty had its limits in the face of flagrant human rights violations. He made the same point in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in December 2001.

Annan recalled that the world failed to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994 but noted the U.S.-led NATO action to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999.

Other examples of humanitarian intervention include U.S. troops feeding the hungry in Somalia in 1992 and Australia’s efforts to stop a scorched earth campaign by pro-Indonesian militia in East Timor in late 1999.

Many are not sure military intervention is necessary in Darfur, and it may yet be provided by an African Union peacekeeping force of up to 3,000 soldiers, although that force still lacks resources.

"The sheer size of the invasion of Iraq, the central involvement of the world’s superpower and the enormous controversy surrounding the war meant that the Iraqi conflict overshadowed other military actions," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

"The result is that at a time of renewed interest in humanitarian intervention, the Iraq war and the effort to justify it, even in part in humanitarian terms, risk giving humanitarian intervention a bad name," Roth said.

Not everyone agrees Iraq has prevented even threats of military action in Darfur.

"It’s members of Congress who support the war in Iraq and members of Congress who did not support the war in Iraq who are equally concerned about it. So I just don’t understand the relationship between Iraq and this," said John Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the Bush administration’s former special envoy in Sudan.

Annan, however, acknowledged the Iraqi invasion would influence U.N. approval for any military intervention.

"We are still dealing with Iraq. We are not out of Iraq yet," Annan told a recent news conference.

"Any discussion of intervention in Sudan would be looked at very carefully by governments. I am not sure how quickly and how enthusiastically one would get support for that initiative. We have to be very clear on that," Annan said.

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