Open letter to Richard Butler, Chairman of UNSCOM

Richard Butler, Chairman of UNSCOM

Oct 26 1997

Dear Richard,

I recently saw you on an SBS Dateline documentary programme entitled "Sanctions and Survival". In the interview with Joanna Savill, you expressed the view that UNSCOM needed to conduct forensic work if Iraq was not telling the truth about its past weapons programme. More recently I can see by the anxiety on your face that the whole process is getting to you.

As the son of an Australian diplomat who grew up in a developing Islamic country I have seen that look before. It was on my father's face when he was requested by Canberra to make a more precise inventory about where Australian aid was distributed. While he was required to account for water pumps (not weapons of mass destruction) the process of tracking them down was just as frustrating.

The government of Iraq has said that they have given to you all information there is to know. I believe them. The real problem is one of cultural expectations. In cultures such as Iraq there isn't the precision in inventory you seek, especially considering the wartime conditions. Looking for it is just wasting your time, and proverbially hitting your head against a brick wall. There has been an accounting that is general and social- an individual itemization list does not exist by and large.

Your suggestion that Iraq is "putting forward versions of the truth" is understandable. Well, what do you expect in trying to get detail that clearly isn't there. It can only lead to people plainly "making -it -up" just to please you. And yet when you find out logically that this is in fact not the case, your world crumbles.

Do you really expect that the Iraqi military actually precisely counts and recrds the details the ammunition it gives its soldiers? These things are not deemed necessary. This might come as a shock to our culture or even that of the Chinese who count down to the last bullet. Then again I suppose the Chinese are also horrified that the Arabs randomly fire into the air to celebrate.

I have noticed that you have spent a great deal of your time in overseas posts in Germany and Austria where precision and detail are the order of the day. What a contrast it must be to come to the Arab world where generality rules, whether it is in time or place. Yet you will learn to adapt, albeit with a great amount of frustration, as my late father did. He was much more relaxed in a later posting in Malaysia than he was in Pakistan, although I suspect this was brought about, at least in part,through the use ethnic Chinese as intermediaries in doing the counting.

U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said, ``When accounting for nuclear weapons, close is not good enough. If you fail to account for just one nuclear device, that could mean the destruction of an entire city.'' This statement is flawed because Iraq (like Australia) does not have any nuclear weapons and never did. Incidently it should be noted that Richardson's friends in Israel do!

While I have not been to Baghdad in recent years, the memory of the culture (from the 1960s) remains indelibly printed in my mind. But back to today. More than seven years have passed since the UN embargo was imposed on Iraq. Children are still dying, and the mothers are suffering, as the SBS program revealed.

Please do not let a cultural divide block your sense of humanity.

Yours truly,

David Muller President, South Movement (Australia)