Note: The following, originally placed on the Mainichi Daily News, Mainichi Interactive, on Thursday, May 1, 2003, is reproduced here with The Mainichi Shimbun's permission.

Let's help the Iraqi people

By Howard H. Baker, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan

May 1, 2003

When Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was toppled on April 9, we saw the jubilation of the citizens who realized that after more than two decades of living in fear and desperation, there was now freedom and the prospect of a better life. Now the difficult job of reconstruction and reconciliation begins. No one believes that it will be easy. As in the former Soviet republics, in Indonesia, and Afghanistan, making the transformation from dictatorships and failed regimes to representative government takes time.

The U.S. wants to assist. We will provide aid to help the Iraqi people establish local authorities, restore security to the streets, bring basic services of water, telephone, and electricity to their homes, and food to their shelves. The U.S. has already spent more than $600 million on emergency relief and reconstruction for Iraq. Nearly $500 million of that money has gone to international organizations, including $435 million to U.N. agencies for the procurement of food.

Ultimately, the Iraqi people will control their own destiny. As President Bush and Prime Minister Blair declared on April 8, coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as necessary to help the Iraqi people build their political institutions and reconstruct their country, but no longer. We will not impose a government on the Iraqi people - they will choose their own government. The good news is that the Iraqis are a talented people with a potentially wealthy country. It was the mismanagement and corruption by Saddam's regime that brought ruin to the economy. That regime is gone; therefore, the U.N. sanctions that were imposed after Saddam invaded Kuwait should now be removed.

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 661 in August 1990 that imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iraq restricting most imports and exports except for some medical supplies, food and other humanitarian items. Resolution 687, passed in April 1991 following the ceasefire, declared that a full trade embargo would remain in place pending periodic review of Iraqi compliance with disarmament.

Iraq should not be punished for the actions of a dictatorial regime that controlled them by terror and repression. Instead, the Iraqi people should be able to resume normal trading relationships with regional and global markets and benefit from participation in the international community. Iraq has one of the largest known oil reserves in the world. The oil belongs to the Iraqi people and can be an immediate source of revenue to help in their country's reconstruction. We look forward to the day in the very near future when Iraq's oil wealth is used to meet the needs of the Iraqi people. In the meantime, coalition involvement in the Iraqi oil sector will be for as short a time as possible with the goal to have production and marketing responsibility in the hands of a stable Iraqi authority. The U.S. government is working with coalition partners on how and when to lift economic sanctions. We also want to sit down with creditor countries to discuss debt relief.

The Iraqi people have suffered long enough. We can help by removing the vestiges of the Saddam regime by removing the sanctions and restoring to Iraq all the rights that accompany a peaceful member of the international community.