Peter Sluglett's contention that "invasion and occupation are the only means of ridding Iraq of the present regime" is implausible ("Return Iraq to Iraqis by removing Saddam", THES , February 21).
The US and the UK have had the means to foster domestic political change in Iraq since 1990-91. Had the United Nations Security Council resolution 687 (1991) covered human rights, debate on Iraq's political future would have moved centre stage.
A promise to return financial sovereignty in return for UN human rights monitoring and enforcement would have been difficult for any Iraqi regime to resist. Rejection of an offer to lift reparation payments and UN control of oil revenues would have involved the regime in massive loss of face in front of its population.
The centre of political debate would have changed. The resulting openness would probably have led to the disappearance of any residual problems about weapons of mass destruction.
There is considerable evidence that the Iraqi government was prepared to accept such a strategy, as was indicated to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the executive delegate of the UN secretary-general, in May 1991. Instead, the Security Council chose to continue sanctions that further undermined Iraqi civil society, strengthened the regime and gave it little incentive to comply. Even with compliance, UN control of Iraqi oil revenues would continue and reparations would be paid through to the 22nd century.
Nonetheless, a policy of UN-bolstered engagement with Iraq remains a viable proposition. Trading financial sovereignty against human rights monitoring/enforcement would have a massive impact on the regime. Despite all the damage inflicted by sanctions, Iraqi society retains vitality. It could respond to an external action linked not to destructive intervention but to the human rights of the population.
Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies
University of Exeter