The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Two interesting articles on sanctions.


>From The Economist, April 25:

Waiting for the next Iraqi Crisis.

As tension rises once again between Iraq and the United Nations, ordinary
Iraqis are once again the losers.

Ask an Iraqi for the time, and he will not be able to tell you. Pawned
watches lie in piles in the jewellery shops. No matter: with the United
Nations' economic embargo now in its eighth year, with the government and
the UN gearing up for yet another row over weapons inspections, and with
international efforts to ease the plight of ordinary Iraqis getting
nowhere, the passage of time seems pretty meaningless in Iraq.
If anything, it is moving backwards. To Hamid Al-Ghreiry, a
prisoner-of-war who returned to the country this month after 16 years'
captivity in Iran, everything is "much worse than in the 1970s".

In February, Kofi Annan, the UN's secretary-general, averted an
American-British bombardment of Iraq when he persuaded the government to
allow inspectors into eight presidential sites previously placed
off-limits. After a four-month crisis, some observers were bold enough to
detect a new spirit of co-operation between Iraqi authorities and UNSCOM,
the UN body charged with seeing that Iraq neither has nor proposes to have
any chemical and biological weapons or long-range missiles. Yet UNSCOM's
latest report, handed to the Security Council at the weekend, is gloomy,
concluding sombrely that there has been "virtually no progress" in
verifying Iraq's disarmament during the six months under review. This
means, to nobody's real surprise, that sanctions will remain in place at
least until the next report.

But Iraq has furiously rejected these findings, setting the stage for
another crisis. Officials say that UNSCOM, which now has access to every
building in the country, can no longer claim that Iraq is hiding anything.
This means, they say, that sanctions should be brought to an end. UNSCOM
replies that opening sites is not enough: Iraq must also provide positive
proof of its claims to have put an end to its chemical and biological

UNSCOM inspectors in Baghdad concede that Iraq has been less obstructive
of late. But their questions about inconsistencies in Iraq's account of
its weapons programme still go unanswered. Even the issue of presidential
palaces may not be solved. The inspectors consider their recent visits to
the compounds as no more than a starting-point but Iraq, which accuses the
inspectors of spying for America, has said it will not tolerate open-ended
snooping into Saddam Hussein's various homes.

Cracks are also appearing in the UN scheme to expand the oil-for-food
plan, whereby Iraq is allowed to sell a certain amount of oil to buy
humanitarian supplies. After Mr Annan sent a special team to assess the
scale of Iraqi deprivation, the Security Council decided that the
government should be allowed to increase its oil sales from $2
billion-worth to $5.3 billion-worth.

But Iraq says that its sanction-stricken oil-wells can pump no more than
$4 billion-worth - and then only after $300m of spare parts have been
agreed to by the UN's Sanctions Committee and installed. A team sent by Mr
Annan to inspect Iraq's pumping capacity reckons that even the $4 billion
estimate is optimistic, given the slump in oil prices. Despite the UN's
own assessment of Iraqi needs, the scale of the expanded deal will have to

So far, the scheme has brought Iraqis little relief. Although oil-for-food
was supposed to start nearly two years ago, progress has been intolerably
slow. The monthly ration did not reach the level originally envisioned by
the UN until this March - and is still not so very different from the one
that the Iraqi authorities used to supply on their own. A study conducted
by the World Food Programme last year showed scarcely any improvement in
the diet: it found that 27% of children in a typical provincial town were
stunted. The first medical supplies arrived less than a year ago, and
World Health Organization statistics show the incidence of all manner of
illnesses rising unabated: the number of Iraqi babies who die before they
are one has more than tripled since sanctions began.

Iraq blames this continuing distress on the American and British
representatives on the Sanctions Committee, which regulates all imports.
These Americans and British, say Iraqi officials, deliberately delay
harmless supplies, ostensibly because they might have some implausible
military purpose. They cite the examples of pencils for schoolchildren,
which they banned lest their leads be turned into weapons, and ambulances,
whose delivery was delayed for fear that the army might appropriate them.
Even the UN monitors in Baghdad seem a little mystified by the committee's
fear that humanitarian goods will be put to nefarious ends. They
themselves are there, after all, to ensure that this dpes not happen.

America and Britain argue that the Iraqi government has itself to blame
for oil-for-food's slow progress. To begin with, Iraq spurned the plan.
Then, they say, when the scheme did eventually come into operation, the
government simply stopped spending the money it already had on basic
rations and medical care and used it for other things instead.

Certainly, the government has found money from somewhere, despite the
blockade on its oil sales. A grandiose new palace is going up on the
outskirts of Baghdad (for guests, the information ministry says). Newly
completed mosques adorn most Iraqi cities. And the police zip around
Baghdad in smart new Hyundai cars which plainly did not enter with the
approval of the Security Council.

But neither tightening the loopholes in sanctions nor tinkering with the
oil-for-food programme will do much good, according to UN workers in
Baghdad. They argue that extra rations or medical supplies are of limited
use without improvements to Iraq's debilitated sanitation system,
electricity grid and transport network. Much of the spending in the
expanded oil-for-food deal, on whatever scale it proceeds, is expected to
be put to such ends.

But these improvements can take place only when the Sanctions Committee
agrees to the needed imports. And it could all be brought to naught if the
current snarling should lead to a military strike that smashes Iraq's
crumbling infrastructure before it can even begin to be repaired.


>From The Independent, 25th April :

Poisoned Tigris spreads river of death in Iraq

by Patrick Cockburn, Baghdad.

When Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, sacked Baghdad in 1258 Iraqis
say that the water in the river Tigris changed colour twice. On the first
day it turned red with the blood of the thousands slaughtered by the
Mongols; on the second it went black because of the ink from the books -
from what were then the greatest libraries in the world - which Hulagu
threw into the river.

Now the Tigris has changed colour again, It is a rich cafe-au-lait brown,
because raw sewage from 3.5 million people in Baghdad and cities upstream
is entering the river. As with Mongols the new colour implies disaster.
Contamination of drinking water is the main reason why the proportion of
Iraqi children who die before they reach 12 months old has risen from 3.7
per cent
in the year before sanctions were imposed in 1990 to 12 per cent  today.

"The infrastructure is collapsing," says Dennis Halliday, the UN
Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq. "Electric power is 40 per cent of what
it used to be. This affects drinkable water supplies and infant
mortality." In the flat Iraqi countryside everything, both water and
sewage, must be pumped. There are few wells. Almost all water must come
from the Tigris and Euphrates and both get progressively dirtier as they
pass through the cities of Iraq on their way to the sea.

In Diyala province, east of the capital. last week, a woman named Nahay
Mohammed was clambering down the side of an irrigation canal with a steel
bucket to get water. "It is bad water, of course," she said. "it gives you
stomach pains and hurts the kidneys, but the purified water supply was cut
off in 1991". Heliathan Alwan, a farmer from the same village, said he had
recently visited the nearest town to see if they could restore the
drinking water but was told it was impossible.

A visit to the main water plant showed why. The technician in charge was
away and we were shown around by a watchman who said he earned 3 pounds a
month. He lived beside the plant in a mud-and-reed house, which looked
exactly like those inhabited by ancient Sumericans 3000 years ago. Half
the pumps were not working and those that were had been repaired by the
International Committee of the Red Cross.

In Baghdad, Evaristo Oliveira, a water and sanitation engineer with the
red Cross, says the main problems in supplying water are lack of spare
parts, absence of staff and poor electrical supply. He said: "I have seen
plants where there are naked electrical wires carrying a high current and
the only insulation are plastic bags."

Dennis Halliday says that his office has estimated that $10bn is needed to
restore Iraq's elctrical system, but only $300m can be afforded.

He adds: "We gave generators that are 20 years old. When we go to the
manufacturers either they don't make the spare parts any more or they
don't want to sell them."

Given that Iraq has the capacity to export only $4 billion worth of oil
every six months it is unlikely that the Iraqi electrical system will be
restored any time soon. In the meantime, Baghdad has power cuts of about
five or six hours a day - a figure which rises to 14-16 hours in the

In what was once a prosperous village called al-Yaat on the banks of the
Diyala river, Buha'a Hussein al-Sayef explained the effect of the lack of
electricity and water on his community of 300 people.

The small water purification plant has long ceased working. They now pump
contaminated irrigation water directly to their homes. Mr Al-Sayef said:
"Last year some of our fields dried and because we did not have enough
electricty to pumo water to them. We had to abandon them."

In theory, people in Al-Yaat should be better off than almost anybody else
in Iraq, They have rich land, grow their own food and can take advantage
of high prices in the city. Mr Al-Sayef said that life was not quite like
that. He introduced his cousin Ahmed, a visibly ailing 24-year-old who had
been operated on at the Cromwell hospital in London in 1985 for heart
problems. He was meant to have further surgery, but the family had not
been able to pay for it.

Other farmers say that, along with the deterioration of the water and
electricity supply, the collapse of the Iraqi medical system is their main
problem. "I am desperate," said Ali Ahmed Suwaidan, as he stood in his
farmyard in the nearby village of al-Aitha. He held out old X-rays of the
head of his five-year-old daughter Fatima, who was playing at his feet.
"There is something wrong with her balance," he explained. "She cannot
stand up." He held her upright for a moment and then removed his hands.
Fatima immediately crumpled.

"Everybody here feels gloomy and depressed because of the results of
sanctions," says Mr al-Sayef. "That is probably why so many people fall

The reasons for the depression are obvious enough. "For most Iraqis the
pleasant things of life are missing," says Dennis Halliday. Iraqis need to
look forward to more than getting just enough to eat to stay alive. He
says that when Iraqi children were asked in a poll what they would like
for their birthday most said they wanted an egg.


This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To be removed/added, email, NOT the
whole list. Archived at

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]