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Foreign Office response to Voices in the Wilderness UK postcards to Robin Cook



The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been replying to a postcard
addressed to Robin Cook designed by Voices in the Wilderness UK.  As
their reply is standard and may mislead people not familiar with the
issues I report on and respond to that which I received from a D. Walters
in the Middle East Department, dated 13 October, 1998.  This message
contains three parts:

1. the text of the original postcard;
2. the text of the FCO response;
3. comments on the FCO reponse.

As this message is being transmitted in ASCII format it does not contain
the few comments in bold or underlined of the original texts.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the following.  I have
sent a copy to the FCO asking to be corrected if I have misrepresented
issues and stating my openness to meeting personally with members of
the FCO.

Colin Rowat cir20@cam.ac.uk

THE TEXT OF THE POSTCARD

Dear Foreign Secretary,

I am deeply concerned that the United Nations Security Council has
suspended review of the economic sanctions against Iraq - at your
instigation - at a time when falling oil prices mean that the Iraqi oil-for-
food deal is in crisis. 40,000 children under five have died of hunger and
disease over the last year as a result of the sanctions (UNICEF, 30 April
1998).

I ask you as a matter of great urgency to support Kofi Annan's call for a
comprehensive review of the sanctions.  An ethical policy towards the
children of Iraq would be to lift the economic sanctions now.

THE TEXT OF THE FCO LETTER [Paragraph numbering mine]

1. Thank you for your postcard to Robin Cook about sanctions on Iraq.  I
have been asked to reply.

2. Your assertion that sanctions reviews were suspended at HMG's
instigation is simply untrue.  On 9 September the UN Security Council
adopted resolution [sic] 1194 suspending sanctions reviews in response
to Iraq's decision of 5 August to suspend most cooperation with [sic]
United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International
Atomic Energy Association [sic; the IAEA is an Agency, not an
Association].  The resolution was supported by all fifteen members of
the Security Council - Bahrain, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, Gabon,
Gambia, Japan, Kenya, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, UK and US.

3. Iraq is well aware of what it needs to do to ensure that the process of
lifting sanctions can begin: it must comply with its obligations under the
relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular its obligations with
respect to its weapons of mass destruction programme.  According to
the terms of SCR 687 [which extended the sanctions after Iraq's expulsion
from Kuwait], only when UNSCOM and the IAEA have reported that
Iraq has fully complied can the Security Council begin to consider lifting
the oil embargo.

4. You mention the UN Secretary General's proposal for a comprehensive
review of Iraq's outstanding obligations under the SCR.  The Security
Council is formulating ideas for the review.  But as SCR 1194 makes clear,
the review cannot begin until Iraq resumes full cooperation with
UNSCOM/IAEA.

5. You refer to a UNICEF report of 30 April, 1998.  We have some
concerns about some of the sources of data used in this report and their
interpretation.  We have raised our concerns about these through our
Mission in New York.

6. The import of food and medicines into Iraq have never been prevented
under the sanctions regime.  Sanctions are not aimed at the Iraqi people. 
They are designed to contain a ruthless dictator who, if unchecked, will
remain a serious threat to the region and to international peace and
stability.

7. The Iraqi Regime [sic] has proven time and again that they care
nothing for the Iraqi people and are not prepared to provide adequately
for their welfare.  This is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn
from: Saddam Hussein's recent announcement that shipments of
humanitarian [sic] from third countries were no longer acceptable; the
Iraqi regime's repeated prevarication over distribution plans for oil-for-
food; its failure to procure sufficient anti-biotics under oil-for-food set
against its request for luxury medical equipment such as lipo-suction
machines; the diversion of funds, which could be used to help the
civilian population, into the construction of numerous opulent palaces.

8. Meanwhile we are doing all we can to protect the Iraqi people from the
cynical policy of the Iraqi regime.  We drafted and co-sponsored
resolution [sic] 1153, which enhanced and expanded the oil-for-food
arrangements, more than doubling the amount of oil that Iraq is allowed
to sell - to US$ 5.3 billion every six months - in exchange for the purchase
of humanitarian aid.  The benefits of this improved package are now
noticeable, particularly in the northern governates [Iraqi Kurdistan],
where distribution is not hampered by the involvement of the Iraqi
government.  We also steered resolution [sic] 1175 through the Security
Council: this resolution provides for the upgrading of the Iraqi oil
infrastructure to enable it to meet the ceiling of the new expanded oil-for-
food programme.

9. The UK also donates vast sums in humanitarian aid to the people of
Iraq: since 1991, we have given 74 million in bilateral aid and [sic]
(including a new 7 million package announced earlier this year) and 24
million through the European Commission Humanitarian Office for
projects in Iraq.

signed: D Walters, Middle East Department.

COMMENTS ON THE FCO LETTER

2. According to Security Council press release SC 6571 the sponsors of
SCR 1194 were Costa Rica, the US and the UK.

3. Proponents of a hard line on Iraq point to SCR 687 (which links the
sanctions to Iraq's weapons) to validate their position.  If SCR 687
causes the Security Council to violate its commitment to uphold the UN
Charter, though, there may be conflicting legal principles at work.  The
UN Charter affirms, "universal respect for, and observance of, human
rights", which include (as defined in the Charter and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights) rights to life, health, education and
employment.  As these rights have arguably been violated in the case of
Iraq (although there are signs that caloric intake has increased) appeal to
SCR 687 may not be sufficient.

The above legal principles may be somewhat moot as powerful nations
routinely ignore United Nations resolutions.  For example, repeated
Security Council resolutions affirm the, "independence, territorial
integrity and political sovereignty of Iraq" (q.v. SCR 686, 687, 688, 949,
986, 1111, 1115, 1137 or Chapter I of the UN Charter). At the same time
Turkey has run extended military campaigns in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi
government has been excluded from involvement in aid distribution there
and the US Congress has recently taken a decision, 10:1 in favour, to,
"channel up to $97m (57m) in overt military aid to Iraqi groups that seek
to oust the government of President Saddam Hussein" (Financial Times,
7/10/98).  All of these actions may be desirable but they do not indicate
the same absolute respect for Security Council Resolutions that the FCO
appeals to in the case of the sanctions.

Examples less related to Iraq include the most unanimous annual General
Assembly resolutions: those condemning the United States (for its
sanctions against Cuba) and Israel.  When the US does not even pay its
membership dues to the UN it is no surprise that it adheres selectively to
UN resolutions.

The final sentence in this paragraph refers to an oil embargo. The
economic sanctions are more extensive than that, permitting Iraq only to
export limited amounts of oil and to make purchases of food, medicine
and, more recently, spare parts for its oil equipment, in return.  Any
purchase can be vetoed by any of the 15 members of the UN Sanctions
Committee (each Security Council member is represented).  Security
Council resolutions have recognised that this bottleneck has led to very
irregular deliveries of imports to Iraq (q.v. SCR 1143).

4. See paragraph 3, above.  Earlier this summer the IAEA found Iraq in
compliance on nuclear issues.

5. UNICEF, with over 50 years of experience in assessing child health, is
the pre-eminent organisation in the world in this regard.  Its figures
crudely agree with those arising from the reports of other similarly
accomplished bodies, such as the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation.  While these figures may lack precision Prof. Peter Pellett,
chair of the nutrition department at the University of Massachusetts
(Amherst) and leader of a 1995 FAO mission to Iraq, commented that,
"irrespective of the actual numbers who have died the numbers are
excessive".

As the FCO has not forwarded details of its concerns we are unable to
evaluate them.

6. Until passage of SCR 687, after nine months of sanctions and the
bombing the 'humanitarian circumstances' required for the import of
foodstuffs by SCR 661 were not considered satisfied by the Security
Council.  This is acknowledged by SCR 666 (9/90) which determines to
keep the foodstuffs situation under constant review.  Despite the public
availability and clear wording of UN resolutions the FCO consistently
denies that food has ever been subject to the sanctions.

More important than whether food imports have been permitted is the
question of quantity.  The best guesses available in 1995 suggested that
over half a million extra children under five years of age had died as a
result of the sanctions; this number has only climbed (The Lancet,
2/12/95, based on FAO data).  Even now UNICEF reports that one third
of Iraqi children are malnourished.  It seems that only now is caloric
intake returning to recommended levels and, for the first time in eight
years, the ration includes animal protein.

To draw attention to these concerns is not to ignore issues of regional
security.  Incredibly, not only has the current sanctions policy inflicted
considerable suffering on the people of Iraq but it risks destabilising the
region further by sowing the seeds of future unrest.  The treatment of
Germany after the First World War is felt by many to have had this effect.

7. The Iraqi regime has opposed the wishes of the Security Council and
its chief players.  The conclusion that it cares nothing for the Iraqi
people neither follows logically from this observation nor does it seem to
be supported by other evidence. In a 1992 World Development article
Jean Dreze, a co-author of 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen
on much of his famine work, and Haris Gazdar studied the Iraqi food
rationing and distribution system.  Their random checks throughout the
country failed to find evidence of abuse and led them to wonder at the
paradox that, "a regime as repressive and intolerant as that of Saddam
Hussein should turn out to be so considerate and impartial in matters of
food distribution".  The Iraqi regime is clearly interested in retaining
power and popularity helps it to do so.  As an example of this, Iraq's
ruling Ba'ath party, ideologically an Arabic Socialist party, has been
refashioning itself as an Islamicist party to take advantage of the growth
of Iraqi Islam.

The FCO's claims about lipo-suction machines and palace building
cannot be assessed without evidence.  While the lipo-suction claim is
new the FCO has resisted requests for this in the case of the palace
building claim.  According to the New York-based Center for Economic
and Social Rights, this claim was first advanced by the US mission to the
UN; their figure of $1 billion was based on the cost of, "constructing
similar buildings in the region" (UNsanctioned Suffering, CESR, 1996).
The FCO has failed to answer whether imported materials have been
used for the alleged building programmes.  If not, then not only does the
building programme not reduce Iraq's capacity to import food and
medicine but it may be consistent with the Keynesian policy of
attempting to boost demand during a recession; ironically, Nobel
Laureate Sen recommends public works projects over direct distribution
of aid as a strategy for averting famine (New York Times, 15/10/98).  Even
if materials have been imported it is not clear that this has diverted
resources from food and medicine: all revenues from Iraqi oil sales are
paid into a UN escrow account.  The Iraqi regime cannot access that
money and no imports are made without the approval of the UN
Sanctions Committee.  Given the casualness of the original American
claim, since abandoned as untenable, it is possible that the FCO has no
further substantiation for its claim.

8. Expansions of the oil-for-food programme undeniably improve the
living situation within Iraq, and the British government bears some
responsibility for this.  As these expansions, by reducing Iraqi child
mortality levels, also mute criticism of Britain's support for the sanctions
it is not obvious that the UK government has the best interests of Iraqis
in mind.

If it did Denis Halliday, until last month the UN official in charge of the
oil-for-food programme in Iraq, might not have felt compelled to resign.
He claimed that the, "sanctions were a bankrupt concept that hurt the
people of Iraq but not its government" (The Economist, 3/10/98).
Announcing his decision in July he explained that, "Iraq's infrastructure
was collapsing and it would take 10 to 20 years to restore it.  He said the
obvious response was 'to lift sanctions and pump in the money' and
humanitarian aid was 'only band-aid stuff'..." (The Independent, 23/7/98).

Many of Iraq's neighbours also seem to suspect British motives.  In April
the Arab League, many of whose members participated in the war against
Iraq in 1991, boycotted an FCO conference on Iraq.  The League claimed
that the conference should be held under UN auspices and that Iraq
should have been invited (Financial Times, 22/4/98).

9. 74 million over seven years is about 10 million annually, or 50p per
capita per year, or 1p per Iraqi per week.  While the FCO mentions its
donations in all of its letters it does not even crudely itemise them.  Emma
Bonino, European Commisser for Humanitarian Affairs, a beneficiary of
the FCO, has called for the, "abandonment of sanctions because of their
disastrous effect on the Iraqi population" (Financial Times, 22/4/98).
--
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