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Texas Observer interview with Denis Halliday and Phyllis Bennis (http://www.texasobserver.org/). The Texas observer web-site also carries a photo-essay by Alan Pogue: "The Salt on the Wound": http://www.texasobserver.org/iraq.html (text printed below Halliday interview). ******************** The Texas Observer Interview: Denis Halliday (former U.N. Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq) and Phyllis Bennis (Institute for Policy Studies) Wednesday, February 24 Interviewer: Michael King Austin, Texas Texas Observer: What do you make of the current situation? Two things have happened since the December bombing: the bombing has become ordinary, almost daily; and the Turkish army has been allowed free access to the northern "no-fly" zone to attack Kurdish refugee camps. Denis Halliday: Including bombing northern Iraq. I know the Kurdish area well. I've been there many times. These incursions have taken place before, many times. This gets into the domestic politics of Iraq. There's an assumption here, in the U.S. and Europe as well, that Saddam Hussein is a one-man band. There's no other force in town -- that's not correct. I've heard from members of his own cabinet that there's a growing force within the Ba'ath Party for change. These are younger politicians coming up, who are totally frustrated with the compromise, as they see it, of the Saddam Hussein government, vis a vis the United Nations. The backing down, the constant reaction to threats by this country, the meetings with the Secretary General, all that sort of stuff, is driving these people further and further to the right. People who have been frustrated and angered by this appalling program of sanctions for many years. So I think we're seeing that coming up. There were parliamentary discussions, you may recall, about a month ago, castigating the other Arab leaders around the neighborhood and so on. We've seen since December the total humiliation of the regime, with those 400 missiles -- a reaction to the no-fly zone activity [by the U.S.], which is not new after all. They've been flying over these zones for years, with no reaction from Iraq. Suddenly now you see it -- and though it's ineffective, it satisifies the need [for Saddam] to say, "Well, we're doing something, guys. Give us a break." And that's also from domestic pressure. The final and most dangerous point, in my view, is these threats -- verbal threats on the military bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia also. That they would damage these bases because that's where the [U.S.] military aircraft are coming from, to attack. On The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Jim Hass [?] accused me of libel and slander -- because I accused he and General Neal of "glee" when they anticipated that the Iraqis might be foolish enough to do something to these bases, which would then give the United States a glorious invitation to go back in there and really destroy what is left of this country. I complained, I said I thought that was appalling. I went on to accuse them -- all of us, you, us, them, Europe and America together -- of being responsible for the sanctions regime, which is a form of warfare, which is killing thousands of people every month. That caught the libel and slanderous accusation. The Turkish connection is an interesting one, because we have the Ocalan arrest, then we suddenly have this extraordinary and arrogant aggression on the part of Turkey. Now they're not just going over with tanks and troops. Last spring, when I was up there, they had 5,000 troops, I counted personally sixty tanks in Iraq. Now they're going in with fixed-wing aircraft and strafing and bombing or whatever they do up there in the hills. In [Dahuk] and [Habir] right over into the area close to the Iranian border. This is very disruptive to this humanitarian program that we're all trying to operate to feed these people and keep these people fed. It's very disruptive; we can't operate under those conditions. The arrogance of it I find appalling. The only reason they can do it is because they are a N.A.T.O. ally, they know they have the support of Europe and North America -- they feel free, nobody cares. As Phyllis has said, many times, they are flying into the no-fly zone with complete abandon. They're doing it, of course, with American advisors and Israeli advisors. Texas Observer: Under U.N. rules, how are the no-fly rules supposed to affect other countries? Phyllis Bennis: There is no U.N. involvement in the no-fly zones. These are imposed by the U.S., Britain, and France -- France has since pulled out, it is now a U.S./U.K. operation. The claim that the U.S. makes is that we're doing it to enforce the human rights protections of the Kurds in the north and the Shiite population of the south, but it's false. It's a false claim, because it was imposed without any kind of international legitimacy, without any international connection. There's been very little, almost no coverage in the press, in this country or Europe or anywhere else, about that fact. It's asserted as if it were a U.N. no-fly zone -- and it's not, and people don't know that it's not. Even U.N. officials, unfortunately, have been very reluctant to kind of identify this as something outside the parameters of U.N. operations. It's bad enough that the U.S. is operating in many ways through the United Nations by using various kinds of pressures, threats, bribes, and other kinds of pressures to force either unanimous or else majority votes in the Security Council to get its way on some of the issues around sanctions and other things. This one, there's not even the pretext, on the no-fly zones; there's not even the pretense of international credentials on this. This is solely a bi-lateral, U.S./U.K operation. Denis Halliday: But shouldn't you add that it is an extension of Resolution 687 -- that's their rationale for doing this. That 687 somehow, although Kuwait was left by the Iraqis in 1991, they've stretched the resolution to authorize, as they see it, this program of bombing the no-fly zones. Phyllis Bennis: Actually, it's 678. 687 is the sanctions; 678 is the authorization of the use of force. It get's confusing because they're so close. That's absolutely right. And I think this has been a consistent pattern of U.S. interpretations. We see it also on the issue of sanctions. What the U.S. has said about economic sanctions is that although 687 calls for the lifting of sanctions when Iraq can be certified to have completely abided by UNSCOM regulations regarding the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. position is, We're not going to do that, we're going to leave sanctions in place until Saddam Hussein is out of power, until the middle of the next century -- there's been this grandiose assessments of how long the U.S. intends sanctions to be kept in place. And the result is, an extraordinarily negative incentive for the Iraqis, who look at this and say, "Why should we comply? They're not going to lift the sanctions even if we comply, so why should we?" The notion that diplomacy is based on carrots and sticks is a long-standing assumption. It's gone here. There's no carrot, it's all stick. Denis Halliday: I would even add to that, the language that's been used recently, by Tony Blair, by Clinton: "Rattling his cage, put him back in his cage" -- It serves to un-dignify an Arab leader like this -- that's humiliation, big-time, and it's totally redundant. It's upsetting the whole Arab world. Anytime you insult Saddam Hussein, you insult the Islamic world. It's a stupid and unnecessary policy. [Moreover, the language used is] absolutely racist, and xenophobic. Phyllis Bennis: One of the effects is that while, in Iraq, people understand that this is not a good or progressive regime, or one that they want to maintain -- they are becoming more dependent upon it, through the sanctions program, that makes them dependent on the government for everything they can get, which isn't enough, but whatever it is, it comes from the government. That's not a recipe for trying to challenge the government. ...In the rest of the Arab world, where people might not be aware how repressive that government really is, what they see is that this is the man being demonized by the United States, and is standing up to them. So in the rest of the Arab world, we're, through the sanctions program, actually building support for Saddam Hussein, political support. That's coming not so much here in Iraq, but in other countries, not so aware of the problems of the Iraqi regime. Denis Halliday: But underline that the political support is with the people, not with the regimes that run these countries, which are so beholden to this country. Texas Observer: Alan Pogue suggested that the bombing has had the effect that most bombing has, which is that this guy may be a bum, but he's our bum. Denis Halliday: They have to support him -- that's what happens, they rally around him. Of course, they're forced to. Particularly in that part of the world, where democracy, and the tradition of attacking the leadership is not one that goes very far. They really are obliged to support their leadership under these conditions.... I think we saw it recently -- a couple of weeks ago, perhaps three weeks ago, there was a meeting in Cairo, of Arab foreign ministers. Al Sahaf, the Iraqi foreign minister was there, and made a case for ending sanctions, for ending military attacks, and so on. He didn't do very well -- in fact he left in a fury, apparently. But at the end of the day -- they threw him out because they were sick and tired of Saddam Hussein criticizing their monarchies, their dictators, whatever system they have -- but at the end of the day they came out with a resolution that hasn't gotten much international coverage, which condemned the military attacks, the violence, the strikes and the no-fly zones, and called for a lifting of the sanctions. Not for Saddam Hussein, of course -- but they said because "the people," our Arab brothers are being destroyed -- slaughtered, killed, whatever else, by the imposition of sanctions, which for many of us, is a form of warfare. A particularly devastating form of warfare. I had trade union leaders coming to me in Iraq -- three, four, five of them came together -- they said, "For God sake, Mr. Halliday, can you tell the Secretary General, please send in the bombs, send in the missiles -- just kill us, because under sanctions they're killing us every day, and it's hell." So we saw that Cairo conference and the resolutions coming out against the attacks -- but it was very underplayed in the international media, and there is much more support for Saddam [from other countries] than people imagine. And I know why. They're worrying about the future. They know that someday this country is going to walk away somehow. Saddam Hussein may be restored. Maybe Iran will rattle the sabre so much that this country will turn around and make Saddam Hussein into a good guy again. And then they're going to have to live with that, and they're worried about the future. Even Turkey is a little nervous. The regime, the country of Iraq, was big money for Turkey until sanctions came along -- huge tourist industry, huge trade industry, which is lost, and they're really hurting in Turkey. Jordan, the economy was almost destroyed, because of the sanctions. Syria lost out, Iran lost out, others in the Gulf -- even Kuwait. The traffic between Kuwait and Basrah was tremendous. The Kuwaitis poured into Iraq for a good time, for nightclubs, for food, trade with Basrah -- all that's lost. So the neighborhood is putting a lot of pressure, for their own selfish reasons, on Saddam, to restore an economy that they can do business with. Phyllis Bennis: I was just going to add one thing about the bombings. I think people inside Iraq are very aware that the target of the U.S. bombings is not anything that can be used offensively that Iraq may have left. It has some aging Mirage jets, and that sort of thing. They're not being targeted. What's being targeted is defensive capacity -- anti-aircraft sites, that sort of thing. And I think that the consistency of that -- it's not as if there's some wider range of targets -- it's communications of the military, and their defensive sites. And I think that leads as well to this sense of the effort by the U.S. to strip Iraq of any presence, of any dignity in the region. People inside Iraq know that, so that how they see it leads to more support for the regime. Denis Halliday: That's an interesting point, and she's right. I mean, I know where these Mirage jets are, and where the MIGS are. I've been there many times. It's Habaniya airfield. The U.N. plane I used to fly out is there. You'd go there, there'd be dozens of these aircraft around the place. Often they'd put on air shows for us, which I always thought were some sort of gesture of defiance. And of course it's only a half-hour extra flight from the Gulf, and they [the U.S.] could destroy all these aircraft. And yet they do not. Texas Observer: Looking at it from the U.S./U.K. point of view, does this policy have any logic other than a sort of pure imperial military logic ? Does it have a geopolitical logic? Phyllis Bennis: The old geopolitical logic still stands, as a potential. Now, it's so far in the future it's almost hard to imagine. But the geopolitical aspect in the region, was always the reality that Iran and Iraq were the two countries in the region with the three requisites for indigenous power, as two emergent regional powers: land and population; water; and oil (for money). They're the only two countries in the region that have all three. As a result, they're the two likely countries that could potentially emerge as regional powers, who could well challenge U.S. hegemony in the reason. It's not likely to take the form of keeping oil off the market or something like that -- if they want to make money they have to sell the oil. They can't eat it. So that's not the issue. The issue is, under whose control will that oil be sold, under what terms? All those kinds of questions. Theoretically, Iraq could recover -- it would fifteen to twenty years at the earliest, I would say, and maybe far longer that that if this kind of, what the New York Times called "low-grade warfare" and continuing sanctions continued -- it could take much longer than that. But eventually Iraq will recover; this is a country with an extraordinary past in terms of its capabilities in education and culture and literature and all those areas, science and technology. So, there's no reason to think that it won't recover, and theoretically that geopolitical reality still exists. But in any real sense, of what's real now, Iraq is a stripped country. It has virtually nothing left of a serious military capacity. UNSCOM has said that in terms of weapons of mass destruction, as of a little over a year ago, that if the disarmament of Iraq was a five-lap race, we'd be three-quarters of the way through the final lap. This is not a country that exists as a military power. There are regional powers surrounding it that are far more dangerous militarily. It's a dangerous neighborhood: Israel has nuclear weapons; Saudi Arabia has a huge missile system and chemical weapons; Syria has chemical weapons; Egypt has chemical weapons. This is very dangerous neighborhood. Turkey, which is bombing Iraq with impunity on a daily basis, under the watchful eyes of the U.S. So this is an unstable neighborhood, it's one in which I think part of the problem has been that the U.S. has not taken seriously the need for real disarmament as called for in Resolution 687. One of the things that's often ignored in Resolution 687 is that while it's the resolution that calls for sanctions against Iraq, it also calls for the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East; it calls for the creation of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East, and it calls explicitly for Iraq's disarmament to be placed in the context of regional disarmament. The U.S. signed on to that -- the U.S. wrote that resolution. So we have every sort of legitimate basis to say to them, to say to Washington, "You signed this, you're on record of this. Let's hold your feet to the fire until you start implementing it." Denis Halliday: More difficult to explain is the U.K. position. I think they've screwed up because of the colonial history, the imperialist days of the past, when they controlled Iraq, they created Iraq, they stole the oil. They've never forgiven Iraq for nationalizing the oil ... They created Kuwait to give them access to the Gulf, to control the Gulf access, to keep Iraq maybe out of that area, and so on. It's an interesting problem. They're still very bitter about Iraq. Two or three years ago the Iraqis executed a British businessman for spying -- that was an uproar in the United Kingdom -- whether the charges were legitimate or not I have no idea. The history of Britain and Iraq is an interesting one, and the Iraqis, I think, feel much more angry and negative towards the U.K. than they do the U.S. I often say, the average Iraqi still has a love affair going with the United States -- they respond to all the rich cultural life of this country. They're really hurt -- there are more violent terms, which I reject. They're hurt by the fact that they now have to realize, have to accept, that the American people, given this democracy and so on, are behind the sanctions regime. They can't just claim Clinton. It must be the American people. And that is really difficult for them to accept. They don't want to accept that. Texas Observer: The kind of conversation we're having right now is invisible in the American media. We could devote every issue of the Texas Observer for the next two years to nothing but this subject, and it would not make a dent in the unanimity of opinion in the media, supporting the U.S. policy. Phyllis Bennis: But that's beginning to change, it really is. It's changing slowly, it's not changing enough, but there's a tiny change. We're seeing it when we travel around. The alternative media of course is in the lead on this -- Pacifica Radio has paid far more attention to this than anyone else. NPR still doesn't. But, for example, Denis has been on McNeil-Lehrer ... Denis Halliday: I've been on NPR perhaps a dozen times. Three times on the News Hour [McNeil-Lehrer]. You get so little time that you don't have enough time to explain. Phyllis Bennis: No. But what it says is, that they're feeling the pressure, that they have to have this voice when they have [Richard Hass and General Neal]. And this last time, it was not only Denis but Edmund Garib who's an analyst at American University, with very similar politics to ours. They had two people on each side, which is quite unheard of, to have an equal balance on that show. It means they're feeling some pressure. It's changing very very slowly. But we met with the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, and they ran an article on our appearance yesterday in Houston, and then agreed to take an op-ed. It's slowly changing -- they ran op-ed last month by Peter Pelled, who's a nutritionist who's worked with the food and agriculture organization, exactly about the impact of sanctions. Denis Halliday: I called the Lehrer Hour yesterday, and spoke to a producer. And he was saying, he's feeling guilty, that sanctions per se could not be discussed. He had been upset with me, for bringing the discussion of no-fly zones and bombings back to the sanctions. We reintroduced sanctions and talked about the killing, which they didn't actually want in the program, which was supposed to be focused on Turkey and blah blah blah. So he wasn't actually happy with my performance -- but he got the message. He said, "We know you're right, we know there should be [discussion of sanctions]." He didn't promise anything, but it's a start. Phyllis Bennis: It's small, but it's a start. The question everywhere we go, is the frustration of people working on this issue, is the lack of response of the media. And it's absolutely right. It makes the work of activists very difficult. But the reality is, there is information out there, so there has to be a two-track effort. On the one hand, there has to be massive pressure on the media to change this, and to put alternative voices on the mainstream, so that it's not just on Pacifica or smaller outlets, and at the same time, using the information that is available, with a little more work -- through web sites, through magazines, through the various coalitions working on the issue, to say, "Okay, the media's not doing the job, we've got to do it, while we continue to lambast the media and pressure them and push them to do better." [break] Phyllis Bennis: There's an AP story today, in which a bunch of U.S. oil industry people are claiming that Iraq is responsible for the low price of oil. The Clinton administration came out yesterday and vehemently denied it, and said Iraq is not responsible for this. It was a very interesting claim, and the article went to say that it seems to reflect a mood within Congress, to oppose what the Clinton administration is doing with Oil-for-Food, and because the Clinton administration's response to the French proposal, in the Security Council -- which is a rather substantive proposal calling for the end to economic sanctions and the creation of a new, international arms control regime -- it was serious enough that the U.S. felt it had to respond. Unlike in the past, at various points, the U.S. had just ignored or dismissed out of hand other proposals. Two days after the French introduced their proposals, the U.S. introduced a counter-proposal, which said Oil-for-Food should stay in place, and be expanded -- that the sanctions should remain, but the Oil-for-Food ceiling should be lifted. Now, of course, everyone knew (the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy actually called it a "great propaganda victory" for the U.S.) -- because what it did is raise an artificially high ceiling, even higher. It had no effect on the ground, because Iraq cannot even pump enough oil to meet the first ceiling. But this AP story said there are forces in Congress opposed to what is being perceived as the U.S. softening by the Clinton administration, but calling for a lifting of the ceiling on Oil-for-Food, and that there's going to be an effort to tighten that in Congress.... I think the root of this movement in Congress is as politically driven as the policy itself. If indeed there is a move, and it isn't just some reporter's speculation, the move to stop any effort to raise the ceiling -- the proposal itself by the U.S. is politically driven, not strategically driven. It's a propaganda exercise, public relations: trying to get out from under the accusation that the U.S. is responsible for the suffering and the deaths of the population. In that context, any move to further raise it, is a further effort of propaganda, because it's not answering the real problem. Oil-for-Food cannot solve the problem of the Iraqi population starving to death. It just doesn't have the capacity to do it. If there's a move in Congress, it's responding to that appearance, that propaganda. The U.S. effort as such, is not any longer rooted in a geopolitical strategy. The sanctions don't help what the U.S. claims to be interested in -- it consolidates support for the regime rather than undermining the regime. It does nothing to deal with the issue of disarmament, inside or outside or regionally, and it's isolating the role of the U.S. in terms of the reputation, the standing of the U.S., certainly among the civilian populations in the region, but as well within the regimes, who, whatever the level of democracy they may feel willing to deny to their populations, have to deal with the threat of instability in their countries. And as the populations get more and more outraged in the Arab streets, those regimes have to begin to pay attention. So I think there's a political investment that the U.S. is responding to -- the political investment is that they're not willing to say, "We were wrong, and we have to try something else." Texas Observer: Once the politics get put in place, then they get frozen, and everybody tries to run to the right. We were talking earlier about the journalistic response -- when the bombing took place in December, amidst all the speculation that this was related to Monica Lewinsky, you had journalists excoriating the White House, "Well, why don't you go in and kill Saddam Hussein?" Those were the available alternatives: bombing, or bombing and assassination. In Congress, the choice is much the same: "We have to prove we're more right-wing than the White House." Phyllis Bennis: It's not even right wing, exactly. There's been such a huge investment in sanctions of political capital by the Clinton administration, as it was for the Bush administration. This has been the centerpiece of their strategy for Iraq. Earlier, they claimed it was helping to prevent the further acquisition of military weapons, keeping money out of the military, that sort of thing. But later, they could no longer say that, but they were not prepared to take the political consequences for that. And I think it's really that political investment, rather than any strategic illusions, that is keeping the policy in place. Texas Observer: One theory occasionally raised is that the Hussein regime is useful to the United States. Denis Halliday: There is a great fear that Iraq might fall apart. That doesn't suit the allies of the United States. The Saudis and the Gulf States are terrified at the thought that Iraq might fall apart, and there would be no sort of "natural" containment for Iran. But to go back a bit: the present $10.4 billion ceiling of Oil-for-Food is already an artificial propaganda creation. I negotiated the increase in the ceiling with Tariq Aziz through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad, and they reluctantly agreed to 8. They told me, "If you will push it, we will accept it, a total of ." I sent that off to the Secretary General, and I lost control of it. Washington upped it to $10.4 -- to embarrass Iraq, to suggest, "At $10.4, they have no excuse to complain, they can run the whole country at that rate." But of course they can't produce that amount -- that's the point. They now can produce 6 billion barrels per year, under current prices. But they don't get $6 billion per year -- they get $4.1. The difference between net and gross? Thirty percent goes to compensate those who lost property, real estate or whatever in Kuwait [out of a compensation fund in Geneva]. It's legitimate, but it's not legitimate now, when you've got children dying from starvation. It needs to be moved backward. The other part of that money goes to run UNSCOM -- military inspection is financed by the impacted government, just to rub it in perhaps. And then the balance goes to shipping and piping to oil to Turkey, the overhead of the U.N. agencies. And really, the money doesn't get to Iraq at all -- not a penny of it. It buys commodities which are then delivered to Iraq. That's something that people always ask me: but then where does Hussein get the money he has? Of course he has money -- he's smuggling into Turkey, he's smuggling into Iran, Syria, a lot of smuggling into Jordan. So the family is selling gasoline,for example, to Turkey, to the Turks. That money is going back into the regime. We reckon it's $400 or $500 million a year; that's just a guess. But that's not big money in the world of military spending, but it's enough if you want to patch up your palaces and pay for cars. Phyllis Bennis: Let me just add one thing about the way the Oil-for-Food program is working that is often forgotten. There's often the assumption that somehow it's other countries' aid that is the basis for Oil-for-Food. There's no aid, other than small amounts from UNICEF and some other agencies, in small, pre-existing programs. The money is all Iraqi money, that does not go to the government.... This country that has been bombed back to the Stone Age, and then has suffered under economic sanctions for eight years, and has received no outside economic aid from international sources, to recover from that. Denis Halliday: I'm upset as well that the U.N. has failed to adequately explain this. Today the paper noted a U.N. statement that there are foods and medical supplies in Iraqi warehouses. The reason there are food and drugs in warehouses, are some good reasons. The doctors in Iraq, in the hospital system, need some security, knowing that there will be drugs tomorrow and the day after. In the past that wasn't the case -- whatever drugs were there were gone on Monday, and on Tuesday there were none. Children were dying because there was nothing. So they were very insecure -- there's also no inventory system operating. There's no computer systems. Why? Because they can't get computers through the sanctions committee. Secondly, another problem is the lack of refrigerated trucks to distribute some of these drugs and medicines -- the trucks, again, have been blocked by the sanctions committee. Again, the U.N. is not explaining this -- my old bosses in the Secretariat. It's really very unfortunate. There's been charges of massive diversions of food to the military, but the soldiers are entitled to food just like everybody else. I think [the charges] are garbage myself. And again, when you're feeding 22 million people, you can't have an empty warehouse on the third of March to feed people until the first of April. It just doesn't work that way. You can't take food off the ships straight to 22 million people in twenty-four hours. You have to build up your warehouse, you must have supplies on hand. Texas Observer: Do you think these charges are part of a demonization campaign against Iraq and Hussein? Phyllis Bennis: It's not just demonization. It denies history. If you look at the history throughout the 1980s, for example, when Iraq was at war and spending a huge amount of money on its military, the population, while being denied virtually civil and political rights except the right to travel, did very well in terms of economic and social rights. They were well fed, they were well-treated medically, they had a terrific education system, the availability of luxuries, all of that was highly available. This is the same regime, that's in power now. It was at a time when they were committing terrible crimes, against the Kurds in the north, in Karabja, against Iranian troops on the border with the use of poison gas, all of that. Nonetheless, throughout that period, the Iraqi population as a whole was in very good shape. That's what gets forgotten. The country is not a one-man show. It's got 22 million people, a huge bureaucracy, a huge level of technicians who were involved in this stuff. And there's reason to think that it wouldn't be back there, because people would demand it and expect it, and expect better when sanctions are lifted. Denis Halliday: Politically, Hussein cannot afford to starve his own people. The Iraqis, by and large, are so close to the edge -- the only constant thing in their lives is the food supply, which believe me has been imperfect. There's only a few months they get an absolutely full supply. We're not talking fancy food; we're talking basic wheat, flour, rice, tea, sugar, cooking oil, soap, lentils, beans. We're not talking chicken, fish, all the good things in life. Only the necessary things, the sure things. If that was taken away, he would then have a riot on his hands -- I have no doubt that people would finally go berserk. They are so close to the edge, I would say. When you see your own children dying, when doctors see their own children dying for lack of antibiotics, because there's none to be had, imagine what that does. And there isn't a soul in Iraq who hasn't seen a son or a daughter, a niece or a nephew, some relative, dying unnecessarily. We met a woman who had just lost her mother -- she had diabetes; in Iraq there is no treatment for diabetes. So they just watched her die. Simple as that. Texas Observer: Did you see evidence that the distribution system was competent? Denis Halliday: I had 150 people reporting to me, who did nothing but observe the distribution system -- interviewed the citizens, interviewed the agents -- there are about 45,000 agents to distribute the food where people go to collect the food. We interviewed at the warehouses, the mills, we were in the ports, we had a British agency at the ports (Lloyds of London) to monitor the distribution. We even had people in there who were moles (I think I had a couple of moles in my own shop) who were looking for trouble. The man who wrote the reports when I arrived, is from military British intelligence, sitting in New York. He's still there. I sort of disarmed him by bringing him to Baghdad, told him to draft the report with us, in Baghdad. By the time he was done, he could see what was happening with the aid, that it was getting where it was intended -- he became, in a sense, an ally. I have no doubt that there's no serious diversion of any large quantity. It's more difficult in the medical field, because people accuse us of allowing the Iraqis to have a couple of really high class hospitals in Baghdad. Well, it's true. Military regimes protect themselves -- show me a country where they don't. And they finance this, probably from the $400 or $500 million that comes in through smuggling. Not from the U.N. funds -- because they don't get one penny of that money; they never see it. Texas Observer: What made you finally decide that you could not stay within that system, and try to improve it? That you had to wash your hands of it? Denis Halliday: Well, you see the Oil-for-Food program is not the solution. It just will never meet the needs of this country. Doubling it is a move in the right direction, but it doesn't begin to resolve it. The only solution is to remove sanctions altogether, and get this country back on its feet. And as a loyal civil servant, of thirty-four years, I couldn't accuse the U.N. member states [of wrongdoing]. The only way to do that is to resign. And I was doing a lot of inappropriate things during those months -- I was leaking information to Le Monde, I used the French, Russian, and Chinese ambassadors, who were very careful, and went back to the Security Council, focusing on the humanitarian program, to support the increase [in the ceiling]. But you know, you can't take on your masters, the member states, who are your employers. There's no big deal in it, it was not a heroic act. It's not. After thirty-four years, it's time to step out and do something that you believe in. You go to bed at night with yourself. You have to live with yourself. After a certain point, as Noam Chomsky said, Silence is complicity. Remaining silent about the impact of sanctions is complicity, and I was in a unique position to see what was happening, and there was no way I was going to continue. Texas Observer: What do you think are the best possibilities for positive change in the next year to two years? Denis Halliday: That's precisely why the work has to go on now -- why we need to go on tour now, to a bunch of different cities, partly to bring information that isn't easily available because of the failures of the media, and partly to be able to bring ideas to one another. For organizing strategies, new constituent ideas, all of that. I think there is room for some change. There are forty-four congresspeople who signed on to the Conyers letter to Clinton, calling for a de-linking of the sanctions, calling for ending the economic sanctions and tightening the military sanctions, by going after the suppliers.... Senator Paul Wellstone, despite the fact that he took a terrible position in support of the bombing, and severely antagonized his constituents, his staff is arranging a set of new briefings with new approaches, and thinking about new ways of dealing with the sanctions. He's taking it quite seriously. I don't think he understood how important it would be to his longtime supporters. People like Wellstone, I think, assumed that while some people might not like it, it wouldn't be that big a deal for anyone. He was assuming that his constituents instinctively would not want the bombing, but it's not that important to them -- they're going to be working on a host of other issues. What we're finding is that more and more people are taking strong positions against this. We're finding the most amazing responses in the religious communities. We spoke in Houston with a number of religious leaders, the local Catholic bishop, and several other denominations were represented -- and in that context we're seeing an amazing consistency of positions, from kind of moral stance: that this is evil. The Mennonite pastor spoke over and over again about how the sanctions are evil: "It's doing an evil thing because it's killing children." It was a very powerful image, and the kind of creative energy that's coming out of a number of religious communities. A black minister that we met with in Los Angeles is organizing other black clergy around the country to pressure the Black Caucus to take a more consistent role against this. Some leaders of the Black Caucus -- John Conyers, Cynthia McKinney, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee, others -- have been very very good on this issue. But the Caucus isn't consistent. A number of them have not taken it up at all, only a handful have acted. Voting against the bombing was different. There were only five who voted against the resolution supporting the bombing in December. But that was a set up in a sense, and I think we have to be a little cautious how we assess it. Three very brave progressives voted against it -- John Conyers, Barbara [Lee], and Cynthia McKinney. Two kind of mavericks: Ron Paul and another one like him. But it was set up in a way that made it extraordinarily difficult for them to vote against it. First of all, it didn't say, "Support the bombing." It said, "Support the troops," which makes it almost impossible, unless you're very very brave, to oppose it. And the second paragraph supported the condition of overthrowing the regime. That was the really dangerous one, because I think even most of the congresspeople who signed on to it, did not understand the consequences of signing on the overthrow of the ruler of a sovereign nation, whatever they may think about that ruler. It was quite shocking, it was done in haste, in the middle of the impeachment stuff, so I think we have to be a little cautious about what kinds of conclusions we draw about what that says. More significant if the fact that forty-four congresspeople signed the Conyers measure, which shows that it's not an isolated fringe. And it's particularly important that of those, less than half are members of the progressive caucus. The Progressive Caucus has fifty-eight members, and most of them have not been approached yet on this issue. But now we're hearing that they want to be approached, that they want to take up the issue of sanctions. So there's room for work, for pressure. Texas Observer: Has the White House reacted to the Conyers letter? Phyllis Bennis: It did, the day before it issued its response to the French proposal. And it was completely different, completely disconnected. It essentially said, "We're not responsible for the sanctions, we know the Iraqi people are suffering, we like the Iraqi people, we're not against the Iraqi people. They have Oil-for-Food, we're even supporting lifting the Oil-for-Food ceiling so they can do more." It was a non-responsive response. Texas Observer: Assuming that by some magic the economic sanctions were to end tomorrow, and yet Iraq remains without the capacity to sell enough oil to feed it's own people, what could be done to improve the situation of the ordinary people in Iraq? What would have to happen after eight or nine years of devastating sanctions? Phyllis Bennis: I spent four or five days in Paris, and met some members of the French National Assembly. I tried to point out very clearly, lifting sanctions is not the answer. Iraq will need a lot of help. They're going to need extensive credit. They're going to need resources to sustain recurring budgetary expenditures, of something like $15 to $20 billion a year. Today they can produce $6 billion, gross [from oil production] -- there's a real shortfall there. Without that they can't begin to import the foodstuffs, medicines, drugs, all the basics for cancer and leukemia -- which is of course on the rise because of the use of depleted uranium by the coalition forces [during the Gulf War]. Secondly, to really start rebuilding the damaged infrastructure, of water systems, sewage systems, housing production, agriculture, education, health care, they need $50 to $60 billion (U.S. dollars). Massive resources: where's it going to come from? I think I got the French to recognize, we've got to get this in there. Because if we think we're going to solve the problem and then walk away, because sanctions are gone, Iraq is not going to make it. It's not going to make it for a very long time -- unless oil prices now change. But there seems to be no speculation that prices are going to change in the oil industry. So you can't just abandon them. Thirdly, perhaps, which nobody wants to recognize, Saddam Hussein will be under tremendous pressure, domestic pressure, to produce a miracle. For the ordinary Iraqi is saying, "The moment sanctions are over, I can get a new car, the house will be fixed, the school will be built, the hospitals will work" -- it will be a miracle. So the pressure on the government in power is going to be relentless. Certainly much worse than Mandela faced in South Africa [Phyllis Bennis: whoever's in power]. They won't settle for going back the way they were. (The black South Africans were never there, so you get the point.) So there's going to be a real crisis there. They'll have to ask for it, but there's going to be a real problem, because they owe money already, all over the place. Texas Observer: What of the reactions of not just the U.S. media, but even presumably progressive American readers: this is just Iraqi propaganda, you guys fell for it, the French want to get in on the oil business, that's what this is all about. I understand the ordinary reaction -- it's very difficult to get any kind of real Iraq news in the American media, but this instinctive reaction is strong. Denis Halliday: But why should we look for altruism? The U.S. policy is not serving the American citizens, nor the country. Phyllis Bennis: It's true about the French. That's absolutely right. But the U.S. policy is also not in the interest of the American people. There's no link, there's no connection between the economic sanctions and what the U.S. claims to be interested in. The accusation that the French are calling for the lifting of sanctions for their own commercial reasons, in my view, is absolutely accurate. But that doesn't make it wrong. The fact that they have another reason for calling for it, that's there business and it doesn't mean that keeping the sanctions on are right, because the French want to lift them for bad reasons. The U.S. is maintaining them for bad reasons. What we have to look at is this issue of demonization, that we spoke of earlier -- that whatever people may think about the regime in Iraq, and much of what they think they know is accurate: that it was a terrible regime, that it did violate human rights insistently, and that the U.S. helped. The U.S. made Saddam Hussein something more than a petty tyrant, by providing him with weapons of mass destruction throughout the 1980s. It was the U.S. that shipped biological weapon seed stock to Iraq in the 1980s, under license by the Commerce department. So this is all true -- but Iraq has a population of 23 million people, not 23 million Saddam Husseins. So the question of what do we do about that set of violations of human rights, and so on, is a very different question, and I don't quite understand the notion that people think it's Iraqi propaganda: do they think that people are not dying? That that's the propaganda, or do they think that its Saddam Hussein's fault that they're dying? Texas Observer: The extreme version of the argument is that this guy is a Hitler, and we have to do whatever we can to stop Hitler. We didn't do it the first time, and with the likely results. That's part of what I guess is the ordinary person's logic -- I think the elites here (in the U.S.), part of the logic is: we want to dominate that region. That's our region, that's our oil, that's our resources, and the Iraqi people do not figure into the equation. Denis Halliday: And they dared to stand up and start producing an economy, they created a petrochemical industry. That's unacceptable -- as you say, it's our oil. What does it have to do with them -- they just happen to be sitting on top of it, that's all. Phyllis Bennis: And that's a longstanding position -- as Jimmy Carter said, the oil in theGulf, that's our oil. That wasn't just Bush, or just Clinton. It was old Human Rights Jimmy. Denis Halliday: And there's also another economic pattern. What you're saying is what Eisenhower said. When he left office, he warned this country -- the economy is good because it's a military/manufacturing economy [the "military-industrial complex"]. And that clearly was the case, and still is. If you'll notice, since that war was over, we had the Korean War, then we got into Vietnam, then we had a few other skirmishes, and now we have this wonderful selling market in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has just purchased $75 billion of arms. So the health of this economy, under Clinton also, is largely based on this massive, military sales program. That's where the big money's coming from -- it keeps the whole economy booming, with no inflation, and we're all very happy, and gas prices are down. Phyllis Bennis: And I keep coming back to this notion of demonization -- a sense that people have that "they're only Iraqis, they're only Arabs, they're only Muslims." That is real -- we do see that across the country. It's partly a reflection of the media, it's partly a reflection of how the government has orchestrated its propaganda, it's partly how they portray the consequences of war. During the war, I traveled around a lot, and was speaking about it, and after the war I started asking people, "Who here knows how many people were killed during Desert Storm?" Lots of hands would go up, people saying, "I know, I know." They would say, "344." They were all very proud of knowing that number. What they know, are American deaths, just as in Vietnam: they know 55,000 American deaths, and they forget about the 1.5 million or more Vietnamese and Cambodians. Exactly the same thing. That's the demonization, that these are not people who figure into any equation. But that can be confronted -- how do we do that, how do we reach those people? That's the urgent business. Texas Observer: There is also the conventional political wisdom is that the "hard decisions" require much sacrifice (by other people), that we can't worry about casualties because if ordinary people knew everything the government knows, they would make the same decisions. That's a hard wall to break through. Phyllis Bennis: I think the way to break through it, one thing that Denis says very powerfully, is the description of the way sanctions are in fact strengthening the regime of Saddam Hussein. It's not a hard one to figure out. It's not a hard one to figure out -- it makes perfect sense when you just say it. The second is sort of to look someone in the eye, and say, "There is no U.S. national interest that I can accept, at the cost of killing thousands of children every month. Period. So that you bring it back to the moral reality. And then, it puts people in the position of having to at least think about the question of what is the national interest, or what's worth it? Madeline Albright said, "It's worth it," to kill 15,000 children I think is the number she had been given for that question.... And if it were her children? She's a mother. Would it be worth it if it were her children? That's a very powerful image. Is it only worth it because it's their children? Denis Halliday: And it's certainly not worth it to the Arab neighbors, either the people or their leadership, who have asked for the bombing to end. There's also the historical argument that we helped create Hitler, to a certain extent, by destroying Germany [in World War I] and then the Versaille treaty. We're also pushing Iraq to more and more extreme responses. Phyllis Bennis: But the big one that's not similar, and here's where we have to be very careful -- when Bush used the Hitler analogy for this demonization campaign, it came within two or three months of the last arms shipment by the U.S. to that same regime. That's number one. And number two, Iraq never had the potential for global reach that Germany had. So the fact that it could invade Kuwait, this tiny little protectorate that used to be part of it, is not quite the same as the occupation of Europe. It's just not. We just have to be careful to bring down the level of rhetoric.... It's not realistic parallel in terms of power. Texas Observer: Can you speak for a moment about U.N. politics? From the perspective of many Texans or for that matter Americans, the U.N. is nothing more than a stalking horse for the New World Order, and an insult to American sovereignty, even that we shouldn't belong at all. Yet it seems to anyone who looks closely, the U.N. does largely whatever the U.S. tells it to do. What's your perspective as an insider? Denis Halliday: Well, there's an important distinction between the U.N. directorate, the Security Council, and the member states. We get blamed for everything the U.N. does, but in fact most of the controversial actions are carried out either by the member states or by the great powers on the Security Council, with their veto power and so on. Phyllis Bennis: Let me speak to that as well. There's an illusion about how much anti-U.N. sentiment there is, even in places like Texas. There was a study done recently by the University of Maryland, six or eight months ago, that indicates that nationally, 68 percent of the American people hold the U.N. in higher esteem than any other major institution. Higher than the White House, higher than Congress, higher than anybody. They did a breakdown, and they went to the districts of the Congresspeople most identified with the black helicopter, get the U.N. out of the U.S., all that side of it -- and found that their districts were absolutely the same. This [anti-U.N.] is not a popular view. This is the work of a small group of very committed right-wing activists; these withdraw-unilateralist types -- who are not anti-intervention, but are in favor of unilateral rather than multilateral interventions around the world. But it's not something that reflects American opinions. What I do think is clear (this is the name of my book, "Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's U.N.") -- it's been a consistent pattern, since the U.N. was founded in 1945, that the U.S. was going to be running the show. And it's used at times for direct internal manipulation within the U.N., but far more often, the price that would be paid outside the U.S., by another country outside a U.N. structure -- say a World Bank loan, or development aid, or some diplomatic recognition they're trying to orchestrate, this or that -- that's what they're afraid of losing if they challenge the U.S. So most of the time, the power of the U.S. is a reflection of its power in the world. The punishment of Yemen ... when Yemen voted no [on sanctions], didn't take place in a U.N. context, it was a U.S.A.I.D. grant that was withdrawn. It had nothing to do with the U.N. but it was in the context of U.S. power that the U.N. was undermined. When you combine that with the refusal of the U.S. to pay its $1.5 billion dues in arrears, what you have is a scenario where the U.N. is now economically undermined as well as politically undermined, by the U.S. on both counts. There is tremendous anger toward the U.S. in U.N. headquarters. All the representatives are furious, because the U.S. is throwing its weight around, demanding to get its own way, orchestrating everything in its interests -- and refusing to pay the bills. The price gets paid by other countries. Many times it means that peacekeeping countries, the countries providing peacekeepers, don't get paid. And those tend to be the small, neutral, relatively poor countries, who provide the actual soldiers. The U.S. doesn't -- the U.S. provides material, communications equipment, planes, and demands payment on time and up front. So it's a terrible reversal of what the U.N. was supposed to be, as a global protectorate of people individually, and nations collectively against the ravages of a single power that might emerge. The U.S. has become that ravaging power. The End ******************** The Texas Observer Alan Pogue ("The Salt on the Wound"): Interview POGUE: The delegation flew into Amman, Jordan, and traveled by car to Baghdad (a thirteen-hour trip). They arrived in Baghdad on the night of December 19. When we were coming into Baghdad we went through the final military checkpoint at the city limits. There was a group of rather tough-looking Iraqi soldiers, with their AK-47s. They looked at our passports and they said, "Ah, Americans," and with a twinkle in their eyes and a smile on their faces, they looked up and said, "We kill all Americans. Welcome." They were making fun of the whole situation... INTERVIEWER: From U.S. news reports, it appeared that the most recent bombing was mostly outside of Baghdad. Is that what you saw? POGUE: There was not much new bombing in Baghdad, but some. The U.S. bombed the old Defense Ministry - I stress, the old ministry - nothing there now but a bunch of records, and a half-dozen clerks who work there. It was leveled, to rubble. But across the street was the largest hospital in Baghdad, the Baghdad teaching hospital in the Saddam medical complex. It's ten stories high and a long city block long, the whole hospital. Every window was blown out of it. There was a lot of structural damage, and the ceilings on all the levels, the tiles were falling from all of them. All of the patients had to be evacuated to other hospitals. Across the river from the ministry, was a maternity hospital - all of the windows were blown out of it, and a lot of women lost their babies to spontaneous abortions, due to the shock of the blast and the terror. In another part of Baghdad, a missile just slammed down in the middle of the street, in a marketplace.º I went to a middle-sized hospital in the suburbs - Yarmouk Hospital. I photographed sixteen people from Baghdad, civilians, hurt in the neighborhoods by falling shrapnel and debris. I was told that sixteen people had died in that hospital alone. I photographed another sixteen people who had been severely injured. INTERVIEWER: How much can the doctors do for them? POGUE: The one doctor I spoke with was just beside himself, he was so incensed. He showed me these children whose legs were in casts. They had external fixators (rods with pins to hold the broken bones together). He said they only had two of these appliances, and the only reason he had the two is because they were given to him by some French doctors. The two were in use, and he had no others, because of the sanctions. He said, "Look, first you have the sanctions to keep us from getting medical supplies, and then we're bombed, so we can't do anything." Even on a day-to-day basis, people are dying for a lack of very simple drugs. For instance, the children who have diarrhea, will develop acidosis of the blood, due to the dehydration. All they need is sodium bicarbonate. They don't have any sodium bicarbonate, so many of them die for a lack of sodium bicarbonate. This doesn't even touch on the more expensive and hard to get drugs, like anti-leukemia medicine. [According to U.S. news reports, the lack of medicine for childhood leukemia has reduced the cure rate in Iraq - which was about 70 percent - to zero.] INTERVIEWER: Were you able to get any sense of the overall casualties from the December bombing? POGUE: I was trying to figure out just out how many people were hurt, because we didn't have many figures. There were sixteen people in just this one hospital, and there was a dormitory in Kirkut, in northern Iraq, which was struck. Twenty or twenty-five freshman college students were struck and killed instantly, in this one dormitory. It wasn't possible for me to come up with a good figure, overall, but just from the people I was able to talk to, it was two hundred - so it would have to have been several times more than two hundred. INTERVIEWER: Were you able to determine the sort of targets selected for bombing? POGUE: What I saw that was specifically targetted was communications. The Post Office in Basra was struck, and levelled. The Post Office also houses telecommunications, and that's why it was hit. So that cut off all telephone communications between Basra and anywhere. Then outside of Basra, a microwave relay station, tiny, was struck. That explosion caused two spontaneous abortions, at least one man died of a heart attack, all the windows in the neighborhood were blown out in all the houses, structural damage in many of the houses, at least one man was killed by falling debris - everyone was traumatized. All for this dinky microwave relay station which could be replaced in two days. There were some military supply depots, of course, and some barracks that they tried to hit. The Iraqi government claims they had that figured out and evacuated everybody from those places ahead of time, knowing they would be targets. In the middle of Baghdad, they blew up the television station, which supplies the civilian population with news and programs. It was replaced in two days, and they had it back on the air. INTERVIEWER: What's your strongest impressions of what's happened in Iraq, and what the bombing means? POGUE: Well, to me, the bombing is the salt on the wound. The wound is the sanctions. Because, if two hundred and fifty children under five are dying every day because of the sanctions, because of lack of food and medicine, then the bombing is really minimal in relation to the sanctions. The effects of sanctions are tremendous. So the bombing is terrorism - people are terrified, and rightly so. But the sanctions are the real destructive force. What I did notice specifically, though, even in the short span between July and December, there was a marked increase in children begging on the streets. Coming up to the taxi and asking for money. Shoeshine boys out during the middle of the day - kids that should be in school, not being in school. The level of desperation is just mounting. INTERVIEWER: Yet the people welcomed you? POGUE: That was the other overwhelming thing. The only negative thing that anyone ever said to me was in one of the hospitals. An Iraqi woman was there because one of her close relatives had been injured in the bombing. She said, "Well, first the Americans bomb us, then you come and take pictures of us." I thought it was a pretty mild response in relation to the reality she was living in.... Some of the doctors used us as a sounding board to complain about the lack of medicines and supplies. But that's the worst - other than that, everyone was very friendly, and were glad that we were there. And several people remarked that they were thankful that we were willing to be there during the bombing.... Their message was, basically, that they had nothing against the American people. They just wish that the American people would realize that the Iraqi people are suffering, and have nothing to do with the military or government decisions. So they should not be made to suffer. One man said, "My children were not even born during the Gulf War. Why are they being killed now?" INTERVIEWER: What of the argument that the sanctions are aimed at the Hussein regime? POGUE: The effect the sanctions have is the opposite to that the U.S. government says it intends. The U.S. government is doing this to the Iraqi people, the U.S. Government is bombing the Iraqi people - so really they have no alternative but to support the Hussein government, against the aggression of the United States. No one ever told me they were interested in getting rid of the Iraqi government in order to make the situation better. It's just like the bombing of Berlin or London - in both of those instances, all the people could do is rally around the authority that existed there at the time. That's been the experience over the years in reaction to bombing - there's no reason to expect anything different. INTERVIEWER: How does the situation in Basra compare to Baghdad? POGUE: People in Baghdad are just better off. Basra is a port city, and there's just nothing happening in a port city, because there's no trade. It was a city of one million, and then after the war, 600,000 people descended on Basra from the south. There's all these people in these internally displaced camps that don't have any water or sewage.... Most of the water sources are contaminated, although you can get bottled water if you can pay for it. Most cannot. For mothers with infants - can they get enough nutrition to nurse? Then if they need to be put on formula, that requires water, so if the children get bad water their immune system crashes, and they're a lot more likely to get infections, so it's just a whole downward spiral. In Basra, there's a hospital dedicated solely to the rehydration of children, put up by the Italians (through Bridges to Baghdad).... Typhoid and cholera are common. INTERVIEWER: What's your sense of the overall effect of the sanctions and the attacks? POGUE: It's the destruction of a generation. All of these childrens are not going to school, and since they were born, they've been living under sanctions. Their horizon is different from other Iraqis - from the perspective of an older Iraqi, or the people that were even ten or twelve years old in 1990, they were living in a prosperous, first-world country. They had free universal education, free universal health care - there were no epidemic illnesses. A lot of the oil money was spent on the Iraqi people. INTERVIEWER: What do you think should be the response of U.S. citizens to the situation? POGUE: I think American citizens should be asking to halt the bombing. Ninety percent of the casualties are civilians. Ask yourselves how much influence they really have over the government - ask yourselves how can it be right, to bomb civilians in order to change the policies of their government? And the sanctions are killing the equivalent of bombing a large day care center every day. Two hundred and fifty young children, every day, die because of the sanctions - just like dropping a bomb on a day-care center, every day. The End To contact Voices in the Wilderness: 1460 West Carmen Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60640. Telephone: (773) 784-8065. Website: www.nonviolence.org/vitw. To send an email message to Alan Pogue or Observer staff you can reach them at Observer@texasobserver.org ******************** -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html