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House of Commons Debate

The following debate took place in the House of Commons last night:

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): I declare an interest, in that I am
chairman of the Mariam appeal for cancer victims in Iraq, which has received
support from the Governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

I begin by welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister of State to his new and
important position in the Government--although I regret, as does the whole
House, the circumstances that led to his appointment. The late Derek
Fatchett and I had many spectacular clashes on this and related subjects,
but I always respected him greatly, and he is sorely missed.

I shall start by telling the Minister what I am not going to talk about. The
character of the Iraqi regime has been effectively carpet bombed on many
occasions by hon. Members throughout the House. In the 15 minutes available
to me, I do not intend to add to the many statements, speeches and
interventions on the subject that I have made over the years. I hope that my
hon. Friend will take them as read. However, I note that paragraph 14 of
United Nations Security Council resolution 687 demands the establishment of
a middle east free of weapons of mass destruction. I support that goal and
call for the Iraqi regime to forswear such weapons, as I call on
Israel--which sits atop an easily verifiable mountain of nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons--to forswear them also.

The House has of late been much occupied with the concepts of genocide and
of mass graves. I want to take the Minister on a brief tour of that
wasteland, which will require him to exercise only a little imagination.
Imagine a mass grave into which 6,000 small children are laid every single
month. Imagine that those months stretched into years--nine years--and
imagine a mass grave in which more than 2 million people, mainly children,
or the elderly, or the poorest, or the most ill, are laid one upon the

Imagine how mass such a grave would be. Imagine what a mountain 2 million
dead people would constitute. Imagine what an ocean of blood is represented
by those 2 million lost souls. Such a mountain, such an ocean, such a mass
grave is not a figment of anyone's imagination: it is the reality of life
and death under sanctions in Iraq.

That reality is testified to by a plethora of United Nations agencies--by
the World Health Organisation, by the World Food Programme, by UNICEF and
UNESCO, by the president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, who performed such
service for the Government recently, by Dennis Halliday, the former
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, by other high officials of
the UN, and by other credible sources, such as The Lancet, the Harvard
medical team and the delegation of Church of England bishops, recently
returned from Iraq, who called the sanctions "ethically untenable".

No one is saying, of course, that those 2 million people were specially
targeted, or that they were singled out for extermination. No one is saying
that those dead people ever committed any offence against anyone. They could

29 Jun 1999 : Column 251

hardly have done so, as most of them were small children. It is much, much
worse than that. The killing has been wholly indiscriminate, except in one
respect. Those people are dead for one reason only. They are--rather, they
were--Iraqis. They had the misfortune to be born in Iraq at this time. I do
not need to tell a man of my hon. Friend's legal background the name for the
mass killing of people for no other reason than their race or ethnic origin.
It is no longer asserted--it was once--that we are exaggerating. The
Security Council, in its recent report, said that it was reporting

"in the context of increasing concern among security council members over
the humanitarian situation in Iraq."

The Security Council added that

"the gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is
indisputable and cannot be overstated."

In his recent and turbulent debut before the Council for the Advancement of
Arab-British Understanding, the Minister said that the Government were

"looking for a way out of the stalemate"

on Iraq, and talked of the "grave humanitarian situation". I genuinely
consider it progress that we can agree about the gravity of the situation.
Can we also agree--for it is germane to the future as well as important to
the history books--that what I have said in the House to more than one
Minister, that the United Nations Special Commission inspectorate was
riddled with spies, turned out to be true? After all, we have had the
testimony of Scott Ritter, the deputy to Richard Butler, who headed UNSCOM.
We have had the ground-breaking journalism of The New York Times and the
Boston Globe. Most important of all, this week, we had an admission by Kofi
Annan, no less, that UNSCOM inspectors were spying for the American
intelligence agencies during their time in Iraq.

As the Minister knows, there is mounting international concern about the
cancer epidemic in Iraq, and about the rapidly multiplying number of babies
being born with deformities. My hon. Friend may have seen the recent cover
story in Tribune, or he may have read Maggie O'Kane, whose reportage from
Kosovo has been favourably commented on by the Government. In The
Guardian,she quoted a doctor from one hospital, Dr. Zenad Mohammed, thus:

"In August 1998, we had three babies born with no head, in September, we had
six with no heads, in October, one with no head and four with big heads and
four with deformed limbs or other types of deformities."

There has been a tenfold increase in the number of cancer cases in Iraq over
the past nine years, at the same time as there has been a catastrophic
decline in the capacity of the Iraqi health service to cope with it. The
number of children born with the conditions hare lip or cleft palate has
tripled. As a father, the Minister will be able to imagine the horror of

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and I saw
exactly those conditions in December 1998. My hon. Friend does not

Mr. Galloway: I do not have to imagine the horror. Like my hon. Friend, I
have seen it with my own eyes, and I have heard the cries of parents.

29 Jun 1999 : Column 252

Please do not tell me that food and medicines are not covered by the
sanctions. The Minister and I both know that that is only partly true and
that, in so far as it is true, it is misleading. If we subject a country to
the tightest of mediaeval-style sieges, bankrupt its economy and freeze its
international assets, how much food and medicine can it buy? If we define
food and medicines so that vitamins and additives are not foods, so that
insulin or intravenous fluid are not medicine and so that everything from
syringes to diagnostic equipment is subject to endless delay and subversion
by the sanctions committee in New York, what will the effect be on the
health of the people?

What is the point of allowing diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera medicines while
forbidding the equipment to repair the water and sanitation systems? The
collapse of those systems led to the epidemic of water-borne disease in the
first place. If the Minister says that members of the Iraqi regime are not
hungry and that their children are not suffering, he will merely make my
point. The sanctions are not harming the Iraqi regime, which is stronger
than it was when sanctions began. The sanctions are laying waste the
innocent Iraqi population.

What is the point of doubling, doubling and doubling again the upper limits
of the oil-for-food quotas, when the Government know that Iraq can only
dream of pumping that amount of oil, given the degradation of the oil
extraction and distribution system, when we ban under sanctions the
wherewithal to upgrade it and when oil prices, although firming, are still
historically low?

Please do not tell me that there are stockpiles of undistributed medicines
in Iraqi warehouses. Read the United Nations Security Council's own report
on page 9 about the deterioration of warehousing; the lack of handling
equipment; communication and transport difficulties; and the lack of tools.
Read the World Health Organisation's study, which proves that Iraq's
warehouses are operating at less than 20 per cent. of previous capacity.

Please do not tell me that the Iraqi health service is importing frivolous
or unnecessary equipment as, sadly, some of our colleagues have been misled
into doing--like the canard about the liposuction equipment, when it was
falsely implied in this place that it was being imported for the
prettification of the wives of members of the regime. That was a deliberate
piece of disinformation. I have followed that equipment, which is used as
such equipment is used here--in surgery on women suffering from breast
cancer and undergoing mastectomies; in surgery on patients suffering from
severe burns; and on patients who are having tumours removed and whose own
lipid must be moved from one part of the body to another.

If the Minister wants to end the stalemate with Iraq, it really is time to
turn down the rhetoric of demonisation which, as he found at the CAABU
meeting, is doing our reputation among the Arab peoples no good at all.

I have some questions for the Minister. If he cannot answer them now, I hope
that he will do so in writing in due course. My hon. Friend said at the
CAABU meeting that "it is nonsense" to suggest that Britain would like to
see the break-up of Iraq and that

"Preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq is a fundamental part of our

As President Clinton might say, "It all depends what you mean by 'is'".
After all, as will be seen increasingly in Yugoslavia, if one pursues
policies that objectively contribute to the break-up of a sovereign
territory, whatever one's

29 Jun 1999 : Column 253

protestations, the country will still be broken up. What else is the solely
United States-United Kingdom policy of daily bombardment of the so-called
no-fly zones, which have no United Nations Security Council authority, if it
is not a contribution to the break-up of Iraq and an attack on its
territorial integrity?
Lest hon. Members are misled by the relative media blackout on those
bombardments, it is worth pointing out that Britain and America have dropped
more bombs on Iraq since Desert Fox than we did during that massive
operation and that the targets have included shepherds and their sheep,
schools, hospitals, oil installations and oil storage tanks, civilian houses
and the civilian families living in them.

What else but a contribution to disintegration is the constant use of our
territory by American officials and exiled Iraqi opposition groups to plan
terrorist operations in the towns and cities of Iraq? I can give the
Minister chapter and verse about those meetings--who attended them and what
they were discussing.

Does my hon. Friend know that those meetings contravene our law, which was
rushed through the House last summer, whereby section 5 of the Criminal
Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, makes it an offence to conspire
on British soil to cause explosions, murder and other terrorist acts outside
the United Kingdom? I should know, for I single-handedly blocked that law
when it was first introduced in the House during the tenure of the previous

The Minister has a tiger by the tail with those organisations. What else but
the break-up of Iraq is sought by the armed Kurdish factions, when they are
not murdering each other? What else but the break-up of Iraq is sought by
the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, the army of fanatical Shias
who wish to set up a pro-Iranian fundamentalist theocracy, if necessary in
the south of Iraq? Or does the Minister believe that Iraq can be governed at
the centre by Kurdish parties or by radical Shi'ism? What do Iraq's Sunni
neighbours--some of our oldest and closest friends--think about that idea?
Have we learned nothing from our sponsorship of those other holy warriors,
Mr. bin Laden and his Afghan mujaheddin?

Finally, I turn to the recently announced British initiative in the Security
Council and express the hope that the Minister can persuade me otherwise
than that that is just another twist in perfidious Albion's policy towards
Iraq, which intends to find another means of prolonging the agony. I hope
that the Minister is not offended when I say that I cannot understand why we
cannot support the French initiative, launched by our sister party--a
fraternal Government and European ally. That initiative already has the
support of a majority of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Our initiative only has the support of the USA--perhaps predictably. Will
the Minister tell us what is wrong with the French draft? He well knows that
it has the capacity to break the stalemate, while our draft--as he knows
equally well--does not have that capacity, and has been rejected out of

My hon. Friend the Minister has answered a parliamentary question from my
hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen). Let me
contradict that answer. During the past 48 hours, Tariq Aziz said that

29 Jun 1999 : Column 254

the French draft has real possibilities for the negotiation of a way out of
that stalemate. That is contrary to the parliamentary answer that was
released today. On the face of it, the British draft is worse than the
existing governing resolution 687. Under resolution 687, the sanctions will
be lifted in circumstances in which, in the British draft, they would only
be suspended. Anyone who saw the US Government's treacherous betrayal of the
recent Libyan deal, when they said that, notwithstanding the recent
breakthrough, they would not lift their sanctions, will realise how that was
regarded in the Arab world.
The draft imposes obligations on Iraq that were not even present in
resolution 687, although it was, in effect, a draconian surrender treaty.
Why? The burden of proof placed on Iraq in relation to weapons is more
onerous than 687; in essence, it formalises what had, hitherto, been only
the practice of requiring Iraq to prove a negative. Why? The British draft
includes that hoary old myth--beloved of the "Missing in Action" Indo-China
conspiracy theorists--the "Kuwaiti hostages". I have the internal discussion
document in which the Government decided to change that formulation from
prisoners of war because of the greater "emotional power" of the word
hostages. However, whatever they are called, the Minister knows that Iraq
says that it does not have them and that unknown soldiers die in every war.
Again, the Minister is asking Iraq to prove a negative.

The British draft requires the "disclosure of information" rather than only
the destruction of weapons, again knowing that that process can be strung
out indefinitely, and that it will still leave us embroiled in the very
stalemate that the Minister says he wants to break. Time does not allow me
to probe this matter more deeply, but I hope that the Minister will consider
this debate to be the start of a dialogue on those questions rather than the

In conclusion, it is often sneered--sotto voce--that France is taking a more
constructive role in the stalemate in order to further its national
interest. Apart from the fact that that is a strange accusation--what are
Governments for but to further their national interests?--and that it cannot
be doubted that we have sacrificed mightily our own once pre-eminent
position in Iraq, the Minister must know that Madeleine Albright was wrong,
wrong, wrong when she said to Lesley Stahl on US television that all those
dead Iraqi children constituted "a price worth paying". Any ethical
dimension to our foreign policy requires us radically to think again.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon):
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) has spoken at
length, and with his usual passion, on the UN sanctions regime against Iraq.
May I make it clear to him and to the House that the Government would be
pleased to see sanctions lifted? However, as we all know, Iraq has so far
made it impossible for that to happen.

To understand why sanctions are still in place today, we need to consider
why they were originally imposed. Sanctions were imposed in response to
Iraq's illegal and outrageous invasion of Kuwait. At the end of the Gulf war
in 1991, Iraq accepted the terms of UN Security Council resolution 687--the
ceasefire resolution. That resolution, and others implementing it, laid down
obligations on Iraq

29 Jun 1999 : Column 255

relating to a number of matters. They included the obligation to accept the
destruction of its weapons of mass destruction under international
supervision; to submit full details of locations, amounts and types of
weaponry; to undertake not to use, develop, construct or acquire weapons of
mass destruction in the future; and to co-operate with UNSCOM in carrying
out those obligations.
That same resolution also set out the circumstances in which the Security
Council would lift the sanctions regime. It provides that sanctions will be
lifted following compliance by Iraq with its obligations relating to weapons
of mass destruction and following review by the Security Council of Iraq's
policies and practices, including its implementation of all relevant
resolutions. Progress is entirely in Iraq's hands, but Iraq has persistently
shirked its responsibilities and refused to comply with the very obligations
it formally accepted under resolution 687. Perhaps, after eight years, it is
easy to overlook the seriousness of those obligations and Iraq's failure to
even come close to meeting them. Let me however remind the House of Iraq's
appalling record.

On disarmament, the weapons inspectors were faced with persistent evasion,
obstruction and mendacity on the part of Iraq. Iraq failed to provide an
even remotely credible account of its biological weapons programme, and it
failed to tell the truth about the production and weaponisation of the nerve
agent VX. That is not a trivial debating point: VX causes death within
minutes through nervous system disruption leading to respiratory
failure--one drop of VX can kill.

I pay tribute to the weapons inspectors for their huge achievements in the
face of Iraqi obduracy, but as the UN expert disarmament panel confirmed
earlier this year, serious gaps still remain, especially in Iraq's
declarations on chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.
Those are potentially horrific capabilities that threaten the security of
the entire region. Iraq has already used chemical weapons extensively
against Iran and against its own Kurdish civilians, at Halabja, in March
1998, attacking them with mustard gas and the nerve agent Tabun and killing
thousands in the process.

Nor should we forget that more than 600 Kuwaitis and others detained by Iraq
during the Gulf war are still unaccounted for. That represents about 0.1 per
cent. of the Kuwaiti population: to us, the equivalent would be about 50,000
British citizens unaccounted for. Those are not "unknown soldiers", to use
my hon. Friend's phrase. Almost all the Kuwaiti missing are civilians, some
women and some elderly. To date, Iraq has provided sufficient information to
close only three cases. Meanwhile, the families are left to suffer and
grieve, not knowing the fate of their loved ones at the hands of the Iraqi

My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about the humanitarian situation in
Iraq--the Government are also concerned, but we reject the propaganda that
seeks to hold the UN sanctions regime to blame. Let me remind my hon. Friend
once again that food, medicines and goods for essential civilian needs are
not prohibited under sanctions. That means that Iraq can and does import,
for example, food, medicines, bandages, pencils, ambulances, chemotherapy
drugs, educational materials, medical journals and school desks. Claims that
the United Nations, or the United Kingdom itself, blocks those goods are

29 Jun 1999 : Column 256

Meanwhile, the Iraqi regime continues to refuse donations of humanitarian
aid from third countries. While the Iraqi government seek to exploit their
people's suffering for their own propaganda purposes, the international
community does what it can to protect the Iraqi people. The UN first put
forward proposals for a humanitarian programme--the prototype for today's
oil for food programme--in 1991. Iraq rejected them, despite complaints of
severe humanitarian need. Faced with huge international pressure, Iraq
eventually agreed to the oil for food programme in May 1996, but the start
of the programme was delayed by seven months, until December 1996, while
Iraq haggled over the terms of implementation.

Under the programme, Iraq is currently permitted to sell $5.3 billion worth
of oil every six months to fund the purchase of humanitarian goods. In
addition to the food and medicine I mentioned earlier, Iraq is also allowed
to import spare parts, equipment and materials for use in the water and
sanitation, education, agricultural and demining sectors. Subsequent
resolutions also expanded the humanitarian programme to allow a certain
amount of repair to the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and some upgrading of
Iraq's oil infrastructure.

According to the most recent UN report on the implementation of oil for
food, the UN humanitarian programme is making a real difference to the
humanitarian situation in Iraq. However, for the Iraqi people to get the
most out of the programme, the Iraqi Government must also play their part.
Once again, Baghdad has refused to engage properly with the UN. Despite
constant encouragement from the UN, the Government of Iraq refuse to make
any efforts to prioritise properly what is purchased for the humanitarian
programme, or to target the programme on the most vulnerable.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iraq, Max van der Stoel,
expressed concern in his February report that Iraq had not yet concluded
contracts to the full value of available resources for the purchase of high
protein biscuits or therapeutic milk. That was reinforced in April by a UN
spokesman who said that Iraq was not ordering enough food for its
malnourished children and pregnant women. Since late November, Iraq has
submitted only two contracts for food, worth only $3 million, although it
had been allocated $16 million for that purpose.

The UN special rapporteur further observed continuing problems with Iraqi
distribution of goods. The available resources were not being channelled to
the people in the southern governorates who were the worst off and in the
greatest need. According to the latest UN reports, approximately 300
million worth of medical goods--more than half of all the medicines
delivered to Iraq since the oil for food programme began in 1996--is still
in warehouses awaiting distribution.

It is noticeable that oil for food has had a substantially greater impact on
the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq where the Iraqi regime has no
involvement in the implementation of the programme. In the north, for
example, 92 per cent. of medical equipment procured by the United Nations
agencies since the start of the programme has been distributed. According to
the latest UN reports, general malnutrition there is decreasing.

29 Jun 1999 : Column 257

The suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of the tactics of the Iraqi
Government contrasts sharply with the wealth and luxury that is enjoyed by
Saddam Hussein and his regime. Forbes magazine recently estimated Saddam's
net worth at some $6 billion, ranking him the sixth richest head of state in
the world. Such wealth derives from years of exploitation, and lately from
smuggling large quantities of oil products out of the country for illegal
sale. Needless to say, the proceeds of those sales go straight to members of
the regime, rather than to the people who need them most--hence our efforts
to crack down on the trade. Instead of spending its money on humanitarian
goods, the regime imports vast quantities of whisky and cigarettes--since 1
January, more than 5,000 cases of whisky and more than 53,000 cartons of
cigarettes have been delivered to Iraq.

As well as our efforts at the UN to improve the humanitarian situation in
Iraq, since 1991 we have donated around 100 million in aid--bilaterally and
via the EU--making us one of the largest donors. Our current programme
focuses on projects in water and sanitation, hospital rehabilitation,
village rehabilitation, assistance to vulnerable groups and demining.

However, we also believe that it is in the interests of the UN, the Iraqi
people and the rest of the middle east that Iraq make real progress towards
compliance so that sanctions can be lifted. We have therefore been working
in the Security Council to make that goal a real possibility.

In April, we and the Netherlands circulated a draft Security Council
resolution, based on the findings of the three expert panels established by
the council in January to consider disarmament and humanitarian and Kuwaiti
issues. Our aim is that that draft will provide a basis for the Security
Council to re-engage with Iraq and, if Iraq chooses, provide a way out of
the present stalemate.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Will my hon. Friend explain what is
in it for Iraq if it accepts the United Kingdom resolution at the United
Nations? From Iraq's perspective, the lifting of sanctions has been

29 Jun 1999 : Column 258

blocked repeatedly by the United States and the UK--and presumably it will
continue to be blocked. Iraq has fought a war against what it views as an
intrusive UNSCOM inspections regime, so why should the Iraqis allow it back?
Is the UK's measure not just a spoiling motion designed to continue the
present hostilities?

Mr. Hoon: That is not correct. Sanctions have not been lifted, because the
Iraqi regime has not accepted the terms of the resolution. I explained that
at the start of my speech. That is why the resolution was made and why the
obligations placed upon Iraq. That would remain the case if the resolution
that has been co-sponsored by the UK and the Netherlands were eventually
accepted in the Security Council. The reality is that those obligations are
on Iraq and they arise out of the invasion of Kuwait and the use and
stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction.

The lifting of sanctions has been blocked because Iraq has refused
consistently to comply with UN resolutions. We clearly hope that the
resolution will be agreed in the UN, and we hope ultimately that Iraq will
accept its terms. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin that his
description of the response to that resolution in the Security Council
simply is not borne out by the facts. Several member states have already
said that they share our view. They include Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia and,
most importantly for the purposes of my hon. Friend's argument, Bahrain,
which is the Arab representative on the Security Council. All have announced
their co-sponsorship of the UK-Netherlands draft resolution.

I point out to my hon. Friends that the draft reminds Iraq of what it needs
to do. It imposes no new demands on Iraq, and it addresses the call for the
United Nations to do more about the humanitarian situation. It is a reminder
that Iraq can enable progress to be made on lifting sanctions whenever it
chooses to change its approach. If it rejects that opportunity again,
Baghdad's priorities will be clearer than ever. It is open to Iraq to have
sanctions lifted whenever it chooses to do so; it simply has to accept its
obligations in the United Nations.

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