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The Economist reiterates: It was talcum powder, not baby food

On Monday, The Sydney Morning Herald
(, citing The Telegraph
of London) again reported that Iraq was caught red-handed exporting baby
milk powder.  

Questions of intent aside, this report is false in that it was talcum powder
being shipped, not milk.  Following is an overview from The Economist (Aug
21-27, 1999, page 36), which corrects and re-frames this story in a larger
Baby powder and death  
THE discovery of an Iraqi cargo of baby goods making its way across the Gulf
by Indian dhow to Dubai has been pounced on by those who argue that Iraq's
suffering is caused less by sanctions than by the indifference and greed of
its rulers. This is an old, fierce argument. 
Iraq's defence-that the goods were being sent back because of their low
quality or, alternatively, that it was all a bit of private
enterprise-sounds thin. Kuwait, which stopped the vessel, said that the
cargo was baby bottles and talcum powder-not milk powder as at first
guessed. Nine years of suffocating sanctions have, without doubt, helped a
bunch of Iraqis, above all Saddam Hussein and his cronies, to prosper in
several exceedingly evil ways. At the same time, however, the prolonged lack
of all basic necessities has crushed the great mass of Iraqis, once proudly
in the van of Arab advancement, to a pitiful state of near-destitution. 

The controversy over responsibility is particularly relevant at the moment,
after last week's report by Unicef. The UN children's agency, working with
the Iraqi government and the World Health Organisation, has produced
devastating, and so far unquestioned, figures that show the effect of years
of sanctions on child mortality. In the great bulk of the country, which is
run from Baghdad, the under-five mortality rate more than doubled from 56
per 1,000 live births in 1984-89 to 131 in 1994-99. In the northern
autonomous region, the rate actually dropped, from 80 per 1,000 to 72. But
the Kurdish state is, in practice, run by the UN itself, with better access
to some goods. 

The survey's main conclusion is that Iraq should be allowed to make more
money, and to spend it more freely. Under the oil-for-food programme, Iraq
is allowed to sell oil worth $5.2 billion every six months to buy food and
medicine. But its oil industry is so dilapidated-and the rules for getting
equipment to repair it so stringent-that it has not, as yet, been able to
reach this target. 

Beyond this is the larger question of what, by now, the sanctions are
supposed to accomplish. Their purpose at the end of the Gulf war was to
force Mr Hussein to get rid of his most lethal weapons and render him
incapable of producing more. This has been largely, though not completely,
achieved. But, since the end of last year, UN weapons inspectors have not
been able to operate in Iraq. Scott Ritter, once one of the most hawkish,
and controversial of the arms inspectors, argued in the New York Times on
August 16th that economic sanctions should be dropped in exchange for the
resumption of meaningful weapons inspections. 

The UN Security Council has come up with several draft proposals on
sanctions and inspections but is unable to agree on one. It seems to be in
no hurry to change things. In the meantime, American and British aircraft,
patrolling Iraq's "no-fly zones", continue to attack sites considered
threatening. This week, the Iraqi government claimed that 22 civilians died
from air raids outside the zones. Bad, but fewer, no doubt, than die each
day from economic deprivation. 
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