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Newsnight and UN sanctions on Iraq

For those of you who saw Newsnight last night:

Claudia Milne
BBC Newsnight

Dear Ms. Milne.

I am a lecturer in international politics at the University 
of Bristol engaged in research on the UN Security Council 
sanctions on Iraq. I have done various pieces on work for Newsnight 
on international crises over the years.

I saw the item last night on the UN Security Council 
sanctions on Iraq, and I was very concerned by a number of 
demonstrable, important and I am sure unintentionally 
misleading inaccuracies in the report of your Diplomatic 
Editor Mark Urban which were wholly in line with the 
Foreign Office position and which are contradicted by the 
UN documents on which they are supposed to be based. Let me 
indicate just one of these:

Urban: ‘powerful evidence from one of its [the UN’s] own 
organisations [UNICEF], showing how Iraq may have been 
sacrificing its own people for propaganda ... the UN has 
brought a small improvement. But, where Saddam rules, 
children die in increasing numbers, something those running 
the UN programme can hint at, but never bluntly say’.

My response: The British government has made the most of 
the contrasts between the north of Iraq which is 
UN-controlled and the centre and south of the country where 
the programme is administered directly by the Iraqi 
government and monitored by the UN. Foreign Secretary Robin 
Cook said of northern Iraq that 'it is no accident that the 
people are hugely better off ... The contrast with the rest 
of the country could not be starker’.  UNICEF calculated 
that the mortality rate among children under five in the 
north fell between 1979 and 1989, rose until 1994, and then 
fell again until 1999 (to below the rate for 1979 to 1989). 
In contrast, it calculated for the centre and south of Iraq 
fell during the 1980s but rose catastrophically during the 
1990s to result in around 500,000 excess deaths among 
children under five.  All reports confirm the contrast: the 
narrative at issue here is what explains that contrast. The 
Foreign Office presents it as proof that the deaths are 
caused not by the sanctions but by Saddam Hussein alone.  

Those running the UN programme DO bluntly point out the 
contrast, and bluntly contest the claim that the contrast 
is due to a deliberate attempt by Saddam Hussein to keep 
child mortality high. According to UNICEF: ‘the difference 
in the current rate [of child mortality] cannot be 
attributed to the differing ways the Oil-for-Food Program is
implemented in the two parts of Iraq. The Oil-for-Food 
Program is two and a half years old. Therefore it is too 
soon to measure any significant impact of the Oil-for-Food 
Program on child mortality over the five year period of 
1994-1999 as reported in these surveys.’  Caroline Bellamy, 
Executive Director of UNICEF, says there are a number of 
reasons for the difference - sanctions have been more easy 
to evade in the north, agriculture is easier there, and it 
has been receiving aid for a much longer period.  Indeed 
aid began arriving in the north in 1991 whereas it began to 
arrive in the rest of the country only in 1997, and in 
large quantities only from the spring of 1998. In addition, 
according to Richard Garfield, a Columbia University 
epidemiologist who has studied the effects of the sanctions 
on Iraq,  the north gets 22 per cent more per capita from 
the oil sales programme; gets 10 per cent of the funds 
raised in cash (unlike the centre and south which gets only 
commodities); and gets aid from 34 Non-Governmental 
Organisations (NGOs) compared to eleven in the centre and 
south.  On this basis, the narrative that the difference is 
caused by harsher sanctions rather than harsher Saddam is 
much more plausible.

I would be happy to supply you with the fully referenced 
research on which my statements are based and to supply you 
with further research in future when you plan to cover this 
issue again. 

Yours sincerely,

Eric Herring
Dr. Eric Herring
Department of Politics
University of Bristol
10 Priory Road
Bristol BS8 1TU
England, UK
Tel. +44-(0)117-928-8582
Fax +44-(0)117-973-2133

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