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News background -- "Sanctions against Iraq: Pro and Con"

The Minneapolis StarTribune has published a news backgrounder on the
sanctions in Iraq, and on the controversy which surrounds their
continuation.   Eric Black - the paper's lead international reporter - wrote
the story, in which he summarizes current Security Council maneuvers,
provides historical context, and explains the key arguments from each side.
Denis Halliday and Phyllis Bennis are quoted at length.

The StarTribune is one of the largest papers west of Chicago (Sunday
readership of 1-million plus).  This story led the news/editorial section
yesterday, November 28.

If you have a moment, please write the StarTribune
(, Mr. Black (, and Roger
Buoen (the national/international editor, and thank
them for the attention.

Urge that it continue.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

Published Sunday, November 28, 1999 

Sanctions against Iraq: pro and con
Eric Black / Star Tribune

The U.N. Security Council tied itself in knots last week over revising and
extending the so-called oil-for-food exception to the economic sanctions on
Iraq. Iraq then raised the ante by declaring itself so fed up with the
program that it would refuse to export oil.

On the surface, the issue appears to be about the details of oil for food
and about Security Council politics. But underlying these is the larger
question of the sanctions themselves. Are they, as the Clinton
administration contends, a vital tool to get Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
out, or get him to behave?

Or are the sanctions, as critics contend, inhumane because of their
devastating impact on Iraqi civilians and counterproductive because they
actually strengthen Saddam.

In New York this month, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering told the
Iraqi National Assembly -- a U.S.-subsidized collection of Iraqis in exile
who want to overthrow Saddam -- that the United States is "doing all we can,
through the United Nations sanctions controls, to deprive the ruling clique
of their lifeblood -- cash. At the same time, we are working through the
U.N. to compel Iraq's ruler to redirect the economic benefits of the
national oil wealth away from building more palaces, prisons and weapons of
mass destruction and toward food and medicine for all Iraqis."

But Phyllis Bennis, who watches the sanctions issue as a fellow at the
Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said that it's clear that the
sanctions are doing more humanitarian harm than arms-control good. "The only
thing that keeps them going is the unwillingness of the Clinton
administration to admit that the sanctions have been a mistake," she said.
"This administration has never been very good at admitting its mistakes."

The United Nations imposed the sanctions in August 1990, when Iraqi forces
occupied Kuwait. Although they constitute a wide ban on international trade
with Iraq, at their most concrete, the sanctions bar the rest of the world
from buying Iraq's primary export -- oil.

After the Gulf War, the Security Council made lifting sanctions conditional
on Iraq destroying its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and agreeing
not to resume making such weapons.

Bennis complained that other elements of the sanctions resolutions have been
ignored. For example, the resolutions called for turning the Middle East
into a region free of weapons of mass destruction. Such a goal would require
U.S. allies to give up some military assets, such as Israel's nuclear
program. Those elements of the sanctions program are ignored, she said,
while Iraq suffers the full force.

In 1996, responding to the criticism that the sanctions were mostly
inflicting suffering on Iraqi civilians, the United Nations added a program
called oil for food. Iraq is permitted to sell a fixed amount of oil --
$5.26 billion every six months. But instead of getting cash for its oil,
Iraq gets credits that can be redeemed for food, medicine and other items of
humanitarian aid.

Inspections drag on  

In fact, the five permanent members of the Security Council must approve
each contract to supply goods to Iraq under the program. Bennis said the
United States has blocked or delayed contracts to supply such materials as
chlorine, on the grounds that chlorine can be used for chemical weapons

Because the Gulf War bombing campaign destroyed much of Iraq's
water-purification system, and because many Iraqi children are contracting
and dying from water-borne diseases, Iraq vitally needs chlorine, Bennis
said. U.S. objections delayed the chlorine shipments for more than a year,
Bennis said, although the contract was ultimately approved.

In its white paper on Iraq, the State Department said that 78 percent of the
contracts submitted had been approved. Those that were rejected or delayed
included requests for items that, while they may have legitimate civilian
uses, can also be used for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. "As
Iraq is not permitting [U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors]
to perform its U.N.-mandated functions, there can be no assurance that Iraq
would not divert these dual-use items," the white paper stated.

Iraq has at various times pledged to cooperate with the sanctions regime in
order to get it lifted. It did permit arms inspectors from the U.N. special
commission (UNSCOM) to find and destroy stocks of chemical and biological
weapons and the means to make them. Inspectors believe Iraq ended its
program to develop nuclear weapons, but they are less sure about chemical
and biological weapons, which are easier to make and conceal.

As the sanctions and inspections dragged on, Iraq refused to allow
inspection of certain sites or caused delays before permitting inspections,
which raised suspicions that Iraq was hiding banned weapons programs.

Last December, chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler withdrew his team
on grounds that lack of Iraqi cooperation made it impossible for UNSCOM to
complete its work. The United States and Britain followed up with a brief
bombing campaign and the United States has bombed Iraqi targets many times
since, when it believed that Iraqi radar or Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons had
locked onto or shot at U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq.

At the United Nations, the Netherlands and Britain proposed to lift the
ceiling on the oil-for-peace program, so that Iraq could trade unlimited
amounts of oil for humanitarian goods. The United States backed the plan.
Iraq objected that the sanctions should be lifted unconditionally.

Russia, Iraq's best friend among the five permanent Security Council
members, tried to revise the sanctions program so that it would include a
timetable for lifting the sanctions if Iraq would cooperate with arms
inspections. The United States and others rejected that proposal.

The oil-for-food program has generally been renewed every six months. It
came up for renewal last week, with the Security Council divided between the
British-Dutch and the Russian proposals. Russia, to protest the council's
rejection of its plan, refused to approve a six-month renewal. Security
Council actions require unanimity. So the oil-for-peace plan was renewed for
only the next two weeks.

Iraq immediately announced it would stop exporting oil. On Tuesday night, it
loaded the last oil tanker for which it had a contractual obligation and
vowed to sell no more oil. The world price of oil, which had already doubled
over the previous year for other reasons, rose to a nine-year high last week
partly in response to Iraq's cutoff.

Criticism grows  

Meanwhile, the overall sanctions regime has come under growing criticism
from U.S. groups, mostly on the left, and from around the world.

In October 1998, Denis Halliday ended his 34-year U.N. career by resigning
as the coordinator of humanitarian relief in Iraq and devoted himself to a
worldwide campaign to get the sanctions lifted. When he came to Minneapolis
in March 1999, he said the sanctions were strengthening Saddam, enabling him
to portray himself as the one Arab leader willing to stand up to the West
and forcing the whole Iraqi population to depend on him for food.

"I think London and Washington have got to recognize the mistakes they've
made and be big enough to change it and come up with some new approach,"
Halliday said "But we need to move quickly. A hundred children died
yesterday and 150 may die today and the same tomorrow and we really don't
have time to go slow."

In August, UNICEF surveyed the situation in Iraq. It found that in the
county's central and southern regions -- where Saddam's government is in
control -- the child death rate had more than doubled since the sanctions
took effect. UNICEF estimated that about 500,000 fewer Iraqi children would
have died over the past nine years if the pre-sanctions death rate had
stayed in place.

In September, Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponek, called for immediate
and unconditional lifting of many of the sanctions.

That same month, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the sanctions
were destroying Iraqi society: "The United States is insensitive to the
human catastrophe under way in Iraq." 

The Clinton administration has generally responded to such criticisms by
arguing that it is not the sanctions but Saddam's conduct that is
responsible for the suffering in Iraq.

Not only did Saddam's invasion of Kuwait bring on the sanctions in the first
place, and not only did Saddam's refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions
cause the sanctions to remain in place for so long, but Saddam has sabotaged
U.N. efforts to reduce the suffering, U.S. officials have said.

Because of the oil-for-food program, "sanctions prevent Saddam from spending
money on rearmament, but do not stop him from spending money on food and
medicine for Iraqis," the State Department said in its September white

Saddam found the money to build 48 presidential palaces since the Gulf War
but can't find money to feed his citizens, the paper said. In April 1999,
Iraqi officials inaugurated a lakeside vacation resort outside Baghdad that
contains stadiums, an amusement park, hospitals, parks and 625 homes to be
used by government officials. "There is no clearer example of the
government's lack of concern for the needs of its people," the white paper

Saddam's status  

The United Nations showed it is more concerned than Saddam about hungry
Iraqis, the Clinton administration argued. The United Nations first proposed
the oil-for-food program in 1991, but Saddam refused to participate until
1996. In the Kurdish section of northern Iraq, where the United Nations
directly administers humanitarian assistance under the oil-for-food program,
the death rates for children have remained stable rather than doubling as
they have in the regions where Saddam's government administers the program.

The United States even alleges that baby milk provided to Iraq through the
oil-for-food program "has been found in markets throughout the [Persian]
Gulf, demonstrating that the Iraqi regime is depriving its people of
much-needed goods in order to make an illicit profit."

Critics of the sanctions have accused the United States of perpetuating the
sanctions by changing the requirements for getting them lifted. U.N.
resolutions never mention removing Saddam from power, but the critics say
that this has become the U.S. goal, so the sanctions would remain in place
even if Saddam complied with all U.N. demands.

The Clinton administration makes no secret of its desire to see Saddam fall.
And although they don't explicitly acknowledge the critics' point, top U.S.
officials have come close. Just after becoming secretary of state, Madeleine
Albright said: "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq
complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction,
sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakeable, is that Iraq
must prove its peaceful intentions . . . And the evidence is overwhelming
that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful."

In November 1997, after Saddam had ceased cooperation with the arms
inspectors, Clinton said: "What he has just done is to ensure that sanctions
will be there until the end of time, or as long as he lasts."

 Copyright 1999 Star Tribune. 
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