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Last September -- one month after UNICEF released its bone-chilling survey of child mortality in Iraq -- the U.S. State Department was pressed into a public relations battle against (can this be right?) Saddam Hussein. Evidence was mounting that America's policies were complicit in an epic disaster. UNICEF's survey estimated an excess 500,000 Iraqi children had died since economic sanctions began. The UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, resigned to protest an embargo he termed "genocidal". Other disturbing news began to register in the public's mind. The government had, with Dickensian timing, picked the Christmas season to threaten a Catholic relief group with charges of "delivering toys and medicines" to the children of Iraq. No-fly zone bombings - ostensibly to protect the populace from Saddam - began to kill civilians with disturbing frequency. Despite this, the American mind recoiled at the notion of a public relations duel with Saddam, the Hammer of the Ayatollahs, the Beast of Baghdad. How unseemly! But the battle continues. Earlier this week -- one month after 70 Representatives protested economic sanctions, two weeks after additional UN officials (Hans von Sponeck and Jutta Burghardt) resigned in dismay, and two weeks after the Democratic House Whip termed these policies "infanticide masquerading as policy" -- the State Department's James Rubin renewed the PR offensive, again trying to focus the spotlight on Saddam's brutal regime. Thus turns the spin cycle in Washington, D.C. Mr. Rubin, another pirouette if you please ... The latest State Department briefing contains little news. It gallops into town crying "palace-building" and "oil smuggling", but it rides a gimpy, beaten horse. Here's an experiment: plug "'lavish palaces' AND Saddam" into AltaVista's web search engine. You'll get 60-plus hits, most of them State Department briefings and commentaries. Yesterday, Mr. Rubin cited a figure of "2-billon dollars" for palace construction. Even this is old news, appearing as far back as 1996 (Thomas Friedman's "Follow the Money", The New York Times, October 13, 1996, E-13). Nor is it a particularly impactful sum, reflecting as it does local WPA-like expenditures in a country desperately starved for imported items. Mr. Rubin offers satellite photos of palace grounds, but pah! -- you can download your very own satellite photos of Baghdad to 2-meter resolution from <http://www.terraserver.com/> (just plug Baghdad into the 'Find' box). These photos show details of courtyards, railway lines, and heaping piles of Desert Storm rubble. Palaces provide an obscene contrast to the wreckage, certainly. Of course, from the same website you can download satellite imagery of the White House -- and in most shots, you'll see destitute neighborhoods within walking distance of the home of the most powerful man on earth, a contrast some would also find obscene. Wealth flows unevenly, sometimes justly, sometimes not; in this, there is no surprise and no indictment particular to Baghdad. Smuggling? For years, Iraqi tanker trucks have openly waited in 18-mile queues for entry into the Turkish frontier. For years, non-OFF traffic has flowed unchecked between Iraq and Jordan through Trebil. That Iraqi oil is smuggled and that Saddam benefits is hardly secret and hardly news. What is Mr. Rubin arguing? Is he arguing that Saddam is vile? The world knows this. Is he arguing that Saddam could do more to improve the conditions in Iraq? The world knows this. Mr. Rubin labors to state that to which Warren Zevon danced: in times of desperation, it's connections, guns, and money that hold the whip hand. We embargoed Iraq and the Ba'athists consolidated power as a matter of course. What did we expect? Absurdly, we expected revolution. From inception, the sanctions have been pitched with deliberate harshness with the intent of provoking regime change. 'Make the Iraqi people sufficiently miserable', our government thought, 'and they will do what the armies of Desert Storm could not: they will end the reign of Saddam Hussein.' Evidence of our intent abounds, in the miserly oil-for-food revenue caps, the disruptive import holds, the roadblocks placed before international aid workers and religious groups, and in the constant low-density bombing. Once this course was set, our hands were bloody. We held a civilian population hostage to pressure a dictator to leave office. We punished 20-million for the crimes of 200. Despite this, Mr. Rubin argues that Saddam is to blame for the disaster in Iraq. Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S.-negotiated wording of the latest Security Council Resolution (1284) flatly states the "fundamental objective" of sanction's proposed suspension is "improving the humanitarian situation in Iraq". The resolution itself therefore admits to the causative link between the sanctions and Iraq's humanitarian disaster. Sensible policy would end the economic embargo, extend the military sanctions while encouraging regional disarmament, all the while engaging and re-developing Iraq. But when questioned on de-linking economic and military sanctions, Mr. Rubin can only note, as he did last August, that conditions in UN-controlled Iraqi Kurdistan are better than in the UN-monitored, Saddam-controlled south. He argues causality: that Saddam has manipulated conditions, causing depredation to force an end to sanctions. But the true story is not this simple, nor as comforting to the American conscience. UNICEF's executive director, Carol Bellamy, explained the differences in Iraqi mortality rates as follows: the Kurdish north has been receiving humanitarian assistance for longer than the remainder of Iraq, agriculture in the north is better, and evading sanctions is easier. In addition, the north receives 22% more per capita from the Oil for Food program, and gets about 10% of all UN-controlled assistance in currency, while the rest of the country receives only commodities. The north also benefits from the aid of 34 Non-Government Organizations, while in the whole rest of the country there are only 11. Moreover, Mr. Rubin's focus on regional differences obscures a larger truth: the situation in northern Iraq remains dire. > Today's under-five mortality rate for northern Iraq is roughly equivalent to the rate observed in the whole of Iraq 20-years ago. > The current under-five mortality rate for northern Iraq -- 72 -- remains more than double the rate for most neighboring countries. For example, the rate for Saudi Arabia is only 30; for Iran, 37; for Syria, 34; and for Jordan, 25. These are bloodless statistics, but they mask a vast human tragedy. A single point's increase in these rates represents an annual toll of hundreds of children who would be hale but became ill; who visited the hospital instead of their friends; who were buried rather than returning home. Rubin implies these calamitous results are the intention of our policies ... that the figures for Northern Iraq illustrate how sanctions should "work". These words should haunt Mr. Rubin as he enters retirement from government service, still young and fleet of wit, a handsome man who used his physical beauty to quell the press and charm them from an ugly truth. So again, Mr. Rubin, another pirouette if you please. But you are dancing on the bodies of children. === Note: This is a draft of my op-ed piece on Rubin's Feb-29 briefing. Comments welcome; I'll post a sourced/modified version later. Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full archive and list instructions are available from the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi