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Mr. Rubin, another pirouette if you please ... ((as submitted, with citations))

> 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. [1]
> UNICEF's survey estimated an excess 500,000 Iraqi children had died since
> economic sanctions began, and evidence was mounting that America's
> policies were complicit in this epic disaster. The UN's Humanitarian
> Coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, had resigned to protest an embargo
> he termed "genocidal".  Other disturbing news began to register with the
> public.  The government had, with Dickensian timing, picked the Christmas
> season to threaten a Catholic relief group with charges of "delivering
> toys and medicine" 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. [2]
> Earlier this week -- one month after 70 Representatives protested economic
> sanctions, two weeks after an additional pair of high-ranking UN officials
> resigned in dismay (Halliday's successor and the head of the World Food
> Program), and two weeks after the Democratic House Whip David Bonior (MI)
> termed these policies "infanticide masquerading as policy" - the State
> Department's dashing spokesman, James Rubin, again renewed the PR
> offensive and tried to re-focus the spotlight on Saddam's brutal regime.
> Thus turns the spin cycle in Washington, D.C. [3]
> 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.  In his latest
> briefing, Mr. Rubin cites a figure of "2-billon dollars" for palace
> construction.  Even this is old news, planted in the press as far back as
> 1996.  Nor is it a particularly impactful sum, reflecting as it does local
> WPA-like expenditures in a country desperately starved for imported items.
> [4]
> 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 <> (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.
> [5]
> 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?
> [6]
> Absurdly, we expected revolution.  From inception, the sanctions have been
> pitched with deliberate harshness with the intent containing Iraq and of
> provoking regime change. 'Make the Iraqi people sufficiently miserable',
> our government thought, 'and we will contain Iraq without political risk
> and end the reign of Saddam Hussein.'   Evidence of our intent abounds, in
> the miserly oil-for-food revenue caps, in the roadblocks placed before
> international aid workers, in the constant low-density bombing, and in the
> disruptive import holds.  (The latter are especially damaging; for
> example, Iraq's electrical supply would leap 50% if  import holds were
> released.)[7]
> Once this course was set, our hands were bloody.  We held a civilian
> population hostage to pressure a dictator to leave office.  We punished
> 23-million for the crimes of 4000.
> 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.  Iraq in 1990 (despite ten years of Saddam) had a standard of
> living approaching that of Greece; today, it has collapsed to near
> sub-Saharan poverty. [8]
> 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 could 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. [9]
> 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. [10]
> 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.  Mr. 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 retires 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.
> Regards,
> Drew Hamre
> Golden Valley, MN 
> ===
> [1] UNICEF's massive survey of 40,000 Iraqi households was released August
> 12, 1999; see <>. The State
> Department responded almost immediately in a press conference with
> Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones' (see
>  The major
> response, though, came on September 13, in a report and briefing by State
> Department Spokesman James Rubin and Assistant Secretary Martin Indyk
> (report:; transcript:
> [2] UNICEF's 'excess death' estimate is detailed in the report section, "A
> note on the estimation of under-five deaths" (see above link).   Also see
> Ms. Bellamy's prepared statement at
>  Assistant Secretary General
> Denis Halliday - a man of immense dignity and integrity -- ended a 34-year
> diplomatic career to protest sanctions.  Transcripts of his speeches are
> available here, here, and
> here  Voices in the Wilderness has
> organized repeated trips to Iraq; they were threatened with fines totaling
> well into six-figures on December 27, 1998
>  AFP estimates the
> no-fly zone bombings have claimed 156 lives since the end of Desert Fox
> ... roughly equivalent to the toll for the Oklahoma City Bombing (168).
> [3] The Campbell/Conyers protest letter and the signatories are available
> at  The UN resignations were of Count Hans Von Sponeck
> (the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq) and Jutta Burghardt (head of
> the World Food Program in Iraq).  Bonior's quote was reported  by both the
> BBC and the Washington Post
> l.  Rubin's briefing occurred February 29, and is available here
> (transcript: )
> and here, as an update to the earlier report, "Saddam Hussein's Iraq"
> [4] Use AltaVista's "Advanced" tab at, and enter
> '"lavish palaces" AND Saddam'.  The 2-billion figure appeared in a Thomas
> Friedman article in the New York Times on October 13, 1996 (see Footnote
> 90 here:  
> [5] The 18-mile traffic jams at the Turkish border were reported by The
> Economist (February 12th-18th, 2000) in the article, "One man's joy in
> Iraq".  The unchecked crossing at Trebil was recounted in an interview
> with Hans Von Sponeck (
> [6] It is, of course, actually "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" by Zevon.
> [7] Contract holds on imported goods have been a repeated source of
> friction between UN officials and the U.S.  Refer to the numerous reports
> of the Office of the Iraq Programme, online at
> . The remark about Iraq's electrical supply
> was made by the head of the program, Benon Sevan, in the '180 Day Report'
> released in November, 1999.
> [8]  SCR-1284 appears here:
>  The statement of
> causality occures in Section D, Paragraph 33.
> [9] Ms. Bellamy's comments were reported by the Associated Press, August
> 12, 1999.  The remaining information is per personal communication with
> Professor Richard Garfield of Coumbia University.  Garfield is an
> epidemiologist who studies the health effects of sanctions; he can be
> reached at []; his office phone is
> 212-305-3248.
> [10] Mr.Rubin's briefing for August 12, 1999
> (   "It is
> our view that the fact that in Northern Iraq, the infant morality rate is
> improving with the same sanctions regime under the rest of Iraq shows that
> in places where Saddam Hussein isn't manipulating the medicines and the
> supplies, that this works."  
> Data for Iraq's north and center/south are from UNICEF's recent surveys,
> available online at  From each
> region's respective report, data are pulled from "Table 3" on page 10.
> Under-five mortality rates are as follows:
>               Iraq's Center/South     Northern Iraq
> 1994-99               131                     72
> 1989-94               92                      90
> 1984-89               56                      80
> 1979-84               67                      104
> Non-Iraq statistics are from  As
> a further frame of reference, the USA's U5 mortality rate is 8; the UK's,
> 7.
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