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[Iraq_L] John Pilger on Sanctions

A comprehensive piece on sanctions by John Pilger. His
90 minutes documentary film will be screened tonight
on ITV (UK). 

Guardian 4/3/2000

Squeezed to death 

Half a million children have died in Iraq since UN
sanctions were imposed - most enthusiastically by
Britain and the US. Three UN officials have resigned
in despair. Meanwhile, bombing of Iraq continues
almost daily. John Pilger investigates 

Saturday March 4, 2000 

Wherever you go in Iraq's southern city of Basra,
there is dust. It gets in your eyes and nose and
throat. It swirls in school playgrounds and consumes
children kicking a plastic ball. "It carries death,"
said Dr Jawad Al-Ali, a cancer specialist and member
of Britain's Royal College of Physicians. "Our own
studies indicate that more than 40 per cent of the
population in this area will get cancer: in five
years' time to begin with, then long afterwards. Most
of my own family now have cancer, and we have no
history of the disease. It has spread to the medical
staff of this hospital. We don't know the precise
source of the contamination, because we are not
allowed to get the equipment to conduct a proper
scientific survey, or even to test the excess level of
radiation in our bodies. We suspect depleted uranium,
which was used by the Americans and British in the
Gulf War right across the southern battlefields."
Under economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations
Security Council almost 10 years ago, Iraq is denied
equipment and expertise to clean up its contaminated
battle-fields, as Kuwait was cleaned up. At the same
time, the Sanctions Committee in New York, dominated
by the Americans and British, has blocked or delayed a
range of vital equipment, chemotherapy drugs and even
pain-killers. "For us doctors," said Dr Al-Ali, "it is
like torture. We see children die from the kind of
cancers from which, given the right treatment, there
is a good recovery rate." Three children died while I
was there.

Six other children died not far away on January 25,
last year. An American missile hit Al Jumohria, a
street in a poor residential area. Sixty-three people
were injured, a number of them badly burned.
"Collateral damage," said the Department of Defence in
Washington. Britain and the United States are still
bombing Iraq almost every day: it is the longest
Anglo-American bombing campaign since the second world
war, yet, with honourable exceptions, very little
appears about it in the British media. Conducted under
the cover of "no fly zones", which have no basis in
international law, the aircraft, according to Tony
Blair, are "performing vital humanitarian tasks". The
ministry of defence in London has a line about "taking
robust action to protect pilots" from Iraqi attacks -
yet an internal UN Security Sector report says that,
in one five-month period, 41 per cent of the victims
were civilians in civilian targets: villages, fishing
jetties, farmland and vast, treeless valleys where
sheep graze. A shepherd, his father, his four children
and his sheep were killed by a British or American
aircraft, which made two passes at them. I stood in
the cemetery where the children are buried and their
mother shouted, "I want to speak to the pilot who did

This is a war against the children of Iraq on two
fronts: bombing, which in the last year cost the
British taxpayer 60 million. And the most ruthless
embargo in modern history. According to Unicef, the
United Nations Children's Fund, the death rate of
children under five is more than 4,000 a month - that
is 4,000 more than would have died before sanctions.
That is half a million children dead in eight years.
If this statistic is difficult to grasp, consider, on
the day you read this, up to 200 Iraqi children may
die needlessly. "Even if not all the suffering in Iraq
can be imputed to external factors," says Unicef, "the
Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivation
in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by
the Security Council and the effects of war."

Through the glass doors of the Unicef offices in
Baghdad, you can read the following mission statement:
"Above all, survival, hope, development, respect,
dignity, equality and justice for women and children."
A black sense of irony will be useful if you are a
young Iraqi. As it is, the children hawking in the
street outside, with their pencil limbs and eyes too
big for their long thin faces, cannot read English,
and perhaps cannot read at all. 

"The change in 10 years is unparalleled, in my
experience," Anupama Rao Singh, Unicef's senior
representative in Iraq, told me. "In 1989, the
literacy rate was 95%; and 93% of the population had
free access to modern health facilities. Parents were
fined for failing to send their children to school.
The phenomenon of street children or children begging
was unheard of. Iraq had reached a stage where the
basic indicators we use to measure the overall
well-being of human beings, including children, were
some of the best in the world. Now it is among the
bottom 20%. In 10 years, child mortality has gone from
one of the lowest in the world, to the highest."

Anupama Rao Singh, originally a teacher in India, has
spent most of her working life with Unicef. Helping
children is her vocation, but now, in charge of a
humanitarian programme that can never succeed, she
says, "I am grieving." She took me to a typical
primary school in Saddam City, where Baghdad's poorest
live. We approached along a flooded street: the city's
drainage and water distribution system have collapsed.
The head, Ali Hassoon, wore the melancholia that marks
Iraqi teachers and doctors and other carers: those who
know they can do little "until you, in the outside
world, decide". Guiding us around the puddles of raw
sewage in the playground, he pointed to the high water
mark on a wall. "In the winter it comes up to here.
That's when we evacuate. We stay as long as possible,
but without desks, the children have to sit on bricks.
I am worried about the buildings coming down." 

The school is on the edge of a vast industrial
cemetery. The pumps in the sewage treatment plants and
the reservoirs of water are silent, save for a few
wheezing at a fraction of their capacity. Many were
targets in the American-led blitz in January 1991;
most have since disintegrated without spare parts from
their British, French and German builders. These are
mostly delayed by the Security Council's Sanctions
Committee; the term used is "placed on hold". Ten
years ago, 92% of the population had safe water,
according to Unicef. Today, drawn untreated from the
Tigris, it is lethal. Touching two brothers on the
head, the head said, "These children are recovering
from dysentery, but it will attack them again, and
again, until they are too weak." Chlorine, that
universal guardian of safe water, has been blocked by
the Sanctions Committee. In 1990, an Iraqi infant with
dysentery stood a one in 600 chance of dying. This is
now one in 50.

Just before Christmas, the department of trade and
industry in London blocked a shipment of vaccines
meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and
yellow fever. Dr Kim Howells told parliament why. His
title of under secretary of state for competition and
consumer affairs, eminently suited his Orwellian
reply. The children's vaccines were banned, he said,
"because they are capable of being used in weapons of
mass destruction". That his finger was on the trigger
of a proven weapon of mass destruction - sanctions -
seemed not to occur to him. A courtly, eloquent
Irishman, Denis Halliday resigned as co-ordinator of
humanitarian relief to Iraq in 1998, after 34 years
with the UN; he was then Assistant Secretary-General
of the United Nations, one of the elite of senior
officials. He had made his career in development,
"attempting to help people, not harm them". His was
the first public expression of an unprecedented
rebellion within the UN bureaucracy. "I am resigning,"
he wrote, "because the policy of economic sanctions is
totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying
an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as
that . . . Five thousand children are dying every
month . . . I don't want to administer a programme
that results in figures like these."

When I first met Halliday, I was struck by the care
with which he chose uncompromising words. "I had been
instructed," he said, "to implement a policy that
satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate
policy that has effectively killed well over a million
individuals, children and adults. We all know that the
regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for
economic sanctions; on the contrary, he has been
strengthened by them. It is the little people who are
losing their children or their parents for lack of
untreated water. What is clear is that the Security
Council is now out of control, for its actions here
undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of
Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will
slaughter those responsible."

Inside the UN, Halliday broke a long collective
silence. Then on February 13 this year, Hans von
Sponeck, who had succeeded him as humanitarian
co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned. "How long," he asked,
"should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to
such punishment for something they have never done?"
Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World
Food Programme in Iraq, resigned, saying privately
she, too, could not tolerate what was being done to
the Iraqi people. Another resignation is expected.

When I met von Sponeck in Baghdad last October, the
anger building behind his measured, self-effacing
exterior was evident. Like Halliday before him, his
job was to administer the Oil for Food Programme,
which since 1996 has allowed Iraq to sell a fraction
of its oil for money that goes straight to the
Security Council. Almost a third pays the UN's
"expenses", reparations to Kuwait and compensation
claims. Iraq then tenders on the international market
for food and medical supplies and other humanitarian
supplies. Every contract must be approved by the
Sanctions Committee in New York. "What it comes down
to," he said, "is that we can spend only $180 per
person over six months. It is a pitiful picture.
Whatever the arguments about Iraq, they should not be
conducted on the backs of the civilian population."

Denis Halliday and I travelled to Iraq together. It
was his first trip back. Washington and London make
much of the influence of Iraqi propaganda when their
own, unchallenged, is by far the most potent. With
this in mind, I wanted an independent assessment from
some of the 550 UN people, who are Iraq's lifeline.
Among them, Halliday and von Sponeck are heroes. I
have reported the UN at work in many countries; I have
never known such dissent and anger, directed at the
manipulation of the Security Council, and the
corruption of what some of them still refer to as the
UN "ideal".

Our journey from Amman in Jordan took 16 anxious hours
on the road. This is the only authorised way in and
out of Iraq: a ribbon of wrecked cars and burnt-out
oil tankers. Baghdad was just visible beneath a white
pall of pollution, largely the consequence of the US
Air Force strategy of targeting the industrial
infrastructure in January 1991. Young arms reached up
to the window of our van: a boy offering an over-ripe
banana, a girl a single stem flower. Before 1990, such
a scene was rare and frowned upon.

Baghdad is an urban version of Rachel Carson's Silent
Spring. The birds have gone as avenues of palms have
died, and this was the land of dates. The splashes of
colour, on fruit stalls, are surreal. A bunch of Dole
bananas and a bag of apples from Beirut cost a
teacher's salary for a month; only foreigners and the
rich eat fruit. A currency that once was worth two
dollars to the dinar is now worthless. The rich, the
black marketeers, the regime's cronies and favourites,
are not visible, except for an occasional tinted-glass
late-model Mercedes navigating its way through the
rustbuckets. Having been ordered to keep their heads
down, they keep to their network of clubs and
restaurants and well-stocked clinics, which make
nonsense of the propaganda that the sanctions are
hurting them, not ordinary Iraqis.

In the centre of Baghdad is a monument to the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq war, which Saddam Hussein started, with
encouragement from the Americans, who wanted him to
destroy their great foe, the Ayatollah Khomeini. When
it was over, at least a million lives had been lost in
the cause of nothing, fuelled by the arms industries
of Britain and the rest of Europe, the Soviet Union
and the United States: the principal members of the
Security Council. The monument's two huge forearms,
modelled on Saddam's arms (and cast in Basingstoke),
hold triumphant crossed sabres. Cars are allowed to
drive over the helmets of dead Iranian soldiers
embedded in the concourse. I cannot think of a sight
anywhere in the world that better expresses the crime
of sacrificial war.

We stayed at the Hotel Palestine, once claiming five
stars. The smell of petrol was constant. As
disinfectant is often "on hold", petrol, more
plentiful than water, has replaced it. There is an
Iraqi Airways office, which is open every day, with an
employee sitting behind a desk, smiling and saying
good morning to passing guests. She has no clients,
because there is no Iraqi Airways - it died with
sanctions. The pilots drive taxis and sweep the
forecourt and sell used clothes. In my room, the water
ran gravy brown. The one frayed towel was borne by the
maid like an heirloom. When I asked for coffee to be
brought up, the waiter hovered outside until I was
finished; cups are at a premium. His young face was
streaked with sadness. "I am always sad," he agreed
matter-of-factly. In a month, he will have earned
enough to buy tablets for his brother's epilepsy. 

The same sadness is on the faces of people in the
evening auctions, where intimate possessions are sold
for food and medicines. Television sets are the most
common items; a woman with two toddlers watched their
pushchairs go for pennies. A man who had collected
doves since he was 15 came with his last bird; the
cage would go next. Although we had come to pry, my
film crew and I were made welcome. Only once, was I
the brunt of the hurt that is almost tangible in a
society more westernised than any other Arab country.
"Why are you killing the children?" shouted a man from
behind his bookstall. "Why are you bombing us? What
have we done to you?" Passers-by moved quickly to calm
him; one man placed an affectionate arm on his
shoulder, another, a teacher, materialised at my side.
"We do not connect the people of Britain with the
actions of the government," he said. Laith Kubba, a
leading member of the exiled Iraqi opposition, later
told me in Washington, "The Iraqi people and Saddam
Hussein are not the same, which is why those of us who
have dedicated our lives to fighting him, regard the
sanctions as immoral." 

In an Edwardian colonnade of Doric and Corinthian
columns, people come to sell their books, not as in a
flea market, but out of desperate need. Art books,
leather bound in Baghdad in the 30s, obstetrics and
radiology texts, copies of British Medical Journals,
first and second editions of Waiting For Godot, The
Sun Also Rises and, no less, British Housing Policy
1958 were on sale for the price of a few cigarettes. A
man in a clipped grey moustache, an Iraqi Bertie
Wooster, said, "I need to go south to see my sister,
who is ill. Please be kind and give me 25 dinars."
(About a penny). He took it, nodded and walked smartly

Mohamed Ghani's studio is dominated by a huge crucifix
he is sculpting for the Church of Assumption in
Baghdad. As Iraq's most famous sculptor, he is proud
that the Vatican has commissioned him, a Muslim, to
sculpt the Stations of the Cross in Rome - a romantic
metaphor of his country as Mesopotamia, the "cradle of
Western civilisation". His latest work is a 20-foot
figure of a woman, her child gripping her legs,
pleading for food. "Every morning, I see her," he
said, "waiting, with others just like her, in a long
line at the hospital at the end of my road. They are
what we have been forced to become." He has produced a
line of figurines that depict their waiting; all the
heads are bowed before a door that is permanently
closed. "The door is the dispensary," he said, "but it
is also the world, kept shut by those who run the
world." The next day, I saw a similar line of women
and children, and fathers and children, in the cancer
ward at the Al Mansour children's hospital. It is not
unlike St Thomas's in London. Drugs arrived, they
said, but intermittently, so that children with
leukaemia, who can be saved with a full course of
three anti-biotics, pass a point beyond which they
cannot be saved, because one is missing. Children with
meningitis can also survive with the precise dosage of
antibiotics; here they die. "Four milligrams save a
life," said Dr Mohamed Mahmud, "but so often we are
allowed no more than one milligram." This is a
teaching hospital, yet children die because there are
no blood-collecting bags and no machines that separate
blood platelets: basic equipment in any British
hospital. Replacements and spare parts have been "on
hold" in New York, together with incubators, X-ray
machines, and heart and lung machines. 

I sat in a clinic as doctors received parents and
their children, some of them dying. After every other
examination, Dr Lekaa Fasseh Ozeer, the oncologist,
wrote in English: "No drugs available." I asked her to
jot down in my notebook a list of the drugs the
hospital had ordered, but rarely saw. In London, I
showed this to Professor Karol Sikora who, as chief of
the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation
(WHO), wrote in the British Medical Journal last year:
"Requested radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs
and analgesics are consistently blocked by United
States and British advisers [to the Sanctions
Committee in New York]. There seems to be a rather
ludicrous notion that such agents could be converted
into chemical or other weapons." 

He told me, "Nearly all these drugs are available in
every British hospital. They're very standard. When I
came back from Iraq last year, with a group of experts
I drew up a list of 17 drugs that are deemed essential
for cancer treatment. We informed the UN that there
was no possibility of converting these drugs into
chemical warfare agents. We heard nothing more. The
saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because
there was no chemotherapy and no pain control. It
seemed crazy they couldn't have morphine, because for
everybody with cancer pain, it is the best drug. When
I was there, they had a little bottle of aspirin pills
to go round 200 patients in pain. They would receive a
particular anti-cancer drug, but then get only little
bits of drugs here and there, and so you can't have
any planning. It is bizarre." 

In January, last year, George Robertson, then defence
secretary, said, "Saddam Hussein has in warehouses
$275 million worth of medicines and medical supplies
which he refuses to distribute." The British
government knew this was false, because UN
humanitarian officials had made clear the problem of
drugs and equipment coming sporadically into Iraq -
such as machines without a crucial part, IV fluids and
syringes arriving separately - as well as the
difficulties of transport and the need for a
substantial buffer stock. "The goods that come into
this country are distributed to where they belong,"
said Hans von Sponeck. "Our most recent stock analysis
shows that 88.8% of all humanitarian supplies have
been distributed." The representatives of Unicef, the
World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural
Organisation confirmed this. If Saddam Hussein
believed he could draw an advantage from obstructing
humanitarian aid, he would no doubt do so. However,
according to a FAO study: "The government of Iraq
introduced a public food rationing system with effect
from within a month of the imposition of the embargo.
It provides basic foods at 1990 prices, which means
they are now virtually free. This has a life-saving
nutritional benefit . . . and has prevented
catastrophe for the Iraqi people."

The rebellion in the UN reaches up to Kofi Annan, once
thought to be the most compliant of
secretary-generals. Appointed after Madeleine
Albright, then the US representative at the UN, had
waged a campaign to get rid of his predecessor,
Boutros-Boutros Ghali, he pointedly renewed Hans von
Sponeck's contract in the face of a similar campaign
by the Americans. He shocked them last October when he
accused the US of "using its muscle on the Sanctions
Committee to put indefinite 'holds' on more than $700
million worth of humanitarian goods that Iraq would
like to buy." When I met Kofi Annan, I asked if
sanctions had all but destroyed the credibility of the
UN as a benign body. "Please don't judge us by Iraq,"
he said. 

On January 7, the UN's Office of Iraq Programme
reported that shipments valued at almost a billion and
a half dollars were "on hold". They covered food,
health, water and sanitation, agriculture, education.
On February 7, its executive director attacked the
Security Council for holding up spares for Iraq's
crumbling oil industry. "We would appeal to all
members of the Security Council," he wrote, "to
reflect on the argument that unless key items of oil
industry are made available within a short time, the
production of oil will drop . . . This is a clear
warning." In other words, the less oil Iraq is allowed
to pump, the less money will be available to buy food
and medicine. According to the Iraqis at the UN, it
was US representative on the Sanctions Committee who
vetoed shipments the Security Council had authorised.
Last year, a senior US official told the Washington
Post, "The longer we can fool around in the [Security]
Council and keep things static, the better." There is
a pettiness in sanctions that borders on
vindictiveness. In Britain, Customs and Excise stops
parcels going to relatives, containing children's
clothes and toys. Last year, the chairman of the
British Library, John Ashworth, wrote to Harry Cohen
MP that, "after consultation with the foreign office",
it was decided that books could no longer be sent to
Iraqi students.

In Washington, I interviewed James Rubin, an under
secretary of state who speaks for Madeleine Albright.
When asked on US television if she thought that the
death of half a million Iraqi children was a price
worth paying, Albright replied: "This is a very hard
choice, but we think the price is worth it." When I
questioned Rubin about this, he claimed Albright's
words were taken out of context. He then questioned
the "methodology" of a report by the UN's World Health
Organisation, which had estimated half a million
deaths. Advising me against being "too idealistic", he
said: "In making policy, one has to choose between two
bad choices . . . and unfortunately the effect of
sanctions has been more than we would have hoped." He
referred me to the "real world" where "real choices
have to be made". In mitigation, he said, "Our sense
is that prior to sanctions, there was serious poverty
and health problems in Iraq." The opposite was true,
as Unicef's data on Iraq before 1990, makes clear. 

The irony is that the US helped bring Saddam Hussein's
Ba'ath Party to power in Iraq, and that the US (and
Britain) in the 1980s conspired to break their own
laws in order, in the words of a Congressional
inquiry, to "secretly court Saddam Hussein with
reckless abandon", giving him almost everything he
wanted, including the means of making biological
weapons. Rubin failed to see the irony in the US
supplying Saddam with seed stock for anthrax and
botulism, that he could use in weapons, and claimed
that the Maryland company responsible was prosecuted.
It was not: the company was given Commerce Department

Denial is easy, for Iraqis are a nation of unpeople in
the West, their panoramic suffering of minimal media
interest; and when they are news, care is always taken
to minimise Western culpability. I can think of no
other human rights issue about which the governments
have been allowed to sustain such deception and tell
so many bare-faced lies. Western governments have had
a gift in the "butcher of Baghdad", who can be safely
blamed for everything. Unlike the be-headers of Saudi
Arabia, the torturers of Turkey and the prince of mass
murderers, Suharto, only Saddam Hussein is so
loathsome that his captive population can be punished
for his crimes. British obsequiousness to Washington's
designs over Iraq has a certain craven quality, as the
Blair government pursues what Simon Jenkins calls a
"low-cost, low-risk machismo, doing something
relatively easy, but obscenely cruel". The statements
of Tony Blair and Robin Cook and assorted sidekick
ministers would, in other circumstances, be laughable.
Cook: "We must nail the absurd claim that sanctions
are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi
people", Cook: "We must uphold the sanctity of
international law and the United Nations . . ." ad
nauseam. The British boast about their "initiative" in
promoting the latest Security Council resolution,
which merely offers the prospect of more Kafkaesque
semantics and prevarication in the guise of a
"solution" and changes nothing.

What are sanctions for? Eradicating Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction, says the Security Council
resolution. Scott Ritter, a chief UN weapons inspector
in Iraq for five years, told me: "By 1998, the
chemical weapons infrastructure had been completely
dismantled or destroyed by UNSCOM (the UN inspections
body) or by Iraq in compliance with our mandate. The
biological weapons programme was gone, all the major
facilities eliminated. The nuclear weapons programme
was completely eliminated. The long range ballistic
missile programme was completely eliminated. If I had
to quantify Iraq's threat, I would say [it is] zero."
Ritter resigned in protest at US interference; he and
his American colleagues were expelled when American
spy equipment was found by the Iraqis. To counter the
risk of Iraq reconstituting its arsenal, he says the
weapons inspectors should go back to Iraq after the
immediate lifting of all non-military sanctions; the
inspectors of the international Atomic Energy Agency
are already back. At the very least, the two issues of
sanctions and weapons inspection should be entirely
separate. Madeleine Albright has said: "We do not
agree that if Iraq complies with its obligations
concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions
should be lifted." If this means that Saddam Hussein
is the target, then the embargo will go on
indefinitely, holding Iraqis hostage to their tyrant's
compliance with his own demise. Or is there another
agenda? In January 1991, the Americans had an
opportunity to press on to Baghdad and remove Saddam,
but pointedly stopped short. A few weeks later, they
not only failed to support the Kurdish and Shi'a
uprising, which President Bush had called for, but
even prevented the rebelling troops in the south from
reaching captured arms depots and allowed Saddam
Hussein's helicopters to slaughter them while US
aircraft circled overhead. At they same time,
Washington refused to support Iraqi opposition groups
and Kurdish claims for independence.

"Containing" Iraq with sanctions destroys Iraq's
capacity to threaten US control of the Middle East's
oil while allowing Saddam to maintain internal order.
As long as he stays within present limits, he is
allowed to rule over a crippled nation. "What the West
would ideally like," says Said Aburish, the author,
"is another Saddam Hussein." Sanctions also justify
the huge US military presence in the Gulf, as Nato
expands east, viewing a vast new oil protectorate
stretching from Turkey to the Caucasus. Bombing and
sanctions are ideal for policing this new order: a
strategy the president of the American Physicians for
Human Rights calls "Bomb Now, Die Later". The
perpetrators ought not be allowed to get away with
this in our name: for the sake of the children of
Iraq, and all the Iraqs to come

 John Pilger 

Paying the Price: Killing The Children Of Iraq, a
documentary by John Pilger and Alan Lowery, will be on
ITV this Monday at 9.30pm. 

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