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Hain letter in New Statesman

The following letter by Peter Hain appeared in the current edition of the
New Statesman (13th March).

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My old friend John Pilger is right to be angry about the humanitarian
suffering of the Iraqi people (6 March). So is the British Government. But
regrettably Pilger has a blind spot about who is really responsible for the
suffering : Saddam Hussein. He has been president for 22 years. First, he
plunged his country into a fruitless war with Iran, which ended nine years
and more than a million deaths later, having achieved nothing.

Next, he turned on his own people, using chemical weapons to slaughter
thousands more Iraqi Kurds for "disloyalty". Fresh from that atrocity, he
invaded Kuwait - again unprovoked. It is now almost ten years on, ten years
in which Saddam has been unable to threaten his neighbours again. The lesson
is clear : he has been contained by the very sanctions that Pilger wants

The most eccentric notion in Pilger's article is that coalition aircraft
bomb Iraqi anti-aircraft missile sites to increase the oil price. This
demonstrates a pretty shaky grasp of the economics and none of the politics.
The oil price has swung randomly between $10 and $30 for the past 20 years,
and any western politician who consciously tried to increase it would soon
find himself joining those he had put out out of a job.

But Pilger's most serious allegation is about the impact of sanctions. The
new UN Resolution has removed the ceiling on oil exports to pay for the "oil
for food" programme. Over $8 billion a year should be available to Iraq for
the humanitarian programme - not only foods and medicines, but also clean
water, electricity and educational material. No one should starve.

The "oil for food" programme has been in place for three years and could
have been operating since 1991 (the year the Gulf War ended) if Saddam had
not blocked it. The Iraqi people have never seen the benefits they should
have. For the most recent phase of the programme, the UN recommended that
Iraq set aside $91 million for nutrition. Instead, Iraq allocated only $24
million while importing 600 million cigarettes a year. About a quarter of
medicines imported into Iraq sit in warehouses. And Saddam is actually
*exporting* food in the region.

Why ? Because he plays politics with the suffering of his own people. He
believes that TV pictures of malnourished Iraqi children serve his
interests, so he makes sure that there are plenty of malnourished children
to film. In northern Iraq, where Saddam's writ does not run, the UN itself
runs the "oil for food" programme and the situation is much better.

Pilger's alternative does not inspire confidence. We abandon sanctions and
hope for the best. We trust Saddam to improve the condition of the Iraqi
people (never one of his priorities). We cross our fingers as he smuggles
what he needs to replenish his stock of chemical and biological weapons
under cover of normal trade. We close our eyes as he redevelops his nuclear
capability. And we wish his neighbours, the Kurds and Shia, the best of

Of course, the west was hypocritical in first supporting Saddam until the
nature of the beast and his threat to western interests was revealed. Of
course, the fabric of Iraqi society has been devastated. Of course, the
sanctions policy does not present a nice neat solution. Sanctions rarely do
: I remember apologists for Apartheid arguing that sanctions hit black South
Africans - and they were indeed effective. They would have been hit even
worse had sanctions been as tightly enforced as over Iraq. Did they make
them wrong ? And why does Pilger ignore the support from Kurds and other
Iraqi opponents of Saddam for sanctions ?

I have been involved in the fight against injustice my whole life. It was
the reason I became politically active long before I went into politics. I
have known John Pilger for many years and have great respect for his work.
It is sad that one of the people who will be most pleased about his article
is the real culprit, Saddam Hussein.

Peter Hain MP
Minister of State
Foreign Office

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