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Annan, Hung from the Crossette

Secretary General Kofi Annan's 90-Day report on the oil-for-food program has
just been released at <>.

It's interesting to compare the original report with summaries by the
following news organizations:
-- the BBC
-- the Washington Post
-- the New York Times

The BBC (thanks, Rania) and Post reports have been noted earlier, while the
NYTimes report is attached below.  

What a flabbergasting construction the Times report is! - so eccentric, it
appears to summarize a different document altogether.   In the U.S., regular
news reportage from the UN emanates from only four sources: the AP, Reuters,
the Washington Post (in the person of the reliable Colum Lynch), and the New
York Times (in the person of Barbara Crossette, whose unfathomable biases
are well documented; see a compendium at
<> and
<>).  Ms. Crossette's work is
especially damaging because of the reputation of the Times and it's vast
reach through the syndicated market.  (For example, if my local "Minneapolis
StarTribune" runs this story, odds are it's Crossette's report they'll use).

In the following, Ms. Crossette leads with historical aggregate revenue
totals, which sound so impressive that by the end of paragraph 3 ('the money
has rolled in') the casual reader must be convinced that Iraq is awash with
petro-dollars.  In paragraph 5, she obliquely notes the question of the
morality of sanctions, stumbling over it as if it were the office cat*.  But
she gives no specifics.  And she then implies that humanitarian concerns may
be an Iraqi propaganda ploy, timed to conincide with a new arms inspector
beginning work.

Arms control concerns drive the next four paragraphs.  By the way, it's
after this point that most syndicatees will typically truncate the article
due to length.

Ms. Crossette then notes the issues of contract holds.  She notes concerns
over the state of the Iraqi oil industry.   And finally, one paragraph from
closing, she notes that "Despite advances in Iraq, the oil-for-food plan has
come under sustained criticism from the last two administrators of the
program there, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who have deemed it to be
too little too late for the people of Iraq."

In future years -- when toothless press ombudmen and historians sift through
the wreckage of the NYTimes coverage of this calamity -- it's to this
paragraph that defenders of the Times will vainly point.  "You see ...
balanced coverage!" they'll shout.  What a joke!

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
* This line is owed to E.B. White.


March 15, 2000

U.N. Chief Assesses Benefits to Iraq of Oil-for-Food Program

NITED NATIONS, March 14 -- Iraq has raised more than $13 billion for food,
medicines and other vital supplies under a United Nations plan that allows
it to sell some oil under international sanctions, says a report sent today
by Secretary General Kofi Annan to the Security Council. 

>From December 1996 until last December, Iraq sold more than $20 billion
worth of oil under the restricted sales program to meet the most urgent
needs of its citizens. Since December, as a gesture to Iraq, there has been
no ceiling on Iraqi exports, and billions of dollars in additional imports
are already on order, no longer limited to food and medicine. A Security
Council sanctions committee also has relinquished oversight of imports of
essentials like food, medicines and basic educational and agricultural

Despite some persistent problems, the money has rolled in, inflated by
record oil prices, and Iraq's orders have become more ambitious, often
including heavy equipment for large infrastructure projects. But as the
range of purchases has expanded, more contracts face tougher scrutiny by the
Security Council sanctions committee, particularly by the United States,
which has delayed approval of nearly 1,000 contracts. Mr. Annan's report
looks for ways to minimize these holds, which tie up hundreds of millions of

The report is scheduled to be debated by the Security Council on March 24. 

This is a critical moment in United Nations relations with Iraq, and the
success or failure of the oil sales program plays an important role in the
debate over how long sanctions imposed in 1990 after Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait can be maintained, diplomatically, or even morally, in the view of
some diplomats. Iraq is stepping up its efforts to portray the sanctions as
unacceptably inhumane as a new United Nations chief arms inspector, Hans
Blix of Sweden, prepares a new inspection system that will again require the
Iraqis to cooperate or to face a continued embargo. 

Mr. Blix will have to travel to Iraq in coming months to determine his
program of work. So far, the Iraqis have given no indication that they will
allow him to make the trip. 

At a news conference on Monday, Sergey Lavrov, Russia's representative at
the United Nations, who is frequently seen as being closest to the Iraqis,
gave the Iraqis no encouragement but instead took a conciliatory stand
toward those who are more suspicious of President Saddam Hussein. He said
that Russia was not proposing to exempt the Iraqis from accountability even
though he abstained in the Security Council when the new inspection system
was created. 

"We must be convinced that there can be no threat of weapons of mass
destruction coming from Iraq," he said. He added that he understood that the
holds placed on Iraqi orders often arose because of a dearth of technical
information about the goods being purchased, and he said he would not deny
that Russian companies were among those that have not provided adequate

In Washington, officials say they are also looking for ways to speed up the
import-approval process for the Iraqis, but they remain very suspicious that
Iraq will hide purchases that could go into secret arms programs. American
diplomats say that 85 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi purchases eventually go
through, however. 

In his report, Mr. Annan spread the blame for orders put on hold but
referred again and again to the negative impact they have. Contractors are
often vague, he said, and the Iraqis do not always sign and submit contracts
expeditiously. United Nations agencies working in Iraq do not enforce rules
about the proper submission of contracts, he wrote, giving them until Aug.
31 to improve their procurement procedures. 

Mr. Annan was critical of the failure of the Security Council to approve an
increase to $600 million from $300 million for spare parts for Iraq's
disintegrating oil industry, which has become an environmental hazard, say
independent experts hired by the United Nations. Oil production will soon be
unsustainable at present levels, the report says. 

"Without prompt action, a continued decline in production is strongly
indicated," Mr. Annan wrote. That would ultimately mean less money for
civilian needs. If the price of oil should fall, the damage would be far

In listing the successes of the oil-sales program, Mr. Annan pointed to the
rising caloric value of basic foods provided and the introduction of dairy
products in the "food basket" supplied to 24 million Iraqis. 

In health care, Mr. Annan noted that while there were still shortcomings in
water and sanitation, "bacteriological analyses in 1999 showed drops of
between 20 and 90 percent in contamination in all but two of the 15
governates," the Iraqi equivalent of a province or state, the report said. 

The arrival of new medical equipment has led to a quadrupling of X-ray
examinations in three years, the United Nations found. "Likewise, as drugs
became more widely available at all levels of health facilities," the report
said, "patient attendance increased by 46 percent and some 90 percent of the
essential drug needs of the hospitals were met." 

As in past reports, the United Nations found that the most improvement in
nutrition levels and the greatest advances against water-borne diseases
occurred in the largely autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, where
about three million people live beyond the day-to-day control of Mr.
Hussein's government. International agencies are in direct charge of aid
there. In those areas -- the governates of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah --
reforestation projects have begun and advances in agriculture have been
capped with the opening of three food-processing factories making tomato
paste, fruit juices, vegetable oil and dairy products. 

Despite advances in Iraq, the oil-for-food plan has come under sustained
criticism from the last two administrators of the program there, Denis
Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who have deemed it to be too little too late
for the people of Iraq. 

Mr. Annan cautions in his report that the program should not be considered a
development plan for Iraq, but rather an exceptional and complicated project
to fill gaps in Iraq's own public projects because of the effects of
sanctions. "The program was never intended to meet all the humanitarian
needs, and must be assessed in that context," he said. 

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