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Commons debate on Friday




Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): From Reuters, Vatican City, 21 March 2000: 

       Pope John Paul yesterday blasted UN sanctions on Iraq during a Holy
Year ceremony attended by its Christian patriarch, Raphael Bidawid. 
       "The sons and daughters of the Church in Iraq, and all the Iraqi
people who are being so severely tried by the continuing international
embargo, never cease to be present in my thoughts," the pontiff said. 
       "I assure all those who are suffering, especially the women,
children and elderly, of my prayerful support." 
       The Pope has often criticised the use of sanctions and said many
Iraqis have died because of the lack of medicines. 
       Bidawid, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, was to conduct
a service in his church's eastern rite later yesterday. 
       The Pope had wanted to visit the Old Testament city of Ur,
birthplace of the patriarch Abraham, in Iraq in February but was not
allowed by the Baghdad government. 
       It said the visit was not possible because of UN sanctions and the
no-fly zone over the country. 

That view is shared by Denis Halliday, by Hans von Sponeck and by Jutta
Burghadt--the senior, experienced international officials of the United
Nations on the spot. It is the view shared by Save the Children, for whom
Andrea Ledward gave an excellent briefing to a number of honourable
colleagues in the House of Commons on 29 February 2000, a copy of which is
with the Foreign Office. 

It is a view shared by the United Nations Children's Fund, outlined in its
document--also in the possession of the Foreign Office--"Child and 
Maternal Mortality Survey". It is a view that is encapsulated in "The
Water Tragedy", published by the United Nations. Its cover says: 
       The sophisticated water installations of Iraq, wholly dependent on
spare parts from outside the country, have been laid waste by the years of
neglect since the Gulf war. The result has been a catastrophic decline in
public health. Christine Aziz, Evaristo Oliveira and Jost Widmer look at
the lingering consequences of the war for Iraq and the hopes raised by the
UN's "oil-for-food" resolution. 

That document, too, is in the possession of the Foreign Office. 

On 20 March 2000, at column 422W, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and
Wanstead (Mr. Cohen)--I am glad to see him here--asked about the cost of
Operation Desert Fox and subsequent operations in Iraq, and my right
hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence mentioned figures of 35
million. The full reply is in the Official Report. I am deeply concerned
at the technical report from Mark Hillier from London. He says that 

       experts have said that the oil-for-food programme had "failed to
establish and support a sustainable oil production system in the
north" . . . The experts warn that, without telemetry, operational
communications and adequate water-treatment spares, "the possibility of
irreversible damage to the reservoir of this super-giant field is now
imminent". 

The super-giant field in question is the great oilfield at Kirkuk. 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1287

Mark Hillier reports that the experts 

       suggest that about $100 million per year might need to be spent on
horizontal drilling projects that, along with 3D seismic acquisition and
reservoir simulation, might help to boost ultimate field recoverability
to between 35 per cent. and 50 per cent. from the 15-to-20 per cent. range
that now looks likely. 

The squandering of valuable, finite resources is absolutely unimaginable. 

The report adds: 

       The Iraqi Drilling Company lacks bentonite so it is impossible to
make a heavy drilling mud and kill the well to conserve the reservoir, the
experts said. 

I wish to concentrate on the visit that George Joffe and I made to my
right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I set down our
proposals in a letter to my right hon. Friend and I have given a copy to
the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the
Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who will reply to the debate. George Joffe
was the deputy director of Chatham house and that fact is evidence of the
seriousness of the critics. I wrote that we felt that 

       there are two areas in which adjustment to present policy should be
made, in order to mitigate the effects of the current sanctions regime,
without calling into question the policy agreed by the Security Council.
       The purpose of both sets of proposals is also to try to counter the
very adverse physical and intellectual consequences of the sanctions
regime amongst the Iraqi population without providing encouragement to the
regime itself. You will recall that the underlying thrust of our comments
was that current policy, quite apart from discrediting the sanctions
regime and its major Western supporters in Arab eyes generally--whatever
their governments may claim--is also stimulating extremely hostile
attitudes within Iraq and outside the actual structure of the regime
itself. This, we feel, augurs ill for future relationships between Iraq,
its neighbouring states and the wider world, once the current regime
disappears. 

       (1) The first batch of measures we would like to propose deal with
issues of public health. I realise that this is a contentious area, where
there is disagreement between governments in the Security Council and 
United Nations over the actual situation. 

       (a) I do not, however, think that there is much doubt about the
fact that the public health situation is very poor. The major cause of
this is the dilapidated state of the water supply and sewage
systems. These systems require infrastructure repair and equipment
replacement, as well as basic inputs for treatment purposes. 

       (b) The second component of such an approach would be to improve
access to immunisation and vaccination facilities, as well as permitting
greater access to anaesthetics and general drugs. I am aware that official
sources claim that considerable supplies are held in Iraq, but I also know
that other sources dispute this. 

       In principle, the sanctions regime permits this, since both reflect
"humanitarian purposes". In reality, there are often massive delays in
authorisation through the Sanctions Committee because of
"dual use"  considerations, leading, on occasion, to rejections of the
requests. This is surely an area in which a change of approach is
essential and would not outrage the principles of the sanctions regime,
since it only requires a change in emphasis. Could the British government
not use its good offices to soften the rigour frequently expressed in
Washington, on the basis that this would be an appropriate investment in
the future without allowing the regime to renew its biological or
chemical weapons programmes? 

       (2) The second area in which I would like to suggest a modification
of policy is in that of human and intellectual contact. Even though
intellectual material is not expressly excluded by the sanctions regime,
in reality, Iraq has been out of intellectual contact with the wider
world for almost a decade. The postal services with Iraq are erratic and
discriminatory--materials sent are often returned for no discernible
reason--and the Sanctions Committee in New York is, to say the least,
extremely conservative in its willingness to allow such material through. 

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Does my hon. Friend agree that
there is a lack of transparency and 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1288

accountability concerning the decisions of the sanctions committee and
what this country's representatives are doing on that committee? Is it not
a scandal, for example, that money from the oil for food programme can be
handed out to the oil companies, but is held up for projects that would
help children in Iraq? 

Mr. Dalyell: I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend, and I agree with
everything that he says. It is precisely those considerations that lead to
the greatest resentment against Britain and the United States not only in
Iraq but in the streets of most of the Arab world. 

I undertook to give five minutes to my right hon. Friend the Member for
Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has been so active in this cause. 

2.41 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): I rise briefly to support the remarks of my
hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) because he has been a
persistent and principled critic of this policy. I rise only because I
have heard the Foreign Office reply many times, and if the Minister is to
deliver the same answer, I must tell in him advance that it is wholly
incredible and untrue. 

We are told, for example, that the policy is necessary because one country
has invaded another and has weapons of mass destruction. Israel has
weapons of mass destruction and has occupied the southern
Lebanon. Indonesia has weapons of mass destruction, which we supplied, and
killed 200,000 people in East Timor. Turkey has weapons of mass
destruction and occupies northern Cyprus, and the Government's policy is
that Turkey should be admitted to the European Union. There is no
credibility whatever in that argument. 

The second argument, which I know that we shall hear because the Minister
and the Prime Minister have given it before, is that the entire
responsibility for the terrible health crisis and the tragedy in Iraq lies
with Saddam Hussein. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said,
that is not the view of senior United Nations officials who have no
connection with Saddam Hussein but who were in Iraq to do a job that they
were denied the opportunity to do because they knew that the policy was
wrong. 

I hope that the Minister understands that the charge against the British
and American Governments is that they are applying sanctions that amount
to genocide. I use that word advisedly and with great gravity and
regret. I repeat: the policy of the British and American Governments
amounts to genocide. It is no good talking about the international
community because it shares the view that my hon. Friend has put forward
with such strength. 

Whatever reply the Minister gives, if it is line with what he said before,
it is not true and it is not believed anywhere other than in Washington,
which dictates the policy that this Government follow. The time has come
to take a little more notice of people of the quality of John Pilger,
Felicity Arbuthnot and my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow, for
Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway),
who have made it their business to draw to the attention of the British
people the truth of the tragedy and the reason why it has occurred. 

This is a short debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow
properly put forward his argument, but it will not end with another
ministerial reply drafted in the 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1289

Foreign Office but written in Washington because it is really a big,
long-term debate about Britain's relations with the middle east and the
world and the prospects of the United Nations surviving this century, when
it has increasingly been sidelined and dominated by one super-power. 

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter 
Hain): After the recent media debate on Iraq and sanctions, I am pleased
to have the opportunity to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for
Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whom I congratulate on securing this debate. 

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend's long, genuine concern about the
suffering of the Iraqi people. Unlike some critics of the United Nations
sanctions, he has consistently argued with sincerity, as has my right
hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), and has avoided the
petty, personalising attacks of the kind that we have seen recently. I do
not question their motives, and I know that they do not question mine. I
want to see the long, bitter suffering of the Iraqi people end as soon as
my colleagues do, even if we differ about how to achieve that. 

I reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that this
speech was not written in Washington; it was written on my computer,
although drafted by officials. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has proposed change in two
specific areas--public health and contact between Iraq and the British
people. I welcome these ideas, which are entirely consistent with our
thinking, and with UN Security Council resolution 1284. We can make
progress, as my hon. Friend suggests. 

Last year, Britain put a great deal of effort into piloting the resolution
through the Security Council. My right hon. Friend the Member for
Chesterfield speaks of the international community. The entire
international community has backed that resolution. It is the official
policy of the international community and of the UN, and it reflects
Britain's long-standing and deep-seated commitment to the disarmament of
Iraq and the well-being of the Iraqi people. 

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, in his recent report to the Security
Council, was hopeful that effective implementation of the resolution's
humanitarian provisions would further enhance the impact of the
oil-for-food programme on the humanitarian situation. With the oil price
high, and Iraq's output steady--at around 2 million barrels a
day--potentially $12 billion could be available this year for that
humanitarian programme. That is big money. Critics of sanctions seem
wilfully to ignore the real culprit in the denial of humanitarian relief,
which is readily available under the UN's programme. 

Talking of critics, can I put on record the facts--as opposed to the
myths--about the recent humanitarian flight to Baghdad planned by my
hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway)? I wanted the
flight to go ahead. It could have done so. Contrary to the rather bizarre
accusations that I have seen, I did not block this flight to deliver more
medicines to Iraq. The UK 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1290

Government did not prevent the flight, nor did the US Government. Nor did
the UN--in fact, it gave its specific approval on 8 March through the
Sanctions Committee. 

Preparations were proceeding smoothly until about a week before the flight
was due to go, when my officials learned that the intention was to take
207 people, including many journalists and others who could not possibly
have been assisting a mercy mission. The organisers were informed that the
UN Sanctions Committee would not have agreed to the flight because the
number of passengers called into question the humanitarian nature of the
flight. We suggested that the number be brought down to under 30, and the
organisers agreed to this. We did not specify who those people should be,
but did seek further details, as required by New York. 

I specifically promised to secure the agreement of the Sanctions
Committee, and, indeed, this was secured. To my astonishment, the flight
was suddenly cancelled. Only the organisers know why; perhaps the
propaganda value of a late cancellation, mischievously ascribed to me, was
more advantageous. 

Resolution 1284 gives the UN a new platform for its dealings with
Iraq. Three months on, there has been welcome progress on 
implementation. Hans Blix has taken up his post as executive
chairman of the new arms body, UNMOVIC. Yuli Vorontsov has been appointed
as the high-level co-ordinator for Kuwaiti issues. We hope that he will be
able to bring his massive experience to bear on the intransigents in Iraq
who are preventing progress on efforts to determine the fate of more
than600 prisoners of war still missing since the Gulf war. 

Rightly, the immediate focus of resolution 1284 has been on its
humanitarian provisions. I should remind the House that these are
unconditional. There is no longer any limit on the volume of oil that Iraq
can sell to fund the humanitarian programme. The UN's procedures have been
simplified and speeded up. 

Let me also set the record straight on our handling of contracts in the
Sanctions Committee in New York. That Committee exists to ensure that the
resolutions are fully complied with. It is therefore obliged to do all it
can to prevent the supply to Iraq of any goods prohibited under the
resolutions. It also makes many of the decisions on contracts under the
humanitarian programme, and therefore has to meet the humanitarian
imperative too. That is not an easy balancing act, and we think we get it
about right. 

We are not prepared to abandon the scrutiny of contracts, although
virtually all the other Committee members do, for whatever
reason. However, nor do we wish to hold up or block the delivery of vital
supplies, whether that means medicines or parts for Iraq's oil
industries--including the spares to which my hon. Friend the Member for
Linlithgow referred. 

We put on hold only 1 per cent. of all contracts. There is no way that
such a tiny proportion can be responsible for the undoubted suffering in
Iraq. Critics should also acknowledge the problem of dual-use goods: for
example, chlorine has a bona fide use in water treatment projects, but is
also a constituent of mustard gas, which was used in the attack on
Halabja, so it is absolutely right that we should know when and how it is
going to be used in Iraq. We are pressing for improved United Nations
monitoring of dual-use goods inside Iraq, which would reduce that 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1291

percentage still further. We will continue to urge all those on the
committee--I mean all--to take a similarly balanced approach. 

Security Council resolution 1284 provides for the suspension of sanctions
if Iraq co-operates. That that new opportunity is enshrined in a
British-drafted Security Council resolution is a further example of our
willingness to think imaginatively about the challenge posed by
Iraq. Suspension is available, if Iraq wants it, and the Iraqi Government
know that we are serious in our commitment to suspension. We hope that
they will adopt a more co-operative approach than they have done thus
far. I urge all those with good contacts or friends in the Iraqi regime to
give Baghdad the same message--that it should allow the full 
implementation of resolution 1284. 

Mr. Tony Benn: Is it not a fact that the inspectors were identifying
targets that we could later bomb? From an Iraqi point of view, inspection
is simply an intelligence operation to enable the Americans to target
sites, as and when they decide to resume bombing. That is the problem with
the reintroduction of inspectors. 

Mr. Hain: The resolution provides for a new inspection regime. The new
arrangements are designed specifically to determine whether the Iraqis are
developing weapons of mass destruction--as we know they are
doing. Throughout his political life, my right hon. Friend has
consistently opposed the production of such weapons, which include
biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The Iraqis should have nothing
to fear from a fresh arms inspection system. Their criticisms of the old
system, to which my right hon. Friend refers, do not apply to the new one. 

The recent documentary produced by John Pilger tried to show that 
sanctions are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. That
argument has been repeated in the debate. It is a lie propagated by Saddam
Hussein and his apologists. Of course the Iraqi people are suffering; that
is one of the reasons why the Government invested such energy in a new
Security Council resolution. It is a scandal that doctors cannot get the
drugs they need to end harrowing pictures from cancer wards. However, the
fault lies with the Iraqi Government for failing to order the required
medicines and failing to distribute those they do order. 

The latest report by the Secretary-General notes that one quarter of all
medical goods delivered to Iraq since the humanitarian programme started
have notbeen distributed: they sit in Government-controlled 
warehouses. There is a similar story in respect of food. In 1998, the
Secretary-General recommended a daily food ration of 2,463 kilocalories,
but the Iraqi Government sets its average at just 1,993 kilocalories--less
than is provided for--and the latest report notes that Iraq is not
ordering enough pulses or dairy products to make up the ration,
and that it is not including protein. 

The conclusion we have to reach is that Saddam Hussein is yet again
playing politics with suffering. He believes that television pictures of
malnourished Iraqi children serve his interests, so he makes sure that
there are malnourished children in their thousands to film. Why did John
Pilger not film in northern Iraq, where the situation is far better? No
one starves and health indicators have actually been improving, yet
exactly the same sanctions regime applies there. The difference is that
Saddam's writ does not run there. Why do sanctions critics prefer to
ignore that inconvenient but crucial fact? 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1292

Critics of sanctions are blind to who is to blame. They ignore Saddam
Hussein's past record of wars against his neighbours and brutality towards
his own people, especially the Kurds and the Shia. Their alternative
strategy does not inspire confidence: we are to abandon sanctions and hope
for the best; we are to trust Saddam to improve the condition of his
people; we are to cross our fingers as he smuggles what he needs to
replenish his stock of chemical and biological weapons under cover of
normal trade; we are to close our eyes as he redevelops his nuclear
capability; and we are to wish his neighbours and the Iraqi 
people--especially the Kurds and the Shia--the best of luck. That might be
a policy that some are prepared to advocate, but it is not one that the
Government are prepared to adopt.

Mr. Cohen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that 
point. John Pilger argued in his report that after the first Gulf war, the
Kurds and the Shia rose up to take power away from Saddam Hussein and to
protect their own interests. They were abandoned by the United States and
Britain and were slaughtered en masse. How are we protecting the Kurds and
the Shia, given that historical example? 

Mr. Hain: I was not a Minister in the then Government and I do not defend
what happened. Those people were, indeed, abandoned. That was a big fault
line in the policy of that Government. We are a different Government. We
support the Kurds. If the protection provided to the Kurds and the Shia
under the current policy, as strengthened by the new Security
Council resolution, were suddenly withdrawn, as many critics of sanctions
seem to suggest, they would again be vulnerable to the same kind of
devastating attacks that Saddam Hussein visited upon them in the past. 

Mr. Benn: Turkey invaded northern Iraq in pursuit of the Kurds. There is
no support in the British Government for the Kurds in their case against
Turkey. The argument is simply not credible. I know that the Minister has
to finish his speech, but I must tell him that it is not a credible
argument. 

Mr. Hain: My right hon. Friend has not answered my point. If we abandoned
sanctions, as he suggests, what would happen to the Kurds? The same as
happened to them last time, under the mustard gas that Saddam Hussein
directed at them, and under the other attacks on them. I know that my
right hon. Friend, who has been a fervent warrior for human rights
throughout his political career and internationally, would not defend
Saddam Hussein's consistent behaviour against the Kurds. We want to ensure
that they, and the Shia, are protected. 

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow,
there is plenty of money available for the drugs that Iraq needs, if only
the Iraqi Government would order what is required and deliver it to those
in need. That is not an invention by the British Government. 

Mr. Dalyell: On delivery, will my hon. Friend get his office to give him
the letter of 9 March from Riad El-Taher of Friendship Across Frontiers,
which goes into detail on the matter of distribution? Finally, may I ask
my hon. Friend at least to reflect on the dangers to the great Kirkuk
oilfield? 

Mr. Hain: I shall certainly have another look at that, as my hon. Friend
suggests. However, there should be a 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1293

proper recognition of the fact that humanitarian relief in all the forms
available is being blocked by the Iraqi regime. I hear no such
acknowledgement in the argument during this debate or from critics of
sanctions generally. 

In his report, Kofi Annan called on the Iraqi Government to ensure
adequate funding to cover recurrent costs and provide the framework for
the restoration of the public health care system. He called on Baghdad to
improve the delivery and administration of drugs for chronic illnesses,
and he asked the Iraqi Government to ensure that sufficient quantities of
anti-infectious and anti-tuberculosis drugs were ordered and
distributed. Why do we not all join in that call? 

The new resolution--1284--also encourages member states and international
organisations to provide 

       published material of an educational character 

to Iraq. That addresses another of the points raised. 

I wish that the Government in Iraq wanted their people to have free and
unrestricted contact with the outside world. That is clearly not the case,
but the British Government have no wish to stop the people of this country
and of Iraq maintaining the friendships built up when our countries
enjoyed better relations. 

Many Iraqis still visit Britain. We look forward to the time when those
ties can flourish again. Meanwhile, I would encourage those who wish to
develop links with their Iraqi counterparts, for example in the fields of
education and medicine, to do so. 

24 Mar 2000 : Column 1294

I return to the central case that I put most strongly to my right hon. and
hon. Friends. I should like to hear a credible alternative advanced by the
critics of sanctions, short of simply withdrawing, lifting the sanctions,
the proposed arms inspection arrangements and the military activity that
backs them up when necessary, and letting Saddam Hussein get on with the
old policy that he pursued through the 1980s--yes, I acknowledge that that
was with western support--disgracefully, when he attacked Iran and was
subsequently allowed to attack Kuwait. The west, including Britain and the
United States, has a lot for which to apologise. It allowed the Iraqi
regime under Saddam Hussein to reach its current strength. The Tory
Government armed him, directly and indirectly. 

We have an entirely new policy, which we have driven through. We have
helped to get it through the Security Council of the United Nations. The
critics of sanctions suggest no coherent alternatives. They would leave
Saddam Hussein free to oppress his people, especially the Kurds and the
Shia, and to attack neighbours, as he has done in the past. 

One of the arguments that the critics of sanctions have to face is that
although sanctions have had many consequences, one of them has been the
containment of Saddam Hussein's war machine. He has not invaded anyone
during the time-- 

The motion having been made after half-past Two o'clock, and the debate
having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House

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