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News for March 21-22

2nd news section

(1) FAIR: New York Times on Iraq Sanctions -- A Case of Journalistic
Malpractice. March/April 2000
(2) First Direct U.S. Grant to Iraqi Opposition. By Jonathan Wright. March
(3) Iraq Mourns Victims of a Mortar Attack. By Hassan Hafidh. BAGHDAD
(Reuters) March 22.
(4) Amid pressures, U.S. to let Iraq upgrade oil gear. UNITED NATIONS, March
22 (Reuters)
March/April 2000
New York Times on Iraq Sanctions
A case of journalistic malpractice
By Seth Ackerman
In a 1998 article (4/23/98), New York Times United Nations correspondent
Barbara Crossette critiqued the film Genocide by Sanctions, a documentary
produced by a coalition of activist groups opposed to the U.N. sanctions on
Iraq. Using footage of dying Iraqi children, the film sought to dramatize
Iraq's desperate humanitarian conditions under the U.N. embargo; more than
1.25 million Iraqis have reportedly died from the massive escalation in the
mortality rate since sanctions were imposed in 1990 (Reuters, 12/29/99).
After noting that the coalition "produced a graphic videotape of dying
children in Iraq, asserting that they were killed by sanctions," Crossette
accused the video's producers of using Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright's words out of context: "The video juxtaposes shots of [Albright],
speaking in a different context, calling the sanctions policy 'worth the
price,'" Crossette wrote. But the accusation was false. In fact, the
documentary ran a straightforward clip from Albright's 1996 interview with
60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl (5/12/96):
Stahl: We have heard that over half a million children have died. I mean,
that's more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright: I think this is a very hard choice. But the price-- we think the
price is worth it.
Clearly, Albright was not speaking "in a different context," as Crossette
claimed, but in the context of dead children. (See Extra! Update, 6/98.)
But taking quotes out of context does seem to be an issue for Crossette.
Since December 1998's Operation Desert Fox, the U.S. and Britain's four-day
bombing campaign against Iraqi targets, the Times-- and Crossette in
particular-- has devoted plentiful attention to the "oil-for-food" program
in Iraq. The United Nations administers the program, which allows Iraq to
sell limited amounts of oil to pay for food and medicines while it remains
under tight economic sanctions. According to Crossette's reporting, Saddam
Hussein and the Iraqi regime have been deliberately withholding these
desperately needed foods and medicines from the Iraqi people, in a cynical
effort to sabotage the U.N.'s relief efforts.
In the year following the U.S.-British airstrikes, Crossette and her paper
have reported these charges again and again. The specific allegations
closely echo those of the U.S. State Department, which has been waging a
determined public relations campaign to shore up the embargo's frayed
international support. The blame for Iraq's ongoing humanitarian disaster,
the State Department argues, lies not with the U.S.-backed embargo but with
Iraqi government policy.
Upon close examination, the Times' allegations bear almost no resemblance to
reports by United Nations officials who administer and monitor Iraq's
humanitarian program. Ironically, in misreporting the story, Crossette has
resorted to the same type of deceptive tactics that she (falsely) accused
anti-sanctions activists of using in their video documentary two years ago.
State Department spin
For example, to support her contention that the Iraqis have been "faced with
evidence that they have stalled" parts of the oil-for-food program
(8/24/99), Crossette quoted from the U.N. Secretary General's most recent
progress report on the program: "Large quantities of essential materials
remain in storage," Crossette cited the text as saying.
But Crossette took the quote wildly out of context. Readers might have drawn
quite a different conclusion from that sentence-- which actually dealt only
with water and sanitation supplies-- had she included the passage that
immediately followed: "The main explanation" for the backlog, the report
said, "is the substantial decline in staff with sufficient skills to verify,
transport and use the inputs ordered. The distribution rates are unlikely to
improve without a program of in-service training."
The oil-for-food program in Iraq is a complicated bureaucratic endeavor
tasked with contracting, importing and distributing scarce foods and
medicines to 22 million people in a country crippled by infrastructure
devastation and international isolation. As the U.N.'s periodic progress
reports show, such a program is prone to an endless array of logistical
problems. But, following the State Department, the Times has consistently
advanced convoluted and farfetched interpretations of these reports in an
effort to portray straightforward logistical problems as evidence of
sinister Iraqi manipulation.
In August (8/13/99), Crossette reported on a just-released United Nations
Children's Fund study which documented that the mortality rate for young
Iraqi children had risen dramatically since the embargo was imposed in 1990.
The researchers concluded that if Iraq's child mortality rate had continued
at its pre-sanctions trend, "there would have been half a million fewer
deaths of children under five" since 1991.
But this dramatic statistic never made it into Crossette's article. Instead,
her lead paragraphs twisted the study's findings to fit the State
Department's spin:
The first major survey of child mortality in Iraq since the Persian Gulf war
in 1991 has found that in areas of the country controlled by President
Saddam Hussein, children under 5 are dying at twice the rate they were
before the conflict, UNICEF said today. But in Kurdish areas in the north,
where United Nations officials run food and medical programs, the health of
children appears to have improved a bit.
Indeed, Crossette's interpretation of the UNICEF report strayed little from
comments by State Department spokesman James Rubin, quoted in the article:
"The fact that in northern Iraq the mortality rate is improving with the
same sanctions regime as the rest of Iraq," Rubin said, "shows that in
places where Saddam Hussein isn't manipulating the medicines and the
supplies, this works."
The article's headline, "Children's Death Rates Rising in Iraqi Lands,
UNICEF Reports," echoed this view that Saddam Hussein's misrule-- rather
than the embargo-- is causing the suffering. The word "sanctions" did not
even appear until the article's fifth paragraph.
But what UNICEF actually reported was quite different. Anupama Singh, the
head of UNICEF's Iraq office, directly contradicted the New York Times/State
Department interpretation, as the London Financial Times reported (8/13/99):
The U.N.'s direct role in the north did not account for the widely different
results in infant mortality, especially since the oil-for-food deal went
into effect only in 1997. [Singh] suggested that differences could be
explained partly by the heavy presence since 1991 of humanitarian agencies
helping the Kurdish population, a factor that helped improve malnutrition
rates. According to Ms. Singh, the oil-for-food money going to the north
includes a cash component, allowing the UN, for example, to train local
authorities and more effectively implement and monitor programs. In the
center and south under Iraqi regime control, no funds are allocated to
ministries for fear they would be used for more sinister purposes.
(The "fear" mentioned by the Financial Times is that of the U.S. and
Britain, the driving forces behind the U.N.'s sanctions policy in Iraq. The
three other permanent Security Council members, along with the U.N.'s
humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, have all indicated that they favor lifting
the embargo.)
Lost in translation
The divergence between the Times' versions of the oil-for-food program and
accounts given by the U.N. officials charged with supervising and evaluating
the program is a constant feature of the paper's coverage--amounting to a
serious case of journalistic malpractice.
For example, Benon Sevan, the executive director of the oil-for-food
program, explained at a July 22 briefing to the U.N. Security Council that
he had advised Iraqi officials to find more reliable contractors and
suppliers. Sevan explained that many suppliers with whom Iraq had
long-standing commercial dealings have become reluctant to supply goods
under the 986 [oil-for-food] program, given the lengthy delays in
contracting and approval. As a consequence, Iraq is obliged to procure
through less reliable brokers. This further reduces the likelihood of
compensation when sub-standard supplies and equipment are received.
But in an August 10 article by Crossette, Sevan's point was translated this
In recent months Iraqis have complained that many of the imports for which
they have contracted are of inferior quality. United Nations officials and
Western diplomats say this may be because Iraq has often put political
considerations ahead of quality when choosing contractors. Moreover,
monitors in Iraq say, brokers designated by Iraq to handle contracts appear
to be paying kickbacks. Mr. Sevan told the Security Council that he had
advised Iraq to get rid of middlemen and buy directly from reputable
companies abroad.
In the same article, advertising an oil "windfall" for the Iraqi government
(8/10/99), Crossette reported: "But despite the windfall…medical supplies
remain stockpiled in warehouses. Mr. Sevan said he had asked the Iraqi
Government on a recent trip there to take an inventory and explain why goods
had not moved."
What Crossette did not mention is that Sevan went on to add that experts
>from the World Health Organization "have already started working with the
authorities" to catalogue their inventories. He also praised the Iraqis for
their "openness to share information" about the undistributed supplies and
he listed several legitimate reasons for the backlogs: the need to maintain
buffer stocks for emergencies; supplies that failed quality testing;
defective equipment; and items lacking necessary components. All of this
explodes the sinister portrait of Iraqi "stockpiling" that the Times and the
State Department were trying to paint. Yet it was ignored by Crossette.
Inaccurate quotation
Believing that the issue had been badly misrepresented in the press, the
U.N. official in charge of the program in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, flew to
U.N. headquarters in New York for an October 26 briefing with reporters.
Sponeck pointed out that his office "had just published a report on
available stock, showing, sector by sector, what had arrived, what had been
distributed, what had been kept in stock and why."
Sponeck then listed the same reasons for the undistributed goods that Sevan
had mentioned, noting that "the major portion" of Iraq's inventories
consisted of buffer stock, which is kept for emergencies. Sponeck provided
an example of why some other goods had remained in warehouses, noting that
"a supply of IV fluids could not be distributed because there were no
Despite having lavished so much attention on the State Department's charges
about Sponeck's program, the New York Times did not report his defense. But
one week later (11/3/99), it ran an article about Sponeck's dispute with the
State Department, reporting the department's accusation that he had
personally "allowed the Iraqi Government to stockpile large quantities of
supplies urgently needed by the Iraqi people." (The State Department's
charges were part of an unsuccessful effort to have Sponeck fired following
his call for a lifting of the embargo.)
Times reporter Christopher Wren went on to cite some of the comments Sponeck
made at his New York press briefing. But instead of reporting Sponeck's
detailed rebuttal to the State Department's charges of "stockpiling," Wren
brazenly mischaracterized Sponeck's words: "Briefing reporters at the United
Nations last Tuesday," Wren wrote, "Mr. Sponeck said it was important to
take concerns about human welfare out of the mainstream of political
discussion." Sponeck had actually said that it was "important to take the
[U.N.'s] humanitarian program out of the mainstream of political
discussion." A letter from FAIR demanding a correction received no response
>from either Wren or Times foreign editor Andrew Rosenthal.
As for Crossette, despite having covered the State Department's
"stockpiling" charges for many months, she has still not once quoted or
mentioned Sponeck's repeated and unequivocal rejection of those charges--
even though Sponeck is personally responsible for supervising the
oil-for-food program on the ground.
Selective sourcing
What makes the Times' failure to report challenges to the State Department's
spin all the more inexcusable is Sponeck's outspoken predecessor, Denis
Halliday. Since his resignation from the U.N.'s humanitarian program in
September 1998, Halliday has traveled around the United States giving
speeches, writing articles, and issuing press releases about the sanctions.
He has declared that "the some 150 U.N. observers throughout Iraq" who
worked under him "have not reported any maldistribution of food and related
items (cooking oil, soaps, etc.) during the entirety of the oil-for-food
program," and that "for anyone to imply that the men and women of the
Baghdad government, Ministry of Health in particular, deliberately withhold
basic medicines from children in great need, is monstrous and says more
about the unhealthy mind of the accusers than anything else." (Press
release, 9/20/99)
Although Halliday has tried, with some limited success, to garner media
attention for his views on the embargo, he has been completely ignored by
Crossette and the New York Times. It is useful to compare Crossette's utter
lack of interest in Halliday, who quit the U.N.'s humanitarian program in
protest, to her fleeting fascination with Scott Ritter following his August
1998 protest resignation from the U.N.'s disarmament program in Iraq.
Ritter, a leading U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, left the program to
protest what he called a lack of seriousness about disarming Iraq.
In the four months between his resignation in August 1998 and the U.S.
bombing of Iraq in December, Ritter-- with his dramatic revelations about
tracking down Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction—became a favorite
source for Crossette, appearing in 11 of her articles. By contrast, although
Halliday appeared in a few Crossette articles before he left his post, she
has completely ignored him since he began speaking out against sanctions.
But even Ritter has not been immune from Crossette's fondness for hawkish
sources. Following Operation Desert Fox, Ritter gradually changed his tone,
becoming a spirited advocate of lifting of the embargo, and declaring that
"from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses
no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability." Crossette promptly
dropped Ritter as a source, and hasn't mentioned him since the bombing--
though she continues to cover the U.N. debate over Iraqi disarmament for the
New York Times.
Wednesday March 22 4:30 PM ET
First Direct U.S. Grant to Iraqi Opposition
By Jonathan Wright
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Clinton administration has agreed to give its
first direct grant, worth about $260,000, to the opposition Iraqi National
Congress (INC), U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Edward Walker said the money would help the
controversial opposition group ``reach out to its constituents'' and improve
its internal organization.
More U.S. money should become available so that the INC can open offices in
London and the Middle East and set up television and radio stations and
magazines, Walker told a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations
The United States has been trying since 1998 to promote the INC as an
alternative to the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but until
now it could not give money directly because it could not be sure it would
be properly used.
It has spent millions of dollars on hotel rooms and travel for INC members
but all of it has been paid directly to third party organizers such as
public relations companies.
``We have a number of requirements of transparency, contracting capabilities
and so on that have to be met,'' Walker told senators critical of slow
progress in financing the INC.
The United States says the Iraqi opposition, torn by internal disputes in
the past, is now in better shape than ever but not yet ready for any armed
action against Baghdad.
Important Shi'ite Muslim groups have kept their distance from the
organization and Gulf Arab states hostile to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
have not been enthusiastic about offering the INC overt support.
Six-Point Efficiency Plan
Walker said the State Department and the INC would sign an agreement on the
new grant some time this week.
The money comes from the $8 million which Congress allocated to the INC as
part of the State Department's Economic Support Fund, the global foreign aid
package, officials said.
Congress also gave the administration authority to draw down goods and
services worth $97 million from surplus Pentagon stocks but little of that
has been used.
Walker outlined a six-point plan for making the INC more effective as a
credible alternative to the Baghdad government.
Under the plan, the INC would set up the new offices, improve its security
procedures so that it can operate inside Iraq, monitor the oil-for-food
distribution program in Iraq, set up a distribution network for humanitarian
supplies, collect war crimes evidence against Iraqi leaders and start a
``Free Iraqi'' information program, with television, radio and magazines to
reach inside Iraq, he said.
Asked why the administration has still not given the INC any military
support, Walker recalled the failures of the armed opposition to Saddam
Hussein in 1991 and 1996.
In 1996, the United States evacuated over 1,000 Iraqis out of the
Kurdish-controlled north of the country after one of the Kurdish groups made
an alliance of convenience with Baghdad.
``You need to have the foundation solidly built in order to move forward in
any campaign that would have a hope of unseating Saddam Hussein,'' he said.
``We admit that it will take some time ... but it is not our objective or
our interest to see a slap-happy program put together because it costs
people's lives,'' he added.

Wednesday March 22 2:52 PM ET
Iraq Mourns Victims of a Mortar Attack
By Hassan Hafidh
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of mourners called on Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein Wednesday to take revenge against Iran for the death of six people
in a mortar attack on a Palestinian district of Baghdad.
Iraqi television showed crowds following the coffins, waving Palestinian and
Iraqi flags and chanting: ``Revenge, Saddam -- Revenge for our Victims.''
The Tuesday evening attack killed three Palestinians and three Iraqis and
wounded 38 people, according to Palestinian and Iraqi officials.
Iraq blamed it on Iranian agents while Palestinian ambassador Azzam al-Ahmed
accused ``elements who want to destroy brotherly relations between the
Iraqis and Palestinians.''
There was no immediate reaction from Iran.
The area struck was al-Karmal, a complex of more than 2,000 homes near the
center of Baghdad built many years ago to house Palestinian refugees.
The television showed scores of wounded in beds in a Baghdad hospital and
film of the al-Karmal area stained with blood and scattered with debris and
broken glass.
``This cowardly attack against a Palestinian refugee district in Iraq led to
the killing of three Iraqis and three Palestinians as well as injuring many
children, women and elderly,'' the Palestinian ambassador told Reuters.
Iraq Accuses Iran Of 'Flagrant Aggression'
Iraq and Iran were at war between 1980 and 1988 and remain bitter enemies.
An Iraqi security spokesman said the authorities had found an Iranian 60mm
mortar and two unexploded bombs in the area.
Iraq holds the Iranian government responsible for ``flagrant aggression
against its security and sovereignty'' and ``reserves the right to take
suitable action,'' the spokesman said.
Tension between the two neighbors has escalated in recent weeks over
cross-border attacks by the Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq, the main exiled
Iranian opposition group.
Baghdad said last week that its air defenses had shot down an Iranian
reconnaissance drone. The next day, Iran said the Mujahideen had killed two
of its soldiers near the border.
The Mujahideen said their anti-aircraft systems last week repulsed an air
attack by Iran against one of their military bases inside Iraq.
Analysts said the air attack was a reprisal for a Mujahideen mortar assault
on a Tehran residential district near a Revolutionary Guards base.
Iraq's most influential newspaper, Babel, on Monday warned Iran against any
attack on its territory and accused Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of
encouraging Tehran to commit ''aggression'' against Baghdad.

03/22/2000 19:33:00 ET
Amid pressures, U.S. to let Iraq upgrade oil gear
UNITED NATIONS, March 22 (Reuters) - Under pressure for months to let Iraq
upgrade its oil industry, U.S. officials said on Wednesday they would take
the lead in allowing Baghdad to double expenditures on spare parts and other
But diplomats said it was doubtful that a resolution could be adopted as
early as Friday, as Washington wants, to raise from $600 million to $1.2
billion over a year the equipment and spare parts Iraq can purchase for its
dilapidated industry.
Resolutions on Iraq in a divided U.N. Security Council usually take many
hours to sort out after a draft paper has been circulated. U.S. officials
did not distribute the text to council members on Wednesday.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said their resolution
would follow proposals U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made several months
ago and repeated last week.
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Edward Walker told a
subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "We will be
supporting the expansion of the number and items for spare parts ... for the
oil industry."
Annan on March 13 proposed to double spare parts and other equipment to $1.2
billion over a year's period ending this June "to offset permanent damage to
oil-bearing structures."
The United States signalled its willingness after the report was circulated
to go along with Annan's recommendations and now has decided to take the
lead in writing the resolution.
Annan warned that the rapidly deteriorating oil industry could jeopardise
the humanitarian oil-for-food programme for 22 million Iraqis. This
programme allows Baghdad to sell unlimited amounts of oil to buy food,
medicine and other goods under strict U.N. supervision to offset the impact
of sweeping sanctions, imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The U.S. move also comes when oil prices have reached the highest levels in
a decade. Members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
prepare for a meeting in Vienna next week to discuss the possibility of
increasing production so prices will decline.
But the rise in prices has also brought Iraqi leaders more funds from their
smuggling operations that diplomats say are not channelled into the oil
industry or humanitarian goods.
U.S. Vice Admiral Charles Moore, coordinator of a multinational interception
force, is briefing the Security Council's Iraqi sanctions committee on
Thursday on the flow of Baghdad's contraband gas and oil through Iranian
The force cannot intercept suspect vessels in Iranian waters because it can
operate only in international waters.
The United States contends the market value of illicit Iraqi oil exports via
the Gulf totalled $70 million in January this year. This figure marked a
sharp increase over $44.4 million for December 1999, $39.2 million in
November, $33.6 million in October and $26.7 million in September.
Iraq has legally earned $20 billion in oil sales since the U.N. oil-for-food
programme began in December 1996, with about a third deducted for victims of
its 1990 occupation of Kuwait.
This reduction leaves $13.2 billion for humanitarian supplies and oil spare
parts. Of this amount, however, only $6.7 billion has arrived in Baghdad,
with another $2.7 billion in supplies awaiting delivery.
In addition some $1.5 billion in applications for goods has been frozen,
almost all of it by the United States, an action that has drawn sharp
criticism from Annan and all other Security Council members.
Washington is considering releasing some of the supplies, which it put "on
hold" partly because of fears they could be used for military purposes. But
some of the blocked goods for Baghdad's electricity grid were held for
further information.
"We are looking at the nature of our own holds, and where they make sense
and where we can speed the decisions and the determinations," Walker said.
"We're trying to do our best to ensure that these sanctions hit Saddam where
it hurts and they don't hit the people of Iraq."
Oil experts, hired by the United Nations at the request of the Security
Council, noted that Iraq's recent drop in oil-export capacity to 1.9 million
barrels per day (bpd) from the 2.2 billion bpd it exported in the last half
of 1999 was caused in part by poor maintenance.

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