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RE: Iraq Discussion on The Independent website

CASI's Colin Rowat has just posted an extremely insightful reply[1], as has
Anothony Arnove (Editor, "Iraq Under Siege")[2]; both are attached below.
Responses are to the question, "Is now the time to lift the sanctions?"


Yes: the non-military sanctions on Iraq should be lifted (as a minor note,
this discussion is mis-titled: they are not sanctions on Saddam, but on
Iraq). Two former UN co-ordinators in Iraq (Denis Halliday and Hans von
Sponeck) believe this, two former top UN weapons inspectors believe it
(Richard Butler and Scott Ritter), Iraq's neighbours increasingly believe
it, the Pope believes it and top British diplomats (in private) believe it. 

The question of what happens after sanctions are lifted does not have a
simple answer. Central to any guesses that we might make about this, though,
must be an understanding of the Iraqi regime's motivation. Since 1990, the
Iraqi regime's chief aim has been to stay in power. Arguably, this has been
the case since 1968, when it first came to power, but the tactics for doing
so have changed slightly with the imposition of sanctions. 

The "social contract" offered by the Iraqi government before sanctions was
roughly as follows: it offered the public a carrot in the form of a
reasonable standard of living by investing in education, health and other
social infrastructure. In return, it demanded that no one challenge its
rule, and treated brutally those that did. 

Since the imposition of sanctions and the Gulf War, a version of this
contract has also been on offer. The carrot has been smaller because the
country was badly damaged and has been kept damaged. The estimate of child
deaths under sanctions that Unicef made last year reflect this: from 1991 -
1998 it estimated that an additional half million children under five had
died. Not only is this number shocking - I do not know of any other British
policy that has been implicated in the deaths of half a million
pre-schoolers - but it provides a direct comparison between "Iraq under
Saddam" and "Iraq under Saddam and sanctions": the latter is much worse. 

With a smaller carrot on offer, the Iraqi government has had to look to
other ways to stay in power itself. It's been fortunate in that the
sanctions have given it three important ways. 

First, the sanctions have given the government far more control over
resources in Iraq than they had before. Now the majority of food in the
country passes through the government's influence, something that was not
the case before. UN reports do not mention this new influence being abused
but there are plausible stories that suggest that the government has made
clear that those causing political trouble may find it harder to get ration
cards. Relatedly, Iraq's impoverished population seems to have to spend more
time on making ends meet, leaving less time for political activities. 

Second, the sanctions - and the US/UK bombing - have given the government is
an external enemy, deflecting attention from internal weaknesses. This is,
like many aspects of this situation, very ironic, in this case because
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait may have been designed to do just that. Freedman
and Karsh's book on the Gulf War argues that a big motive in Iraq's invasion
were the circumstances created by the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Young Iraqis
were coming back from the war and looking for jobs that the government
couldn't provide, because it was broke. Iraqis in general were wondering
where eight years of war with Iran had gotten them, other than poor. There
were at least four assassination attempts against Saddam over 1988 - 1990
and social unrest was high. The government's gamble was this: if we can take
Kuwait, we can distract people from our failures (remember Argentina and the
Falklands?) and grab some money to pay off our debts. So the irony is that,
while we beat Iraq out of Kuwait, we have accomplished one of its goals for

Third, by creating artificial scarcity, the sanctions mean that smuggling
becomes quite profitable. As the regime has been able to maintain control
over who smuggles, the sanctions have given it another means of both social
control and enrichment. Saddam's personal wealth, as estimated by Forbes
magazine, has grown from $5 billion in 1997 to $7 billion this year. 

With this to guide our understanding of the Iraqi regime's mentality and
circumstances we can make certain guesses about post-sanctions Iraq. First,
the Iraqi regime will no longer be able to tell people that their problems
are the fault of the US and the UK. This will be a very dangerous time for
it, I think, returning it to a worse version of 1988 - 1990 (indeed, the
consensus opinion at a closed experts seminar organised by the British
government earlier this year seemed to be that the post-sanctions regime
would find it very difficult to stay in power). If it does want to stay in
power, though, it will need to convince Iraqis of its legitimacy. This will
be harder to do now than ever before because the regime now has a longer
history of failure. 

I therefore see two possible strategies for it. The first has it working
desperately to rebuild the country, to show its population that it still
deserves to rule. The second has it taking another gamble of the Kuwait
type. I think that this latter is much less likely: the Iraqi government now
knows that the US government will be watching like a hawk. Furthermore, it
will have serious questions about the reliability of its own army (already
in 1990 - 1991 there was massive desertion in Iraqi units). 

In conclusion, unless Iraq's economy is allowed to rebuild, it is guaranteed
that ordinary Iraqis will continue to be punished, to be humiliated and to
be killed because we do not like their dictator. Lifting the non -military
sanctions offers the possibility that ordinary Iraqis will be able to
improve their lives. It does bring with it certain risks, as mentioned
above, but it also decreases others: there are widespread reports that the
generation of younger Iraqis regard the current leadership as too moderate.
Saddam, they argue, has sat around and talked while the Americans and
British kill our children and ruin our lives. 

Colin Rowat, University of Cambridge, Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq

Yes. Sanctions should be immediately lifted and the bombing ended
Ordinary Iraqis are dying in numbers that defy description, as a deliberate
and predictable consequence of a policy designed to strangle the Iraqi
economy. The people paying the price are the poor, working class, and
especially children-not the alleged targets of the sanctions, President
Hussein and his inner circle in the ruling Baathist Party. In fact, the
sanctions have benefited the government in many respects, while weakening
and dividing the population. The number one killer or children under five in
Iraq today is dehydration from diarrhea. Iraqis now face widespread
malnutrition and other classic diseases of third-world poverty, such as
malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis. 

As repressive and undemocratic as the government is, Iraq had an advanced
medical, educational, and social infrastructure by the end of the 1980s, all
which has been destroyed. The UN sanctions committee, which must approve any
purchases the Iraqi government wants to make with the revenues of its oil
sales, routinely denies permission for contracts to rebuild this
infrastructure under its "dual use" criteria: Iraq cannot important civilian
goods that might have a potential military application. Among the items that
have been kept out through this mechanism, primarily through the veto power
of the U.S. representative on the committee, are ambulances, chlorinators,
and even pencils. Currently, some $1.6 billion worth of items requested by
Iraq are "on hold," thanks to these restrictions, in some cases making other
items that have been imported, such as spare parts, worthless. 

The investigative journalist John Pilger recently confronted Peter van
Walsum, the chair of the UN sanctions committee, about how its decisions are

Pilger: How much power does the United States exercise over your committee? 
van Walsum: We operate by consensus. 
Pilger: And what if the American object? 
van Walsum: We don't operate. 

Ordinary Iraqis should not me made to pay the price of the US building up
Hussein's regime, as it did throughout the 1980s, and attempting to replace
it today with an equally undemocratic one subordinated to US military and
economic interests in the Middle East. 

Anthony Arnove 
Editor, Iraq Under Siege (Pluto Press, 2000) 
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