The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
Copyright 2000 Guardian Newspapers Limited The Guardian (London) August 1, 2000 SECTION: Guardian Foreign Pages, Pg. 11 LENGTH: 947 words HEADLINE: The Gulf war 10 years on: Damage claims spiral into the realm of the futile BYLINE: Brian Whitaker BODY: For nine years now 200 people in Switzerland have been totting up what promises to be the world's biggest bill: the compensation Iraq must pay for invading Kuwait. The final tally will not be known for three more years, but it is likely to be hundreds of billions of dollars. With a filing system that would cover half a football pitch, and running costs of Dollars 40m (pounds 27m) a year, the task of assessing the damage is huge. But if the history of war reparations is anything to go by, it is almost certainly futile. Like sanctions, Gulf war compensation is a well-intentioned idea gone wrong. The sums involved are so big that either Iraq will be burdened with the cost long after Saddam Hussein has gone or, more likely, it will stop paying and victims will see no more than a fraction of the money. Either way, deciding who should be compensated, and by how much, has turned into a bureaucratic and legal minefield for the UN compensation commission, the body set up to process claims. Nobody disputes that hundreds of thousands of innocent people suffered injuries or lost money as a result of the invasion, among them poor families in Egypt, India and elsewhere who depended on remittances from relatives working in Iraq or Kuwait. Thousands of businesses were hit, and governments suffered too. Jordan, for instance, which did not take part in the war, provided emergency medical facilities at its taxpayers' expense. When the war ended in 1991, Iraq agreed to pay compensation. Claims poured in to the commission's headquarters in Geneva from as far afield as Bolivia, Iceland, Nepal, Panama, Thailand, Uruguay and Vietnam - 2.6m in all. They totalled Dollars 322bn. Among the more creative claims were several for backs allegedly injured by people packing their belongings to flee Kuwait, and one for candle burns sustained during a power cut. The commission rejected those, but did decide that heart attacks suffered outside Kuwait or Iraq could be compensated if they occurred up to six months after a war-related "traumatic event". The Pakistani government claimed Dollars 179m in lost tax revenue because it had allowed evacuees to bring their cars home without paying the normal import duty. That, too, was rejected, but when Israeli farmers claimed for flowers and fruit which could not be picked because of curfews and border closures, they were awarded Dollars 8m. The Canadian government claimed Dollars 47m, including Dollars 50,000 allegedly given to the Red Cross to set up an information bureau in Canada. Despite a request from the commission, it failed to provide evidence that the Red Cross had actually received the money. Similarly, British government claims totalling Dollars 6m were reduced to Dollars 499,000, mainly for lack of supporting evidence. The problem is not simply one of greedy claimants sniffing a honey pot; there are also losses clearly attributable to the war which fall outside the rules of compensation. Hotels and travel companies in several countries lost money during the conflict, through disrupted flights and cancelled bookings. The commission ruled that those in Cyprus, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey could not be compensated, but awarded Dollars 14.7m to hotels and travel firms in Israel. The reasoning behind this was that there had been "an actual and credible threat" to Israel (in the form of 40 Scud missiles and statements by the Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz) which was "intimately connected" to the invasion of Kuwait, whereas the other countries - regardless of their losses - had not faced a similar threat. The huge volume of claims, and in some cases the lack of documentation because of the war, means that verification can be difficult. Sources say that smaller claims are subjected to only random checks, while larger claims are examined by professional loss adjusters. In 1994 the commission reported that some duplicate claims for personal injuries had been found, though it did not say how many. It admitted that the ability of its computer system to detect these was limited, and urged governments (responsible for distributing the compensation to their cit izens) to take their own precautions to avoid double payments. Iraqi officials believe there have been duplicate claims relating to businesses in Kuwait, where foreign investors are obliged to have a Kuwaiti partner. They say that if both partners claimed from different countries for the same loss, it would be particularly difficult for the system to detect. So far the commission has dealt with 2,588,014 claims and awarded Dollars 15.5bn compensation. The remaining 13,000 are mainly large government claims, including Dollars 111bn sought by the government of Kuwait and Dollars 48bn for environmental damage. If approved in full, they would bring Iraq's total bill to almost Dollars 284bn, but interest charges could easily double that. Iraq is currently paying the compensation, together with all the commission's running costs, by means of a 30% deduction from its revenue under the oil-for-food programme. The amount paid in this way varies with oil prices, but is around Dollars 400m a month. Once sanctions are lifted, however, there will be no sure way to collect the money. The Iraqis are already complaining about the way the claims have been dealt with. Some others say that the huge sums involved look punitive, even if they are not meant to be. They ask why future generations of Iraqis should bear the cost of President Saddam Hussein's desert folly. Special report on Iraq on the Guardian website www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/ Iraq LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: August 1, 2000 ----------------------------------------------- FREE! The World's Best Email Address @email.com Reserve your name now at http://www.email.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi