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Article by Peter Hain in today's The Independent

Peter Hain has printed the following article in today's issue of The
Independent.  Letters to the editor can be written to

p.s. congratulations to Ruth Gill, on this list, who had her letter in
response to Albright's FT article published last week!

Colin Rowat

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Peter Hain:  'Our pilots do not fly over Iraq for the hell of it, but to
stop Saddam from attacking his own people'

7 August 2000

It is 10 years since Saddam Hussein sent his forces into Kuwait – 10
years of confrontation, 10 years of sanctions, 10 years of commitment by
Britain and our allies to contain the threat posed by this aggressive and
thoroughly unpleasant regime.

Not surprisingly, the anniversary of the invasion has provoked the
question - has that 10 year commitment been worth it? The answer, without
the slightest shadow of a doubt, is yes.

It is too easy for critics of our policy to point to the suffering of the
Iraqi people and blame the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. It is
too easy for those critics to question the continued action by British and
Allied planes over the no-fly zone and accuse us of carrying out a bombing
campaign against Iraq.

It is too easy for critics to conclude that we have achieved nothing. I
would reject the criticism.

Ten years is a long time - long enough for critics to forget the victims
of Saddam who need the protection of British airmen.

Our pilots do not fly day after day over Iraqi territory for the hell of
it. They do not take action for the sake of it. They are there to stop
Saddam Hussein using his aircraft against the Kurds and the Shia - his own
people, whom he has attacked in the past.

Ten years is long enough for critics to forget the oppression of the Kurds
and the Shia, which led us to establish those no-fly zones.

It is very easy to forget that for most of the last decade we patrolled
the no-fly zones peacefully. But, once Saddam launched a systematic
campaign to shoot down our aircraft, we had to respond. There have been
about 850 direct threats against our aircrew in the past year and a half,
including missile attacks and heavy anti-aircraft fire.

Our pilots take action only to defend themselves against this kind of

I make no apology for defending our airmen against critics who ignore the
reason why they defend themselves while working to defend innocent
civilians on the ground below.

When I appeared on Newsnight the other evening, Jeremy Vine repeatedly
accused Britain of conducting a bombing campaign against Iraq. The truth
is that the last time UK aircraft dropped bombs in the no-fly zones was on
29 June, despite having been targeted and shot at since then.

Does anyone think that those British planes should allow themselves to be
shot out of the sky? They are not taking part in an indiscriminate bombing
campaign. The selection of targets is painstaking. Only military sites
clearly connected with a threat to our aircraft are targeted, and even
then only when we are wholly satisfied that the risks to civilians are

It makes me impatient on behalf of our pilots when critics take Iraqi
claims of civilian casualties at face value. They should be treated with
the utmost caution - the same caution that our pilots use.

Iraq deliberately locates air defence batteries next to civilian areas. It
claims military casualties as civilian victims. It has been known to claim
civilian deaths on days when we have not dropped any bombs and even on
days when we have not been flying.

Britain has no wish to prolong the confrontation in the no-fly zones and I
am certain our pilots have no wish to stay there, thousands of miles from
their families, any longer than is necessary. If Iraq stopped shooting at
our aircraft, there would be no further bombing. It is as simple as that.

It makes me impatient, too, when critics glibly blame the humanitarian
suffering in Iraq on the UN sanctions, instead of putting the blame where
it belongs - on Saddam Hussein. The sanctions are deliberately designed to
allow Iraq to import food and medicine necessary for humanitarian needs.

Britain worked hard in the Security Council to secure the adoption of
Resolution 1284 last year, which removes the ceiling on the amount of oil
Iraq is allowed to export.

Iraq is now back among the top five oil exporters and the amount that will
be available this year for humanitarian and food purposes is likely to be
around $12bn (8.2bn).There is no reason why anyone outside the Iraqi
regime should be blamed for the condition of the Iraqi people.

As the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said recently, the government of
Iraq is in a position to improve the health of the Iraqi people.

But it suits Saddam to let his people suffer, and to use that suffering to
exploit credulous critics of our policy. It is not the fault of sanctions
that half of the anti-cancer drugs delivered to Iraq remain undistributed.
It is the result of Saddam's policy. It is a scandal that Iraqi doctors
cannot get the drugs they need, despite all the efforts we have made to
make those drugs available within the sanctions policy.

It is a scandal that the Iraqi government sets the current daily food
ration at a paltry 1991 calories, while exporting food to other countries.

And it is a scandal that the regime uses revenue from illegal oil sales
not to buy the food and medicine, which it claims it cannot afford, but to
buy 10,000 bottles of whisky and 50 million cigarettes each month.

Saddam Hussein is playing politics with suffering. In northern Iraq, where
Saddam's writ has not run, the same sanctions apply, but the situation is
much better - health indicators have actually been improving. Infant
mortality rates are now lower than before the sanctions were imposed.

If Saddam Hussein were to allow a new disarmament body into Iraq, he could
quickly move towards suspension of sanctions if he cooperated with the
weapons inspectors.

Credulous critics have no answer to the question - how else do you propose
that the international community prevents Saddam building up the weapons
of mass murder? How do they propose to stop him using these weapons again
on his own people - the Kurds, the Shias - or his neighbours?

Saddam has ruled by intimidation and fear, ruthlessly repressing all
opposition. He gassed thousands of his own Kurdish population to death. He
started a war with Iran, which cost more than a million lives. Ten years
after the Gulf war, Security Council Resolution 1284 is on the table and
offers a path out of sanctions. It is up to Saddam Hussein to take that

The writer is minister of state at the Foreign Office

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