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The Voteless Victim

Here's that rare thing - an anti-sanctions opinion piece - from today's
Guardian. Whilst it attacks the current "smart" sanctions plan, it
unfortunately identifies 'the obstruction of dual-use products' as 'the
heart of the problem with the current sanctions' (for an alternative
analysis see eg. voices' briefing on the Sanctions Committee ('Strangle
Hold') on our web-site:

Milne also claims that 'more than $12bn-worth of dual use goods have been
blocked or vetoed.' The only way in which I can make sense of this is if
it's a cumulative figure for the last ten years. Does anyone know of any
source for such a statistic?

Best wishes,

voices uk

PS You can e-mail your letters for the Guardian letters page to


The voteless victims
by  Seumas Milne

Wednesday May 30, 2001
The Guardian

It is a fair rule of thumb that the more important a political issue, the
less likely it is to be discussed during a general election. That certainly
applies to this campaign, where the Blair government's zeal for bombing,
occupying and generally interfering in other people's countries - described
by the former Tory prime minister Edward Heath as an attempt to resurrect a
colonial system - has not even registered as a flicker on the election

British soldiers and air crews have been shedding blood in the Gulf, the
Balkans and west Africa on a scale unprecedented since the demise of empire.
But these interventions merit no debate - perhaps because all the main
parties support them or perhaps because such issues are considered best not
discussed in front of the electorate. The victims have no vote.

Nowhere has more blood been shed or more lives reduced to misery than in
Iraq, where 10 years after Saddam Hussein's army was expelled from Kuwait,
its 20m people are still being punished by the British and American
governments for the decisions of a man they did not elect and cannot
peacefully remove. RAF and US air attacks on the unilaterally declared
no-fly zones in Iraq have continued unabated in recent weeks, while
politicians in Britain concentrate on the minutiae of marginal tax rates.

The decade-long sanctions siege of Iraq, effectively sustained by the US and
Britain alone, has cut a horrific swath through a country devastated by two
cataclysmic wars and a legacy of chemical and depleted uranium weapons
contamination. Unicef estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children have died from
the effects of the blockade - they are still dying in their thousands every
month - and the living standards of a once-developed country have been
reduced to the level of Ethiopia.

A ware that they have lost the battle for international opinion over
responsibility for this national calvary, Britain and the US have now come
up with a plan for "smart sanctions", which they claim will ease the embargo
on civilian imports and decisively shift the blame for Iraqi suffering on to
Saddam. That is the spin, at least. The reality is that the British scheme
currently before the UN security council would actually make sanctions more
effective and prolong indefinitely Iraq's status as a form of international

One reason why the allies, as the Blair and Bush governments like to call
themselves, are so keen to act is that the existing sanctions are,
mercifully, eroding fast. Smuggling, cash surcharges on contracts,
unsanctioned preferential oil supplies to Iraq's neighbours and flights in
and out of Baghdad have all helped to ease conditions for ordinary Iraqis.
Anglo-American smart sanctions would put a stop to most of that by forcing
neighbouring states to police the unlicensed trade across Iraq's borders. In
return for this tightening of the vice, the British are proposing to
restrict controls to military and "dual use" goods - those with civilian and
military applications.

But the obstruction of dual-use products is at the heart of the problem with
the current sanctions. The secretive New York-based sanctions committee
already rubber stamps Iraqi imports of flour and rice. But more than
$12bn-worth of alleged dual-use contracts have been blocked or vetoed.
Everything from chlorine and ambulances, vaccines and electrical goods to
hoses, morphine and anaesthetics have been stopped, in every case by the
British or US representative, on the grounds that they might have military

The same will apply under smart sanctions, as will the arrangement by which
Iraq's oil income is controlled from outside, with a third of it used to pay
reparations to cash-rich Kuwait and the cost of administering sanctions.

The pretext for maintaining and tightening the embargo is supposedly to
prevent Iraq developing new weapons of mass destruction and force it to
readmit the arms inspectors kicked out two years ago. One of those
inspectors, Scott Ritter, insists Iraq has long since been disarmed and no
longer has the means to develop significant chemical and biological, let
alone nuclear, weapons.

No other state in the region - notably nuclear-armed Israel, which daily
violates a string of UN resolutions in its illegally occupied territories -
is subjected to such punishment. The obvious way out of this inhuman and
failed policy would be negotiation for the simultaneous lifting of sanctions
and return of UN inspectors. That is unlikely to happen. Iraq has been
singled out, not because of the brutality of its dictator, but because it
cannot be trusted to toe the western line in a strategically critical part
of the world.

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