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On Alexander Sternberg's 'dissident view'

Assiduous readers of my 'Kurdish Supplement' sent out on Sunday may have
noticed the following:

A further long article, *  Lifting sanctions on
Iraq: Center-South vs.Kurdistan, by Alexander Sternberg will be sent
separately. It gives the best case I have yet seen for taking the disparity
between Kurdistan and Iraq as proof that much of the suffering in
centre-south Iraq is due to lack of will, or deliberate policy, on the part
of the Iraqi government.

In the event I have been forestalled by Mr Sternberg hoimself who has sent
the same article to the list. What follows is my own attempt to provide a

I have to begin with confessing some confusion as to the exact point
Alexander Sternberg is trying to make. I think essentially he is arguing
that the Kurds in those parts of Northern Iraq/Southern Kurdistan that are
outside Saddam Hussein's control would be worse off if sanctions were
lifted, despite the fact that they too are subject to them. But he sometimes
seems to be arguing that many Iraqis throughout the rest of Iraq (the Centre
South, or CS) would be worse off. Two different problems are, I think, being
confused - the relations between the Kurds and the Iraqi government and the
relations between the rest of the country and the Iraqi government (Mr
Sternberg does not here raise the question of the Shi'i population or of
those Kurds living outside the not very 'safe havens').

He starts by arguing that Iraqis are better off under sanctions by saying
(para 3): "Before the events of 1990-91, less than 25% of Iraq¹s public
wealth was dedicated to non-military or non-security services", whereas now:
"a record-setting 72% of Iraq¹s primary source of public wealth, oil, is
designated solely for humanitarian use". He then says (para 4): "many Iraqis
actually fear the lifting of sanctions. The humanitarian goods and services
many Iraqis receive under sanctions would be stopped, or taken away."

That seems reasonably clear and seems to be talking about the whole of Iraq,
though it is immediately followed by a specific reference to the security
anxieties of the Kurds. We have learned that, prior to the Gulf War, the
Iraqi government gave very little of the nation's resources to the people
(the people throughout Iraq). It all went to the security forces. I might
mention in parenthesis that here he is talking about the period of and just
after the Iran/Iraq war. We might wonder what proportion of Britain's
national resources was going to military matters in 1943. But, be that as it
may, now people are all receiving lots of humanitarian aid which would be
stopped if the Iraqi government recovered control of the country's

Having had this clear argument presented to us, it comes as a surprise to
learn (in para 30) that "Prior to the events of 1990-91, Iraq [under the
Ba'ath administration - PB] had arguably the best public service structure
in the Middle East." It doesn't some as such a surprise to us since we're
always saying it, but it seems to undermine rather the earlier argument. He
then goes on to point out, himself, that this 73-5% of humanitarian aid is
actually in many ways destructive to the Kurdish (and by implication the
Iraqi) economy. He launches into a ferocious attack on the regime of
charitable handouts, comparing it unfavourably to the Government of Iraq who
[under the Ba'ath regime - PB] 'have proven capabilities (the UN bureaucracy
appears non-correctable)'.

In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, the Government of Iraq (under
the Ba'ath administration - PB) did wonders in rebuilding the Iraqi
infrastructure: "The rebuilding of war-destroyed public facilities
throughout the country following the events of 1991 is one obvious, tangible
OWN RESOURCES {my emphasis - PB] ... It was almost miraculous" (para 10)

Whereas, he tells us, the UN in Kurdistan "has adopted policies and
procedures that undermine the structure of the regional and local
authorities" - the structure which, he has just told us, had been put in
place by the Iraqi government (under the Ba'ath administration).

So what evidence does all that provide that Iraqis (leaving aside the
specific problem of Kurdistan, and rest assured I won't leave it aside for
long) will lose out if the resources are returned to this so very impressive
and capable (in Mr Sternberg's eyes) government?  Especially since, in para
19 he has already said: "Few realize that before the program began the
Government of Iraq [under the Ba'ath administration - PB] had an ongoing
free-food rationing system in the CS for every resident ..." Yes, and if I'm
not mistaken it was largely because the rations had become so paltry, under
the effect of sanctions, that the Iraqi government were finally obliged to
agree to the humiliating terms of the Oil for Food arrangement.

So far, then, Mr Sternberg has done little to justify his case that Iraqi
citizens (outside the areas of Kurdistan that interest him) are better off
under Oil for Food than they would be if sanctions were lifted. On the
contrary. Everything he advances suggests that, given the means to do so,
the Iraqi government (even the present regime) would enormously improve the
quality of life throughout Iraq.

Of course he would argue that they already have the means to do so. But to
argue that case thoroughly means going into the whole question of what
materials are allowed into the country and what are not. He says very little
about that. There is a great deal of detail about it on the CASI website and
in the discussions on our list but suffice it to say here that there doesn't
seem to be much point in having a sanctions regime if it doesn't harm the
economy of the country. My reading of the 1990-91 rebuilding was that it was
possible because there was still much of the necessary material in the
country. Once the material ran out more had to be imported and so the
sanctions noose tightened until, eventually, the government had to accept a
system (Oil for food) which it had previously rejected because it is
designed to humiliate it and to put the Iraqi economy into the hands of its

Now it is certain that the Iraqi government does not want this system to
work and so very probable that they are not implementing it as well as they
could. While the Kurds do want it to work and are trying to implement it as
well as they can. That must make a difference. I have no doubt that it
partly, though by no mean wholly, explains the disparity between the
performance of Oil for Food in Kurdistan and in the rest of Iraq. Alexander
Sternberg says that any government would care first and foremost for the
wellbeing of its people; but alas, most governments, like the Iraqi
government, care first and foremost for questions of national pride and
sovereignty. The British and US governments would like the Iraqi government
to adopt the logic of Pierre Laval. The Iraqi government fancies itself as
De Gaulle.

Alexander Sternberg's strongest argument is that the lifting of sanctions
would pose a threat to those areas of Southern Kurdistan/Northern Iraq not
under Saddam Hussein's control. Let it be said straightaway that sanctions
have done no good whatsoever for those areas of Kurdistan that are under his
control, nor for the Shi'i areas in the South. The draining of the marshes
(oh so reminiscent of the Turkish Ilisu dam project which our government
supported until the Turks ran out of money) has proceeded apace and
undoubtedly been all the more brutal in the conditions of Iraq's isolation
and relative deprivation. When the oil companies return to Kirkuk it appears
that it will no longer be a Kurdish territory. And that too will have been
facilitated by Iraq's isolation. And while all this is happening, and
everyone knows it is happening, has it ever once occurred to all the
indignant Baroness Nicholsons of the world to suggest that the lifting of
sanctions could be related to guarantees for the security of the subject
peoples of Iraq?

And for the Kurds in the not very safe havens? Sanctions have nothing
whatsoever to do with their security, as we all discovered in 1995, or was
it 1996? It seems from what we are told that, sanctions or no sanctions, the
Iraqi army could roll in any time it wants. Presumably they are inhibited by
the likelihood of US reprisals, but the lifting of sanctions doesn't mean
the removal of the US fleet from the Gulf. And have the 'International
Community' done anything to provide a direct territorial defense, or to help
the Kurds provide a defense of their own? No. And why not? Well, Mr
Sternberg knows more about that than I do, I'm sure, but I imagine Turkey
has something to do with it. And why do we have to keep Turkey sweet? To
maintain the no-fly zones that do not, and are not intended to, provide much
in the way of defense for the Kurds (whom, I might add, we are forcing to
co-operate in the process of the suppression of their Turkish brothers -
expulsion of peoples, destruction of villages, oh so reminiscent of the
policy, more extreme in the circumstances of the Iran/Iraq war, of

But again, if the Iraqi government got hold of its oil money it wouldn't
give anything to the Kurds. Fair enough. But again. Why should it not be
suggested that a fair deal for the Kurds could be negotiated as part of a
lfting of sanctions? There is an answer to that question. Because that would
be a deal that the Iraqi government might accept and the US government,
which has no interest in the wellbeing of the Kurdish people,  do not want
to propose any deals that the Iraqi government might accept.

Alexander Sternberg comes close to suggesting such a deal when he says (para
15): "If sanctions are lifted, without security guarantees, and without
guarantees of a fair share of Iraq¹s public wealth, it could happen all over
again." And that is true and requires to be taken very seriously. We need to
think about security guarantees and guarantees of a fair share of Iraq's
public wealth. What a pity nobody in the US or British government seems to
be thinking about these things. I am sure that once the case has been put
there would be very few people on our list who would disagree with it. But
it isn't an argument against the lifting of sanctions. It is simply an
intelligent and serious suggestion as to the manner in which sanctions
should be lifted.
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