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]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Lifting Sanctions on Iraq - dissident view PART ONE

A shameful assault on Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday

Summary: Alexander Sternberg makes unjustified attacks on Denis 
Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, and does not seem to know about 
Halliday and von Sponeck's recent meeting with Kurdish leaders.

Alexander Sternberg's recent posting to the CASI list is a rather 
scattergun attack on the ‘naive' opponents of economic sanctions on 
Iraq. His arguments are considered in a separate posting from me. In 
this note, I would like to deal with what I consider the most shocking 
aspect of Sternberg's posting: his denigration of Denis Halliday and 
Hans von Sponeck, and his entirely unjustified assault on their 
reputations. Whatever dangers may or may not be posed by the lifting 
of economic sanctions, there can be no justification for attacking two 
brave men of principle who have demonstrated their deep and 
sincere concern for all the people of Iraq time and again. 

Abi Cox has already pointed out that it is ‘churlish' to dispute the fact 
that Von Sponeck and
Halliday made ‘a brave and principled decision based on their own 
informed interpretation of the facts in front of them', so maybe the 
point doesn't need repeating. However, there are some points which 
may deserve further airing.

Sternberg says of Halliday and von Sponeck in para 17: ‘Their 
mandate had nothing to do with national interests. It was all about 
serving the humanitarian interests of the Iraqi people. So is, or should 
be, the mandate of the GOI [Government of Iraq]. With the same, 
identical, unarguable interests, at some point in time they should have 
come to terms. It would certainly not have been easy but Halliday and 
von Sponeck should have exhausted themselves in trying.'

He contradicts himself in para 34 (reproduced in toto):
‘34. Garfield talks of, "A good faith effort to meet basic needs in Iraq 
would create a better basis to negotiate an end to the Iraq conflict". 
Who is he trying to joke with? Let's get real here. Like the others who 
promote lifting sanctions without sufficiently considering the adverse 
consequences of doing so, this is an uninformed opinion that excels in 
naïveté. He appears to not know the well-documented history of the 
region pre- and post-1991 as one of rampant displacement, 
disappearance, destruction, and disrupted lives. When the history of 
bad faith is sufficiently appreciated, the question of good faith does not 

Sternberg does not really believe that the Government of Iraq had 
the ‘same, identical, unarguable interest' of ‘serving the humanitarian 
interests of the Iraqi people'. Therefore he can hardly fault Hans von 
Sponeck and Denis Halliday for failing to devote themselves entirely to 
changing Baghdad's policies. On his analysis this would have been a 
futile gesture.

Sternberg says, but I do not see that he is in a position to judge, that 
the two former UN Humanitarian Coordinators ‘should have 
exhausted themselves in trying' to change GOI policies and improve 
the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Anyone who has heard or met Denis Halliday or Hans von Sponeck is 
immediately aware of the enormous energy that they have put into 
trying to persuade the international community to take responsibility 
for the disaster it has inflicted on the people of Iraq. We are fortunate 
that they have not completely ‘exhausted themselves in trying', but it 
is not for want of trying. Their fortitude and patience and lack of 
bitterness after all the frustration and rebuffs they have encountered 
is an example to us all, on whatever side of this argument we find 

Sternberg writes, cruelly and unjustifiably, ‘Perhaps Halliday and von 
Sponeck were incapable of exerting the leadership that was critically 
needed. Obviously, they were not motivated to try.' How on earth is 
this obvious? What does Sternberg know of the pressures which the 
two Humanitarian Coordinators may or may not have put on the 
Government of Iraq to improve the delivery of services and pace of 

Sternberg's arrogant dismissal of the work of these two men, caught 
between two powerful bureaucracies, is quite astounding. No one will 
ever know quite what is was like to be a person of conscience, trying 
to help the people of Iraq, leading the UN humanitarian mission in 
Iraq, but the agonising pressures were quite plain to see, as numerous 
interviews with Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck while in office 
make plain. The test of personal strength and integrity involved is one 
that I would not wish on Mr Sternberg or anyone else.

Sternberg continues, ‘Given their personal qualities and their broad 
and lengthy professional qualifications and experience, one can only 
wonder in bewilderment about their real agendas. To resign, 
supposedly on principle, at the tail end of long careers, begs the 
question even further.' Now this is just bizarre. 

What possible personal agenda could Hans von Sponeck or Denis 
Halliday have been trying to advance by their public protests and 
resignations? Stripped of their positions within the UN, the resources 
and machinery of the UN system, their (no doubt significant) incomes, 
and, at a mundane level, foregoing the deep administrative support 
they once enjoyed - they operate now without even a secretary to 
assist them, when once they had assistants galore. 

Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday had no personal incentive for 
rocking the boat. Their paths towards retirement within the UN 
system could have been enjoyable, fulfilling and lauded on all sides. 
Instead they chose to give up a considerable amount of privilege, to 
embrace uncomfortable lives of campaigning, and to put themselves at 
the mercy of the propaganda machines of London and Washington.

How can Sternberg doubt that the two UN Humanitarian 
Coordinators resigned for any reason other than principle? What 
possible motivation, other than principle, would account for their 
actions? There is not one shred of evidence that they have benefited 
from their resignations, or from the vigorous campaigning they've 
engaged in since their departures from Iraq.

One can only wonder in bewilderment at Mr Sternberg's 

I find it difficult to believe that Sternberg can occupy his position 
within the Kurdish Regional Government and not be aware of the 
recent visit that Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday made to the 
autonomous Kurdish area, at the invitation of the PUK and KDP 
Kurdish political parties. They visited Iraq a month before he wrote 
his posting, but Sternberg makes no reference to this very significant 
event in his essay.

Denis Halliday spoke about the visit at the recent London anti-
sanctions conference, and he pointed out to the leaders of the PUK 
and KDP that they did not seem to realise the impact that ‘smart 
sanctions' could have on the Kurdish zone. Sternberg seems to have 
missed this point also.

In his essay (para 15), Sternberg decries those ‘anti-sanctionists' who 
have ignored the issue of Kurdistan. Of all the anti-sanctions activists 
around the world, the two men least worthy of this criticism are Hans 
von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, who with their visit to the Kurdish 
zone have established the importance of Kurdish question for 
everyone concerned with Iraq.

I don't know why Alexander Sternberg feels it necessary to be so 
vicious in his treatment of Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday. I 
hope that his views do not reflect Iraqi Kurdish opinion. But in the 
eyes of millions of people around the world, Mr Halliday and Mr von 
Sponeck will continue to be beacons of integrity and compassion, and 
no amount of carping from Mr Sternberg can change this.

Milan Rai

Milan Rai
Joint Coordinator, Voices in the Wilderness UK
29 Gensing Road, St Leonards on Sea East Sussex UK TN38 0HE
Phone/fax 0845 458 9571 local rate within UK
Phone/fax 44 1424 428 792 from outside UK
Pager 07623 746 462
Voices website

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]