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A RESPONSE TO ALEXANDER STERNBERG Part I 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. ATTACKING VON SPONECK AND HALLIDAY 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. UNARGUABLE COMMON INTERESTS 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 arise.' 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. EXHAUSTION 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 ourselves. MOTIVATION 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 reconstruction? 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 performance. KURDISTAN 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 email@example.com 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 http://viwuk.freeserve.co.uk -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk