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Aaronovitch in today's Independent

The following piece by David Aaronvitch appears in today's Independent. In
it he:

regurgitates some standard FCO propaganda (eg. 'medical supplies, food and
humanitarian items were excluded from the embargo.' Even here he doesn't
make it clear that these exemptions, such as they were, did not come into
effect until April 1991. Prior to that only medicines were 'exempt');

notes (correctly) that UNICEF did *not* claim that 500,000 children had died
'because of sanctions' (he brings this up in an attempt to discredit
anti-sanctions folk as people making wild and / or inaccurate claims);

makes some ludicrous claims of his own (eg. he writes that he encounters the
claim that 'hundreds of thousands of Iraqi have died "because of sanctions"'
'all the time' but that the claims of people like Khidhir Hamza regarding
WMD have 'failed to reach the public consciousness' - an almost exact
inversion of reality!);

and quotes an anonymous 'observer' to the effect that 'sanctions are not
crippling the entire country' (proof [sic] of the 'contentious' nature of
claims regarding the impact of sanctions).

He finishes by stating that 'we must, as soon as we can, end almost all
sanctions' against Iraq but that we 'can demand, as a quid pro quo, the
return of the arms inspectors' (who, of course, he claims were 'thrown out'
of Iraq in 1998). This probably does mark some sort of shift of position for

You can e-mail your letters to

Best wishes,

voices uk

David Aaronovitch: Now we must try and free the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein

23 November 2001

Right. who's next? The MP George Galloway says that "senior" people in the
Iraqi government (and George knows a few) expect it to be them. This view
seemed to be backed up by yesterday's editorial in the New York Times, which
stated that "there continues to be an intense debate within the Bush
administration about the next phase of the war, including whether to take it
to Iraq and try to defeat Saddam Hussein."

Wait. Iraq is one of our greatest failures. 10 years after the Gulf War and
the victory against Saddam Hussein, his people suffer more than ever from
his tyranny and the efforts of others to contain it. They have the worst of
all possible deals and their plight is an inevitable feature of savage
criticism of the West, whether it comes from the troglodytic Mr bin Laden,
the anti-war movement, ordinary Muslims or Third World leaders. As a symbol,
the children of Iraq are almost more potent than the children of Palestine.

That hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children are supposed to have died
"because of sanctions" manages simultaneously to be "a truth that is not
allowed to enter public consciousness" (John Pilger in the New Statesman
this  and almost every other  week) and also a claim which I encounter all
the time. These trade sanctions were imposed under Resolution 661 of the UN
Security Council shortly after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Medical
supplies, food and humanitarian items were excluded from the embargo. Since
1996, there has also been an "oil for food" system, which allows the
proceeds from Iraqi oil sales to go to civilian use.

What has happened since then is the subject of an intense propaganda war,
one which America has comprehensively lost. The statistic most believed is
that "half a million Iraqi children have died as a direct result of US
sanctions". This figure derives from a Unicef report from 1999. It was
arrived at by taking the trend line for the reduction in infant and child
mortality in Iraq during the 1980s, calculating what the trend for the 1990s
should have been, and then noting the difference. In fact Unicef's
conclusion was: "Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to
external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be
undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures
imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war."

It is not the same thing as "sanctions kill half a million", but isn't a
squillion miles away either.

It's also rather contentious. One observer can argue in a report: "A dose of
ordinary antibiotics would have saved the baby, but  since the end of the
Persian Gulf War  there has been no such thing as ordinary medicine in
Iraq. Or food. Or water."

Another observer concludes that, "The sanctions are not crippling the entire
country, as some pundits would have us believe. While the sanctions and the
oil-for-food monitoring committees regulate which goods can enter Iraq, the
UN has little power to control distribution." In the autonomous northern
region, under the same sanctions but not under Saddam, the rate of mortality
of children under five years old fell from 90 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live
births between 1994 and 1999.

Even so, and allowing for Saddam's exceptional insouciance concerning the
deaths of his country's children, it is the West and not the Iraqi dictator
that has taken the blame. In 1996, one American Middle Eastern think-tank
wrote, "Whether the Iraqi regime is responsible for the continuation of
sanctions or not is irrelevant. You do not shoot a plane down because it has
been hijacked." Well OK, you do now.

Right there, in that moustachioed persona, is the problem. None of us quite
know what to do with Saddam. This week, John Pilger seemed to be suggesting
that not only was there a moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and
George Bush Senior, but that the latter (and, for that matter, his son) was
probably worse.

This, I think, would be true had either of the Bushes: taken power in a
coup; physically wiped out the Democratic Party; had Noam Chomsky murdered
and his children tortured; attacked Russia without provocation and then
fought her unsuccessfully for ten years and at the loss of a million
casualties; and when that was over, invaded and held Canada until forced
out; dropped mustard gas on the campus at Berkeley; or looked on indulgently
one Thanksgiving Day as his twin daughters shot various other family members
while they sat round the dinner table.

Saddam is a sadist of the "I watch, you die" variety, who destroyed the
Marsh Arabs through damming (if only the anti-Iliusu dam protesters had been
around then) whereas Dubya's worst vices may include a bit of light bondage
and denying the occasional stay of execution.

I was reminded by the BBC the other night of what was found in the torture
chambers of Suleimaniyeh when it was liberated by the Kurds in 1991 and what
would still be found now if Baghdad were to become free.

So Saddam Hussein is bad. But is he a menace? No, says Hans Von Sponeck, the
much-quoted former director of the oil for food programme. "Iraq today," he
says, "is no longer a military threat to anyone. Intelligence agencies know
this. All the different conjectures about weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq lack evidence."

People who quote Sponeck  and who are therefore unfussed by the throwing
out of the United Nations arms inspectors in 1998  rarely go on to mention
the testimony of people such as Khidhir Hamza, a scientist who defected in
1994 and who did give evidence of the existence of two atomic devices as
well as loads of various unpleasant gases.

This, I suggest to Mr Pilger, is certainly something that has failed to
reach public consciousness. As has the work of Dr Germ herself, Dr Rihab
Taha, the scientific Eichmann of Saddam's biological weapons team.

Still, all the options not only look bad, but they are bad. Saddam cannot be
toppled by proxy. We lost our chance to do that when we failed to help the
anti-Saddam insurgents who rose against him in 1991. The opposition forces
are weak and divided. Nor can we engineer a coup d'etat from the outside.
Nor do we know, in the event of such a coup, who would take over.

The moment disappeared, too, for mounting a broad coalition, invading Iraq
and installing an interim government to be replaced, eventually, by an
elected one. Though I think that, if this were to happen, there would be
such joy in the streets of Baghdad as we haven't seen anywhere since 1989.
Recent scenes in Kabul remind us that people rather like freedom, even
though some of us tend to forget it.

And I am now convinced that we must, as soon as we can, end almost all
sanctions, allow Iraq to use its oil revenues, and kill the excuses that tie
Saddam to his suffering countrymen and women. We can demand, as a quid pro
quo, the return of arms inspectors in the form of the new United Nations
Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Unmovic (the replacement
for the former UN Special Commission, Unscom, which was given the mandate to
disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.)

Then  least worst  vigilant, we wait for him to die (he's 64), or we wait
for him to act. One will give the Iraqi people an opportunity, and the
other, regrettably, will force the completion by us of a task that has taken
too long.

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