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Halliday and Sponeck in today's Guardian

Dear friends,

The following piece by former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinators Denis Halliday
and Hans von Sponeck appears in today's Guardian. There may well be a
Government response in tomorrow's letters page (watch this space).
Letters to can be sent to but it may well be worth
holding your fire till tomorrow.

Best wishes,



The hostage nation

Former UN relief chiefs Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday speak out
against an attack on Iraq

Thursday November 29, 2001
The Guardian

A major shift is occurring in US policy on Iraq. It is obvious that
Washington wants to end 11 years of a self-serving policy of containment of
the Iraqi regime and change to a policy of replacing, by force, Saddam
Hussein and his government.
The current policy of economic sanctions has destroyed society in Iraq and
caused the death of thousands, young and old. There is evidence of that
daily in reports from reputable international organisations such as Caritas,
Unicef and Save the Children. A change to a policy of replacement by force
will increase that suffering.

The creators of the policy must no longer assume that they can satisfy
voters by expressing contempt for those who oppose them. The problem is not
the inability of the public to understand the bigger picture, as former US
secretary of state Madeleine Albright likes to suggest. It is the opposite.
The bigger picture, the hidden agenda, is well understood by ordinary
people. We should not forget Henry Kissinger's brutally frank admission that
"oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the

How much longer can democratically elected governments hope to get away with
justifying policies that punish the Iraqi people for something they did not
do, through economic sanctions that target them in the hope that those who
survive will overthrow the regime? Is international law only applicable to
the losers? Does the UN security council only serve the powerful?

The UK and the US, as permanent members of the council, are fully aware that
the UN embargo operates in breach of the UN covenants on human rights, the
Geneva and Hague conventions and other international laws. It is neither
anti-UK nor anti-US to point out that Washington and London, more than
anywhere else, have in the past decade helped to write the Iraq chapter in
the history of avoidable tragedies.

The UK and the US have deliberately pursued a policy of punishment since the
Gulf war victory in 1991. The two governments have consistently opposed
allowing the UN security council to carry out its mandated responsibilities
to assess the impact of sanctions policies on civilians. We know about this
first hand, because the governments repeatedly tried to prevent us from
briefing the security council about it. The pitiful annual limits, of less
than $170 per person, for humanitarian supplies, set by them during the
first three years of the oil-for-food programme are unarguable evidence of
such a policy.

We have seen the effects on the ground and cannot comprehend how the US
ambassador, James Cunningham, could look into the eyes of his colleagues a
year ago and say: "We (the US government) are satisfied that the
oil-for-food programme is meeting the needs of the Iraqi people." Besides
the provision of food and medicine, the real issue today is that Iraqi oil
revenues must be invested in the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure
destroyed in the Gulf war.

Despite the severe inadequacy of the permitted oil revenue to meet the
minimum needs of the Iraqi people, 30 cents (now 25) of each dollar that
Iraqi oil earned from 1996 to 2000 were diverted by the UN security council,
at the behest of the UK and US governments, to compensate outsiders for
losses allegedly incurred because of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. If this
money had been made available to Iraqis, it could have saved many lives.

The uncomfortable truth is that the west is holding the Iraqi people
hostage, in order to secure Saddam Hussein's compliance to ever-shifting
demands. The UN secretary-general, who would like to be a mediator, has
repeatedly been prevented from taking this role by the US and the UK

The imprecision of UN resolutions on Iraq - "constructive ambiguity" as the
US and UK define it - is seen by those governments as a useful tool when
dealing with this kind of conflict. The US and UK dismiss criticism by
pointing out that the Iraqi people are being punished by Baghdad. If this is
true, why do we punish them further?

The most recent report of the UN secretary-general, in October 2001, says
that the US and UK governments' blocking of $4bn of humanitarian supplies is
by far the greatest constraint on the implementation of the oil-for-food
programme. The report says that, in contrast, the Iraqi government's
distribution of humanitarian supplies is fully satisfactory (as it was when
we headed this programme). The death of some 5-6,000 children a month is
mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US
and UK governments' delayed clearance of equipment and materials is
responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad.

The expectation of a US attack on Iraq does not create conditions in the UN
security council suited to discussions on the future of economic sanctions.
This year's UK-sponsored proposal for "smart sanctions" will not be
retabled. Too many people realise that what looked superficially like an
improvement for civilians is really an attempt to maintain the bridgeheads
of the existing sanctions policy: no foreign investments and no rights for
the Iraqis to manage their own oil revenues.

The proposal suggested sealing Iraq's borders, strangling the Iraqi people.
In the present political climate, a technical extension of the current terms
is considered the most expedient step by Washington. That this condemns more
Iraqis to death and destitution is shrugged off as unavoidable.

What we describe is not conjecture. These are undeniable facts known to us
as two former insiders. We are outraged that the Iraqi people continue to be
made to pay the price for the lucrative arms trade and power politics. We
are reminded of Martin Luther King's words: "A time has come when silence is
betrayal. That time is now."

We want to encourage people everywhere to protest against unscrupulous
policies and against the appalling disinformation put out about Iraq by
those who know better, but are willing to sacrifice people's lives with
false and malicious arguments.

The US Defence Department, and Richard Butler, former head of the UN arms
inspection team in Baghdad, would prefer Iraq to have been behind the
anthrax scare. But they had to recognise that it had its origin within the

British and US intelligence agencies know well that Iraq is qualitatively
disarmed, and they have not forgotten that the outgoing secretary of
defence, William Powell, told incoming President George Bush in January:
"Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbours". The same message
has come from former UN arms inspectors. But to admit this would be to nail
the entire UN policy, as it has been developed and maintained by the US and
UK governments.

We are horrified by the prospects of a new US-led war against Iraq. The
implications of "finishing unfinished business" in Iraq are too serious for
the global community to ignore. We hope that the warnings of leaders in the
Middle East and all of us who care about human rights are not ignored by the
US government. What is now most urgently needed is an attack on injustice,
not on the Iraqi people.

Hans von Sponeck was UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq from 1998 to 2000;
Denis Halliday held the same post from 1997 to 1998.

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