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: can we trust Iraqi sources?

Dear all,

First of all, I would like to note what has previously been said on this
discussion list in relation to this topic: we risk to drown an emotional and
humanly sensitive topic in dry numbers and discussion about statistics. I
hope the below discussion can nonetheless be justified.  In my view, the
most powerful tool we have in engaging with those who disagree with us on
this issue is good information, and maintaining a credibility that makes it
possible for others - especially those who do not agree with out initially -
to believe the information we present to be correct.

The most detailed critique of Government of Iraq figures I have read is in
an article by Amatzia Baram in the Middle East
Journal(  I disagree with
Baram's overall conclusion (that sanctions is the least worst option), but
think that many of statements he makes about the figures of the Government
of Iraq are plausible: its statistics are often are often internally
inconsistent, too precise to be possible, presented without any account of
the methodology used to arrive at them, and - crucially - tainted by a
clearly identifiable political interest that would serve to inflate them.
This is not to say that they are always incorrect: in fact, the 1999 Unicef
mortality study arrived at a figure which was remarkably similar to that of
excess under-five deaths which had previously been presented by the Iraqi
Ministry of Health.

However, it is precisely because it can be corroborated with Unicef's figure
that we know the Ministry of Health claim to have (at least quantitative)
substance.  Without impartial verification, we would end up in a situation
where argument is from authority only, and the basis for our claims would be
that for various reasons we trust the Government of Iraq to be right.  This
we might choose to do, but we have no good basis for asking others to do so.
Instead they might, with the same argument from authority, choose another
authority: say, the US State Department or the UK FCO, which claim that the
Iraqi figures are entirely unreliable and that we do not know that sanctions
have caused any harm.  In my view, this polarisation of the discussion of
sanctions is not helpful, as it cannot lead anywhere as long as people
choose to rely on different authorities.  To us, this is nonsense, but there
the discussion simply comes to and end.  At its worst, such discussion has
tended to obscure the desperately important message we have: that our policy
on Iraq is contributing to a humanitarian disaster.

The situation would be different if there was no other information, but as
it is not, we do not actually need to rely on Iraqi government claims.
There is much other information on which to draw.  One of the most telling
aspects of Amatzia Baram's (Spring 2000) article was that although it
purports to discuss under-five mortality in Iraq, it is entirely silent on
Unicef's 1999 survey, which studies precisly this.  This is disingenuous:
what reason is there to omit from a detailed discussion the only impartial
and most comprehensive survey we know of?  Information on living standards
in Iraq under sanctions is publicly available: from Unicef, from the FAO and
WFP, from the WHO, and many independent studies, to argue conclusively that
the decade of economic sanctions has been one of a humanitarian disaster in

I personally think this information is more than enough to argue against
sanctions.  While including Iraqi government statements in our argument
might sharpen the rhetorical edge of our claims somewhat, by slapping
(generally) higher and more numerically precise figures on what other,
impartial sources have already told us, they do so at the desperately high
price of undermining the credibility of what we are saying.  It gives
precious ammunition for the proponents of continued economic sanctions,
adding actual substance to the claim that we are merely dupes of the
Saddam's regime.  And, crucially, we would not have any way of ridding
ourselves of this claim: repeating a claim that is correct (whether in
substance or in absolute) does little good if one cannot say why it is true.

In this situation, relying on Iraqi claims that cannot be independently
verified does us little good.  More importantly, I personally believe that
it does little good for the process of ending sanctions.


Per Klevnäs

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dirk Adriaensens" <>
To: <>; "tim buckley"
Sent: Sunday, December 16, 2001 9:38 AM
Subject: Re: can we trust Iraqi sources?

Hello Tim, Colin and others,

I agree with Tim: "People in Iraq are in a much better position to comment
on the reality of sanctions than the most well-meaning people here". That
leads us to the next point in the discussion. When we visited Iraq in july,
the representative of UNICEF spoke frankly against sanctions, but said that
it was up to anti-sanctions campaigners to put pressure on their
governments. "UNICEF is not a political organisation" he said. One of the
women in the group said that this meeting had convinced her more than any
other meeting with an Iraqi official. Another Belgian-Iraqi woman who was
with our delegation said that this was a racist remark. And frankly, I
agreed with her. Why should we believe more the facts and figures of UNICEF
than Iraqi figures? The presence of UNICEF in Iraq is totally unnecessary,
if the sanctions were lifted. First UNICEF uses funds that could be better
used in other third-world countries that are poorer and have no resources of
their own. That makes two genocides. Second: UNICEF is in Iraq to relief the
worst suffering, and is so also responsable for the prolongation of the
sanctions that are caused by the mother-organisation, the UN. Because UNICEF
is serving as an alibi to answer to criticism to sanctions. I can give a few
examples of that: UNICEF helps to repair the sewage and sanitation systems
in a number of projects. The government of IRAQ and the Iraqi people are
perfectly capable of doing that on their own, but don't receive the
necessary spare-parts because of the embargo and can't buy the spare-parts
because there is no foreign currency. Another example is for instance the
breast-feeding campaign that UNICEF wants to start in Iraq in an attempt to
diminish the child-mortality. The UNICEF representative told us that the
Iraqi government didn't want to cooperate on this fully. I asked Nasra
Al-Sadoon, chief-editor of "Iraq daily" why, and she said that before 1990,
there never has been a problem with breast-feeding in Iraq. The only
problem, she said, is the embargo: poverty, malnutrition and stress with
young mothers. She found this UNICEF-campaign a very cynical one. And I
agreed. UNICEF wants to make the western public opinion believe that Iraq is
not educating their mothers enough to breast-feed their babies, worse even:
the Iraqi government don't want to cooperate with this program. When I heard
the explanation of the Iraqi's, I understood. At the end UNICEF must drown
in its own contradictions. Can I believe someone who tells us (privately)
that his hands are tied, and doesn't want to speak out openly against the
No, I have more respect for Denis Halliday en Hans von Sponeck, who saw
these contradictions and resigned. And that's why I find Iraqi figures
plausible: because I've seen the efforts that the Iraqi government makes to
prevent a whole nation from starvation, a rationing system that works
perfectly, and the efforts to try to rebuild the country without help from
outside. Iraq doesn't need charity. It needs a lifting of the embargo to
rebuild its economy.
Dirk Adriaensens.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: tim buckley
  Sent: Sunday, December 16, 2001 4:31 AM
  Subject: can we trust Iraqi sources?

  Dear Dirk and others,

  Dirk writes "The second article is an accusation of the Iraqi minister of
Transport and Communications. This kind of articles appear often in the
Iraqi press. I don't see why they shouldn't be trusted. Or am I wrong? This
subject makes a good topic for a more profound discussion."

  If plausible and can be coroborated then why not trust them? People in
Iraq are in a much better position to comment on the reality of sanctions
than the most well-meaning people here. And it's true that government and
media lie a lot, but they sometimes tell the truth, especially when things
are so awful already that no mileage is to be gained from exaggeration, eg.
11 Sept. in the US. Things are alot worse than that in Iraq, aren't they? I
heard an interview with Tariq Aziz a while ago, in which he explained,
wearily how sanctions were killing Iraqi children. Some anti-sanctions
campaigners would say this kind of source lacks "credibility" and should not
be used in campaigning. But Aziz was telling the truth. Instead of Unicef's
words about sanctions "contributing" in some vague way to the deaths of
children, which could be stretched to mean anything, he's pointing out the
main fact, which is that we are killing children in cold blood. Political
mass murder. I mean the data from the Unicef survey is really important, but
as it ignores causation, it lends itself to self-interested interpretaions
by noble crusaders like Blair and Bush. I have not read the Iraqi press, but
I bet it's infinitely more accurate and honest about the effects of
sanctions than our own.

  Best,   Tim

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
CASI's website - - includes an archive of all postings.

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]