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RE: [casi] Reply from Tom Levitt MP

Dear Diarmuid,

Thank you for reporting back on your correspondence with Tom Levitt.  You
conclude by noting that:

> I hasten to add that I am not so naive as to believe that writing
> to my MP will effect any change.

Letters to MPs do have an effect: they are felt to be one of the measures of
public opinion that MPs have.  Letters from people concerned about the
situation in Iraq send warning signals that the policy is creating

> <snap> Saddam Hussein knows very well that he is in breach of
> several UN resolutions in respect of the proliferation of weapons
> of mass destruction. If he allows UN inspectors back into his
> country, the sanctions can be lifted.

> My reply will point out that the sanctions were never intended to
> ensure that SH complied with UN inspectors (leaving aside the
> fact that they turned out to be spies!);

My own sense is that the hopes for the sanctions in 1991 were very mixed.
On the one hand, I do think that there was alarm at Iraq's non-conventional
arsenal, and therefore a desire to disarm it.  On the other hand, President
Bush Sr indicated from the outset that he sought to topple the Iraqi regime,
and would link the sanctions to the Iraqi regime.  Successive
administrations over the decade have reaffirmed this link in one way or

The argument presented to me by those who argue that the sanctions are
linked to Iraq's weapons, and not to its leadership, is that the US could
not hold out against the Security Council if the Iraqi government was found
to be in compliance by the weapons inspectors.

I've appended below an excerpt from an e-mail that I wrote recently in which
I tried to present my concerns about these arguments.

> <snap> Those sanctions have
> already been significantly modified to ensure that they need not
> cause any problems in respect of getting food and medicine, for
> example, to the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, the history of Iraq
> is such that their President always ensures that it is the
> people, rather than the ruling class, who bear the brunt of any
> hardship. The solution to this, it seems, should be in the hands
> of the Iraqi people themselves. </snip>
> the modifications of the
> sanctions have been dismissed by observers as having little
> effect on the suffering of the Iraqi people and the potential to
> actually worsen things; that it is not only the history of Iraq
> ehich ensures the suffering of the people rather than the ruling
> class, but every country throughout the world; that the Iraqi
> people should not be punished for the sins of their political
> class; that the sanctions regime not only punishes the Iraqi
> people, but also works actively against his claim that the people
> should be the ones to direct their future: a starving, broken
> people are unlikely to effect substantial political change.

Yes.  The 'oil for food' programme has allowed over $20 billion of goods
into Iraq over the past half decade.  This has blunted the harshest aspects
of the sanctions.  Yet the sanctions, even with the latest Security Council
resolution, continue to impose a terrible burden on Iraq's economy, and
hence on its ability to meet civilian needs.  (I tried to address some of
these issues in an article for the Middle East Economic Survey last month,
available at

The central problem is poverty, and not permission to import food or
medicines, as Levitt's letter prefers to think.  The analogy that seems best
to me in this respect is that London's homeless don't sleep under bridges
because they are prevented by law from renting apartments or buying houses.

The final sentence in the passage from Levitt's letter that you cite, "The
solution to this, it seems, should be in the hands of the Iraqi people
themselves" strikes me as deeply insensitive.  One cannot simultaneously
trumpet the brutality of the Iraqi dictatorship and imply that the Iraqi
people are to blame for not overthrowing it.  It is true that all
dictatorships require at least general acquiesence, but throwaway remarks
like Levitt's seem completely ignorant of the difficulties of collective
action in Iraq.

In the preceding sentence, Levitt lamented that "Unfortunately, the history
of Iraq is such that their President always ensures that it is the people,
rather than the ruling class, who bear the brunt of any hardship."  This
argument was addressed by the House of Commons International Development
Select Committee in 2000, which wrote that:

Not all this humanitarian distress is the direct result of the sanctions
regime. It appears that Saddam Hussein is quite prepared to manipulate the
sanctions regime and the exemptions scheme to his own ends, even if that
involves hurting ordinary Iraqi people. This does not, however, entirely
excuse the international community from a part in the suffering of Iraqis. A
sanctions regime which relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is
fundamentally flawed.
<ends; see

The very fact that Levitt seems so unsurprised by the Iraqi regime's
response to the sanctions suggests that it was fairly predictable.  If so,
then it is negligent not to recognise our responsibility for the

However much I disagree with British policy towards Iraq, dishonest letters
like Levitt's always manage to make it smell even worse.  Thank you again
for bringing this to our attention, and for engaging with him.

Best wishes,

Colin Rowat

work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham |
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | | (+44/0) 121 414 3754 |
(+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) |

personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
(707) 221 3672 (US fax) |

We know that President Bush Sr urged "the Iraqi military and the Iraqi
people" to topple his Iraqi counterpart in February (16/2/91 NYT).  The
transcript of the Council's debate on 3 April, when it passed 687, records
British Ambassador Hannay as saying that, "My government believes that it
will in fact prove impossible for Iraq to rejoin the community of civilized
nations while Saddam Hussein remains in power" (S/PV.2981,  US Ambassador Pickering
is slightly more veiled:

It is our hope that the people of Iraq will insist on putting the disaster
which their leaders have created behind them and will join with the rest of
the international community in building a foundation for lasting peace and
security.  This means repudiation of the policies of the past and a genuine
commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, which Saddam
Hussein has heretofore acknowledged more through violation than through

Charitably, these comments could be interpreted as expressions of desire or
predictions that do not impinge upon interpretations of the 687 lifting
clauses.  Bush' remarks on 16 April, at a Washington press conference
primarily concerned with relief for Iraqi Kurds, were much clearer:

Do I think the answer is now for Saddam Hussein to be kicked out? Absolutely
because there will not be - may I finish, please? - there will not be
normalized relations with the United States, and I think this is true for
most coalition partners, until Saddam Hussein is out of there. And we will
continue the economic sanctions.

The opening sentence of the NYT's 21 May "Bush Links End Of Trading Ban To
Hussein Exit" is equally unambiguous: "President Bush said today that the
United States would oppose the lifting of the worldwide ban against trading
with Iraq until President Saddam Hussein is forced out of power in Baghdad."
The rest of the decade provides similar evidence to this effect, attenuated
somewhat under early Clinton, accentuated by Congress' Iraq Liberation Act
in 1998, and then again under the present administration.

Therefore, I do fail to see how 687's deal could be seen as better than
ambiguous, at best...

While it may be wise to link the sanctions' lifting to the continued
government of Saddam Hussein rather than to arms or any other issue in
particular (this seemed to be the point of the "peaceful intentions"
clause - aka the Saddam Hussein clause - of SCR 687, alluded to by Albright
in her 1997 Georgetown speech), it does not give the Iraqi president any
incentive to co-operate with it...

In the absence of complete Iraqi compliance - rather an expensive experiment
for them if they get it wrong - the following data seem relevant to me:

1. the ambiguity of 687 and subsequent resolutions.  Interpretation of
paragraph 21 of 687 has divided the Council since it was passed: "in the
light of the policies and practices", "all relevant resolutions" and "reduce
or lift" add up to plenty of wiggle room, especially when "peaceful
intentions" have been invoked.  This was somewhat clarified by 1284, which
linked sanctions' suspension to co-operation on arms, but 1284's drafters
seemed to revel in their 'creative ambiguity'.  It did not define
"suspension", although the French had worked on that; this remains undefined
even after a call from the European Parliament in April 2000 and an offer in
SCR 1382.  Further, 1284 elevated the issue of Kuwaiti claims to the point
that many felt it was being positioned as an equally valid criterion for
retaining sanctions.  Finally, while some of Sabri's recent questions were
clearly designed as salami-slicers, the Council's refusal to address those
relating to the 'deal' (e.g. "What are the views of the Security Council on
declarations that the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq would not be lifted
in accordance with relevant resolutions as long as the current national
government remains in place?") undermine confidence in any sort of

2. the US' selective use of the Security Council and its resolutions on
Iraq.  Passing resolutions which affirm the political sovereignty and
territorial integrity of Iraq while maintaining self-declared no-fly zones -
however beneficial to Iraqi Kurds - and arguing that these have their basis
in a non-Chapter VII SCR which does not mention flight bans suggests to me
that even the most basic of contradictions can be maintained.  Enforcing
Iraq's compliance with SCRs by bombing it without Security Council authority
may be the easiest way of doing something worth doing, but it again sends
the message that SCRs are not respected other than insofar as they conform
to the interests of the US.  Finally, the contrast between the steps taken
towards disarming Iraq and those taken to establish a region free of such
weapons is stark and again sends an unfortunate signal.

3. US sanctions behaviour on other countries.  It seems unlikely that the US
sanctions on Cuba will be lifted while Fidel Castro is alive.  The Iranian
sanctions seem less tied to any particular person, as do the Libyan ones
(although Qadafi has been a focal point for them).  Insofar, though, as
these are out of line with the rest of the international community's
behaviour they again signal that the US is willing to maintain sanctions
even in the absence of international support.  I suspect that the pressure
would be higher in Iraq's case, where the US vote would be required to lift
multilateral rather than unilateral sanctions.  Still, we have seen the US
resist a great deal of international pressure to pursue this policy.

4. mixed signals on Iraqi disarmament.  In 1998, the Clinton administration
took steps that led fairly predictably to the end of weapons inspections.
Using the Unscom inspectors to piggy-back intelligence operations and
turning their final report into a causus belli fatally undermined Unscom's
independence, allowing the Iraqi government to bar their return with little
protest.  One interpretation of this is that weapons inspection was a lower
priority than was regime change or domestic peace and quiet.  Some argue
that the failure to reward Iraqi co-operation (e.g. substantial progress on
the nuclear file) in 1996 - 97 convinced the Iraqi government that
compliance was not the issue.  I'm not in a position to assess the GoI's
thinking, but the statement seems reasonable.

None of the above allow perfect prediction of how the US government might
behave if there was Iraqi compliance.  They all, however, seem to provide
reasonable grounds for uncertainty about the consequences of such

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