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[casi] Too much collateral damage

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Too much collateral damage

'Smart sanctions' hurt innocent Iraqis, says HANS VON SPONECK. It's time to
dispense with the mirage of mitigation


Tuesday, July 2, 2002 ? Print Edition, Page A15

On May 14, the United Nations Security Council passed a ninth revision of
its 1990 resolution on economic sanctions against Iraq. In the face of
mounting international concern and a "this or nothing" U.S. veto threat,
the so-called "smart sanctions" passed unanimously, with its U.S. and
British proponents suggesting that the resolution would expedite the import
of civilian goods into Iraq.

For the sake of the Iraqi people, one can only hope it will. But will
increased imports resolve the humanitarian crisis? Are smart sanctions
"smart" enough? As UN co-ordinator of the oil-for-food program from 1998 to
2000, I write from privileged experience into humanitarian conditions in

Six years of revisions to sanctions policy on Baghdad have repeatedly
promised "mitigation" of civilian suffering. Yet, in 1999, Unicef confirmed
our worst fears: that one child in seven dies before the age of 5 -- an
estimated 5,000 excess child deaths every month above the 1989
pre-sanctions rate. Four months ago, Unicef reported that more than 22 per
cent of the country's young children remain chronically malnourished,
confirming yet again how limited this "mitigation" has been.

The failure is not one of internal distribution. During my tenure, more
than 90 per cent of oil-for-food goods distributed by the government
reached their intended destinations. UN reports have consistently confirmed
this success rate -- one beyond expectation, given the chaotic constraints
of disintegrating infrastructure, erratic communications and electrical
power, and arbitrary U.S. "holds" on $5-billion worth of contracts.

Rather, the failure has been a problem of woefully inadequate amounts and
range of goods received. Until May of 2002, the total value of all food,
medicines, education, sanitation, agricultural and infrastructure supplies
that have arrived in Iraq has amounted to $175 per person a year, or less
than 49 cents a day.

This has made postwar reconstruction impossible, and ensured mass
unemployment and continuing deterioration of schools, health centres and
transportation. "Smuggled" oil revenues represent only a small fraction of
oil-for-food funds. Even here, an estimated three-quarters of these funds
have been directed to social services. Above all, it is a problem of
livelihood. What Iraqis need is employment. What Resolution 1409 offers,
instead, is allegedly less paperwork.

Without massive investment to rebuild the war- and embargo-shattered
infrastructure, most Iraqi families cannot earn income to purchase the
civilian goods promised. Like all previous revisions, "smart sanctions"
leave the root cause of their troubles -- strangulation of the civilian
economy -- unaddressed.

Oil revenues continue to be channelled out of the country into a UN escrow
account, unavailable to pay teachers, doctors, garbage collectors or
agricultural services. No foreign loans, no foreign investment, no access
to foreign exchange are permitted. Import of much of the equipment and
tools needed for rebuilding the shattered civilian infrastructure remains
subject to U.S. veto.

In 1999, an expert panel of the Security Council warned that the
humanitarian crisis in Iraq would continue without "sustained revival of
the Iraqi economy." Three years on, several Security Council members still
haggle over import restrictions while the Iraqi people continue to suffer,
and die, for lack of work. Last month, The Economist predicted even further
decline in Iraq's GDP in the coming year under "smart sanctions."

Reports of stores full of new merchandise only serve to mask the continuing
poverty that is the plight of most Iraqis. "No matter how much you modify
the UN humanitarian program," said Tun Myat, my successor as UN
co-ordinator, "it is not designed for -- and it will never be -- a
substitute for normal economic activity. . . . The markets are quite full
of things; the problem is whether or not there are people who have the
purchasing power to buy them."

Smart sanctions policy ignores these realities. Worse, it serves to
distract from the critical disarmament issues at hand.

Arms inspectors must return to Iraq. The international community must be
satisfied that weapons of mass destruction no longer exist. But as long as
an ambiguous framework for inspections remains in place, any incentive for
compliance is undermined.

The refusal of individual Security Council members to recognize incremental
progress in disarmament by Iraq in the pre-1998 period constituted a
fundamental mistake of historic proportions. Scott Ritter, a former U.S.
inspector known for his thoroughness, has said that Iraq was already
qualitatively disarmed when UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn at the
request of the U.S. in 1998.

An unambiguous framework for inspections, arms monitoring and definition of
compliance is needed, as an indication that sanctions will not continue in

Dishonesty has not been limited to the Iraqi government. Some U.S.
inspectors doubled as spies; this was not conducive to creating the kind of
trust essential to resolving the current weapons inspection impasse. The
Secretary- General must be in a position to guarantee no further misuse of
UN weapons inspections.

Can the West ever trust Saddam Hussein again? Unquestionably, Iraq needs a
government that will lead the country back to normal relations with the
world. But the people of Iraq will suffer more if this change is violent
and uncontrolled. CIA or military intervention is unlikely to bring
democracy, and will only increase fear and suspicion within the Iraqi
government -- and trigger further internal repression.

A much more constructive solution would be to lift the economic sanctions
that have impoverished society, decimated the Iraqi middle class and
eliminated any possibility for the emergence of alternative leadership.
Political change would not happen overnight. But then again, 12 years of
sanctions have only strengthened the current regime.

Credible opposition groups outside Iraq have called for delinking economic
and military sanctions.

At the March Arab summit in Beirut, all 22 Arab governments (including
Kuwait) called for the same. If the economic embargo on Iraq is not in
their interest, then in whose interest is it?

"Smart sanctions" only reaffirm the position of Iraqi women and children as
bargaining tools in the continuing dispute between Washington and Baghdad.
It is time to dispense with the mirage of mitigation and allow Iraq to
again become a better place for the men, women and children who have
suffered so grievously under sanctions. The Security Council and the Iraqi
government bear the obligation to create the conditions that make this

Hans von Sponeck is a former UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq.

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