The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
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[ Converted text/html to text/plain ] Below you should find an exchange of emails between John Sweeney and myself regarding his BBC programme. The whole correspondence is enclosed, apart from the first email that I sent him, which I didn't keep a copy of. That message was sent to him in reaction to the second message that Sweeney wrote to MediaLens. In that initial message I just expressed dismay at his rejection of very credible sources such as Halliday and von Sponeck, even though ordinary Iraqis, such as both my parents rely on these for their information. As I'm sure you'll appreciate from the exchange below, Sweeney very successfully managed to demonstrate just how shallow his knowledge of the sanctions programme actually is. He is also very uncertain as to why it is that he objects to certain pieces of information. Zaid Al-Ali email@example.com London United Kingdom _______________________________________ From: firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Friday, June 28, 2002 8:39 PM To: email@example.com Subject: your response Whose facts? Do you believe the word of the government of Iraq? Do you believe the UN - when it depends on the word of the government of Iraq? Remember, no-one is free to speak in Saddam's Iraq, lest they or their children be tortured. Or do you believe ordinary Iraqis when they are free to speak. How come Saddam sold $12 billion of oil last year - according to OPEC - and yet can't buy pipes for drains and water and medicines which are not blocked by the embargo? I report what ordinary - and extraordinary Iraqis - say about their own country in the one part of Iraq where they are free to speak. But don't believe me. Go to Iraq: both Baghdad and Halabja. And in Baghdad, don't forget to count the palaces built since the Gulf War. JS From: zaid al-ali [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Saturday, June 29, 2002 6:54 PM To: email@example.com Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: RE: your response Mr Sweeney: Thank you for your response, which was clearly a copy-paste that you have probably sent to a large number of people. I wonder whether you read my initial message to you. In it, I made reference to my parents, both of whom are Iraqi, and both of whom are ordinary Iraqis who rely on the UN, as well as Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, for information about the global status of their country. They rely on them because otherwise they would have no information apart from that provided by the Iraqi government, which no one believes (contrary to what you suggest), and information about isolated areas, which is pointless. The second paragraph of your response is rather incredible. You constantly make reference to the $12bn figure. First of all you ignore that almost a third of that figure is gobbled up by the United Nations in order to pay for administrative costs as well as war reparations. Second, surely you realise, you must realise, that when what is left is split up amongst the entire population of Iraq, it amounts to less than a dollar per person per day, and this is supposed to cover ALL expenses, including food, medicine, pipe lines, etc. Finally, you surely also realise that it is not up to the government of Iraq to spend the money on what it wants. It has been repeated to you on several occasions that no money from oil sales actually goes through the Iraqi government's hands. All the funds are kept in a bank account in New York until the UN decides how to spend that money - thus if the sewage system has not been repaired since 1991, it is as a result of the incredible bureaucratic debacle that is set up in the UN. Why do you continually repeat falsehoods and try to pass them off as the truth? Zaid Al-Ali email@example.com London United Kingdom From: John Sweeney To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" Subject: RE: your response Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 19:02:38 +0100 Zaid, A personal reply for you. The $12 billion a year in oil sales is an Iraqi figure on the OPEC website. To move that amount of oil requires a lot of pipework. How can the regime do that, if it doesn't have lots of pipes? And if it does, why can't it spend some of that money on pipework for drains and sewers? Why are children dying in the huge numbers claimed if Saddam has the money to build new palaces? Why is Saddam not ordering the medicines for his own people, given the money that's available and the UN isn't blocking any medicines? Do you believe that the regime is faking the mass baby funerals? If not, why not? Do you believe Saddam tortures children? If it does, is it that surprising it is also torturing its own child mortality figures? John From: zaid al-ali [SMTP:email@example.com] Sent: Saturday, June 29, 2002 8:07 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: email@example.com Subject: RE: your response John: Thanks very much for your response which I rather do appreciate. I shall respond to some of your questions in point form. 1. Your first question implies that what is required in order to improve Iraq's oil industry is the same material that is required in order to repair its water purification plants ("pipes"). Surely you realise that Iraqis do not drink oil. It is not pipes that Iraq requires in order to deliver clean water to its citizens, but complex facilities that were blown up during the Gulf War and which it has not been able to repair since then. The reason why it has been able to repair its oil industry is because it was allowed to by the members of the UN Security Council. Indeed, under the Oil-for-Food programme, Iraq is allowed to sell oil, and with the proceeds is allowed to buy those items that it is allowed to buy by the United Nations. What it does is submit requests to a special committee within the UN for specific material. For years it was not allowed to purchase anything at all in order to repair its oil industry. This lead to a situation where its entire export industry was about to collapse. Kofi Annan was forced to intervene. He pleaded with the members of the special committee to allow Iraq to purchase the material it needed in order to improve the state of its pipelines. In the end, the committee conceded. This is the sort of thing that the Iraqi government has to go through each time it wishes to purchase material aside from basic items. Usually what happens is that contracts are simply blocked by the committee: "The executive director of the UN's Iraq programme, Benon Sevan, said there had recently been an unprecedented surge in the number of blocked contracts amounting to more than $5bn. "[Western diplomats] say that in the past year Iraq has asked for supplies to help rehabilitate water sanitation and electricity generating plants. "The US has requested more detailed information about exactly what these supplies will be used for and this has delayed the process of allowing the contracts to be completed." (From the BBC) I hope that the above will make you realise that the situation is rather more complicated than you make out. 2. You ask why it is that Saddam Hussein does not order medicine if it is permitted for him to do so. The answer is that the Iraqi government does order medicines, but that the same difficulties mentioned above apply. 3. I would say that it is certainly very possible that there have been fake funerals, that children have been tortured etc. But it is a total non sequitur to believe that this necessarily means that the embargo does not cause the suffering that UNICEF and other such organisations believe that it causes. It does not follow that suffering through sanctions and suffering through political oppression cannot coexist. And just because it is theoretically possible that Saddam Hussein's government plays with the figures does not change anything because no one has ever considered relying on them or taking them at all seriously apart from yourself. It is well known that their figures are roughly two times higher than UNICEF's, but everyone relies on organisations such as UNICEF. The Iraqi government can say what it wants and you can focus on what it claims for as long as you want. However, if you wish to make a proper case against what the cognoscenti believe, please make a serious attempt at challenging serious figures. Best regards, Zaid Al-Ali firstname.lastname@example.org London United Kingdom From: John Sweeney To: "'email@example.com'" Subject: RE: your response Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 20:19:10 +0100 Zaid, I don't find it credible that the oil technology and pipework cannot be used to help improve the public health system. On medicines, none are blocked. So how come there are terrible shortages of medicines in Northern Iraq - and Saddam's Iraq too. Do those shortages apply to Saddam's regime? The Ibn Sina Hospital, for example? There regime trusties, the secret police, the generals have access to everything. UNICEF's figures are based on Iraqi Health Ministry raw data. Have you ever heard of garbage in, garbage out? John From: zaid al-ali [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Saturday, June 29, 2002 9:45 PM To: email@example.com Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: RE: your response John: Thanks for your further reply. I find it very difficult to believe that you don't already know the counter arguments to what you wrote. First, you say that you don't believe that the technology used to pump oil cannot be used to purify water. According to what I understand your background to be, you are not really in a position to know anything about this. I am an attorney by profession and so cannot comment as to the technical aspect of this question either. But you imply that you have some special knowledge about this. Have you consulted any experts? If so, I would be very happy if you could share their insights with the rest of us. If you haven't, then this would be an interesting question to investigate. Prima facie however, I must say that it is rather counter intuitive to believe that the same material can be used in the different industries. In the case of oil, what is required is material to extract it from the ground, and then ship it safely from one place to another. In the case of water, what is required is material to rid it of the impurities that has infected it for years. If the pipes leak, that is not an issue. What is needed is that the water should be clean and this - from what I have been told - is a complicated process. I doubt very much that Thames Water contacts the technicians at BP when they consider how to improve their treatment of water. With respect to the medicines, blocking is not the issue and I apologise if that's what you understood from my previous email. The key here is the $12bn figure. I've already written to you about this, and no doubt many others have as well. When the administrative costs of the UN and the war reparations are taken out of the this figure, what is left is the ENTIRE GDP of Iraq. On the face of it, $12bn (or $9bn which is closer to the net figure) may seem like a large amount of money. But you fail to appreciate that this is what the entire Iraqi population of 23 million have to live off. When all of this money is distributed to the entire population, what is left is less that a dollar a day per person, and this is supposed to cover everything, including food, medicine, pipelines, repairing the infrastructure, etc. There is simply not enough to go around. This is something that Denis Halliday brought to your attention in an interview the other day on the BBC World Service. To give you something to compare it with, while the GDP of Iraq is close to a net figure of about $9bn, the GDP of Belgium, a country with less than half the population of Iraq, is of $259bn. The truth is that $9bn is an incredibly low figure, particularly when you consider that Iraq used to be an industrialised nation. Something else: assuming that each person in Iraq spends one dollar on food a day (which - if true - would be incredibly low), that is $23 million spent on food daily. If this rate of consumption lasts through a whole calendar year, the total annual figure will be $8,4bn. What is left out of the $9bn net figure is $0.6bn. That is what the Iraqi government is left with to spend on medicines, repairs to its oil industry, general infrastructure, etc. Do you see the problem here? Considering the above, why are you so surprised that there should be shortages of medicine? Next, you mention the Ibn Sina hospital. I cannot believe that you are seriously trying to make the point that because the Iraqi elite has access to medicine, that there should be enough for everyone. Surely you realise that the Iraqi elite represents no more than perhaps a few thousand people at most. Whatever it is that they are privy to can never be enough for 23 million. Also, note that during the Second World War, the British people were subject to a ration based system for much of their necessities. The same was true in the United States. However, the ruling class of both countries ate well and had everything at their disposal. Criminal, isn't it? Finally, your point about the UNICEF analysis ("garbage in, garbage out") is totally inappropriate. First, you are very wrong when you imply that all UNICEF did was the publish Iraqi government figures. It should be obvious that this is wrong, first because the respective figures of these two bodies are wholly different. This being the case, it is obvious that the Iraqi government figures were not accepted at face value, and that they were subjected to scrutiny. Did you try to determine what the process was? Second, your dismissal of their information assumes that the employees at UNICEF are stupid and that you are more intelligent than they are. You imply that while they were duped by the Iraqi government, you are much more savvy. What puts you in a position to be sure of yourself? Everyone in the world knows that the Iraqi government cannot be trusted. Why should it be the case that UNICEF, of all people, should be so stupid and naive? Best regards, Zaid Al-Ali email@example.com London United Kingdom From: John Sweeney To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" Subject: RE: your response Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 11:47:42 +0100 A pipe carries liquid. If Iraq can move oil, it can move clean water. On UNICEF - the charge is made by ordinary Iraqis in Northern Iraq who know them to have been conned. But, personally, I am not a great admirer of the UN in Iraq. They seem to believe that there are lots of medicines available - something that is palpably untrue. JS From: zaid al-ali [SMTP:email@example.com] Sent: Sunday, June 30, 2002 4:55 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: email@example.com Subject: RE: your response John: Your last email to me cannot be serious. Surely you known that water must be PURIFIED before it can be consumed. Surely you know that because of the breakdown of its infrastructure, around 500,000 tonnes of raw sewage are being dumped daily into Iraq's water supplies. Surely you realise that if anyone drinks that water, he or she will catch some awful disease. I am not the first person to mention this to you. I am sure that you will want to write back and say that although it may be true that some of Iraq's water is contaminated, some of it is not, and so therefore it must be possible to provide everyone with clean water through oil pipe lines. The answer to that point is equally straightforward: there is not enough water for everyone. If the Iraqi government tried to provide everyone in the country with pure water on a daily basis, the entire water supply of the country would dry up very quickly, therefore creating a problem more dramatic than the one that exists today. Next, your claim about what UNICEF believes is - at best - contradictory hearsay. Hearsay, because I have not heard it from them directly and so have no reason to believe that what you claim they believe to be true. Contradictory, because what you claim they believe contradicts what they regularly publish on their website. You now claim that the reason why you personally have a problem with UNICEF is because they "seem to believe that there are lots of medicines available." This contradicts the statements that you made during your television and radio appearances over the past few days, when you were focusing on your suggestion that UNICEF just published Iraqi government raw data. This new claim assumes that you are right that they believe that there are lots of medicines available, something which I am not prepared to accept until I have seen them say it themselves. Your qualms with UNICEF appear less and less convincing all the time. I would also have to question the reliability of your sources in Northern Iraq. Who are they? Ali, a chap who you met who gets his information from cab drivers? How does he know that UNICEF has been conned? I would be very interested in hearing more about this, not only because it is a central issue in the claims that you make, but also because - if it is true - I would like to be absolutely sure. This is such an important issue, that it would have been wise for you to spend your entire time in Iraq investigating this. Finally, your method in responding to my emails is very consistent. You seize upon those things which you believe you can challenge, and you ignore the rest. You have not addressed the majority of the things which I have raised in my previous messages to you, including the causes of the shortages of medicine, as well as the fact that many ordinary Iraqis - including my parents and many of their friends - rely on the sources that you so easily refer to as "garbage." I suspect that the reason why you do not address these points any further is either because you have never considered them before, or because you realise that they cannot be challenged and that to dwell on them any further would not serve your purpose. If I am wrong however, I would be very pleased if you could spend some more time explaining how you think it is possible for the Iraqi government to purchase food and medicine for 23 million people with just $9bn of disposable income, and then to have money left over for everything else, such as the upkeep of its infrastructure, etc. I would also like to know in detail why it is that you think that UNICEF has been conned. This will require a great deal of detailed analysis. Best regards, Zaid Al-Ali firstname.lastname@example.org London United Kingdom From: John Sweeney To: "'email@example.com'" Subject: RE: your response Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 19:06:46 +0100 No - if you can have and afford pipelines to move huge amounts of oil, you can have and afford pipework for clean water and drains. >From : "zaid al-ali" <firstname.lastname@example.org Reply-To : email@example.com To : firstname.lastname@example.org CC : email@example.com Subject : RE: your response Date : Sun, 30 Jun 2002 21:00:55 +0100 John: How tragic it is when the answers to your arguments are actually contained in the previous messages that I have already sent you. If this means that you don't read them for lack of time, then I suppose that is understandable. If however it means that you are simply ignoring everything that you cannot argue against, then that would be more problematic. First, what makes you think that the Iraqi government is permitted to reconstruct its water purification plants (which do not consist solely of pipes and drains, contrary to what you keep suggesting)? I pasted the following quote from a BBC report in a previous message to you: "The executive director of the UN's Iraq programme, Benon Sevan, said there had recently been an unprecedented surge in the number of blocked contracts amounting to more than $5bn. "[Western diplomats] say that in the past year Iraq has asked for supplies to help rehabilitate water sanitation and electricity generating plants. "The US has requested more detailed information about exactly what these supplies will be used for and this has delayed the process of allowing the contracts to be completed." It is routine for the special committee responsible for the approval of contracts under the oil-for-food programme to deny all applications by the Iraqi government. This has been well documented. What makes you so sure that it has approved the contracts mentioned in the above quote? Do you have some additional information about this? Second, once again what you say does not follow. It is simply not true that if "if you can have and afford pipelines to move huge amounts of oil, you can have and afford pipework for clean water and drains." Have you ever considered that there is not enough money to go around? The Iraqi government has a very limited amount of disposable income (roughly $9bn). There are certain things which it absolutely must purchase on a yearly basis with that money. Let's do some math again: - $1 dollar a day for food per person, for 23 million people, over 365 days, amounts to $8,4bn a year. If we subtract that from the $9bn that the Iraqi government has as disposable income, that leaves $400 million for everything else, including medicine and infrastructure. - It is of course obligatory that the Iraqi government invest some of the remaining $400 million in its oil industry, otherwise the whole programme would collapse and the Iraqi people would all starve. The lowest estimate of what the Iraqi government currently invests in its oil industry is $100 million a year - and this is only in order to make sure that oil production does not fall below current levels. - That leaves at most $300 million for everything else, including medicine. If we were to assume that that entire amount were spent on medicine, that would amount to $13 a person PER YEAR. If the Iraqi government decided to seriously invest in a water programme, then there would be no - or very little - money available for medicines, which would mean that a huge amount of people would die of preventable diseases (which of course is happening already because $13 per year per person is too low by any means). And of course, if it decided to undergo a water programme, then it would have to regularly invest in order to upkeep it. This would mean less money for medicine, or food, or oil, or something which is absolutely necessary, on a yearly basis. That would simply mean more poverty and more death. Do you see the problem here? Have you ever considered any of this? Judging from the amount of times you spoke of the $12bn figure as if it was a lot of money, I am inclined to believe that you have no appreciation of how much money it takes to run a country of 23 million. The point that I am trying to make - and I shall write this in capitals so that you cannot miss it - is that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO MAKE A COUNTRY OF 23 MILLION FUNCTION PROPERLY. The sanctions - as a result of their very design - cannot function without causing extreme hardship to the civilian population of the country. Any suggestion to the contrary is not supported by the facts, and this can be appreciated by a very basic analytical exercise such as the one above. I would also like to point out that you are yet to explain to me why it is that you are so surprised that there should be a shortage of medicines in Iraq, how it is that Ali - or any of your other sources - can properly conclude that UNICEF is wrong, where it is that you got your information that UNICEF believes that there is enough medicine for everyone in Iraq, how it is that you can rubbish Denis Halliday, the UN, etc so easily when so many Iraqis (including my parents) rely on them for their information, etc. Best regards, Zaid Al-Ali firstname.lastname@example.org London United Kingdom Reply-To: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org CC: email@example.com Subject: RE: your response Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 21:00:55 +0100 John: I take it that you are not going to respond to the final message that I sent you last week. I understand - I'm sure you're busy working on other projects. I should just point out however that you have totally failed to convince me of your case, and that the more I heard you speak about this matter, and the more you wrote about it, the more apparent it became how superficial your knowledge about it really is. If you are interested in discussing this, please don't hesitate to let me know. Best of luck, Zaid Al-Ali firstname.lastname@example.org London United Kingdom ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com. ===References:=== 1. mailto:email@example.com 2. http://g.msn.com/1HM505301/43 _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk