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Re: [casi] New US report on Iraq: "Apparatus of lies"

Dear all,

As Glen wrote on Wednesday, the White House 'Office for Global
Communications' has issued a report on entitled 'Apparatus of Lies:
Saddam's Disinformation and Propaganda 1990-2003'
[]  The report covers a
variety of issues, ranging from the Amiriyah bunker-shelter to depleted
uranium.  In one of the subsections, entitled 'Exploiting Suffering' it
also makes brief comments on the issue of sanctions, of which this email is
a commentary and analysis.  I apologise if this mainly covers familiar
ground.  It is saddening that a report like this could be written after
year's of argument about sanctions, but it nonetheless seems important to
remind ourselves of our responsibility for the wellbeing of the Iraqi

On sanctions, the report follows a familiar course of argument.

"the Iraqi government makes food and medicine scarce for average citizens.
It then shifts the blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people from
Saddam's policies to the United Nations, which established the sanctions."

The claim is that
a) well-documented human rights abuses of the Government of Iraq (GoI);
b) the GoI's choice to prioritise its own wellbeing over that of its
c) evidence that the GoI has made implausible and unverifiable statements
about hardship in Iraq, constitute evidence that:
i) hardship in Iraq is not severe and
ii) such are there is, is attributable not to sanctions, but to the
policies of the GoI.

This is a perturbing document. While claiming to be about Iraqi
disinformation, it fails itself to make use of such independent and
high-quality information as there is about the humanitarian situation in
Iraq.  Meanwhile, some its statements are inaccurate, resulting either from
very poor research or deliberate misstatements of the situation.
        There can be no doubt that much hardship in Iraq is caused by the Iraqi
government.  Political oppression and human rights abuses have been
chronicled by Amnesty International, Human Rights, Watch, and the UN
itself; the OGC report gives further examples.  However, the OGC proceeds
from this observation to make the false syllogism that because the Iraqi
people suffers, and much suffering in Iraq is caused by the Iraqi
government, no suffering is caused by sanctions.
        This refusal to acknowledge that the international community has any
responsibility for the impact of its policies on the people of Iraq is
perhaps the most worrying tendency of the report.  It makes the false claim
that food imports were allowed into Iraq from the day sanctions were
imposed , while the truth is that it took six months before this was
agreed.  It is more concerned to establish that 'Saddam lies' about issues
such as nutrition and child mortality instead of examining the best
available evidence; this is despite the far-reaching implication this
information has for the justice of continued sanctions.  It makes
unsubstantiated claims that a different distribution of supplies imported
under 'Oil-for-Food' (OFF) would suffice to lift Iraqis out of poverty, and
makes false assertions about Iraqi government diversion of OFF supplies.
        The Iraqi people is thus caught in a political conflict over which they
have no influence, and in which neither party demonstrates much concern for
their wellbeing.  Their own government has priorities which it apparently
considers more important than actions that would result in sanctions'
lifting, while the international community denies any responsibility for
the consequences of its attempts to coerce the Iraqi government.
        This refusal not only puts into question the current rhetoric of
'liberation' of the Iraqi people.  It also have grave consequences of for
the reform of sanctions. Significantly, the OGC report makes no mention of
the role of Iraqi income and the state of the infrastructure, notably
water, electricity, and sanitation.  This is despite the fact that Unicef,
the FAO, and other UN agencies as well as NGOs have identified these as key
constraints on the wellbeing of ordinary Iraqis.  Without a diagnosis of
the way sanctions hurt Iraq, reform will not be based on humanitarian needs
but on political convenience.  This appears to have been the mechanism
behind last year's shift towards 'smart sanctions', which essentially
constitutes a reform of import procedures.

Below follows an analysis of some of the issues raised in the OGC report;
much of it is only loosely referenced, as email does not lend itself well
to this.


The OGC report to argue that there is no suffering in Iraq has been

"According to the UN, under the Oil-for-Food Program the daily food  ration
in Iraq rose from about 1,200 kilocalories per day in 1996  to over 2,200
kilocalories per day in August 2002 ... Iraq therefore implausibly claims
that child mortality soared while the average caloric intake for Iraqis
increased by 80 percent, and while medical supplies were becoming more

This is a poor discussion of data. Firstly, 1,200 kilocalories did not
constitute the total caloric intake of an average Iraqi prior to 1996; this
would have resulted in widespread famine.   The UN has investigated the
issue, and found that "[t]he effective nation-wide rationing system set up
by the Government of Iraq in 1991 prevented famine [FAO 2000, p vii], The
most reliable figure available  also an independent (UN) estimate, is of c.
2,250 kcal/person/day in the period 1991-1996 [FAO 2000, p. 2].  As of
2000, there was little incidence of adult under-nutrition in Iraq (although
malnutrition persisted to some extent) [FAO 2000 p 23]
        Food availability is thus no longer a major feature of the humanitarian
crisis in Iraq.  It is therefore unfortunate that this is the main focus of
the OGC report's discussion of sanctions; it means that its conclusions can
be very limited.
        The other component discussed in the report is that of excess mortality:

 "Iraq claims that 1.7 million children, including 700,000 under the age of
five, out of a total national population of 22 million people, have died
because of sanctions. According to an Iraqi government website, after the
Oil-for-Food Program was instituted the number of children who died before
the age of five jumped 50 percent from 1996 to 2001"

As the report correctly argues, the GoI has a clearly identifiable
incentive to overstate such figures.  Any serious discussion of sanctions
and their impact would therefore do better in not relying on them, and
proceed to use the best available, independent information.
Like food availability and nutritional intake, the issues of child
mortality and nutrition have been rigorously investigated by the UN itself.
In 1999, Unicef surveyed 40,000 Iraqi households to determine the extent to
which infant and under-five child mortality had changed since sanctions'
imposition. They observed a sharp break with the long-term trend of
improvement, concluding that an additional half million children under the
age of five had died between 1991 and 1998.  Subsequent reports indicate
that 'Oil-for-Food' has been able to stem some deterioration, but unable
bring about much improvement. In the fifth year of 'Oil-for-Food', the UN
Food and Agriculture Organisation surveys concluded that child malnutrition
"remains unacceptably high ... since the six-monthly surveys began in 1997
it appears that there has been little further improvement except for
chronic malnutrition ... still, at least about 800,000 children under the
age of five are chronically malnourished"[FAO 2000 p. 17]. These findings
"corroborate ... the findings of the 1999 Mortality Survey supported by
UNICEF that found more than a two-fold increase in infant and child
mortality since the end of the 1980s"[FAO 2000 p. 21].  The coexistence of
food availability and child mortality is no contradiction: "malnutrition,
especially child malnutrition, is often caused by factors other than those
related to food", notably "disease and unsafe water", overcrowding,
poverty, and the lack of education [FAO 2000 p. 34].
        For someone genuinely concerned to assess the humanitarian impact of
United Nations policy towards Iraq, there is no shortage of independent
information.  Confining the discussion, as the OGC report does, to the
problems with Iraqi government data contributed very little to this.  At
most, it can demonstrate that the Iraqi government gives inaccurate
information.  Neither by logic nor by an evaluation of evidence does it
follow that sanctions have not impoverished and caused hardship in Iraq.


The OGC report also discusses the causes of hardship in Iraq.  Its argument
is that it is solely attributable to distribution, and that the GoI is
'blaming sanctions for regime failure'.

"The Iraqi regime has diverted to its weapons program or to luxuries for
the regime's elites many millions of dollars that were intended for food,
medicines, and other necessities."

Insofar as this is a claim about the adequacy of the 'Oil-for-Food',
however, this is incorrect.  The one example of diversion of 'Oil-for-Food'
resources given in the report is poorly researched:

"Infant formula sold to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food Program has been found
in markets throughout the Gulf, presumably exported by the regime to
circumvent the sanctions."

The reference given is to the wrong page of a 1999 State Department report
about Iraq []. This
report in turn refers to an incident of a shipment of what turned out to be
talcum powder, not baby milk [see, for example, or].  As a crowning irony of
this issue, it would probably be of benefit to Iraqi infants if the GoI
ceased to provide infant formula in the 'Oil-for-Food' rations: as happens
in many other developing countries, its use undermines breast feeding and,
in the absence of clean water, is a health hazard for infants.
        None of this, however, is particularly relevant in assessing in how far
the impact of sanctions could have been successfully mitigated by the
'Oil-for-Food' programme had the Iraqi government behaved differently.  The
question is whether diversion has taken place to the extent that what could
have been adequate in alleviating Iraqi poverty and deprivation has been
rendered ineffective.  Turning to the UN sources, there is no evidence for
this.  The UN monitors the end-use of all supplies entering Iraq under OFF
through its Multidisciplinary Observation Unit, and the Executive Director
of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme has stated:

"We have the capacity and the necessary monitoring and observation
mechanisms in place to monitor oil spare parts and humanitarian  supplies
arriving in Iraq to provide the assurances to the Council  and its
Committee that supplies arriving in Iraq under the  programme are indeed
being utilized for authorized  purposes."
[ html]

The absence of substantial humanitarian improvement under OFF has many
causes.  Some surely involve Iraqi government negligence, incompetence, or
inability; much is attributable to the structural inadequacy of a
commodity-import programme in substituting for normal economic activity and
markets.  However, there is no evidence that the diversion of supplies by
the GoI occurs to an extent that significantly affects the humanitarian


Another claim of the OGC report is that the problem in Iraqi is not one of
overall inadequacy of resources and income, but of distribution of existing
resources.  This is repeated numerous times in the report:

"While devoting massive resources to opulent palaces and huge weapons
programs, the Iraqi government makes food and medicine scarce for average

"while many Iraqi citizens face near starvation, Saddam Hussein continues
to use oil wealth to build castles and weapons. All the while, the regime
falsely blames the plight of the Iraqi people on UN sanctions."

Undeniably, the Iraqi government's spending priorities do not perfectly
reflect the preferences and needs of the population: Iraqi children would
be better off if resources went towards the building of schools instead of
'palaces' or Olympic stadiums (as was included in one of last year's OFF
distribution plans).  Unfortunately, this does not point to an easy cure to
Iraqi poverty, and it does not explain why, as the report puts it, 'many
Iraqi citizens face near starvation' now when they did not do so under the
same regime but without sanctions.

Meanwhile, it is very hard to evaluate statements such as:

"Even after the [Oil-for-Food] program was in place, the regime continued
to deprive its citizens of the food and medical commodities that the
international community wanted to supply."

It is not made clear to what this claim refers.  The obstacles to the
effective implementation of OFF were long the inadequacy of resources,
owing to a UN-imposed cap on oil exports.  Even after this cap was removed
entirely in 1999 (by SCR 1284),  years of underinvestment and damage to oil
infrastructure prevented Iraq from increasing oil exports [See]
With estimates of lost oil revenue around $150bn [this is the Economist's
estimate], no amount of redistribution could have compensated for the drop
in income occasioned by sanctions.  This is true without taking into
account issues such as the combined effects of war and sanctions on
degrading infrastructure; the undermining of local economic activity by
free imports; and years of inadequate training and education under
sanctions.  Wasteful consumption by small elites in the midst of widespread
poverty might be distasteful, but when underlying total income is
insufficient, redistribution is no cure of poverty.


Sanctions have  been in place for 12 years, and much hardship would have
been avoided had they been lifted a long time ago:

"In a total of 29 separate resolutions, the UN Security Council has stated
clearly its reason for imposing sanctions: to force Iraq to comply with
previous UN resolutions. But Saddam Hussein refuses to comply."

The reasons for this non-compliance are complex.  They surely include both
the fact that the GoI has hoped to see sanctions abolished without
fulfilling disarmament obligations.  Equally, it is likely that repeated US
statements portraying sanctions as part of a policy of regime change will
have removed much incentive for compliance [see for
In addition, however, Iraqi failure to comply is in fact explained in the
OGC report itself:

"In 2000, Forbes magazine estimated Saddam Hussein's personal  wealth at $7
billion, acquired primarily from oil and smuggling." [p 14]

"High-ranking regime loyalists receive the most expensive medical  care ...
while basic medicines are in  short supply for the Iraqi people"

As these and other statements makes clear, the elite appears to have
succeeded to a large extent in insulating itself from the dramatic decline
in living conditions experienced by ordinary Iraqis since 1990.
Unfortunately, it is these 'high-ranking regime' loyalists, not the Iraqi
people, who decide on Iraqi policy.  This is a major reason why coercion by
economic sanctions has been unsuccessful in Iraq.  With hardship confined
to those without influence over GoI decisions - ordinary people - the
regime's incentive for compliance with the UN's demands has been relatively
weak.  As long as the regime prioritises its freedom of action and survival
over the wellbeing of the Iraqi people, the link between coercion through
sanctions and compliance will be weak.

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