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[casi] The promotion of David Cortright

The upcoming Iraq Forum in Washington D.C. organized by EPIC (Education for
Peace in Iraq Center) lists among a panel of "experts" David Cortright,
President of the Fourth Freedom Forum. In his December 3, 2001 article in the
liberal magazine The Nation Cortright clearly presented his views as an
advocate for UN weapons inspections and continued sanctions on Iraq. He
attempted to discredit the statistical methodology that assert hundreds of
thousands Iraqi died as a result of UN sanctions. This provoked a series of
excellent responses and denunciations from a broad array of antisanctions
spokespeople in the US and abroad. These were published along with his
response in the January 21, 02 edition of the magazine. (see attached file).
Why is this scoundrel promoted as an authority on "Iraq's political history,
weapons programs, and public health crisis?"

Cortright promotes the UN Security Council hoax that sanctions will be lifted
after Iraq attains the ever-elusive "final round of weapons inspections." But
at the same time he advocates a permanent foreign monitoring and import
control regime for Iraq. These views of course are certainly not unique
within the spectrum of current US imperial politics. What distinguishes
Cortright is that his argument is directed specifically to peace activists
and human rights supporters, of which he claims affinity. He the headed the
liberal US disarmament group SANE from 1977-1987.

"It is also important, peace and human rights groups surely would agree, to
maintain military sanctions until Iraq complies fully with the UN disarmament
mandate and permits a final round of weapons inspection." (The Nation,

You have to wonder how the politics of these "peace and human rights groups"
envisioned by Mr. Cortright differ from the US State Department? 'Iraq must
comply with the UN disarmament mandate. Iraq must let the UN inspector's back
in.' This has a familiar ring doesn't it? For the record, Campaign to End the
Sanctions is one peace and human rights group that surely does NOT agree with
Cortright's prescription.

Cortright encourages us to imagine the UN weapons inspections program as part
of an overarching progressive legacy pointing the way to a more peaceful
world. Amidst the generally dismal international armaments picture, Cortright
sees a significant exception in the UN disarmament program in Iraq. For this
moral philosopher the nightmare of the twelve-year siege of Iraq provides
something of value worth saving. He goes so far as to chillingly propose Iraq
as a model for future disarmament efforts.

"The UN disarmament mandate, accepted by Iraq in 1991, is a legitimate and
important step toward strengthening international norms against the
development and use of weapons of mass destruction. It has reinforced the
trend toward more intrusive on-site inspections, which are necessary to
guarantee disarmament. To abandon this mandate, especially after so much
progress toward Iraqi disarmament was achieved during the 1990s,would be a
setback to global nonproliferation efforts."


"The fact that disarmament ultimately must be global is not a reason for
discounting progress in particular countries or regions."  (The Nation,

According to this logic human rights supporters and pacifists should support
weapons inspection and the continuation of the UN siege war so as not to
suffer a "setback to global nonproliferation efforts." All these years we
have been blinded to the progress in international arms reduction that has
been going on right before our eyes! We can now applaud the efforts of our
Democratic and Republican politicians for their farsighted and steadfast
support of this progressive eleven-year disarmament effort in Iraq as a
significant contribution to world peace. We can only wonder when these
"humanitarians" and "pacifists" will get around to explaining this
astonishing vision to the Iraqi people. They would have to explain to the
Iraqis that in the US they lacked political clout to challenge the their own
war machine and weapons of mass destruction. But given the opportunity for a
concrete arms reduction program abroad, they rose to make their ideals a
reality. In the interest of world peace, they wholeheartedly support the
murderous UN arms reduction program against Iraq.

National-chauvinist pacifists like Cortright share an extensive historical
continuity. They are characterized by their lofty ideals of "nonviolence"
allied with the military superiority of their own nation state. They are
patriotic pacifists. For these hypocrites the road to peace lays through the
successful disarmament of their nation's military opponent. A peaceful Middle
East lies not through the wresting the means of war from the belligerent
imperial powers in Washington and London, but through supporting efforts of
disarming, sanctioning, and stealing the oil of Iraq.

The State Department pacifism of David Cortright & Co. is a poisonous fraud.
For an educational forum, claiming solidarity with the people of Iraq, to
promote Cortright's reactionary views is an outrage.

Kitty Bryant and Bob Allen
Campaign to End the Sanctions
Philadelphia PA

The Nation
EXCHANGE | January 21, 2002

Killing Sanctions in Iraq

New Haven, Conn.
David Cortright's "A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions" [Dec. 3] was a slick
attempt to defend a ten-year war against innocent civilians. Cortright
charges that the number of dead is commonly overestimated by critics of
sanctions, usually alleged to be a million. He claims the most reliable
studies estimate that the number of Iraqi children under 5 who died is
actually 350,000. Curiously, he makes no attempt to estimate the number
of children over 5 who perished, or the elderly who died of malnutrition
or the sick adults finished off by lack of medicine. If Cortright is
correct and critics (who base their figures on UN and NGO studies) are
wrong, that's wonderful news indeed. Hundreds of thousands presumed dead
are still alive. But why is he doing The James Rubin, figuring out every
which way to blame the Iraqis for what is being done to them?
He says the sanctions would have ended if Iraq had been more
accommodating to the arms inspectors. Rubbish. Presidents Bush and
Clinton both swore the sanctions would not end until Saddam Hussein was
removed from power. Cortright also faults Iraq for not agreeing to "oil
for food" sooner. I'm no defender of the tyrant and war criminal Saddam,
but it was a hard call. Any Iraqi leader would try to protect oil, the
country's only natural resource. Has Iraq been treated fairly in the
five years since "oil for food"? $44 billion in oil has been sold, but
only $13.3 billion worth of goods has been delivered to the Iraqi
Quoting a figure of $10 billion in oil revenue for the last half of
2000, Cortright claims that "Baghdad has more than sufficient money to
address continuing humanitarian needs." That's a downright falsehood.
Iraq doesn't get a dime. All the money for the oil sales goes into a
UN-controlled account in New York. Iraq arranges contracts for goods,
but it gets only the goods that the United States allows to be imported.
The $13.3 billion is for five years, less than $3 billion a year.
Compare that to 1989, before sanctions, when Iraq's imports were $11
billion for that year alone.
The lowering of the death rate in the Kurdish areas is Cortright's final
charge. He admits that northern Iraq is favored in aid and resources,
but omits the fact that oil and other goods are smuggled back and forth
to Turkey with a knowing wink by the sanctions authorities. He also
fails to mention that the damage to infrastructure by UN bombing in 1991
was far less in the Kurdish north. In 1999 when Unicef did the study
that showed differing mortality rates north and south, it explicitly
refused to blame Iraqi officials for those differences.
Cortright charges mismanagement by Iraq while he is silent about US
policy that uses the very importing of goods to Iraq to further torture
the people. Jesuit priest G. Simon Harak, a frequent visitor to Iraq,
described how insulin would be allowed in, but syringes would be banned.
Iraq would have to use precious resources to refrigerate the medicine in
hopes it could someday be used. This mismatching has gone on for years.
It's deliberate.
Cortright praises the "smart sanctions" approach that would allow
everything into Iraq except "dual-use items"--anything that could
remotely be of military value. The "dual-use excuse" has been used all
along to deprive Iraq of a range of items: ambulances, chemicals to
purify water, even nitroglycerine tablets.
In December 2001, when at least 350,000 innocent lives have been snuffed
out, when thousands more will be the "collateral damage" of the coming
"war of liberation," the last thing we need in The Nation is a thinly
disguised defense of US Iraq policy.
Middle East Crisis Committee

Cambridge, Mass.
David Cortright is certainly right to argue that "changing American
policy in Iraq is an urgent priority." Whether the actual number of
Iraqi children under 5 who have died is now 350,000 or 500,000, the
numbers are horrifying.
But Cortright's prescription, to improve the so-called smart sanctions,
is misguided. Smart sanctions are about the United States, Britain and
the United Nations shifting blame, not about ending the effects of the
embargo for ordinary Iraqis. After ten years of hearing from Clinton and
Blair & Co. that they "have no quarrel with the Iraqi people" and that
the sanctions are designed to target the regime, not civilians, we are
supposed to believe that the sanctions will now (does this sound
familiar?) target the regime and not the people. But under the proposed
smart sanctions, the United States will be able to use its power in the
UN to block essential goods by citing "dual use" concerns. And the
economy will continue to suffer. Tinkering with sanctions isn't the
solution. Ending them is.
As for disarming Iraq, that can be achieved only in the context of
regional disarmament and US disarmament. It's a bit hard to explain why
Iraq must open its doors to weapons inspectors when the Bush
Administration just told the world that US chemical and biological
weapons facilities can't be inspected by international monitors because
it might compromise "industrial secrets."
Editor, Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

Northampton, Mass.; Amherst, Mass.
Exactly what is David Cortright trying to tell us--and why must The
Nation contribute to the horrifying debate about accurate numbers of
civilian deaths? By focusing narrowly on the number of deaths, Cortright
ignores the overall health and nutritional status of children and
ordinary citizens in Iraq. All surveys since the beginning of the
embargo have essentially told the same story: severe malnutrition in
hospitals, malnourished children and undernourished adults in the towns,
ever-changing food prices, increased mortality and a general breakdown
in the whole fabric of society.
Economic sanctions are designed to produce deprivation and poverty.
Poverty is the key cause of malnutrition on a global basis; poverty
induced by sanctions will function no differently. The world community,
represented by the United Nations, has known about the ongoing
humanitarian crisis in Iraq since the early 1990s. Yet the UN has, under
US and British pressure, enforced this sanctions policy despite
overwhelming evidence that it is responsible for the increased level of
human suffering in that country. Speculation that Saddam Hussein could
end this crisis does not excuse the UN, the United States or Britain
from their international responsibilities for upholding human rights.
Sanctions are purported to be a humane alternative to war. As they
function in Iraq, they are not humane. They are lethal and they target
the already poor and vulnerable.
Northampton Committee to Lift the Sanctions and Stop the Bombing in Iraq

Team leader for four UN Food and Nutrition Missions in Iraq

David Cortright questions the normally accepted numbers of deaths
attributed to the sanctions, specifically those derived from the 1995
study by the Food and Agricultural Organization, which asserted that
sanctions were responsible for the deaths of 567,000 Iraqi children. He
then cites the "two most reliable scientific studies on sanctions in
Iraq" to challenge the FAO study: one by Richard Garfield, and another
by Mohamed Ali and Iqbal Shah in The Lancet. Unfortunately for
Cortright, these two studies contradict each other. The Garfield study
asserts that from 1990 to March 1998, there were 228,000 excess deaths
of children under 5, as opposed to the FAO claim of 567,000. The "Ali
and Shah study," as Cortright titled it--used as evidence of Iraqi
mismanagement--is actually a published account of Unicef's mortality
data, which is the basis for the calculated half-million death toll.
(Ali headed a Unicef team of consultants in Iraq, Shah reviewed the
survey report, and both wrote the Lancet article.) This Unicef report is
entirely independent of the 1995 FAO report.
Cortright is correct in stating that "as we work to change US policy and
relieve the pain of the Iraqi people, it is important that we use
accurate figures.... The more credible we are, the more effective we
will be." Perhaps Cortright should take his own advice.
Author of several articles on the Iraqi sanctions, most recently in the
November Z magazine

Washington, D.C.; New York City
Despite the lack of any serious evidence of Iraqi involvement in the
September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration is continuing to escalate
threats of expanding the "war against terrorism" to Iraq. So David
Cortright's choice of moment to urge the Administration to impose "smart
sanctions" on Iraq has serious consequences. By opening with references
to statements about the deadly impact of the Iraq sanctions made by
Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Cortright adroitly delegitimizes all
other critics of US Iraq policy by linking them to the two most
demonized leaders in the world. Cortright is right that many in
Washington have made their careers arguing that anti-sanctions
campaigners have exaggerated the numbers of deaths; he is wrong in
claiming that this argument is anything more than a pretext for
maintaining a failed and deadly sanctions policy.
The debate over numbers of civilian Iraqis killed by sanctions is a red
herring. If the goal was to discredit the debate over numbers as
horrifyingly irrelevant, Cortright's response should be simple: "We
don't know for sure how many hundreds of thousands of children have been
killed; we do know that even 1,000 is too many. And we know that the
debate is a spurious effort at denial and deflection." But instead,
Cortright contests the most often cited UN numbers in great detail,
attempting to replace them with lower figures asserted in some other
studies. However careful his language, what implication can be drawn
other than the notion that economic sanctions are somehow more
acceptable if "only" 250,000 children, rather than the half-million
whose deaths Madeleine Albright memorably found "worth it," have been
The other significant fallacy is Cortright's claim that a few
incremental amendments to the existing sanctions regime would solve the
humanitarian crisis in Iraq. In fact, the billions of dollars required
to even begin rehabilitating Iraq's shattered infrastructure will be
available only through massive investment in the oil sector. That means
lifting, not just tinkering with, economic sanctions. Because even if
the prohibition on private-sector oil investment was lifted, no oil
company would risk massive outlays knowing that Washington and the
Security Council might change their minds and prevent the repatriation
of profits. The kind of multibillion-dollar outlays needed to rebuild
Iraq's water, electrical, telecommunications, health and other
bombed-out infrastructure will be available only when sanctions are
The only smart thing to do with economic sanctions now is to end
them--not to further discredit those who have been fighting to do just
that (see Bennis and Halliday's full rebuttal at
Institute for Policy Studies
Former UN assistant secretary-general and humanitarian coordinator in
Bennis and Halliday have requested space on our site for the publication
of a longer letter regarding David Cortright's Dec. 3 article. This
follows Cortright's reply, below.

Goshen, Ind.
I'm glad my article has stirred debate about sanctions in Iraq. Such a
debate is especially critical now, as Phyllis Bennis and Denis Halliday
note, because of the increasing danger of a new US war against Iraq.
With my critics, I have long opposed US military attacks and have urged
the lifting of sanctions on civilians. As I said in the article and have
written elsewhere, the United States is primarily responsible for the
catastrophe in Iraq because of its policies of military aggression and
unrelenting sanctions. I have demonstrated and lobbied to change these
policies, and I am actively working now to prevent a new war.
But I also support nuclear disarmament and the elimination of weapons of
mass destruction. I oppose such weapons for the US or any other
government--including Iraq, which used chemical weapons in the 1980s and
was and may still be actively developing nuclear weapons. The UN
disarmament mandate, accepted by Iraq in 1991, is a legitimate and
important step toward strengthening international norms against the
development and use of weapons of mass destruction. It has reinforced
the trend toward more intrusive on-site inspections, which are necessary
to guarantee disarmament. To abandon this mandate, especially after so
much progress toward Iraqi disarmament was achieved during the 1990s,
would be a setback to global nonproliferation efforts.
Acknowledging Iraq's obligation to disarm is also important because the
rationale for US military action, if it comes, is likely to be the
threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. That threat is
unknown right now, because of the end of UN inspections three years ago,
and no doubt has been greatly exaggerated by the war lobby to stir up
fear. But we cannot ignore the possibility of that threat, or the
tremendous hold it has on public opinion. We need to espouse an
alternative policy that contains Iraq's military ambitions but avoids
harm to innocent civilians.
Smart sanctions point in that direction. They would lift all
restrictions on civilian imports. The review of dual-use items (which
the United States has indeed abused) would be limited to a specific
Goods Review List, which the Security Council is now considering. The
only sanctions remaining would be the embargo on military imports. The
continuing arms embargo should then be broadened, as Anthony Arnove
rightly argues, into a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass
destruction, as specified in paragraph 14 of the original Gulf War
cease-fire resolution. The fact that disarmament ultimately must be
global is not a reason for discounting progress in particular countries
or regions.
Paragraph 22 of the cease-fire resolution also requires the Security
Council to lift sanctions once Iraq complies with the UN disarmament
mandate. If Iraq permits UN inspectors to complete their work, all
sanctions must be lifted. Reiterating this obligation is necessary to
provide an inducement for Iraqi cooperation. Without such assurance,
Iraq faces the prospect of unending sanctions and is left with no
recourse but to resist.
In this regard Stanley Heller is right to criticize my overstatement
that sanctions could have been lifted long ago if Iraq had accepted UN
demands. As George Lopez and I noted in The Sanctions Decade, Iraq has
complied with many of the UN's requirements. Instead of responding to
these partial concessions with an easing of pressure, however, the
United States has hijacked UN policy and asserted that sanctions will
remain until Saddam Hussein goes. This regime-change policy is the
single biggest obstacle to the lifting of sanctions. On the other hand,
if the government of Iraq had cooperated with rather than obstructed UN
weapons inspectors, it would have been more difficult for the United
States to justify its policy.
Heller says it is a falsehood that Iraq has the means to meet its
humanitarian needs, but he ignores the quote from Kofi Annan that Iraq
is indeed in a position to address the nutritional and health conditions
of the Iraqi people. More than 70 percent of Iraq's considerable oil
income can be used for the purchase of humanitarian goods. Total oil
revenues in 2000 were approximately $18 billion, of which more than $13
billion was available for civilian imports. This compares favorably with
the $11 billion in total imports in 1989.
Claudia Lefko and Peter Pellet correctly note that the world community
knew early in the 1990s of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. This is
precisely why the Security Council proposed the oil-for-food program in
1991. If Iraq had accepted the plan then rather than five years later,
much suffering could have been avoided.
The Garfield and Ali/Shah studies are complementary, not contradictory
as Jeff Lindemyer asserts. Garfield's recent estimate of 350,000 deaths
is based directly on the Ali/Shah study. The latter was indeed
commissioned by Unicef, but the authors did not publish an estimate of
500,000 deaths.
Bennis and Halliday make the most important point: that whatever the
numbers, they are far too high. No level of preventable death among
children is acceptable. My critics and I differ over the best way to end
this humanitarian nightmare, but we share a common commitment to easing
civilian suffering and preventing a war that would compound and
intensify Iraq's misery. Let us work together toward these urgent

Washington, D.C.; New York City
The Bush Administration's rapidly escalating threats of expanding the
"war against terrorism" to Iraq are pushing the eleven-year-long US-Iraq
sanctions and bombing-based conflict to newly dangerous levels. Despite
the lack of any serious evidence of Iraqi involvement in the September
11 attacks, the exploitation of already wide-spread government and
media-created anti-Iraq sentiment among the American public makes the
possibility of a new US assault a serious danger.
The US war against Iraq, still characterized by crippling economic
sanctions imposed in the name of the United Nations and continual
low-level military strikes, has emerged as the linchpin of the
Administration's debate over the future of foreign policy. That debate
pits the ideologues grouped around Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
Wolfowitz, against the Secretary of State Colin Powell-led pragmatists.
And while Washington policy-makers and pundits ruminate, the UN Security
Council's December 27 compromise on extending the "Oil for Food" program
in Iraq prolongs the still-simmering debate over so-called "smart
sanctions" to replace the current "dumb" sanctions regime in place since
It is in this highly volatile and dangerous context that David Cortright
took to the pages of The Nation to argue for a new "smart sanctions"
regime. He predicates his analysis on the hardly novel idea that peace
and religious groups opposed to sanctions must recognize that "the more
credible we are, the more effective we will be." The problem is,
Cortright's misleading and sometimes disingenuous argument ends up
agreeing with Administration or other critics that the anti-sanctions
case is not credible, and accepting the legitimacy of continuing the US
effort to strangle the Iraqi people, albeit by slightly amended methods.

By opening with Osama bin Laden's statements about the deadly impact of
the Iraq sanctions, and data on loss of life indicated by Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein (and endorsed by the UN and others), Cortright
adroitly delegitimizes all other critics of US Iraq policy by linking
them to the two most US/UK demonized leaders in the world. He is right
in stating that many in Washington have made their careers arguing that
anti-sanctions campaigners have exaggerated the numbers; but he is wrong
in claiming that this argument is anything more than a pretext for
maintaining a failed sanctions policy. If Cortright's goal was to
appropriately discredit the debate over numbers--is it really 567,000
total children or 227,000 children under five killed by sanctions?--as
horrifyingly irrelevant, his statement should have been simple. "We
don't know precisely how many hundreds of thousands of children have
been killed; we do know that even one thousand, let alone a hundred
thousand, and certainly let alone several hundreds of thousands, are way
too many. And the debate is a spurious effort at denial and deflection."
Instead, Cortright contests the often-cited UN numbers in misleading
detail, seeking to legitimize instead lower figures calculated by
private sources. However careful his language, what implication can be
drawn other than that economic sanctions are somehow acceptable if
"only" 250,000 children, rather than the half a million whose deaths
Madeleine Albright memorably deemed "worth it," have been killed?
He then goes on to claim that "sanctions could have been suspended years
ago if Baghdad had been more cooperative with UN weapons inspectors."
Such a claim negates the success of UNSCOM's early years, regardless of
whether Iraqi compliance was eager or reluctant, when hundreds of
thousands of tons of munitions, and all manufacturing and production
capacity in Iraq (for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) were
destroyed. And, even more relevant, has Cortright forgotten the myriad
of US commitments to keep sanctions in place regardless of such Iraqi
cooperation and compliance? James Baker said in 1991 "we are not
interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein
is in power." In spring 1997 Madeleine Albright announced "we do not
agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its
obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be
lifted." And President Bill Clinton, later that same year, said that
"the sanctions will be there until the end of time or as long as he
[Saddam Hussein] lasts."
In discussing the impact of economic sanctions on the Iraqi
infrastructure, Cortright admits that most of the civilian deaths are in
fact linked to sanctions, recognizing that "comprehensive trade
sanctions compounded the effects of the war, making it difficult to
rebuild and adding new horrors of hunger and malnutrition." In doing so
he seems tacitly to acknowledge the linkage between the damage done by
US bombing of Iraq's civilian infrastructure in direct violation of the
Geneva Conventions, the child death rates (as reported by UNICEF) from
water-borne diseases, and the way that sanctions prevent the repair and
reconstruction of that infrastructure.
But he undermines that recognition by claiming that the UN Oil for Food
program now includes "broader economic assistance and the rebuilding of
infrastructure," as if the program was an international aid program. In
fact, he even criticizes Iraq for continuing "to obstruct and undermine"
what Cortright calls "the aid program." Iraqis know--though many
Americans may not--that the oil for food program is not an aid program
at all, but simply a mechanism for insuring UN control of Iraq's own oil
revenues. The program allows the UN to control the spending of Iraqi oil
revenue, first taking off the top some 30--35 percent for overhead and
compensation payments, now mainly to the Kuwaiti royal family, Israel,
and US oil companies. There is virtually NO international aid going into
Iraq, with the exception of a few small and under-funded NGO projects.
Calling Oil for Food an "aid" program doesn't make it so.
Cortright is right in recognizing that under the program, "oil exports
are regulated, not prohibited." But large-scale investment in the oil
sector, the kind of investment required to pay for the serious
rebuilding of the water, electrical, telecommunications and other
bombed-out infrastructures, IS prohibited. And even if the current
prohibition on international private investment in Iraqi oil was lifted,
no oil company worth its stockholders would risk multi-billion
investment in an Iraqi economy subject to the whims of Security Council
[read: US and UK] shut-down.
Cortright claims the Oil for Food program "was a bona fide effort by the
Security Council to relieve humanitarian suffering. If the government of
Iraq had accepted the program when it was first proposed, much of the
suffering that occurred in the intervening years could have been
avoided." While some Council members from Europe and the global South
may indeed have been concerned about the crisis facing Iraqi civilians,
the overriding concern, particularly of the Council's most powerful
members, was one of bad propaganda. Oil for Food was a sophisticated
effort at spin control. And from its origins, it was understood and
explicitly stated that it was never designed to repair Iraq's shredded
economic and social fabric, but simply to prevent even further
deterioration and loss of human life. As for Iraq's initial rejection of
the program, the early version offered would have provided less than $2
billion per year, of which 30 percent would be diverted to the UN
Compensation Committee and another 5 percent designated for UN overhead
costs. Considerations of sovereignty aside, that would not provide
enough to even keep a population of 22 million people alive, let alone
healthy, and it certainly would have denied any possibility of
rehabilitating even part of the civilian infrastructure. Iraq would have
remained forbidden to rebuild its infrastructure or its economy.
Cortright blithely claims that "oil revenues during the last six months
of 2000 reached nearly $10 billion. This is hardly what one would call
an oil embargo." No one ever said it was an oil embargo. It isn't. It's
a trade, investment, intellectual, educational, scientific, social,
cultural and communications embargo. Ten billion dollars in oil revenue
translates into significantly less than half of that in goods and
services actually reaching Iraq. Cortright ignores that much of the
total revenues even within the limits of the oil for food program are
unavailable largely to Iraq because of U.S and UK holds on contracts
needing approval by the UN Contracts (661) Committee in which Washington
holds a veto. In the entire six years of the Oil for Food program, over
$44 billion worth of Iraqi oil has been sold. But of that huge-sounding
amount, only about $16 billion has reached the 22 million Iraqis.
Why? Cortright himself acknowledges that "funds are still controlled
through the UN escrow account, with a nearly 30 percent deduction for
war reparations and UN costs." The official compensation fund deduction
has recently been reduced from 30 to 25 percent, but there is also 5
percent in overhead costs paid to the UN (including the costs of the new
still undeployed arms inspection agency UNMOVIC approved in December
1999). And as of November 2001, according to the Secretary-General's
report, there are currently $4.2 billion in contracts for various
civilian goods held up by US (occasionally UK) veto, and $3.5 billion
sitting in the UN escrow account in Paris waiting to be disbursed.
But despite that clearly desperate scenario, Cortright still claims that
"Baghdad has more than sufficient money to address continuing
humanitarian needs." His source for this assertion is UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan's statement that "the Government of Iraq is indeed in
a position to address the nutritional and health concerns of the Iraqi
people." The Secretary-General's unwillingness to directly contradict
Washington may well have led him to speak of "addressing" such problems
rather than actually "solving" them. But significantly more important is
the unassailable fact that nutrition and health are not the only
humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Such a claim would ignore that
the basic requirements of education, employment, housing, repair of the
social fabric, rebuilding of electrical generating capacity, water and
sanitation infrastructure, freeing up the economy, reestablishing normal
international commercial and communications links, etc., are also
essential for the recovery and well-being of the people of Iraq.
In a similar vein, Cortright examines the on-going disparity between
conditions in the Kurdish North where the Oil for Food distribution is
UN-administered, and the government-controlled Center-South of Iraq. He
does go further than most US officials are willing to go in
acknowledging the real reasons for the comparatively better living
conditions in the North. Northern Iraqis get 22 percent higher per
capita income from the Oil for Food funds, the North has most of Iraq's
rain-based agriculture, there is significant cross-border trading with
Turkey in the North, there are numerous private European relief
agencies. Those factors have led to a modest difference between North
and Center-South. Infant/child mortality is only some 5 percent less
than in the Center-South, for example. But then, inexplicably and
without any citation or source, Cortright goes on to claim that "these
differences alone do not explain the stark contrast in the mortality
rates. The tens of thousands of excess deaths in the south-center,
compared to the similarly sanctioned [sic] but UN-administered north,
are also the result of Baghdad's failure to accept and properly manage
the UN humanitarian relief effort." Given his recognition of the
specific differences facing Iraqis living in the two zones (above),
Cortright should realize that Iraqi Kurds are not, in fact, "similarly
sanctioned"--although like everyone in Iraq they do suffer greatly.
Even more significantly, he provides no facts to back the claim of
"Baghdad's failure to properly manage the program," a claim that flies
in the face of reports of the Secretary-General plus consistent evidence
provided from all former and current directors of the Oil For Food
program. From Denis Halliday (one of the authors of this article) and
his successor, Hans von Sponeck, both of whom resigned their posts in
protest of the continuing impact of sanctions despite the Oil for Food
program, to the current director Tun Miyat, every director has
recognized that Iraq's management of the program was perfectly proper.
The problems in the program stem not from Iraq mismanagement, but from
its UN-imposed constraints that prevent restoration of a working economy

Cortright proposes a number of improvements to the "smart sanctions"
proposal brought to the UN by Washington and London earlier this year.
Some of his ideas appear superficially useful, such as allowing foreign
investment, eliminating restrictions on non-oil exports, or allowing a
cash component in center-south, but in reality not so. The bottom line
remains that until Iraq regains control of its oil reserves and revenues
so that it can negotiate large-scale investment with whatever oil
companies it chooses, the rebuilding of the once-modern economy and
country and its once-cosmopolitan, once-educated and once-healthy urban
population, remains out of reach. As long as the US-orchestrated escrow
account, combined with UN politics and bureaucracy, controls Iraq's
economy, the smartest sanctions remain way too dumb, missing their
alleged targets like American "smart" bombs.
Cortright concludes that "Despite the evidence of Baghdad's shared
responsibility for the ongoing crisis, sanctions opponents have
continued to direct their ire exclusively at the United States and
Britain." This demonization of those who oppose sanctions-driven
genocide is simply not accurate; there is plenty of blame to go around,
and most anti-sanctions campaigners have no hesitation to say so,
including both of the assistant secretaries-general who resigned and
both authors of this article. Baghdad is responsible for plenty of
problems; it is a regime as repressive now as it was throughout the
1980s when it was backed financially, politically and militarily by
Washington. But the Iraqi regime is not responsible for the deaths from
hunger and disease of hundreds of thousands of its citizens--that
responsibility lies with the US-dominated UN Security Council.
And sadly, that responsibility lies overwhelmingly with our government,
and the anti-sanctions movement is right in keeping our focus there.
Cortright himself, despite his apparent belief that no one in Washington
pays attention to the anti-sanctions movement, admits that the United
States and the United Kingdom developed their smart sanctions plan
specifically "to parry this criticism." For those who see Baghdad's
responsibility for the overall crisis as more central, what possible
justification can there be for Washington to further punish the
beleaguered people of Iraq whom it professes to care about, those who
are forced to live under that regime? One would expect such
justifications to arise from ignorance or malice--from the White House,
the Pentagon or State Department apologists. One would have hoped that
long-time peace activists such as David Cortright would know better.
Some version of smart sanctions may have been appropriate for the UN
back in 1990; after more than a decade of devastatingly dumb sanctions,
it's simply too little and too late, and Iraq is too badly devastated,
for such proposals. Military sanctions as defined in paragraph 14 of
Resolution 687, aiming at creating a weapons of mass destruction-free
zone throughout the Middle East (including but not limited to Iraq),
should continue. But the only smart thing to do with economic sanctions
now is to end them--not attempt to discredit those who have been
fighting to do just that.
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