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Behind Bush's Maneuver at the UN

By Brian Becker

It is essential for progressive people, and especially the working class
whose sons and daughters constitute the majority of the Pentagon military
forces, to understand the real politics behind a recent U.S. initiative at
the United Nations regarding economic sanctions against Iraq.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously May 13 to reorganize the economic
sanctions on Iraq.

The major media in the United States reported that the new sanctions would
be "smarter" because they will supposedly permit Iraq to import many
previously banned goods that are essential for the well-being of Iraqi

After the UN vote, Bush administration officials raced to the microphones
to declare that if civilians continue to suffer they will have only Saddam
Hussein to blame. They asserted that the new sanctions only prohibit Iraq
from receiving military goods or "dual use" products--goods that could
potentially be used for either civilian or military purposes.

Part of a war strategy

Does the UN decision usher in a new era of "smarter" and more humane
economic sanctions? Having lost more than 1 million people to disease and
malnutrition as a result of 12 years of virtually airtight sanctions, won't
the new sanctions policy relieve some of the suffering of Iraqi civilians?

And as a consequence, shouldn't the vote be considered a step forward?
Isn't any "humanitarian" reform of the sanctions better than nothing?

This, unfortunately, has been the position of some groups and leaders in
the anti-sanctions movement.

The May 13 UN vote was not humanitarian at all. It is actually part of a
fairly complicated war strategy by the Bush administration.

The real reason the United States initiated the new sanctions with a "human
face" was to prevent the actual complete lifting of sanctions at the very
moment the Bush administration is preparing for all-out war on Iraq.

If sanctions were entirely lifted--which is the official position of almost
all countries--it would mean an end to the so-called Oil for Food Program.
This is a UN program that is dominated by the United States.

The program allows the United States, rather than the Iraqi government, to
exercise strategic control over Iraqi oil revenues. The Bush administration
considers this program a central element in its favor as it prepares for
war against Iraq.

The OFP purports to be a humanitarian enterprise. The Iraqi government
agreed to it in 1996 after having rejected it for several years. The OFP
permitted Iraq to resume selling oil for the first time since August 1990.
But the revenues from all its oil contracts were placed under the control
of the UN Security Council.

Of course, this scheme was a thinly veiled form of looting by the U.S. and
British governments, the Kuwaiti monarchy and many of the biggest Western

Between January 1997 and 2000, Iraq sold $40 billion worth of oil. All this
money was deposited into an account controlled by the UN. Only $9.6
billion, less than 25 percent of the revenue, was distributed to Iraq to
purchase food and medicine.

The rest went to the Kuwaiti monarchy and other "victims" of the 1991 war.
Last year, for example, $200 million of OFP funds was given to ExxonMobil.
The corporation was listed among the "victims" of Iraq's 1990 invasion of

Worse still, the Oil for Food Program constituted a major setback for Iraqi
sovereignty and independence. The transfer of its oil revenues to de facto
U.S. control provides the imperialists with strategic leverage at the core
of Iraq's economy.

The Iraqi government resisted the Oil for Food Program for several years.
U.S. conservatives and liberals alike routinely pilloried Saddam Hussein
for rejecting this form of "humanitarian aid." The Iraqis only relented
after sanctions had brought the economy to its knees.

By 1996, economic sanctions had plunged Iraq's relatively affluent society
into stupefying poverty. In April 1998 UNICEF reported, "The increase in
mortality reported in public hospitals for children under five years of age
(an excess of some 40,000 deaths yearly compared with 1989) is mainly due
to diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition."

Iraq was well aware that the imperialist powers were unlikely to ever
relinquish control over its oil resources once it accepted the OFP, but it
had little choice given the raging sanctions-induced genocide of 1991-1996.

The May 13 vote for "humane" sanctions is, plainly put, the only available
method to maintain U.S./UN economic sanctions and, as a consequence, the
Oil for Food Program.

Will there be additional civilian goods available to the Iraqi population?
That is a possibility. But the new UN resolution also contains a 332-page
listing of all the commodities that could be still banned as "dual use"
products. In the past this criterion has led to banning ambulances,
chlorine, piping, pumps and filtration equipment used in water
purification, x-ray machines, all computers, etc.

Even if it turns out that Iraq is able to import more goods, however, that
is not the decisive issue for the Bush administration. The Bush
administration and the Pentagon have made it clear that they are preparing
to massively bomb Iraq and invade the country with ground troops.

No war for Big Oil

Maintaining the Oil for Food Program is part of the Bush war strategy. If
Iraq had sovereign control over its own oil it would undoubtedly use the
funds derived from the sales to rebuild its economy and infrastructure and
to prepare to defend itself against the Bush administration's planned

In this context, the May 13 UN vote is not a humanitarian step forward. It
actually assists the U.S. war effort against Iraq. Even the countries that
succumbed to U.S. pressure--including threats, no doubt--and voted for the
resolution essentially denounced the move.

The Russian and Syrian ambassadors, for instance, called for the full
lifting of the sanctions--immediately after they voted for the U.S.-backed

If the United States has its way, in the coming months thousands of its
soldiers will be sent to kill and be killed to fulfill imperialist
ambitions to replace the Iraqi government with a puppet regime.

It is not about "weapons of mass destruction" or getting a more democratic
government in Baghdad.

It will be a dirty war for oil. A war for ExxonMobil, Texaco, Citibank,
Chase and the corporate capitalists who are hell-bent on returning Iraq to
its former colonial status.

- END -

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