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[casi] Don't Forget the Victims: "Albright's Tiny Coffins"

For months US and british aircraft have been busy
disabling Iraqi air defence with explosive devices. US
military specialists are secretly trucking weapons into
Northern Iraq where 500 US trainers are preparing a
Kurdish militia. The CIA is in Iraq trying to buy
friends - with sacks of greenbacks. The word
"liberation" keeps popping up. But as we are told
daily, an attack on Iraq "is neither imminent nor
inevitable". And the victims of the sanctions are

"Albright's Tiny Coffins" challenges the whitewash of
the sanction regime. And it's a reminder of the victions.
It may have been posted before, but I think it's worth

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edited by alexander cockburn and jeffrey st. clair

November 1, 1999

Albright's Tiny Coffins

Back in 1996, when the number of Iraqi children killed off
by sanctions stood at around half a million, Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright made her infamous declaration to
Lesley Stahl on CBS that "we think the price is worth it".
Given such pride in mass murder at the top, it comes as
little surprise to learn that the State Department views
the truth about the vicious sanctions policy with the same
insouciance as their boss regards the lives of Iraqi
children, now dying at the rate of four thousand a month.

"Saddam Hussein's Iraq", released by the State Department
on September 13, is an effort to persuade an increasingly
disgusted world that any and all human misery in Iraq is
the sole fault and responsibility of the Beast of Baghdad.
The brazen tone of this sorry piece of propaganda can be
assessed from the opening summary: "The international
community, not the regime of Saddam Hussein, is working to
relieve the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis." An
examination of how the sanctions system actually works
tells a very different story.

Key to US self-justification is the so-called "oil for
food" program under which Iraq is allowed to sell oil. The
precise fashion in which the US manipulates this program
is never set forth in its malign specifics. CounterPunch
readers should know the following:

Proceeds from such oil sales are banked in New York (at
the Banque National de Paris). Thirty-four percent is
skimmed off for disbursement to outside parties with
claims on Iraq, such as the Kuwaitis, as well as to meet
the costs of the UN effort in Iraq. A further thirteen
percent goes to meet the needs of the Kurdish autonomous
area in the north.

Iraqi government agencies, meanwhile, under consultation
with the UN mission resident in Baghdad, draw up a list of
items they wish to buy. This list can include food,
medicine, medical equipment, infrastructure equipment to
repair water and sanitation etc., as well as equipment for
Iraq's oil industry. UN hq in New York reviews the list,
approving or disapproving specific items. Then the Iraqis
order the desired goods from suppliers of their choice.

Now comes the most crucial step in the process. Once the
Iraqis have actually placed an order, the contract goes
for review to the 661 Committee. This is made up of
representatives of the fifteen members of the Security
Council and is named for Security Council Resolution 661,
which originally mandated the sanctions, on August 6 1990.
The Committee has the power to approve or disapprove
(although the preferred euphemism is to put "on hold") any
of the contracts. Approved contracts are then filled by
the supplier and shipped to Iraq, where they are inspected
on arrival by an agency called Cotecna. When this agency
certifies the goods have arrived, the supplier is paid
from the oil cash in the bank in New York. "Since the
start of the oil-for-food program", the State Department
report declares, "78.1 percent [of the contracts submitted
for review to the 661 Committee] have been approved". That
means that 21.9 percent of the contracts are denied. It
goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of the
vetoes are imposed by the US and Britain. "The 448
contracts on hold as of August 1999", the State Department
report explains, "include items that can be used to make
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons".

No one wants Saddam Hussein to make chemical or nuclear
weapons, but it has been abundantly clear since the end of
the Gulf War that the US and its British toadies regard
the issue of Iraq's mass destruction weapons principally
as a means of ensuring that sanctions remain in place
forever. For example, a friend of CounterPunch fully
conversant in an official capacity with the International
Atomic Energy Agency's inspection effort in Iraq-the
nuclear equivalent of UNSCOM-reports that the IAEA has
been prepared for at least two years to declare the Iraqi
nuclear program dead but has been successfully pressured
not to do so by the US.

UN officials working in Baghdad agree that the root cause
of child mortality and other health problems is no longer
simply lack of food and medicine but the lack of clean
water (freely available in all parts of the country prior
to the Gulf War) and of electrical power, which is now
running at 30 percent of the pre-bombing level, with
consequences for hospitals and water-pumping systems that
Counter-Punch readers may all too readily imagine. Of the
21.9 percent of contracts vetoed by the 66l Committee, a
high proportion are integral to the efforts to repair the
water and sewage systems. The Iraqis have submitted
contracts worth $236 million in this area, of which $54
millions worth-roughly one quarter of the total value-have
been disapproved. "Basically, anything with chemicals or
even pumps is liable to get thrown out", one UN official
tells CounterPunch. The same trend is apparent in the
power supply sector, where around 25 percent of the
contracts are on hold-$138 million worth out of $589
million submitted.

The proportions of approved/disapproved contracts do not
tell the full story. UN officials refer to the
"complementarity issue", meaning that items approved for
purchase may be useless without other items that have been
disapproved. For example, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has
ordered $25 millions worth of dentist chairs, said order
being approved by the 66l Committee-except for the
compressors, without which the chairs are useless and
consequently gathering dust in a Baghdad warehouse.

Albright's minions make great hay out of the vast
quantities of medical supplies (including the dentist
chairs) sitting in Baghdad warehouses, implying that
Saddam is so cruelly indifferent to the suffering of his
subjects that he prefers to let them die while stockpiled
medicine goes undistributed. "They don't have forklifts,"
counters one U.N. official involved with the program.
"They don't have trucks, they don't have the computers for
inventory control, they don't have communications.
Medicines and other supplies are not efficiently ordered
or distributed. They have dragged their feet on ordering
nutritional supplements for mothers and infants, but it's
not willful. There is bureaucratic inefficiency, but you
have to remember that this is a country where the best and
the brightest have been leaving for the past nine years.
The civil servants that remain are earning between $2.50
and $10 a month."

The breakdown of the Iraqi communications system-it can
take two days to get a phone call through to Basra from
Baghdad-is obviously a fundamental impediment to the
health system. The Iraqis have ordered just under $90
million worth of telecommunications equipment, all of
which is "on hold"-i.e., vetoed. The excuse of course is
that Saddam could use the system to order troops about,
notwithstanding the fact that the Iraqi security services
have the use of their own cell-phone system, smuggled in
last year from China.

In further efforts to lay all responsibility for the
misery of ordinary Iraqis at the feet of Saddam alone, the
State Department report alleges that "Iraq is actually
exporting food, even though it says its people are
malnourished". Leaving aside the copiously documented fact
that the people of Iraq ARE malnourished, UN officials
hotly dispute the notion that food delivered under the
oil-for-food program has been diverted to overseas
markets. "There is absolutely no evidence for that", says
one. "On the other hand, the Iraqis are very rigorous in
rejecting sub-standard shipments. You find a lot of stuff
such as baby milk, sent from neighboring Arab countries as
aid, that in some cases has passed its expiration date
when it arrives so they ship it out again."

The Iraqis do not have this recourse for goods shipped
under the UN program. Once Cotecna certifies the goods
have arrived, whatever their condition, the suppliers get
paid. The UN office in Baghdad supported a reasonable
proposal to the Security Council that the Iraqis be
allowed to withold ten percent of the payment until they
have had a chance to inspect the goods. The proposal drew
a 661 Committee veto, though not, for once, from the
Anglo-Americans but from the French and the Russians, who
are both currently doing well out of the Iraq trade.

Seeking out evidence of Saddam's depredations against his
own people should be an easy task, but the State
Department report opts for fiction over fact when
possible. The report featured an aerial reconnaissance
picture of "destruction by Iraqi forces of civilian homes
in the citadel in Kirkuk". According to Mouayad Saeed
al-Damerji, an internationally respected Iraqi
archeologist, the picture shows what is in fact an
archeological dig at the 4,600-year old citadel, in
progress since 1985.

There appears little prospect of change in this miserable
situation. Last year, Denis Halliday, the UN coordinator
for humanitarian relief in Iraq, quit in protest over a
policy that causes "four to five thousand children to die
unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions".
White House officials expressed their delight that this
irksome voice of moral outrage had been removed from the
scene, but Hans von Sponek, Halliday's successor, is
showing signs of treading the same path, publicly
appealing for the end of sanctions.

Friends say he is on the verge of quitting. For Albright
that will be no less acceptable a price than the thousands
of little coffins that will serve as her memorial. CP

3220 N Street, NW, PMB 346
Washington, DC 20007
email: [10]

8 Copyright: 1998-1999. All rights reserved.

CounterPunch is a project of the Institute for the
Advancement of Journalistic Clarity
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