AN EMBARGO TOO FAR


David Cromwell

Mariam

Hamza has beautiful eyes, a loving personality and immense courage. She is also

a symbol of one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. This four year

old Iraqi leukaemia patient hit the headlines in 1998 when George Galloway, MP

for Glasgow Kelvin, brought her back to the United Kingdom. Here she could

receive the medical treatment denied to her in Iraq as a result of the severe

economic sanctions imposed by the west when Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded

Kuwait in 1990.

It

is almost ten years since the people and oil reserves of Kuwait were liberated

under what George Bush declared the "new world order". In that period,

sanctions have led to the deaths of over one million Iraqi civilians, according

to figures produced by Unicef. Around half a million of these victims are

children under five. Each day, another 150 of them join the death list for want

of clean water supplies, medication and food. A senior United Nations official

in Iraq who resigned in protest at the sanctions has spoken of Western

"genocide." Meanwhile, Washington and London argue that the embargo

must remain in force to prevent Iraq from "threatening its neighbours."

Or perhaps, as President Clinton says, "until the end of time, or as long

as he [Saddam] lasts."

Recently,

hundreds of people gathered at Kensington town hall in London in support of the

people of Iraq and to demand that Clinton and Blair lift the sanctions

immediately. The West is destroying "an entire generation", said Hans

von Sponeck who resigned his post as head of the UN’s "oil for food"

programme on March 31 this year. Under this humanitarian initiative, Baghdad

sells oil to buy food, medicine and other supplies. After a 36 year career in

the UN, von Sponeck resigned when it became clear that the programme was

"wholly inadequate" to prevent the deterioration of the country’s

infrastructure. Even the people’s "minimum needs" were not being met,

in contravention of the UN’s own charter.

Von

Sponeck is no lone bureaucrat with an axe to grind. Denis Halliday, von

Sponeck’s predecessor in Baghdad, is even more forthright. "We are in the

process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that.

It is illegal and immoral." Halliday, who resigned in 1998, is scathing of

the paltry nature of the UN’s humanitarian initiative: "Of the $20 billion

that has been provided through the oil for food programme, about a third, or $7

billion, has been spent on UN ‘expenses’, reparations to Kuwait and assorted

compensation claims. That leaves $13 billion available to the Iraqi government.

If you divide that figure by the population of Iraq, which is 22 million, it

leaves some $190 per head of population per year over 3 years – that is

pitifully inadequate."

Critics

of the sanctions say that the modern state of Iraq is being destroyed.

Humanitarian supplies are routinely put on hold by the UN sanctions committee in

New York. The official reason? "Suspected dual use". The supplies

include medical equipment, vaccines and painkillers such as morphine, all

considered to be potential raw materials for weapons of mass destruction. And

then there are the agricultural supplies, water pumps, safety and fire-fighting

equipment – even wheelbarrows.

Journalist

John Pilger told the packed meeting in Kensington, "According to Unicef,

Iraq in 1990 had one of the healthiest and best-educated populations in the

world; its child mortality rate was one of the lowest. Today, it is among the

highest on earth." It was Pilger’s disturbing film, Paying the Price:

Killing the Children of Iraq, broadcast on British television in March, which

has done more than anything else to galvanise the public. The Foreign Office has

reportedly been shaken by the massive outcry that Britain could be complicit in

one of the greatest human rights abuses in recent times.

Foreign

Secretary Robin Cook has told Pilger that he would defend the sanctions publicly

"at any place and any time". However, Cook pleaded a prior engagement

when invited to come to Kensington last week. Pilger has since asked Cook to

name a venue and date of the Foreign Secretary’s choosing. It should be an

interesting debate.

The

title of Pilger’s documentary comes from an astonishing admission made by

Clinton’s secretary of state Madeline Albright. When asked on the CBS news

programme "60 Minutes" if the death of more than half a million

children was a price worth paying, she replied, "We think the price is

worth it".

Worth

what? Presumably keeping Saddam in check – or destroying his hold on power. The

tragic irony is that Saddam is a tyrant of the West’s own making. By brutally

suppressing the Kurds and the Shia in the 1980s, Saddam provided "political

stability" and "market opportunities" in Iraq to the benefit of

western strategic and corporate interests. But when he invaded Kuwait in August

1990, threatening the oil-dependent United States, he had to be punished. Bush

later admitted that the Gulf War was all about "access to energy

resources" and the threat to "our way of life". American and

French intelligence reports reveal that the war left "in excess of 200,000

[Iraqi] civilian deaths".

And

still the bombing of Iraq continues, virtually unreported in the western media.

When the air raids resumed in December 1998, we were told it was under

"enhanced rules of engagement". Little has been said about what that

may mean. The number of recent combat missions flown over Iraq by US and British

forces is already greater than those flown over Yugoslavia in the

"humanitarian" intervention of last year. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians

have been killed. Now, after years of debilitating sanctions, bombing and

thorough weapons inspections, Iraq has no nuclear, chemical or biological

capability left, says former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Saddam, he

emphasizes, represents "zero threat".

There

are hopeful signs in the air of a policy change. In tandem with mounting public

opposition, parliamentarians in Britain and the US have called for the economic

embargo against Iraq to be lifted. It has been called a "blunt

instrument" that hurts the people, not the leadership. Meanwhile, as Robin

Cook looks for a free date in his busy official diary to defend the sanctions

policy, Mariam and millions of other ordinary Iraqis are suffering for the sins

of a dictator over whom they have no control.

 

 

 

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