WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
June 8, 2001 | Page 6
AFTER 11 long years and 1.5 million Iraqis dead, are the U.S. and Britain finally lifting their sanctions against Iraq? According to official statements, the answer would appear to be yes.
Britain and the U.S. have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations (UN) Security Council that they say would eliminate most restrictions on imports that have deprived Iraq's civilian population of basic medicines and other crucial supplies since before the 1991 Gulf War.
"We are trying to adopt a new approach that will free up most of Iraq's legitimate trade in ways that members of the international community and Iraq have been urging for some time," said James Cunningham, acting U.S. Ambassador to the UN. But the details of the new proposal expose this statement as a lie.
Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a more honest motivation for the new policy on February 7, when he told Congress that the new plan is designed not to lift the sanctions against Iraq but "to save the sanctions from collapsing."
Powell admitted that the current embargo against Iraq is "on the way to crashing--sanctions are falling apart" under the weight of massive opposition abroad at the mounting Iraqi death toll.
In 1996, the U.S. and Britain adopted a "food-for-oil" program that allows Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil, but severely restricts which items Iraq can buy with its own money. The program is supposed to prevent Saddam Hussein from rebuilding "weapons of mass destruction" by banning both military imports and "dual-use" items that could be of potential military use.
But the banning of "dual-use" items has prevented Iraq from importing a vast array of medicines and equipment to stem the tide of disease--and also from rebuilding its infrastructure, including water purification plants that were destroyed by U.S. warplanes during the 1991 war.
The U.S. has placed a "hold" on more than $280 million in medical supplies alone, including vaccines and a host of high-tech equipment, from incubators to cardiac machines. The cardiac machines are on hold, for example, because the computers that run them could potentially be used to run weapons systems, according to UN officials.
Earlier this year, vaccines to treat infant hepatitis, tetanus and diphtheria were also on hold because the U.S. said these vaccines could be used to produce deadly biological weapons.
Other "dual-use" items on hold because they could be of potential military use include spare parts for water and sanitation, electricity, transport, communications and oil installations--forcing Iraqis to continue to drink contaminated water and do without basic supplies.
Yet even Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) has stated flatly that the Gulf War effectively erased Saddam Hussein's ability to manufacture or deploy nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Since 1996, the Iraqi death toll has continued to climb, exposing the "oil-for-food" program as nothing more than a public relations ploy designed to save the sanctions.
Most other nations have been pressuring the U.S. and Britain for years to end the sanctions. Iraq's neighbors--Syria, Jordan and Turkey--have effectively flouted the sanctions and resumed trade with Iraq. Syria, for example, now pumps more than 200,000 barrels of oil a day from Iraq outside the UN system.
The U.S. and Britain's "smart sanctions" proposal is an attempt to force Iraq's neighbors to shut down any trade with Iraq independent of UN control--requiring them to channel all trade through an escrow account administered by the U.S., under the auspices of the UN. And it would actually strengthen the U.S.'s military control over Iraq, by stationing UN monitors at the borders to enforce trade restrictions, while continuing to allow the U.S. and Britain to enforce "no-fly zones" over Iraq.
And while the proposal would loosen the restrictions on some consumer imports into Iraq, it would maintain a ban on both military and "dual-use" items that deprive life-saving supplies to Iraqis.
The U.S. and Britain are aiming, with the UN's blessing, to get away with yet another public relations ploy to make the continuation of sanctions against Iraq acceptable.
Meanwhile, Iraqis continue to pay for the sanctions with their lives. In April alone, 5,696 Iraqi children under the age of five died of diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition-related diseases--compared with 347 deaths in the same month in 1989, before the sanctions began.
Nothing short of an end to all sanctions against Iraq will ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqi people.