Immoral, ineffective and counterproductive

The sanctions against Iraq must now be lifted, says Victoria Brittain

7 March 2000

The UN economic sanctions programme against Iraq is immoral, ineffective and counterproductive. After nearly a decade in which half a million children have been killed by sanctions it is time for Britain and the US, the only supporters of the UN programme, to admit this and lift the sanctions.Three senior UN officials have resigned rather than continue to work for a programme which one of them, Denis Halliday, former coordinator of humanitarian relief to Iraq, describes as a genocide which has killed more than a million people.

Sanctions have not hit the Iraqi leadership. They were supposedly intended to shift Saddam Hussein from power, but in fact have so ground down the society in its isolation that he is actually less contested today than at the end of the Gulf war. The US and Britain, meanwhile, have made themselves into the enemies of the Iraqi people and the Arab world in general. There will be a future price to pay for this.

Under the UN’s oil for food programme which allows Iraq to sell a proportion of its oil to meet humanitarian needs, 30% of the receipts go for reparations, mainly to Kuwait, and around 10% to the UN for the costs of administering the programme. According to the UN’s own officials Britain and the US are the dominant players in the sanctions committee in New York, where vital chemotherapy drugs, painkillers, chlorine and equipment for rehabilitation of the infrastructure are blocked or delayed over and over again.

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Iraq gets less than 60% of the revenue from all oil sales under the deal. Even if every cent were spent on food and medicines, expenditure would not even approach the pre-1990 level. And anyway, to spend all the available money on food would be unrealistic when the country has such a devastated physical and educational infrastructure that power and sewage plants may be more essential to health than actual medicines.

The gruelling sanctions programme is backed by almost daily bombing by the US and Britain. This is to intimidate the regime into allowing back UN weapons inspectors. Even Scott Ritter, famously the American hard man of the last UN weapons inspection team, says now that Iraq has no capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. It is absurd to pretend that Iraq is a threat to its neighbours when it is on its hands and knees – while Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel are all armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction.

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