AN EMBARGO TOO FAR
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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".
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".
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.