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Iraq: Smart Sanctions And The Us War


The Bush administration is declaring another victory in its “propaganda war” with Iraq, following the unanimous vote of the United Nations Security Council to endorse its plan to impose “smart sanctions” on Iraq.

On May 14, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1409, setting in place a new framework for the sanctions that will take effect on May 30 and last for six months. The resolution allegedly lifts restrictions on Iraq’s ability to import civilian goods, focusing narrowly on preventing Iraq from importing or building weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking in Reykjavik, Iceland, Colin Powell said “the resolution demonstrates the [Security] Council’s continued determination to meet the needs of the Iraqi people.”

But the real impact of the resolution will be to continue the Iraqi people’s suffering.

The resolution represents a symbolic, rather than a substantive change in the sanctions regime. It allows the US government, using the cover of the UN, to continue the sanctions, which are growing more unpopular internationally, and to lay the groundwork for a massive military assault on Iraq.

“Smart sanctions” are phase one in the Bush administration’s open discussion of “toppling the government” in Iraq and sending in perhaps as many as 250,000 ground troops to impose the U.S. “regime change” policy.

“The resolution was intended to blunt any drive to end the sanctions altogether and to deflate criticism that the measures are hurting ordinary Iraqis more than their leader,” Somini Sengupta reported in the New York Times. “It also seemed part of the diplomatic groundwork the Bush administration is seeking to lay as it presses its case that Mr. Hussein should be removed from power, perhaps by force.”

“This is all about the propaganda war of who is to blame for the humanitarian problems in Iraq. Everything in the [UN] resolution aims to shift the blame” from Washington to Baghdad, one senior official told the Financial Times.

In the “propaganda war” with Iraq, the goal is to deny the simple fact that the sanctions — which have now been in place for more than 11 years — have had a devastating impact on the civilian population, while, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “actually tightening [Saddam Hussein’s] grip on power.”

Smart sanctions are about the United States, Britain, and the UN shifting blame, not about ending the effects of the embargo for ordinary Iraqis. After 11 years of hearing from Clinton, Blair, Bush, and their allies that the sanctions were designed to target the Iraqi regime and not the people, we are supposed to believe that UN sanctions will now (does this sound familiar?) target the regime and not the people.

But under the proposed smart sanctions, the United States will still be able to use its power in the UN to block essential goods by citing “dual use” concerns. And the economy will continue to suffer.

As the State Department emphasized after the vote, the “UN escrow account for Iraqi oil revenue and restrictions on items of potential military and military-related use are maintained.”

After the US pressured Russia, the UN approved a 300-page list of items that fall into the dual-use category and must be reviewed for approval before Iraq can use its oil revenue (held in escrow by the UN) to purchase them. While the “Goods Review List” has not been made public, reporters have said that it includes computers and communication equipment, and it will certainly block items that are badly needed in Iraq but which any modern society could also use in a chemical or biological weapons program.

In the past, the US government, using its veto power on the UN sanctions committee, has blocked contracts for ambulances, chlorinators, vaccines, and even pencils citing “dual use” concerns.

At the moment, $5 billion in contracts are “on hold” because of the United States, completely undermining the claim of John D. Negroponte, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, that “under the Oil for Food Program it has always been possible to get humanitarian and civilian goods into Iraq, and I think the principal obstacle has been the refusal of the Iraqi regime to spend its own resources for the importation of those items.”

Negroponte’s claim is further undermined by the views of UN officials working in Iraq today.

“The [oil-for-food] distribution network is second to none,” Adnan Jarra, a UN spokesperson in Iraq, recently told the Wall Street Journal. “They [the Iraqis] are very efficient. We have not found anything that went anywhere it was not supposed to.”

“I think the Iraqi food-distribution system is probably second to none that you’ll find anywhere in the world,” Tun Myat, the administrator of the UN oil-for-food program, said in an interview with the New York Times. “It gets to everybody whom it’s supposed to get to in the country.”

But Myat stressed, “People have become so poor in some cases that they can’t even afford to eat the food that they are given free, because for many of them the food ration represents the major part of their income.”

Smart sanctions will do nothing to help revive the badly damaged Iraqi economy. As the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) points out, “There will still be a prohibition on foreign investment into Iraq, necessary to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the country…. [and] Iraq will not be allowed to export any goods other than oil.”

But even the Security Council’s own humanitarian panel reported in March 1999 that for Iraq to recover, “the oil for food system alone would not suffice and massive investment would be required in a number of key sectors, including oil, energy, agriculture and sanitation.”

Having achieved its goal of continuing sanctions, the Bush administration is now entering phase two in its war, which will almost certainly involve provoking a conflict with Iraq over arms inspections that will serve as a pretext for an invasion.

Now is the time not only to expose the lies about “smart sanctions,” but to build a broad movement against the planned invasion of Iraq.


Anthony Arnove is the editor of Terrorism and War, a new collection of interviews with Howard Zinn, and Iraq Under Siege.

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