Global Policy Forum

Former UN Official Calls for Radical Rethink on Iraq


The Guardian
January 27, 1999

LONDON-Dennis Halliday talks with the pent-up passion of a disciplined civil servant long used to keeping his private thoughts to himself but now free to speak his mind.

Britain and the United States, says the former United Nations official, are 'jointly responsible' for killing thousands of ordinary Iraqis who, in the name of the will of the international community, have been targeted by punitive sanctions that are strengthening their leader, Saddam Hussein.

As head of the UN's humanitarian relief programme in Iraq until his high-profile resignation last autumn, Mr Halliday has both the practical experience and the moral authority to condemn a policy which he insists is both immoral and ineffective.

'After eight years in Iraq we've got to classify sanctions as a form of warfare, given that they're producing 5,000-6,000 Iraqi deaths per month,' the Irishman says, breaking his silence after 34 diplomatic years with the UN.

'We've got to come up with another answer.'

Unsurprisingly, he is not a popular man in London and Washington. Last year both governments tried to have him sacked after his persistent lobbying of France and Russia started to produce pressure in the UN Security Council against sanctions.

And now, as the US and Britain try to find new policies to 'contain' President Saddam in the wake of Operation Desert Fox, he is openly contemptuous of their attempt to refine sanctions by allowing Iraq to sell more oil to buy food and medical supplies for its suffering people.

He says it is not just a question of unprecedentedly low oil prices, of Iraq being unable to pump anything like the $5.2 billion worth of oil allowed by the UN under its oil-for-food deal, or of the 40 per cent deducted for compensation and UN costs. It is the very concept of the embargo that is wrong.

'I am convinced that sanctions as a tool do not work; the only success may have been in South Africa. But they fail totally when you have a military dictatorship, as Iraq has shown. Smart sanctions that are focused on the leadership seem to be nigh impossible; the people inevitably are going to get hurt.'

He dismisses suggestions that Iraq itself hinders the distribution of supplies, though there are well-documented cases of the manipulation of ration cards by the feared mukhabarat secret police and the stockpiling and theft of medicine by the regime.

'It's not true. The UN monitors every bag of rice, sack of wheat. We know where it goes. The fact is that oil-for-food is a failure. Anything that sustains malnutrition at 30 per cent and leads to the death of so many thousands is a failure.'

With almost daily US-Iraqi clashes in the no-fly zones - and 11 civilians killed on Monday - he believes the moment is right for a radical rethink on Iraq, but he has no clear answer to some difficult questions.

How are sanctions to be eased or lifted without rewarding President Saddam for his intransigence? And what or who will replace the inspectors of the UN special commission, Unscom - discredited by allegations of spying for the US and Britain - and who must certify that Iraq has been rid of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons before the embargo can end?

Mr Halliday believes that the military threat from Iraq has been exaggerated and that what remains of its arsenal can be tackled only in the context of a regional effort to control weapons of mass destruction - particularly, Israel's formidable nuclear capability.

President Saddam, he agrees, has the unique distinction of using chemical weapons against his own people - the Kurds of Halabja - but he points out that these were originally supplied by the US to help Iraq fight the Iranian mullahs.

'Hiding behind the fact that Saddam is a monster is just not good enough,' he says. 'It's a cop-out. We've got to recognise that he is there and he's not likely to disappear next week.'


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