Global Policy Forum

Washington and Baghdad Agree on One Point:Sanctions Hurt


By Philip Shenon

New York Times
November 22 1998

Even as they trade charges of duplicity and, yet again, brace for a possible military showdown, Bill Clinton and Sadam Hussein can agree on this much. The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq has cited as the cause of the latest crisis, have devastated its economy and its people.

The Iraqis contend that their frustration over the crippling sanctions led them last month to announce an end to all cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors until the blockade was lifted. The sanctions make exceptions only for medicine, medical supplies and food.

Iraq backed down last weekend and allowed the inspectors to return to work only when confronted with the threat of a military strike.

Imposed on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council in August 1990, days after Kuwait was invaded, the sanctions were almost certainly not the sole reason for the Iraqis' most recent intransigence with the weapons inspections.

American officials believe that the Iraqis were just as interested in halting the inspection for fear that they were closing in on new evidence of chemical and biological weapons.

But the sanctions were equally certainly a factor in the Iraqi ultimatum. They are among the toughest imposed in the modern age and are estimated to have cost Iraq more than 4120 billion in oil revenues.

The human cost has been staggering, too. Millions of Iraqis have been left without adequate food, clean water and medicine. The United Nations has estimated, based on Iraqi Government figure, that a million Iraqi children are malnourished and 700,000 have died since 1990.

Diplomats and others who have studied Iraq say that Mr. Hussein is far less concerned with people's suffering than he is with the arms import ban placed on Iraq as part of the economic blockade. Despite rampant malnutrition, he spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the war on new marble-draped palaces.

The sanctions have deprived him of the ability to buy advanced weapons and the so-called dual-use technology that would allow Iraq to make arms of mass destruction.

Russia, France and other nations have called on the United nations to ease the sanctions in recent years, but the United States has stood firm on the issue and largely prevailed. The Deputy prime Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, said last week that the sanctions were still in place only because of "American pressure and American blackmail."

Iraq's only real relief came in 1995, when the United Nations agreed to let it sell oil to obtain necessities like food or medicine, which are exempted from the sanction. Such an arrangement had been offered since 1991, but the Iraqis refused.

The sanctions will remain in place, the Administration has said, until Iraq meets the requirements of a series of Security Council resolutions, which include a demand that it comply fully with the inspections.

"What they really want is to be able to have it both ways," said James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, "to be able to keep their weapons of mass destruction and have sanctions lifted. That is simply not going to happen."

Sanctions were imposed on Iraq on Aug. 6, 1990, four days after Iraqi troops annexed neighboring Kuwait. The sanctions were contained in Resolution 661, which placed a sweeping economic blockade on Iraq.

After Iraq's rout in the Persian Gulf war the following year, the Security Council passed a key resolution, No. 687, which outlined the terms of the cease-fire and kept most of the economic sanctions in place. The resolution, adopted on April 3, 1991 prohibited all trade to Iraq except that involving "essential human needs," like food and medicine.

The sanctions could only be lifted when Iraq revealed and destroyed its ballistic missiles and its ability to make arms of mass destruction- chemical, biological or nuclear. The council agreed to review Iraq's compliance every 60 days to determine whether the sanctions could end.

The United States suggested that it would have preferred a resolution tying eased sanctions to the ouster of Mr. Hussein. "We are not interested in seeking a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power," secretary of State James A. Baker said in May 1991.

Shattered by its defeat in the gulf war, Iraq had little choice but to begin to cooperate with the United nations. It grudgingly allowed inspectors to roam the country.

But virtually from the start, the United Nations Special Commission, which was charged with the disarming, complained that the Iraqis were lying an hiding evidence.

In August 1991, the Security Council, seeing evidence of a humanitarian disaster, offered Iraq a plan that would have allowed it to sell up to $1.6 billion worth of oil, with most of the proceeds placed in an escrow account to buy food and medicine under United Nations supervision.

Iraq refused, describing the plan as an infringement of its sovereignty. It was only in 1996, after reports of widespread malnutrition and a sharp increase in childhood morality rates, that Iraq agreed to the oil-for-food deal.

The plan let Iraq sell $2 billion in old every six months for food and medicine, with the proceeds spent at the direction of united Nations officials. The figure was raised last February to $5.2 billion every six months.

Although the debate has been muted by the latest crisis, members of the Security Council have disagreed in the past over the conditions that Iraq must meet to avoid sanctions.

Several countries say the language of the resolutions that ended the gulf war allow the sanctions to be lifted as soon as the Security Council determines that Iraq has shut down its weapons programs.

But the United States say reading of the resolutions suggests that the sanctions cannot be lifted until Iraq meets other terms of the 1991 cease-fire, including restitution for property destroyed or stolen by the Iraqis after the Kuwait invasion in 1990 and an accounting for hundreds of missing Kuwaiti prisoners.

"Sanctions may stay on in perpetuity," bill Richardson, the former American delegate to the United Nations, said earlier this year. "Sanctions are going to stay forever or until Iraq complies fully."

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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