by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1422)
On June 4, when members of the United Nations security council failed to reach agreement on a new sanctions plan proposed by the US and Britain, they decided to extend by one month, instead of the usual six months, the programme under which Iraq can sell oil to raise funds to buy food and to pay “reparations” to western governments.
Washington and London wanted their so-called smart-sanctions plan to be approved by June 4 (the date the oil-for-food programme expired) but France and Russia won a month’s delay to explore the new proposals, with July 3 fixed as the target date. Iraq, which had warned that it would stop all oil-exports except to Jordan and Turkey if the normal six-month extension period was not agreed, carried out its threat as soon as the Security Council’s decision was announced, saying that the shut-down would continue for a month. Suddenly the price of oil and its effect on the ‘world economy’ came to the fore and the central issues of putting an end to the Iraqi people’s suffering under the UN sanctions took a back seat.
Economics pundits began to claim that if Iraq carried out its threat the already faltering US economy would suffer a blow, which would be reflected in the performance of economies trading with the US; and that poor countries that can least afford the new prices would be hit hardest. Even OPEC’s member states, which normally thrive on oil-price increases, would be badly hurt, the pundits said. Washington, which was annoyed by the setback to its new sanctions plan and by the impression of defiance Saddam’s muscle-flexing was creating, turned to its allies in OPEC for action. So OPEC held a meeting in Vienna on June 5, although it decided not to increase oil production to prevent prices from rising as a result of Iraq’s action, saying instead that it would meet on July 3 to consider the situation again. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait said that they would make good any shortfall in oil-production.
Figures published by the Energy Information Association for the first quarter of 2001 show that Iraq produced 3.3 percent of total production while other OPEC members produced 39.0 percent and the rest 57.7 percent. Baghdad is allowed to export 2.3 million barrels a day under the UN oil-for-food programme, which the smart-sanctions plan seeks to amend. It is also common knowledge that Iraq smuggles oil through Jordan and Turkey and imports goods not provided for in the UN plan. Whatever the size of Iraqi oil-exports, it is large enough for a suspension of exports over a period to affect oil prices, but OPEC’s readiness to review the situation on July 3 has calmed oil-markets and there has been no rise in the cost of oil.
There has been no discussion at OPEC or in Security Council meetings, or indeed in the Muslim or western press, of the issue of sanctions and of the fraudulent claim that the US and British plan is designed to modify the oil-for-food programme to relieve the hardship of the Iraqi people while, at the same time, keeping Saddam under control. London and Washington have been forced to admit that the sanctions have failed to hurt Saddam, succeeding only in causing the deaths and impoverishment of millions of Iraqis and the destruction of the country’s economic infrastructure. The two western allies of Israel are determined to preserve the original objective of keeping Iraq disarmed and isolated, but they insist that Baghdad would be able to import all the goods it wants, except for arms and dual-use goods, under the smart-sanctions plan.
This claim is too absurd to merit even the slightest consideration. The proceeds from the sale of goods would be channelled through a UN account to ensure that the world body, closely monitored by Washington, retains strict financial control of Baghdad. Such control would not permit the free movement of labour and capital needed to regenerate an economy devastated by the Gulf War, continued bombing by US and British war-planes, and UN sanctions. Such has been the devastation that Iraq (which has massive oil-reserves and was considered an advanced economy until 1991) is now thought to have a similar standard of living to that of Ethiopia.
One of the few reports in the western media to discuss the effects of the ‘smart sanctions’, and oppose them, appeared in the Economist magazine on May 26. The report reached this conclusion: “Iraq needs massive investment to rebuild its industry, its power grids and its schools, and needs cash in hand to pay its engineers, doctors and teachers. None of this looks likely to happen under smart sanctions.”
But it is clear that the main issues are not economic but political. Why, for instance, should the country that funds Israel’s nuclear and chemical weapons programme be allowed to decide whether a Muslim country may acquire ‘weapons of mass destruction’? Saddam Hussain is indeed a monstrous dictator, but weapons of mass-destruction are no safer in the hands of Israel’s warmongering prime minister, Ariel Sharon. After all, the US was happy to arm Saddam and give him diplomatic support during his war against Iran: so what has changed since?
The fact is that China, Russia and France, which are ‘opposing’ the smart sanctions, would automatically have used their vetoes immediately and would have ignored the old UN sanctions, universally found not to be working, if their own strategic interests had been involved. Russia and China cannot be genuinely concerned about the suffering of the Iraqi people when they are persecuting their own Muslim populations.
In fact the issues raised by the ‘smart sanctions’ are of fundamental importance only to the Muslims. The situation demands that Muslim members of the UN stage a diplomatic intifada, ignore the UN sanctions altogether, and work instead to develop aid programmes to assist the people of Iraq. But that is no more likely than effective Arab assistance for the Palestinian intifada, and for the same reason: the US’s hold over Arab regimes that depend on it for their survival. And that situation is very unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.