Postponement of ‘smart sanctions’ little comfort to Iraq’s suffering people

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Shawwal 21, 1421 2001-06-16

Occupied Arab World

by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 8, Shawwal, 1421)

Iraq won a significant political victory on July 4, when the US and Britain were forced to abandon their ‘smart sanctions’ proposals and agree to a five-month extension of the ‘oil-for-food’ programme. The US dropped the smart sanctions plan after Russia insisted that it would veto it if it was put to the UN Security Council. However, James Cunningham, the acting US ambassador to the UN, said that “We will use the time before the next rollover to press ahead with our approach. We have come too close to concede this one to Baghdad.”

The extension paved the way for the resumption of Iraqi oil-exports, which Iraq had suspended on June 4 in protest against the smart sanctions. The price of crude oil on world markets fell as a result of the news; Iraqi exports account for some 5 percent of world oil trade, and the suspension had raised fears of a shortage, despite promises from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that they would make good the shortfall in order to avoid economic damage to western countries.

Even after agreeing that smart sanctions should be dropped, the US continued to demand face-saving references to the proposals in the wording of the Security Council resolution. Russia refused to agree to any explicit mention of the plan; it favours the complete ending of sanctions, partly for economic reasons and partly in order to show its independence of action from the US. A compromise wording that referred to an earlier Security Council resolution on Iraq, passed unanimously on June 1, without explicitly mentioning smart sanctions, was finally approved less that six hours before the expiry of the current oil-for-food programme.

The ‘smart sanctions’ had been promoted by the US and Britain ostensibly to tighten restrictions on the Iraqi regime while improving conditions for Iraqi civilians. Their declared objectives were to lift restrictions on civilian goods, tighten controls on arms-related products, and clamp down on oil-smuggling and other breaches of the economic embargo. In theory they shifted the emphasis of the sanctions, from everything being forbidden unless it is specifically permitted to everything being permitted unless it is specifically forbidden. Al-Iraq newspaper reported on July 7 that the UN sanctions committee presently has 1,771 contracts, worth $4.1 billion, on hold. Quoting Iraq’s trade ministry, it said that these include 222 contracts for the health sector, 532 for the oil sector, 207 for the electricity sector, 76 for the water and sewage sector, and 71 for higher education.

In fact, however, the new proposals are designed to tighten the sanctions-regime and remove the numerous ways that the Iraqi people have found of circumventing the sanctions in small ways, in order to survive the hardships they create. These include small-scale trade with neighbouring countries, which the West finds unacceptable. The West hopes to use the supposed relaxation of sanctions to justify cracking down on this trade, in order to ensure that all trade goes through its channels and so benefits its chosen agents.

The sanctions were put in place more than 10 years ago, and have caused millions of deaths by starvation, disease and the degradation of the country’s economic infrastructure. The West blames all the suffering of the Iraqi people on Iraq’s government, accusing it of diverting resources intended for Iraq’s people to military projects and luxury palaces. In fact, the Iraqi leadership cannot divert resources from the oil-for-food programme, as all income is collected in UN-controlled bank-accounts in New York and disbursed from there. In fact, the UN diverts these funds itself: a large proportion is used for the costs of the UN’s operations, and for reparations to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries affected by the 1990-91 Gulf War (which includes the money paid by these countries to the US for their ‘liberation’, ‘defence’ and occupation).

When the smart sanctions proposals were first announced, they were opposed by France and China as well as Russia. All of these are world powers that share the West’s agenda on most international matters, but they are concerned about the US’s casual assumption of global hegemonic power and its manipulation of international bodies. Their opposition to the US over its Iraq policy owed more to this concern for their own status than concern for Iraq’s people, and France and China both gave up their opposition under pressure from the US. Such is the US’s determination to maintain pressure on Iraq that Russia’s apparently steadfast position is likely to be eroded by the time the extended oil-for-food programme comes up for renewal in November.

Meanwhile, the US and British air-forces are continuing virtually daily operations against Iraqi targets, without significant opposition from other countries, and with little public awareness that such operations are taking place. 23 Iraqis were killed on June 19 when US bombs fell on a soccer stadium in the town of Tel A’fer during a match. After Iraqi newsagencies reported the bombing, Western officials denied that any such operations had taken place. Their denial was broadly accepted by the Western media.

It was disproved conclusively, however, by representatives of the American group, Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), which campaigns against US policy on Iraq. A team from a VitW delegation in Iraq at the time of the bombing visited Tel A’fer shortly afterwards, going to the bomb-site and meeting survivors and witnesses. They confirmed that a bombing had taken place and that the debris at the site indicated that the weaponry was American or British. They also confirmed that most of the victims were under 15 years of age. Their report was almost completely ignored by the international media.

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