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Half a million children under five are dead and dying in Iraq
Who is responsible?
Interview with Denis Halliday - Former Assistant Secretary-General of The
to Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, 4,000 more children under five
are dying every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions were
imposed. Over the eight years that these sanctions have been in place, 500,000
extra children under five are estimated to have died.'
are extraordinary figures that lead directly to the question of responsibility.
For citizens of Western democracies it seems almost inconceivable that we could
be to blame. We have grown up in the sure knowledge that the West is a cradle of
democracy and human rights, a centre of civilisation and sanity. During the
Kosovo crisis last year, President Clinton insisted,
'We are upholding our values and advancing the cause of peace. We cannot
respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic conflict turns into ethnic
cleansing where we can make a difference, we must try, and that is clearly the
case in Kosovo. Likewise, Prime Minister Blair declared that Kosovo was a new
kind of war in which we were fighting 'for values' - a logical step, given
that Blair had previously announced, 'We will make the protection and
promotion of human rights a central part of our foreign policy.'
In the case
of Iraq, the salient facts are very clear: Iraq is ruled by a ruthless and
violent dictator, Saddam Hussein; he presides over a country subject to the most
wide-ranging sanctions regime in modern history; and thousands of Iraqi children
are dying every month.
and counter-claims surrounding these facts are well-known: human rights groups,
and even leading figures within the United Nations, insist that the sanctions
regime imposed by the West, with food and vital medicines blocked by the UN
Sanctions Committee, is a primary cause of this appalling rate of child
mortality. In response, Western governments argue that it is Saddam who has been
deliberately withholding food and medicines made available by the UN’s ‘oil
for food’ programme, and therefore it is he that is responsible for the mass
death of children, not Western leaders.
claims in mind, I interviewed Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary-General
of the United Nations, who resigned after 34 years with the UN in September
1998. Halliday spoke to me over the phone from New York on 17 March 2000. Since
his resignation as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, his successor, Hans von
Sponeck, also resigned on February 13 of this year, asking, “How long should
the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they
have never done?” Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food
Programme in Iraq, also resigned, saying privately that what was being done to
the people of Iraq was intolerable.
suggested to Halliday that it must have been a huge wrench to resign from the
United Nations after 34 years of work. I asked him what specifically it was that
made him take such drastic nation?
for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I was involved in
development activity, working closely with governments trying to address their
issues of poverty and education and economic well being – all very positive;
I’d do it all again tomorrow. Then I allowed myself to get sucked into the
management in New York: I was Director of Personnel in UNDP for four years and
Boutros-Ghali promoted me to Assistant Secretary-General and made me head of
Human Resources for the UN itself. I volunteered to go to Baghdad and I set
about trying to make it work, and of course found out very quickly that it does
not work - it wasn’t designed to work; it’s not funded to work; it’s
strangled by the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council - and in a matter
of six weeks I was already trying to get the Security Council to assist me, but
I got no support whatsoever from the United Nations in New York. So then I spoke
to the French, Russian and Chinese ambassadors who are in Baghdad, with the help
of the Unicef man, and we set about doubling the programme which we accomplished
in fact in three or four months through the Security Council.”
these changes happen solely on your initiative?
it would never have happened, believe me, if we hadn’t started that process in
Baghdad. But to come back to your question of exactly why I resigned: after that
development work, to preside over a programme which in a sense was designed to
stop deterioration but in fact did no more than sustain an already unacceptable
situation of high levels of child mortality, adult mortality and malnutrition, I
found this was incompatible with my past, incompatible with my feelings about
the United Nations, and incompatible with the very United Nations Charter itself
and human rights themselves. There was no way I was going to be associated with
this programme and manage this ghastly thing in Iraq, it was not a possibility
for me. So I put in a year, I did my best, we doubled the programme, but the
British and US Governments claim that there are plenty of foodstuffs and
medicines being delivered to Iraq, the problem is that they are being cynically
withheld by the Iraqi regime. In a letter to the New Statesman recently, Peter
Hain, Minister of State, wrote: “The ‘oil for food’ programme has been in
place for three years and could have been operating since 1991 if Saddam had not
blocked it. The Iraqi people have never seen the benefits they should have.”
Is there any truth in that?
no basis for that assertion at all. The Secretary-General has reported
repeatedly that there is no evidence that food is being diverted by the
government in Baghdad. We have 150 observers on the ground in Iraq. Say the
wheat ship comes in from god knows where, in Basra, they follow the grain to
some of the mills, they follow the flour to the 49,000 agents that the Iraqi
government employs for this programme, then they follow the flour to the
recipients and even interview some of the recipients – there is no evidence of
diversion of foodstuffs whatever ever in the last two years. The
Secretary-General would have reported that.
about medical supplies? In January 1999, George Robertson, then defence
secretary, said, “Saddam Hussein has in warehouses $275 million worth of
medicines and medical supplies which he refuses to distribute.”
had problems with medical drugs and supplies - there have been delays there.
There are several good reasons for that. One, is that often the Iraqi government
did some poor contracting; so they contracted huge orders - $5 million of
aspirins or something – to some small company that simply couldn’t do the
job and had to re-tool and wasted three, four, five months maybe. So that was
the first round of mistakes. But secondly, the Sanctions Committee weighed in
and they would look at a package of contracts, maybe ten items, and they would
deliberately approve nine but block the tenth, knowing full well that without
the tenth item the other nine were of no use. Those nine then go ahead –
they’re ordered, they arrive - and are stored in warehouses; so naturally the
warehouses have stores that cannot in fact be used because they’re waiting for
other components that are blocked by the sanctions committee.”
was the motive behind blocking the one item out of ten?
Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games
through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years - it’s a
deliberate ploy. For the British Government to say that the quantities involved
for vaccinating kids are going to produce weapons of mass destruction, this is
just nonsense. That’s why I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’, because
this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have
no other view at this late stage.
British government claims that Saddam is using the money from the ‘oil for
food’ programme for anything other than food. Peter
Hain, for example, recently stated, 'Over $8 billion a year should be
available to Iraq for the humanitarian programme - not only for foods and
medicines, but also clean water, electricity and educational material. No one
the $20 billion that has been provided through the ‘oil for food’ programme,
about a third, or $7 billion, has been spent on UN ’expenses’, reparations
to Kuwait and assorted compensation claims. That leaves $13 billion available to
the Iraqi government. If you divide that figure by the population of Iraq, which
is 22 million, it leave some $190 per head of population per year over 3 years
'that is pitifully inadequate.'
West want to hold on to Saddam? If so, why?
somebody in the United States made a decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
What is the motive? Traditionally the motive was that they needed him to provide
stability in Iraq, to keep Iraq together, to avoid the Kurds going their way and
the Shia perhaps going there way in the South, and so on; and the Shia of course
would threaten Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, being Shia as opposed to Suni ' so
he’s a good enemy this man, he’s great! Said
Aburish in his new book has said that the CIA has
worked with him for 30 years. So there is a ploy to keep him in power, but of
course to destroy him at the same time, to enable him to survive without having
any capacity to threaten his neighbours. If you look at the sales of US military
hardware, Saddam is the best salesman in town. I think over $100 billion has
been sold to the Saudis, Kuwaitis, the Gulf states, Turkey, Israel, and so on.
It’s thanks to Saddam. Just last week they sold $6.2 billion of military
aircraft to the United Arab Emirates. What on earth does a little country need
hardware like that for? Saddam provides that he should be getting a cut.
many people share your views in the UN? Is it a widespread feeling?
I’ll tell you, when I walk into the UN today, it’s so amusing; people come
up to me from nowhere, delegates and staff, and sort of look both ways and
whisper in my ear, ‘You’re doing a great job, keep it up!’ and then they
run away. There’s a sort of a fear, I think, that to be associated with
Halliday now is dangerous if you want a career in the UN; that’s a sort of
perception. In fact I find a lot of people, particularly from the Arab Islamic
world, and ‘the South’, are so pleased that somebody from the North has had
the - whatever it is to stand up and take on this issue. Coming from them it
has no credibility; coming from me it has a certain amount of credibility. Of
course Peter Hain is trying to destroy that as quickly as he can. But I think
I’ve hung onto some credibility in most quarters and I think the resignation
of Hans von Sponeck has underlined it. So I think between the two of us,
representing almost 65 years of experience, two and a half years of managing the
damn thing in Iraq, we both have exactly the same view, and I think that says
something. A BBC producer recently said to me, ‘That’s an indictment’.
Guardian today reported Iraq’s rejection of UN Resolution 1284 on the grounds
that it indicated no end to sanctions and arms inspections. What’s your view
Sponeck and I have exactly the same view: it’s designed to fail, this
programme. First of all it took a year to assemble that resolution, if you can
believe that. Secondly, it gives the Iraqis no specifics: it doesn’t tell them
exactly what is required, and when, in terms of disarming. Thirdly, if you
listen to Scott Ritter, they have no nuclear, chemical or biological capacity
left, but of course they have the mental capacity, and they have the scientists
- some of them - and they’re always going to be there and there’s nothing
you can do about that. And Dr.
Hans Blix, former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
very honestly, has said, ‘Look, I can go in there 24 hours a day for ten years
and I will never be able to say that there isn’t a half a pound of chemical
left behind, or whatever; it’s just impossible’. And that’s why this whole
programme is futile. We’ve got to reopen a dialogue with Iraq, like we’ve
done with North Korea. We need to find out what the concerns of the Iraq
government are now, what can be done for the future.
Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister, says there won’t be any significant
developments until after the US presidential elections. What do you make of
Tariq Aziz in October and that’s what he said to me also. The outgoing lame
duck US President normally never changes basic policy during the election year,
and I think that if Clinton tried he’d be shot down by the Congress - which is
controlled by the Republicans after all. He just couldn’t get away with it. He
hasn’t got the stature of a Nixon going to China, for example. And Gore and
Bush, both, are repeating the same old nonsense: ‘Blame Saddam Hussein, retain
economic sanctions,’ without, I think, understanding the humanitarian
there a prospect of real change over, say, the next one or two years?
I hope it doesn’t take that long, but you may well be right. No, I think
John’s film [‘Paying the Price - Killing the Children of Iraq’ by John
Pilger] has made a huge difference, certainly in Britain and Ireland, but maybe
in parts of Europe, hopefully later in Australia and Canada, maybe someday in
this country. I think von Sponeck’s resignation has helped and we’ve had
some new statements in Congress and in Westminster about the humanitarian
infanticide: something is changing here, but it’s just changing very very
slowly. For example, I’m going up to Canada next week to testify to the House
of Commons Foreign Relations Committee. Hans von Sponeck and I will be in
Washington on the 3rd of May to testify in Congress or to speak to a
Congressional meeting. On the 6th of May, von Sponeck and I will be in London to
do a briefing. We’re hoping to go to Brussels, to Paris, to Rome, Berlin. I
think it’s getting upstream into the area of parliamentarians. In France,
members of parliament have been very active against economic sanctions. I just
saw the Irish foreign minister last week and he’s also come out and is deeply
concerned about economic sanctions. There is a movement, a recognition, that
economic sanctions, in the case of Iraq in particular, are a disastrous failure
and are totally unacceptable as a UN tool. In the meantime, the Secretary
General, I’m afraid, is not saying this; he’s talking about “hurting”
the children of Iraq, which is just outrageous: we’re killing the children of
Iraq. I’m extremely disappointed with the Secretary-General; he just doesn’t
have the courage to say what really has got to be said. I wonder what Dag
Hammarskjold [former UN Secretary-General] would have made of this policy by
now. I think Hammarskjold would have spoken up a long time ago against a
programme like this - so it’s very sad to see this happening.
your view, is primarily responsible for the deaths of those 500,000 children
members of the Permanent Security Council, when they passed 1284, reconfirmed
that economic sanctions had to be sustained, knowing the consequences. That
constitutes ‘intent to kill’, because we know that sanctions are killing
several thousand per month. Now, of the five permanent members, three abstained;
but an abstention is no better than a vote for, in a sense. Britain and America
of course voted for this continuation. The rest of them don’t count because
they’re lackeys, or they’re paid off. The only country that stood up was
Malaysia, and they also abstained. But you know, by abstaining
instead of using your veto, when you are a permanent member you're guilty
because you’re continuing something that has this deadly impact. However, I
would normally point the finger at London and Washington, because they are the
most active in sustaining sanctions: they are the ones who will not compromise.
All the other members would back down if London and Washington would change
their position. I think that’s quite clear. But unfortunately Blair and
Clinton have an almost personal investment in demonising Saddam Hussein.
That’s very hard to get out of, they have my sympathy, but they created their
own problem. Once you’ve demonised somebody, it’s awfully difficult to turn
around and say, ‘Well actually he’s not such a bad guy, he likes kids’.
Under the Baath Party regime, they ran a social welfare system in Iraq that was
so intense it was almost claustrophobic, and they made damn sure that the
average Iraqi was well taken care of, and they did it deliberately to divert
them from any political activity and to maintain stability and allow them (Baath
Party) to run the country. [US Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright has also
fallen into the demonisation hole: her whole career is linked to maintaining
this policy, although she didn’t start it.'
you feel about the performance of the media in covering this issue? Has it been
very disappointed with the BBC. The BBC has been very aggressively in favour of
sanctions, I found, in the last couple of years. But recently - as recently as
three weeks ago - that changed. After the von Sponeck resignation they did an
introductory piece to a programme I was on which was brilliant. It described the
catastrophe brilliantly. So even the BBC seems to be coming around. Here in the
United States the media has been disastrous, because the media in this country
is controlled by large corporations like Westinghouse, like General Electric,
which are arms manufacturers, and they don’t want to highlight the ‘no fly
zone’ bombing which takes place almost every day, or all the other things:
Raytheon making Tomahawk missiles, by the way, they’re going into Derry in
Ireland, they’ve just got the media under control. Having said that, I’ve
been on all the networks here at one time or another, but they’re not pushing
it; it just dies here. The New York Times gives usually three or four lines on
‘no fly zone’ bombing every couple of days.'
you been heavily in demand since Pilger’s film was shown? How many interviews
are you doing?
handle the number of speaking engagements I get, I’m turning them down. I’m
doing on average, I would say, two talks a week and probably three or four
interviews, even in the slow times. When von Sponeck resigned, I think I had 25
interviews in four days. People are tired of Iraq; they want it to go away. I
sympathise with that. I want it to go away myself, but I want it of course
resolved first. The Americans just don’t want to know about it; it’s too
uncomfortable. They don’t want to be reminded that they’ve just spent $1.3
billion last year on bombing this country.'
awful even to think about it, but there is a real racist undercurrent going on
here isn’t there?
so. Iraqi kids don’t count apparently. It is a racist problem, there really is
no question about that. It’s ugly.'
Edwards, March 2000, 3,100 Words
Return to main page on Iraq.