Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Embargo on Iraq benefits Saddam

By Heiko Flottau

CAIRO (DPA): It is now 10 years since Saddam Hussein marched his army into Kuwait and the United Nations imposed a wide- ranging trade embargo on Iraq.

No-one then could have anticipated that Saddam would still be in power a decade on. And no-one predicted that this length of time later the purpose of sanctions would be the subject of such heated discussion. Although the UN slightly relieved the embargo in 1996 by allowing the sale of oil to enable Iraq to make purchases of humanitarian goods, for ordinary Iraqis the situation is as dire as it ever was.

Hans von Sponeck is the latest casualty of the ongoing dispute, resigning in February as the UN's humanitarian co- ordinator for the Oil for Food Program because of his opposition to the sanctions. His predecessor, Irishman Denis Halliday, resigned for similar reasons in 1998.

The U.S government has recently announced that it is to consider approval of a relaxation in the sanctions, a move UN diplomats view as Washington's reaction to von Sponeck's and others' harsh criticism of the continuing policy. At the same time, however, the United States is still blocking hundreds of legal deliveries. A shipment of breeding bulls, for instance, is currently being held up because a vaccine, which can only be used on the cattle a few weeks after arrival, is included in the delivery. Washington argues that cultures could be made with the help of the vaccines which could be used in the production of biological weapons.

None of the sanctions' critics overlook Saddam Hussein's part in the demise of the Iraqi people, and no one wants to play down the role of the profiteers and smugglers in his circle of friends.

Smuggling is perfectly legal in Iraq - as long as those in command can siphon off a share of the proceeds. On the Iraqi- Jordanian border, only those trucks are examined which ply the highways for the Oil for Food Program. Thousands of other trucks are able to pass the frontier unchecked. Iraq's border with Turkey is also open, with the complete knowledge of the UN and United States.

Nor do any observers disagree with the tenet that Iraq's enforced isolation from the wider world has led to a total collapse of the economy and currency. The sanctions' harshness, particularly as exercised by the United States and their allies in London, has completely barred a whole generation of students from any sort of scientific or cultural exchange with other countries.

Not even internationally recognized medical textbooks reach Iraq's universities. And with unemployment running at between 60 and 80 percent, most of the population is now dependent on alms, forced to rely on food rations bought under UN supervision but exclusively distributed by the Iraqi government. In fact, a report by the Security Council criticizes the fact that Baghdad's distribution monopoly has "strengthened the government's control over the lives of all individuals."

Through their wars against Iran and Kuwait, Saddam and his cronies have plunged Iraq into bankruptcy. Many like Hans von Sponeck argue that the international community also has a duty to protect Iraqis from their own dictator. They believe that the long-term effects which result from a country's isolation are particularly dangerous. Sadly, too, Iraq once possessed one of the best education and health systems in the Arab world.

German diplomats are also convinced that the younger generation, denied education and jobs, will one day turn against the carefree-living Gulf Arabs, especially Kuwaitis. In addition, this lost generation will hold the West directly responsible for their problems.

Finally, say the diplomats, there is a very real danger that this generation will seek solace by turning to militant Islam. One European diplomat in Amman characterizes the situation in concrete terms, saying the Iraqi people were currently double hostages: hostages of Saddam and of the sanctions.