Thu, 30 Mar 2000

Sponeck gives up thankless task

Meeting a dictator of Saddam Hussein's cut is undoubtedly no honor and certainly no pleasure -- especially not for a man like Hans von Sponeck. Will all consideration for the suffering of the Iraqi people, the departing co-ordinator of the UN's humanitarian aid program for Iraq will find the meeting particularly distressing because his father was executed by another dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Sponeck is quitting his UN job in Baghdad out of protest. He is convinced that the trade sanctions imposed on Iraq are harming most of its 22 million people and benefiting only one: Saddam Hussein.

The meeting with the beast of Baghdad will indeed be embarrassing to Hans von Sponeck, but like his boss Kofi Annan, the UN diplomat will need to keep his head before he hands over to his successor on Saturday and follow the protocol that such an invitation -- or was it a summons? -- demands.

Saddam, who does not give a jot about his people's fate, has honored Sponeck's engagement for the Iraqi people. It serves the dictator's ideas of propaganda admirably.

The fact that Saddam is winning the war of words is one of the United States' main worries. Yet Washington is constantly supplying the Iraqi regime with more ammunition. One need only look at its current efforts to block contracts for the sale of goods valued at more than US$1 billion, quite legally arranged under the UN's aegis, to illustrate this.

This embargo within an embargo only confirms Sponeck's criticism that the comprehensive blockade on Iraq has thrown the country back to the status of a third-world state. So it is that the arguments turn around in ever more pointless circles -- while Saddam still sits secure in his ivory bunker.

-- Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, Germany