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BOOK REVIEW: IRAQ UNDER SIEGE: THE DEADLY IMPACT OF SANCTIONS AND WAR

[Edited by Anthony Arnove Consortium Book Sales; 192 pages; $40.Pluto Press]

The Economist, 24/3/00:

SANCTIONS are a blunt instrument that can sometimes be useful. Used against Iraq, they forced its horrible dictator to disgorge nearly all his most lethal weapons. Ten years on, the perspective has changed. Saddam Hussein remains implanted in power without, for the past 15 months, any UN inspectors on the spot to discourage him from reinventing his nastiest toys. At the same time, sanctions have all but destroyed his country: its health and educational systems have collapsed; its infrastructure has rusted away; its middle classes have disappeared into poverty; its nchildren are dying. A lot of people now conclude that a change of policy is needed.

The authors of this collection of essays-Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Howard Zinn, among others-will seem irredeemably parti pris to those who still believe that sanctions must be held steady, albeit with exceptions for humanitarian relief, until Iraq has come clean about the last globule of biological horror hidden away in a bottle in somebody's fridge. Some of the writers do, from time to time, rant a bit. But much of it is good stuff: Mr Chomsky, for instance, describing how America's most favoured friend was suddenly transformed into the Beast of Baghdad. And if you believe that your country-the United States or Britain, which together have taken the strongest stand against ending sanctions-is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of some 150 children every day (a figure culled from UNICEF reports), a little ranting may be permissible.

The oil-for-food programme, passed by the UN Security Council in 1996, was supposed to rescue ordinary Iraqis from the deprivations of sanctions. Iraq is allowed to sell a certain amount of oil in exchange for "humanitarian" goods. Denis Halliday, an experienced UN hand, ran this programme for two years, but then resigned in disgust (as did his successor, a few weeks ago). Mr Halliday now writes forthrightly of "genocide". He and others describe how American and British representatives on the Sanctions Committee hold up everything they suspect, however remotely, to be of dual use. The list of suspect goods runs from heart and lung machines to wheelbarrows, from fire-fighting equipment to detergent, from water pumps to pencils.

Some of these points were confirmed this month by Kofi Annan, the UN's secretary-general, in his report on Iraqi sanctions to the Security Council. He revealed how far the oil-for-food programme still is from alleviating the Iraqi tragedy. Mr Annan has spread his criticism around but is particularly upset, first, by the dangerously dilapidated state of Iraq's oil industry and, second, by the Sanctions Committee's erratic delays in giving the go-ahead for the delivery of goods for hospitals: some $150m-worth of medicine and medical equipment is currently held up. At one time, outsiders were set in their views on Iraqi sanctions, seeing the situation in black or white. Now there is a large grey area, and an insistent question: are sanctions still the right policy? The authors document the impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis, and the arguments for change are pretty convincing. The undecided should pay heed.


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