Recently France and Russia, to the great annoyance of the United States, defied the U.N. embargo against Iraq by sending in commercial aircraft carrying humanitarian aid and passengers to Baghdad.
It was a highly symbolic act because these two countries, along with other three permanent members of the council, were responsible for imposing sanctions against Iraq in 1990.
The U.N. sanctions were imposed in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. It was hoped that a rigid chokehold around Iraq would stir a popular uprising against Saddam, forcing his departure.
This would not only make Iraqi oil available to the West, the script promised, but also remove a possible threat to the countries in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Lifting of sanctions was linked to Iraqi compliance with the weapons inspections. Iraq did comply in the beginning but when the inspections turned into an open-ended process, the Iraqis booted the inspectors out.
The U.S., in a change of policy, now demands the ouster of Saddam as a condition for lifting sanctions. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has threatened to veto any effort to lift sanctions even if Iraq came into full compliance with the Security Council resolutions.
For Iraq there is no incentive to allow the inspectors back.
The sanctions have not worked. A protracted economic strangulation in the aftermath of the heaviest bombing in world history has turned the country into a wasteland and brought its population on the verge of starvation. It has also made Saddam more entrenched and in full control.
The situation is quite apparent to every one except the main architects of the sanctions policy; the United States and its U.N. sidekick, Great Britain. Preoccupied with Saddam, they remain oblivious to the heavy toll the Iraqis have to suffer.
The toll is staggering. Over half a million children and as many adults have died due to starvation, malnutrition, and lack of simple medical care. According to UNICEF at least 4,500 children die every month as a direct result of sanctions.
In 1997, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 4 million people, one-fifth of the population, were starving to death and one out of every four children had stunted growth. Today a gallon of drinking water costs 500 times more than a gallon of gasoline and it costs 12,000 times as much to buy food as it did before the sanctions. Iraqis have to sell their furniture, appliances, and jewelry to buy food.
In 1996 the U.N. Security Council allowed Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil to buy food and medicines. Out of $4 billion that the program generates yearly, one half is extorted for war reparation, U.N. operations in the region, and direct aid to the Kurdish population. The remaining sum if divided among 18 million Iraqis comes to a miniscule 25 cents per person.
It is interesting to note that two successive U.N. humanitarian coordinators in Iraq, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, resigned in protest because of the strict and inflexible restrictions placed on them by the United Nations. Mr. Halliday called the sanctions illegal and immoral. His successor, Mr. Sponeck, was equally emphatic. “How long the civilian population, which is innocent on all this,” he asked, “should be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Even the U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Richard Butler concedes that the sanctions have been a total failure.
With Russia, France, and China parting company with the U.S. and Great Britain, there is no justification for continuing the sanctions. The smart heads in the White House in Washington and the Whitehall in London should find another way to oust Saddam.