Letters to the Editor


Dear Sir/Madam,

Could you please forward the below message to Jeff Lindemyer ? It is in response to his 9/3/01 commentary, "Iraqi Sanctions: Myth of Fact."

Thank you in advance,

Kind regards,

Cimen Ekici


Dear Sir,

While attempting to gain background information to the sanctions against Iraq, I came across your site which I read with interest and admiration. However, just as I was planning to e-mail it to a friend, I came across a point which in my opinion seems to have been left out and I wanted to bring this to your attention.

You state the following:

"Myth: 'Iraqi obstruction of the oil-for-food program, not United Nations sanctions, is the primary reason the Iraqi people are suffering' (U.S. State Department, March 2000).

Fact: The UN sanctions were levied against Iraq in August 1990 and the oil-for-food program began in December 1996. It is therefore impossible to attribute the suffering of the Iraqi people to the obstruction of a program, which did not exist until six years after the fact. As Halliday explained, the oil-for-food program was set up by the UN Security Council as a response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq created by the impact of the sanctions. The creation of the program itself demonstrates that the suffering of the Iraqi people preceded any possible interference."

Yet you do not mention that the "food-for-oil" program was first proposed by the UN in 1991, excerpt from http://www.merip.org/mer/mer200/normand.htm

"Despite evidence of a humanitarian disaster, the Security Council took no action to mitigate the impact of sanctions until August 1991, after highly-publicized UN and independent missions to Iraq revealed dramatic civilian suffering.[3] In Resolutions 706 and 712, the Security Council proposed an food-for-oil agreement allowing Iraq to sell $1.6 billion of oil every six months. After a 40 percent deduction to pay UN expenses and war reparations, the amount remaining to purchase food and medicine for the civilian population would be about half of the $3.6 billion that the UN itself had estimated as Iraq's minimum emergency needs, and far below the estimated $22 billion needed to repair damage to the civilian infrastructure. Holding out for a complete lifting of sanctions, the Iraqi government rejected the deal as 'an infringement on its sovereignty.' The plight of Iraq's civilians was thereby ignored in the political contest between their own government, in which they have no voice, and the Security Council. Their own survival is subordinated to that of the regime. The Security Council did not revisit the issue until April 1995, when it proposed a slightly modified food-for-oil deal under Resolution 986."

Because this was left out in your statement, it seems as if Iraq could not have been obstructive to the program which only began in 1996. This is not fully true as the program was first proposed to Iraq in August 1991. In this case, I believe both parties were at fault for not reaching an agreement sooner.

While I am also highly critical of the continuing UN sanctions against Iraq, I also believe that we need to make sure when we are trying to inform and convince others of the facts that we try to present them in their fullness. Otherwise, we risk not being taken seriously when others can knock holes in our arguments.

I hope that I have been helpful.

Kind regards,

Cimen Ekici
November 9, 2001


Jeff Lindemyer answers.


Dear Cimen Ekici,

Thank you for visiting Swans.com, we appreciate your input.

You raise an interesting point regarding the oil for food program and perhaps I can shed some light upon it. The assertion that the oil for food program was proposed earlier, in August 1991, is correct, however, the conclusion of shared culpability does not necessarily follow from it for several reasons.

First, my contention that the US State Department claim "Iraqi obstruction of the oil-for-food program, not United Nations sanctions, is the primary reason the Iraqi people are suffering" is incorrect still stands as wholly accurate. It is true that the UNSC proposed an oil for food program in August 1991 but the oil for food program did not actually begin until December 1996, thus any previous proposal is irrelevant. The point in question is whether or not Iraq obstructed the oil for food program itself, which could not have been done until at least December 1996 (and for practical purposes even later). (The reason I say 'program itself' is because a proposal is obviously different from a program and it is the program that is claimed to be obstructed).

Second, hindsight is always 20/20. The article your sighted was correct in noting that Iraq was "Holding out for a complete lifting of sanctions" because, after all, the sanctions were only a year old. While Iraq had experienced hardships in the first year of the sanctions, the depth of the ensuing tragedy could not have been fully known at the time. The fact that the oil for food program was not proposed again until April 1995, over 3 years later, or that a different, alternative program was not truly pushed shows the waning concern for Iraq after the Persian Gulf conflict.

Third, the historical context of the sanctions must be taken into account. The Persian Gulf conflict was the first conflict ever to be covered by 'round the clock news coverage, thanks largely to the development and raising popularity of CNN. The world was exposed to "smart bombs" and became infatuated with the "video game war" and at the end of the conflict, when there was coverage of the absolute destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, public sympathy for the injured civilians developed to a certain extent. (The US attacks on retreating Iraqi soldiers, fleeing from Kuwait usually unarmed, on a stretch of road later entitled "Death Road" was tacitly covered, more so internationally). The result was a mild outcry, and thus the PR project of the oil for food program was born.

Fourth, it is assumed that the oil for food program would actually be successful (hence obstruction is negative because the result would have been beneficial), but this is not the case. The article points out that the oil for food program was a bandaid and not meant to solve anything, only to sustain the situation, and get oil in the process. This again demonstrates the near transparency of the PR gesture that is the oil for food program.

Fifth, the 1991 oil for food program (like its 1996 counterpart) was proposed by the UNSC which is dominated by the United States (reference Von Sponeck at the end of my article). It seems very foolish to think that Iraq would agree to a PR program offered to it by the same country that only a few months prior had unleashed the most powerful attack in world history. (In the few weeks of the conflict the US dropped some 1,080,000 tons of bombs and munitions, which is over the equivalent of two atomic bombs).

And lastly, the program itself is quite unagreeable. As the article you cited points out, the proposal was that 40% of the oil proceeds would be deducted to pay UN expenses and war reparations. So basically almost half of the $1.6 billion -- $0.64 billion dollars -- is gone without ever being seen, and that is only every 6 months. That means that Iraq pays $1.28 billion every year to very shady program, which is not in its perceived economic interests. I say shady because Iraq never even sees any of the money from the oil for food program anyway -- it goes into an escrow account in NYC controlled by the UN. Iraq then has to contract out to companies, apply to have them paid with the money from the account to the 661 committee (from UN Res. 661 who just happens to be dominated by the US), and is usually denied requests for essential items (chlorine, etc). This is an incredibly arduous process for an ineffective program that you are paying $1.28 billion to every year.

Also worth noting, a great deal of the deduction (about 25 to 30%) goes to reparations, but these reparations are not solely to Kuwait, they also include the US. So, in principle, Iraq would pay (and now does pay) millions of dollars each year to the US for the bombs it dropped on them, killing their population. I can't imagine any country would agree to this unless it was very desperate.

I hope this addresses your concerns. Thank you again for visiting Swans.com.

Jeff Lindemyer
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Published November 12, 2001
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