A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions
Sanctions opponents place the blame for Iraq's increased deaths squarely on the United States and the continuing UN sanctions. Certainly the United States bears primary responsibility for the war and unrelenting sanctions. Washington has pursued a punitive policy that has victimized the people of Iraq in the name of isolating Saddam Hussein. The United States has continued to bomb Iraq over the years, and if some in Washington get their way, it will soon launch new military attacks in the name of antiterrorism.
The government of Iraq also bears considerable responsibility for the humanitarian crisis, however. Sanctions could have been suspended years ago if Baghdad had been more cooperative with UN weapons inspectors. The progress toward disarmament that was achieved came despite Iraq's constant falsifications and obstruction.
Also significant has been Iraq's denial and disruption of the oil-for-food humanitarian program. UN officials proposed the relief effort in 1991 when evidence was first reported of rising disease and malnutrition. The idea was to permit limited oil sales, with the revenues deposited in a UN-controlled account, for the purchase of approved food and medical supplies. Baghdad flatly rejected the proposal as a violation of sovereignty. Concern about worsening humanitarian conditions led the Security Council to develop a new oil-for-food plan in 1995. It increased the level of permitted oil sales and gave responsibility for relief distribution in the south-central part of the country to the Iraqi government. Again Iraq rejected the program, but after further negotiations, Baghdad finally consented in 1996, and the first deliveries of food and medicine arrived in 1997.
The oil-for-food program was never intended to be, and did not provide, the needed economic stimulus that alone could end the crisis in Iraq. But it was a bona fide effort by the Security Council to relieve humanitarian suffering. If the government of Iraq had accepted the program when it was first proposed, much of the suffering that occurred in the intervening years could have been avoided.
The Security Council has steadily expanded the oil-for-food program. In 1998 it raised the limits on permitted oil sales, and in 1999 it removed the ceiling altogether. Production has risen to approximately 2.6 million barrels per day, levels approaching those before the Gulf War. Oil revenues during the last six months of 2000 reached nearly $10 billion. This is hardly what one would call an oil embargo. Oil exports are regulated, not prohibited. Funds are still controlled through the UN escrow account, with a nearly 30 percent deduction for war reparations and UN costs, but Baghdad has more than sufficient money to address continuing humanitarian needs. Said Secretary General Kofi Annan in his latest report, "With the improved funding level for the programme, the Government of Iraq is indeed in a position to address the nutritional and health concerns of the Iraqi people."
Not only are additional revenues available, but the categories for which funds can be expended have been broadened to include oil production, power generation, water and sanitation, agriculture, transportation and telecommunications. The program is no longer simply an oil-for-food effort. The emphasis has shifted from simple humanitarian relief to broader economic assistance and the rebuilding of infrastructure.