A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions
Despite these improvements, Baghdad has continued to obstruct and undermine the aid program. Iraq has periodically halted oil sales as a way of protesting sanctions. During the first half of 2001, oil sales were approximately $4 billion less than in the previous 180-day period. According to Annan, the oil-for-food program "suffered considerably because...oil exports...[have] been reduced or totally suspended by the government of Iraq." In June and July 2001, as the Security Council considered a new "smart sanctions" plan, Iraq again withheld oil exports to register its disapproval of the proposal. The result was a further loss of oil revenues and a reduction of the funds available for humanitarian needs.
The differential between child mortality rates in northern Iraq, where the UN manages the relief program, and in the south-center, where Saddam Hussein is in charge, says a great deal about relative responsibility for the continued crisis. As noted, child mortality rates have declined in the north but have more than doubled in the south-center. The difference is especially significant given the historical pattern prior to the Gulf War. In the 1970s child mortality rates in the northern Kurdish region were more than double those in the rest of the country. Today the situation is reversed, with child mortality rates in the south-center nearly double those in the north. The Kurdish zone has enjoyed a favored status in the relief program, with per capita allocations 22 percent higher than in the south-center. The region contains most of the country's rain-fed agriculture. Local authorities have welcomed the continuing efforts of private relief agencies, and have permitted a lively cross-border trade with surrounding countries. But these differences alone do not explain the stark contrast in mortality rates. The tens of thousands of excess deaths in the south-center, compared to the similarly sanctioned but UN-administered north, are also the result of Baghdad's failure to accept and properly manage the UN humanitarian relief effort.
Despite the evidence of Baghdad's shared responsibility for the ongoing crisis, sanctions opponents have continued to direct their ire exclusively at the United States and Britain. To parry this criticism, and to further expand relief efforts, Washington and London have developed a smart-sanctions plan to lift most restrictions on civilian imports, while retaining a tightly enforced arms embargo. Under the US/British plan, civilian imports would be permitted to flow freely into Iraq. Weapons and military-related goods would continue to be prohibited, and dual-use items would be subject to review. Oil revenues would still flow through the UN escrow account, but there would be no limits on the volume or range of civilian goods that could be purchased with these funds. While not a formal lifting of sanctions, the proposed restructuring plan would further remove restrictions on the civilian economy and provide additional relief for the Iraqi people. Most governments have supported the plan, and fourteen of the fifteen members of the Security Council were prepared to vote in favor when it was considered in July. Russia balked at the proposal, however, primarily out of economic self-interest, with Baghdad promising lucrative contracts to Russian oil companies in exchange for Moscow's support for a complete lifting of the sanctions. The plan was shelved, but it is expected to come up again at the Security Council in December.
Many peace and religious groups opposed the smart-sanctions plan when it was proposed. Some condemned the proposal even before the details were announced, flatly asserting that smart sanctions kill children. A more effective response would be to highlight the shortcomings of the plan and urge further steps toward the easing of civilian sanctions. Such steps would include permitting foreign investment in Iraq, eliminating restrictions on non-oil exports, and providing cash for the purchase of food and other goods from local producers rather than foreign suppliers. It is also important, peace and human rights groups surely would agree, to maintain military sanctions until Iraq complies fully with the UN disarmament mandate and permits a final round of weapons inspection.
We can and must do more to help the Iraqi people. The more credible we are, the more effective we will be.