|ASSESSING THE COSTS|
March 13, 1998
Following the 1991 Gulf War, the United Nations imposed sanctions restricting trade with Iraq. Although the initial blockade has been eased somewhat, an estimated 420,000 children have died due to inadequate medical care or supplies. Following a background report, four experts debate whether it is time to lift the sanctions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we get three views now on the situation in Iraq. Denis Halliday runs the United States Oil for Food program. He is based in Iraq and was there as recently as last week. Jim Jennings is president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization. He has been to Iraq seven times since the Gulf War and was last there this past December. Rend Rahim Francke was born in Iraq and is now a U.S. citizen. She is the executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights in Iraq.
|One relief organization's efforts.|
Mr. Jennings, starting with you, you've been working directly on helping children in Iraq. What do you do? What have you seen?
JIM JENNINGS, Conscience International: What I've seen in Baghdad and also in Basra and Moso during this last medical visit that we made in December indicates that the sanctions regime is unprecedented in the severity, and also it really seems to be ineffective, but it's punishing the people of Iraq in a way that I think most American people, if they could see and understand what is really going on there, would find totally unacceptable in a moral sense, that is, it's cruel, inhumane, it's unconscionable, especially for a great nation like the United States to be imposing on the people of Iraq. Just the very fact that a million people have died is the greatest disaster since the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258 A.D.. And yet, it doesn't seem to sink through into the consciousness of the American people. I think that we have to be aware that Iraq is now history's biggest concentration camp. The average Iraq cannot travel out. For seven years there's been no travel in or out of Iraq by plane or ship. The importation--the Secretary of State is dead wrong when she says that there's no limit on humanitarian goods coming into the country, because I've traveled on that road to Baghdad, and it--and it's only one road across the desert for a thousand kilometers. Iraq is sealed off on the East, North, and South by armies, and the narrow road that connects it for a thousand kilometers across the desert is the only way in or out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Jennings, let me interrupt you one minute. How does it work? The children are malnourished. Is there no food? Do people have no money to buy the food that's there? And explain the connection between the sanctions and the malnourishment.
JIM JENNINGS: That's a good question. In fact, Iraq is not Somalia, and Iraq is not Rwanda. There is food in Iraq. It's the economic warfare against the Iraqi people that has caused the devastation and is so harmful because basically the money is not worth anything. There is no employment, except for picking dates, or being a shepherd. Essentially, the government workers and the health care workers get--a doctor will get $5 or $6 a month. And it's enough to buy a dozen eggs and a few more things. But even the poultry industry used to have 600 farms. Now it has I think six left. The infrastructure has been devastated, and this is what I tried to warn U.S. senators about prior to the 1991 war, that the downstream effects are more devastating than the war. And that's--I think--just a little bit of the problem. The poor people in Iraq--not all the people--poor people in Iraq are suffering.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Jennings, just so we help specifically, why are the medical problems so bad? Are there no IV's? What isn't there that would help people and why?
JIM JENNINGS: Whenever we go to hospitals, we find at every hospital that I've been to throughout the country, North, South, East, and West, the shelves are empty. And one clinic serving 70,000 people, they have as much medicine as I have in my medicine cabinet at home. This is unconscionable. And I think that, for the most part, there's been no national discussion on this. What you see in the wards is equally bad. The doctors are trained in western medicine, but they don't have the medicine and the equipment is broken, and so, therefore, they're almost totally impotent to do anything. One doctor said he saw 21 babies die in one night in Basra because--and he was crying over this--because they didn't have the oxygen to operate with. The sanctions--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'll come back to you.
JIM JENNINGS: --have stopped the humanitarian aid from getting through.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay.
JIM JENNINGS: Maybe it's unintended, but it is actually happening.
|Reports from Iraq.|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you. I'm going to come back to you. Ms. Francke, does this jibe with what you're hearing? You're talking to a lot of people as they come out.
REND RAHIM FRANCKE, Iraq Foundation: Yes. In fact, the effective of the sanctions has been devastating on the country. And we are familiar with all these stories. People do come out, and we talk to them, and they are in a terrible situation, particularly as to medicine. And I think the food situation has been eased a little bit down since the start of [U.N. Resolution] 986, although one can't say that it is completely normal or will--is likely to return to normal. But the medical situation is really the most serious one. And I do fault the international community for its slowness in delivering food, for the small amount of oil that Iraq was allowed to export for the first year of 986, which really did not take into account the full destruction and the devastation caused by the war and the needs of the Iraqi people. I think on the food situation things have improved, and people who are leaving Iraq have told us that first of all, the rations that are supplied by the U.N. are much greater than those that were supplied by the Iraqi government in the past, and the--also that this has a sort of a trickle-down effect because the cost of non-rationed foods available in the markets has come down considerably, so that even what is not supplied by the ration basket can be bought at more reasonable prices on the open market. So there has been an easing of the food program, of the food situation, but not of the medical.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Halliday, I'm going to come back to the Oil for Food program, but just on the overall picture of the effect of the sanctions, do you have anything to add to what you've just heard?
DENIS HALLIDAY, U.N. Oil/Food Program: I think both Mr. Jennings and Ms. Francke have given a very accurate picture of the situation. It is, indeed, as bad and as tragic as they described, both in terms of food and purchasing power, and the situation vis-a-vis the average family, and for the health sector it's tragically the case that the lack of drugs, equipment, supplies, is, indeed, having a devastating impact on young children in particular but also adults.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Halliday, does it affect all classes? I know it affects the poor more, but does it affect everybody?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, in fact, the professional classes, the middle class, the fixed income people, civil servants, have all been completely undermined by the impact of the sanctions. Their purchasing power has diminished. As Mr. Jennings said, they now earn the equivalent of $5 or $6 a month, and they cannot buy, in fact, the fresh fruit, the vegetables that are, indeed, available, but the purchasing power is no longer there.
|Whom do the Iraqi people blame?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Jennings, when you speak to Iraqis about this situation, whom do they blame, Saddam Hussein, the U.S., the U.N.?
JIM JENNINGS: They understand that the United States is guiding the policy of the U.N., and they are really not blaming so much as begging--they're asking the U.S. to please consider their needs. At the gates of the hospital people accost me and hold onto me and say, give me cannula, so that my son can be infused. They don't have the little attachments to needles so that they can save the life of a child. This happens over and over again. People on the streets are begging. For the most part, they have an attitude that is admirable because they're suffering but they're undergoing this, and it's unthinkable, but they're still not really resentful so much as bewildered by this whole policy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Francke, what do you think about that? Who are people blaming, and are they bewildered?
REND RAHIM FRANCKE: Well, I think they're bewildered and probably blaming also, but what I wanted to add to that is that the Iraqi people have been so disappointed by the international community but the United States specifically, and I am not only talking about humanitarian aid. Several years ago in 1994, there were films of the marsh Arabs who were being killed by Saddam Hussein. Their villages were being burned and bombarded, and they had to flee to Iran. And there was this very affecting video in which the Iraqis who had fled to Iran kept saying, but where is the United States? You talk about human rights. You talk about international tribunals. You talk about justice. Why isn't the United States helping us? And I think it is the same attitude that the people feel in Iraq towards the U.S. about the food.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But what about the role of Saddam Hussein, is it--is the government doing everything it can with its limited resources to feed people?
REND RAHIM FRANCKE: Oh, absolutely not, and I would like Mr. Halliday to comment on this. If you will allow me to go back a little bit to the beginning or prior--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just very briefly, please, we have limited time.
REND RAHIM FRANCKE: --program--the Iraqi government was distributing a ration basket. The U.N. program was supposed to be a supplement in order to top up the ration basket. In fact, Saddam has stopped distributing government-subsidized food, and now everything is being supplied by the U.N.. Saddam has completely eliminated the food that was being distributed by the government. We have also heard from a lot of Iraqis, particularly deserters from the army, defectors, that their families have been deprived of ration cards. I don't know why the U.N. is not paying attention to this sector of particularly vulnerable people, displaced people, who are deprived of ration cards. I think Saddam is responsible for a great deal, but I also fault the U.N. for not pointing out these defects.
|Is the Oil for Food program enough?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Halliday, how does the Oil for Food program work?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, what happens is that the Iraqi government is authorized to contract for let's say food stuffs overseas. These are then transferred to the sanctions committee in terms of applications. Once approved by that committee, the funds are released, and the supplies that are shipped to the country, itself, once upon arrival within Iraq, they are then distributed through an existing government system of some 50,000 agents throughout the country, and we in the U.N. have some 150 observers who monitor and observe this process of distribution, looking at efficiency, equity, and to ensure that we reach the great, great majority of the Iraqi people, of which, in fact, is the case.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you believe that there is enough food in this basket to fulfill the minimal needs, the minimal nutritional needs at this point, and that it is reaching the people that it needs to reach?
DENIS HALLIDAY: What we are providing under this program is reaching the people. It's not adequate and that that's, in fact, why the Secretary-General has proposed a very large increase up to 5.2 billion per six months, and the Security Council has endorsed that, so that we can enhance the quality of this food basket and include for the first time animal proteins, minerals and vitamins, which are missing from the current basket in which the level of malnutrition, which is prevalent for adults and even worse for small children.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you expect it to improve on time because there's been this doubling of the amount of oil that can be sold?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Absolutely. Assuming the government can pump the sort of levels that this revenue requires, we can certainly see, I think, changes in protein intake and nutritional levels. But this takes time. This will not happen overnight. It's a slow process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Jennings, what is your view of this program and whether it will help?
JIM JENNINGS: Well, I want to say that Mr. Halliday is one of the good guys, but I've been to the U.N. and talked to the officials who report to the Security Council and those who report to Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General. On this program it took 27 months after emergency aid was voted for the first spoonful of rice to reach the first Iraqi child. In December, I was in Mosul and visited the distribution center. It's about the size of the average American living room. Sacks of grain and flour are there and they dip it out with a coffee can and then they take it out to the people who can't come in. Those who can come in, they hand it to them. It's a month's ration. And I think that the Iraqi government cannot give this to everybody, they have to switch it around, so they only have so many that are able to respond to right now. So it's inadequate.
I think the problem is you cannot micro manage the economy of a great nation like Iraq--22 million people--halfway around the world from a small office or a small staff in New York on the 21st floor of the U.N. building. It's unthinkable. We must lift the sanctions. And the American people I think, who are concerned about this, ought to demand that their government lift the sanctions immediately. When Iraq was pumping oil, it was feeding its people and it was providing its hospitals with the best care of any country in the Middle East as the World Health Organization and Alexander Eag at the regional office has said. And as I said to the U.S. senators last week, I talked to a number of them, I said, you've inverted this policy pyramid--instead of being concerned with the well-being of 22 million people, of all the 22 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and of the 360 million people, if you count the Arabs, the Turks, and the Persians, and their attitudes toward the U.S.--instead, there's an obsession with the Iraqi regime.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, Mr. Jennings--
JIM JENNINGS: And I think that's misplaced.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry to interrupt. That's all the time we have. Thank you all very much.