December 1, 1997
After a background from Kwame Holman, Margaret Warner leads a discussion on the proposals to ease the impact of international sanctions on Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: The United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq have been the focus of rising public anger in Baghdad in recent days. Yesterday, Iraqis paraded coffins said to contain the bodies of children who have died from starvation and lack of medical care. The United Nations so-called "Oil for Food" program was designed to blunt such a crisis. But the U.N. acknowledged today the troubled program has failed to prevent widespread malnutrition. Some demonstrators blamed the United States, not the U.N. or Saddam Hussein's regime.
SPOKESMAN: It is not because of the regime. It is because of the stand of the U.S.A. against the regime and the people in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also yesterday Iraqis threw stones at U.N. officials responsible for dispersing food and medical supplies.
MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF, Foreign Minister, Iraq: I understand why we, the Iraqis, are angry and frustrated. But I will not approve such a behavior.
KWAME HOLMAN: The U.N.'s Oil for Food program is a modification of the sanctions regime against Iraq. The U.N. banned Iraqi oil exports after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The lack of oil income ruined Iraq's economy, leading to widespread shortages of food and medical supplies. Hardest hit were children. In response, the U.N. agreed in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell up to $2 billion worth of oil every six months and use the proceeds to buy food and medicine for its people. Some of the funds also must be used to pay for U.N. inspections of Iraqi weapons sites and to compensate victims of the 1991 Gulf War. But implementation of the program was delayed until last year, and since then, it has been fraught with administrative and logistical problems. In his report on the Oil for Food program released today U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "It will be necessary for us to increase the amount of Iraqi oil sold so that we can bring a better basket of food to the Iraqi people." A United Nations agency estimated recently that 4500 Iraqi children die every month from starvation and poor medical care and nearly a million children under age five are malnourished. Annan's report says the problem now affects all segments of Iraqi society. The proposed expansion of the Oil for Food program comes against the backdrop of the ongoing tension between the U.S. and Iraq over Iraq's efforts to bar Americans from the international teams inspecting Iraqi chemical and biological weapons sites. When Iraq allowed the resumption of the inspections with American inspectors included, U.S. officials insisted it was not in return for any promise to ease sanctions. Yesterday, however, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson said the U.S. was willing to see the Oil for Food program improved.
BILL RICHARDSON, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: ("Meet the Press") First of all, Saddam Hussein doesn't care about his own people, but the United States is ready in the United Nations in an oil for food resolution to find ways that the Iraqi people get food and medicine. We're ready to look at that program, see if the delivery system can be improved, get the U.N. to make it work better.
KWAME HOLMAN: Later yesterday, Richardson went further.
BILL RICHARDSON: And we're ready to improve it. If it takes an increase, we'll consider that very seriously.
KWAME HOLMAN: In his report today the U.N. Secretary General stopped short of recommending how the Oil for Food program should be expanded. The decision on what to do now rests with the U.N. Security Council. It is expected to take up the matter this week, when the current Oil for Food program expires.
MARGARET WARNER: We get two views now on Secretary General Annan's recommendation. Phebe Marr is a senior fellow at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies. And Edmund Ghareeb is an adjunct professor of Middle East Studies at both American and George Washington Universities. He is the co-author of the book War in the Gulf 1990-91. Is Kofi Annan right? Is it time to let the Iraqis sell more oil?
EDMUND GHAREEB, American University: Certainly. I think it's time to let the Iraqis sell more oil. I think it's also time to consider lifting the sanctions on Iraq. The people of Iraq have been paying a very heavy price for those sanctions. As we have seen, there are about 4500 children are dying every month. One of every four Iraqis is suffering from malnutrition. The prices have gone up about 5,000 percent since the beginning of 1990. A kilogram of meat or a tray of eggs costs something like 3,000 Iraqi dinars, which is the official pay of an Iraqi for one month. So this is a serious problem. And the question is: What's the purpose behind this? If the purpose is really to oust Saddam Hussein, then the sanctions, and to hurt Saddam Hussein, then the sanctions have failed. And they have failed miserably. If the purpose of the sanctions, however, is to decimate Iraqi society and destroy its infrastructure, destroy the middle class, then it has succeeded very well. What we are seeing is Saddam--the people have become much more dependent on the government than before because of the sanctions regime.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. How do you see it?
PHEBE MARR, National Defense University: Well, I would agree that it's time to get more food and help for the Iraqi people but definitely not time to lift the sanctions. And I'd like to say here that the--there are many purposes to the sanctions. It isn't simply--perhaps not at all--simply to get Saddam Hussein, and it certainly isn't to decimate Iraqi society. Let me just say that under Resolution 986, Oil for Food, which has a number of restrictions on it in the way the money can be spent and distributed in Iraq, under that resolution I think it's time to expand the amount of oil that can be sold--I would say even to expand what the money can be used for. Right now it's used for food, medicine, and other necessities of life. I think in time it could be expanded to include some of the infrastructure--pure water, perhaps electricity, even education, help on education. The reason it should come under this resolution is that we're certain that it doesn't go into the hands of Saddam Hussein, who can then spend it on weapons of mass destruction or whatever.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, explain briefly why, if keep it under this resolution, as you say, it can't--Saddam Hussein doesn't get ahold of the money.
PHEBE MARR: Well, because there are a number of restrictions. First of all, it's put into an escrow account. Second of all, a--
MARGARET WARNER: The money--
PHEBE MARR: The money that comes from the oil does not go directly to the government of Iraq. It's put into an escrow account. Then to make sure that the money buys food, medicine, or whatever it's supposed to buy, the contracts have to be approved by a sanctions committee, the U.N. sanctions committee, under Resolution 661. That's why it's called the 661 Committee. And then when it gets into Iraq to make sure that it goes to the people--not the military or some other purpose--there are over 150 monitors in Iraq overseeing the distribution system that, in fact, the Iraqi government has supplied.
MARGARET WARNER: Why wouldn't increasing the amount, as Ms. Marr is suggesting, but keeping it under the sanctions regime, why is that not enough, in your view?
EDMUND GHAREEB: I think there are two issues here. I think, on the one hand, there is the immediate question, and that could be--probably it could be resolved by providing more oil for sale. The problem, however, has to do with something else as well, and this is that on one hand, while we have seen recently that there are the 2 billion for oil, in reality what Iraq is getting is something like 1.23 billion and the rest, so every Iraqi citizen--
MARGARET WARNER: But that's because the rest goes either to support the weapons inspection program, or to reimburse Kuwaitis.
EDMUND GHAREEB: Compensation--as to reimburse Kuwait. The second factor that's involved here also is that the average Iraqis are getting only something like 25 to 27 cents a day. That is in Central and Southern Iraq. And this is not really sufficient for the care of the people. The second thing is that there should be a separation of the economic sanctions, which have been devastating the country, devastating its civil infrastructure, and that is very dangerous not only just for the regime. It's not affecting the regime. The regime is as strong as it has always been, but it's threatening the Iraqi structure, the Iraqi society, the Iraqi state. There is a great deal of fear and concern in the region about what's going on in Northern Iraq, about Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq, that this might threaten the whole fabric of Iraqi society. And what we might end up seeing--something like what we saw in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, what we see in Iraq will make that look like a picnic.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me stay with the Oil for Food program just another couple of minutes and ask you, UNICEF--the U.N. organization--said that this Oil for Food program, which was designed to sort of ameliorate the impact of sanctions in a year, has essentially done nothing for children and infants, in terms of malnutrition and deaths. Why hasn't it?
PHEBE MARR: Well, first of all, I'm not so sure that it has done nothing. We have actually gotten some food and medicine into Iraq. Perhaps we need to get more under the 986 Resolution. The question is: How is it distributed when it gets there? Why is it being slowed up? Now the Iraqis are accusing the United Nations of a sanctions committee. There may be just a lot of bureaucracy, but, frankly, Saddam Hussein, himself, stopped this program halfway through it, in the second tranche, didn't renew it for a while. There's a lot of frankly difficulty when it gets into Iraq as well. Moreover, I think I'd say that we have to be careful about the statistics coming out of Iraq. It's very, very difficult to do independent research there, whether you're NGO, whether you're U.N. or whatever. And many of the statistics that are being used come out of figures provided by the Iraqi government. So I don't want to comment on the accuracy of all these things, except for the fact that we have to be skeptical, I think, of all specific figures. The situation is not good, and certainly we need to get more help to the Iraqi people, but let us a put a certain amount of skepticism on actual figures coming out of Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your view about why--whether it is working and if it isn't, why not?
EDMUND GHAREEB: I think by actually statements that are coming from the U.S. Government the Iraqi Government is providing a fair way of distributing the food to the people. Part of the problem, I think, in terms of the food, about 95 percent of the food is getting into the country; however, the problem comes when it comes to medicine. Medicine, for example, only about 25 percent of the medicine is getting into Iraq. Part of it is because of the hesitations on the part of the sanctions committee. Part of it is bureaucracy perhaps, as Phebe has mentioned. And I think even the human rights coordinator for the UN--Dennis Halliday--has been very critical of the commission on--the committee on this issue. So obviously, there has to be more done in this area of humanitarian assistance, humanitarian aid, and perhaps a decoupling of the inspection from the sanctions regime.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, could you--now we move on to maybe the larger question, which you've suggested, which is: Why not ease the sanctions, at least partially, even now? Russia has even suggested that, rather than, I think the current U.N. view is until Saddam complies with all of the weapons resolutions, nothing will be lifted.
PHEBE MARR: I support that fully.
MARGARET WARNER: You support Iraq's view?
PHEBE MARR: No. I support not easing the regular sanctions regime but getting the help to the Iraqi people under 986. Frankly, 986 is a very flexible resolution. We can expand the amount of oil so we can expand the amount of food and medicine. We can expand the kinds of things that go under but making sure that Saddam Hussein does not get unfettered use of his oil resources, that's what this is all about. It is partly a PR campaign from Iraq to get the full sanctions regime off. What people have to understand, what that means is that he gets to sell the oil; he gets to decide how it's spent. It's in his control, and nobody has any control over how it's spent. Here is a man--
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning what?
PHEBE MARR: Meaning that he can spend it on weapons of mass destruction, on missiles, on his support system, on the military, and so on. He may spend some of it on getting the food to the population, but there's no--there's no limit on his ability to spend it on weapons of mass destruction and the military if he has unfettered use of that oil resource. So what we should do is definitely get more help to the Iraqi people under the resolution which provides some controls over that, rather than allowing him to have use of the oil money.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that a danger--give him unfettered use of the oil money?
EDMUND GHAREEB: I think there's no doubt that Saddam Hussein is seen as a leader who's not trusted by some of the other countries in the area, but I think the issue is bigger than that, and we have seen recently, as a result of the recent crisis, that no one is supportive of the--or very few people are supportive of the use of force against Iraq. There is a question of this impact of the sanctions that some people in the area are calling this as a weapon of mass destruction on the Iraqi people. There's no doubt that there are legitimate issues, legitimate concerns, when it comes to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The question is: What is the best way of achieving this? And that is the way that it's been done so far, is this really, has it accomplished anything? We are in the sanctions regime now for seven a half years since they were imposed. The commission has been working in Iraq for this--since the end of war. And so far nothing has been accomplished. So there has to be a new way--new attitudes to achieve this objective.
MARGARET WARNER: Nothing accomplished?
EDMUND GHAREEB: No, I don't think--unfortunately, it's taken a very long time, and, indeed, the Iraqi people have paid for that. But we have gotten his nuclear program under control. We've gotten a good bit of the weapons of mass destruction under control. Finally, we've got recognition of Kuwait and the borders. We might have some disagreement over whether the border should or should not have been recognized, but, nevertheless, these have been achievements. It's been like pulling teeth because it's taken so long to get compliance on this. The sanctions or the desire to get the sanctions has in some sense contributed to that.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you say to the comment Mike McCurry made today, which is if he wants to get rid of sanctions, it's very easy, all he has to do is comply with the U.N. weapons resolutions? What's his game? I mean, why doesn't he?
EDMUND GHAREEB: Oh, I think there's no doubt that Saddam Hussein's gains--primarily he wants to stay in power. That's the first and the most important thing. But I think the issue is beyond that. It is what policy is there for Iraq. It seems that the dual containment policy has been collapsed. There are Russian, French, Malaysian companies have challenged the U.S. policy on Iran. At the same time there seems to be only one lateral containment of Iraq and the only thing we know how to deal with them is either by force or threat of force. The peace process appears to be collapsing so there are a lot of people in the region who are raising questions about U.S. policy, and the purpose behind that policy, and whether or not there is a coherent policy toward Iraq and toward the Middle East as a whole.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, why do you think he's not willing to make the trade-off the U.N. wants him to make?
PHEBE MARR: Well, I think Edmund is absolutely right. He wants to stay in power. I think he wants those weapons for multiple purposes, to protect himself against the United States should they want to take the kind of military action that's been talked about in the press, protect himself against Iraq. That is the real threat, protect himself against Israel, and maybe to intimidate some of his neighbors eventually.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.