Iraq: Misery and hardship: the darker side of UN sanctions

Children are dying as doctors find it impossible to buy drugs to cure them
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The Independent Online

Not long before Christmas last year, UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday - the bearded andbalding Irishman who heads the UN's oil- for-food programme in Iraq - paid a visit to four small Iraqichildren suffering from leukaemia in the Saddam Hussein City Hospital.

Not long before Christmas last year, UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday - the bearded andbalding Irishman who heads the UN's oil- for-food programme in Iraq - paid a visit to four small Iraqichildren suffering from leukaemia in the Saddam Hussein City Hospital.

"The doctors told me they couldn't get the drugs to treat them and I got involved with them," Mr Hallidaysays in his cramped Baghdad office, the walls hanging with cheap Arab rugs. "With a World HealthOrganisation colleague, I managed to get the drugs they required - some from Jordan, one from northernIraq, which means it was probably smuggled in from Turkey.Then I dropped in on Christmas Eve to seethe children in their ward. Two were already dead. You know, the doctors who look after these childrenare incredible characters - you can imagine the effect on them of not having what they need to heal theirpatients."

Mr Halliday is palpably torn by his task of distributing food and medicine to 23 million Iraqis, all ofwhom are being punished and some of whom are being left to die in appalling hospital conditions becauseof Iraq's refusal to submit to full UN arms inspections. At the same time as he was seeking drugs for theleukaemia children, Halliday wrote an impassioned letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,complaining that what the UN was doing in Iraq was causing untold suffering to innocent people.

"I wrote that what we were doing was undermining the moral credibility of the UN," he says. "I foundmyself in a moral dilemma. It seemed to me that what we were doing was in contradiction to the humanrights provision in the UN's own charter." It was Halliday's idea to permit Iraq to export more oil - toincrease it from US $2bn every six months to $4bn. "I started selling the idea to the Russian, Chinese andFrench ambassadors here and they were quick to take it up and convey it to their capitals. The fact that thiswas accomplished makes my conscience a bit easier."

But Iraq, whose UN sales are strictly monitored - 30 per cent goes to compensate individuals, companiesand countries which suffered from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait - has not been allowed touse its oil income to repair or maintain the decrepit and war-damaged machinery in its oil fields. Allowedto export more oil - it might have been permitted to sell more than $5bn every six months - it is deprivedof the means of doing so. When Mr Halliday accompanied Mr Annan to see the Iraqi Vice President TahaYassin Ramadan at the weekend, Mr Ramadan complained bitterly that he had no spare parts to increasethe oil flow.

Now a commission of experts is to enter Iraq to see how much it will cost to restore Iraq's pumping andrefining facilities. But a far more terrible fate awaits the Iraqi people. With its electrical power stationsproducing less than 40 per cent of capacity, water and sanitation systems are on the point of breakdown.Hospitals in Basra are filthy, their doctors forced to re-use rubber gloves during operations, their wardswithout air conditioning or clean water. Without electrical pumps, water is falling in the pipes and sewageis being sucked into the vacuum. To restore full electrical current will cost a further minimum $6bn.

"The government here used to encourage the use of infant formula, and infant formula with contaminatedwater is a real killer," Mr Halliday says. "In the south, water and sanitation have broken down. Some ofthe damage was done by American bombing [in 1991], probably other damage during the Iran-Iraq war.The reason the Iraqis were slow to move on the oil- for-food programme [it was almost two years beforeIraq agreed to the system] is because they see this as a national humiliation. They're being givenhandouts, and it's their own money."

Mr Halliday is a Dublin-born Quaker who worked in Kenya and Iran before joining the UN's bureaucracyin New York; and he is a man who has no great trust in the sanctions which he is helping to impose. "Ithink the international community has got to find some alternative to sanctions," he says. "... we need tofind a way of separating the leadership from the people. One way is to stop arms sales. If there couldreally be control on sales of arms, there could really be controls."

Most of the rejected Iraqi industrial requests are turned down by the UN because of possible dual purposeuse. "The Iraqi director general of railways was telling me the other day that he ordered some spare partsfor his diesel locos in 1988 and paid 4 million French francs for them. Because of the sanctions, he hasn'tgot them yet. It's a typical dual purpose problem - trains can be used to transport soldiers." Area electricpower generators in Iraq are desperately in deed of turbine parts, each of which has to becustom-manufactured. The UN has been delaying supplies.

But Mr Halliday worries more about the long-term future of Iraqis, those who survive the UN'spunishing sanctions. "There are men and women now in their 20s and 30s and 40s who have known littlemore than the Iran- Iraq war, the Gulf war and the sanctions.They see themselves as surrounded byunfriendly people, and a very unsympathetic America and Britain.They are out of touch ... They have noaccess to Western television. And these are the people who are going to have to run this country in thefuture. They are feeling alienated and very Iraqi-introverted.Their next-door neighbours are going to havea tough time dealing with these people."