Letter: Iraq, the facts and the FCO

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THE FOREIGN Office minister Derek Fatchett (Letters, 7 March) says that food and medicine have never been prohibited under sanctions. In fact, all imports were banned for an eight-month period after the imposition of sanctions in August 1990, during which time the death rate for under- fives started its inexorable rise, tripling by the end of 1990 and now standing at around seven times the pre-sanctions rate. While food and medicine are now technically not subject, each item has to be approved by the UN Sanctions Committee, which has vetoed requests for baby food, heart drugs, oxygen tents, cleaning materials and X-ray film, among other things.

The block on oil exports means that there is no money to buy the necessary food and medicine. Iraq is allowed to sell $10bn (pounds 6.1bn) of oil each year to buy "essential humanitarian supplies"; however, low oil prices and US-inspired delays in procuring spare parts for the oil industry mean that the available revenue, after deductions for the UN compensation fund, UN operating costs and the pipeline fee, is around $3bn a year. This is not enough even to stem the crisis, far less allow Iraq to start to repair the $220bn damage done to its civilian infrastructure during the Gulf War.

As long as Iraq has no money to repair the sewage and water treatment systems, children will continue to drink filthy water and will continue to die. Unicef estimates that more than 4,000 under-fives are dying every month as a direct result of UN sanctions. As one of the key supporters of sanctions, the UK bears direct responsibility for those deaths and any amount of disinformation from the Foreign Office cannot disguise that fact.

ANDREA NEEDHAM

London E2

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