News

International Herald Tribune
October 20, 1999

The Iraqis Are Victims Of Saddam, Not Of The Outside World

By Samuel R. Berger, International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Various diplomats attending the recent UN opening session chided proponents of continued sanctions against Iraq for being insensitive to the plight of the Iraqi people. The people of Iraq are indeed suffering today, but the cause is not sanctions. It is the policies of Saddam Hussein.

When the United Nations first imposed sanctions against Iraq, immediately after the invasion of Kuwait, it exempted food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Soon after the Gulf War, the United States took the lead in proposing that Iraq be allowed to sell controlled quantities of its oil to pay for these critical humanitarian needs.

For five long years, Saddam refused to do so, hoping to manipulate international opinion by perpetuating the misery of his people.

Now that the oil-for-food program is finally being implemented, it is making a real difference in the lives of the people. This year oil-for-food is expected to generate nearly $7 billion for use by Iraq to purchase food, medicine and humanitarian goods. The food supply in Iraq has grown, providing the average citizen with approximately 2,030 calories a day, an amount exceeding the UN-recommended daily minimum.

In fact, the amount of food and medicine that Iraq has been able to purchase under this program is greater than all of the humanitarian aid that the United Nations has provided to all the other countries in the world in the last three years.

Even so, Saddam continues to hinder the program and deprive all his people of its benefits. Today, according to the United Nations, one-third of all the medicine that has arrived in Iraq since the start of the oil-for-food program sits undistributed in Iraqi warehouses.

Despite a 50 percent increase in oil revenues, Iraq has increased the amount earmarked for food purchases by just 16 percent. Despite infant malnutrition, Iraq has spent less than 40 percent of the $25 million that has been set aside for nutritional supplies, and until just a few weeks ago had gone more than 18 months without ordering a single nutritional supplement.

Not only is Saddam depriving his people of food, he is selling it illicitly for his own profit. Baby milk sold to Iraq through the oil-for-food program has been found in markets throughout the Gulf region.

Recently, Kuwaiti authorities stopped a shipment coming out of Iraq that included baby powder, baby bottles and other nursing materials for resale overseas. And the Kuwaiti Coast Guard has seized three cargo vessels that were trying to smuggle more than 600 tons of food and foodstuffs out of Iraq.

We know where that money is going. Since the end of the Gulf War, Saddam has built 48 grand palaces, complete with gold-plated faucets and man-made lakes and waterfalls.

Five months ago, Iraqi officials inaugurated Saddamiat al Tharthar, a lakeside resort for high government officials that contains stadiums, an amusement park, hospitals, parks, and new homes, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Top military officials are provided with extra monthly food rations, a Mercedes and stipends in the thousands of dollars, while most Iraqis are forced to live on less than$3.50 a month

All of this is obscene.

It's telling that, according to Unicef, in northern Iraq, which is under the same sanctions as the rest of Iraq but where the United Nations directly administers humanitarian assistance, child mortality rates have fallen below pre-Gulf War levels, and children are living better lives. In southern and central Iraq, where the government controls the program, child mortality rates have more than doubled.

Opponents of current policy need to consider the alternative. Under sanctions, Saddam must sell the commodity he values most to meet the needs of those he values least, the people of his country. If sanctions were lifted, he could spend his oil wealth on anything he wanted. Oil for food would likely become oil for tanks. Iraq's people could well have less to eat. Iraq's neighbors would certainly have more to fear.

Saddam's priorities are clear: palaces for himself, perks for his cronies, prisons for his people, and weapons to destroy Iraq's citizens and neighbors.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is unanimous in its judgment that Iraq has not fulfilled its obligations to the international community. It has not disarmed. It has not forsworn the development of weapons of mass destruction. It has not renounced the use of chemical and biological weapons. It does not respect the international border with Kuwait, and has not accounted for Kuwaiti prisoners of war.

It has not stopped the repression, torture and abuse of its own people, from Kurds in the north to Shiites in the south.

There is no conflict here between the demands of sensitivity and security, no trade-off between feeding the people of Iraq and freeing the Gulf region from fear. In fact, the only realistic way to achieve both goals is to encourage a new regime in Iraq that will meet the needs of its people and its obligations to the world.

When that new regime emerges, the United States is prepared to do its part to help foster economic development, restore Iraqi civil society, replenish the middle class, rebuild Iraq's health and education sectors, and welcome Iraq back into the community of nations.

We should work together, with patience and determination, until that day when we can not only lift sanctions but truly lift the lives of the Iraqi people.

The writer is the U.S. national security adviser. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.