By Amira Howeidy
Al-Ahram Weekly / commondreams.org
July 19, 2000
An Interview With Dennis Halliday, Ex-UN Assistant Secretary-General Heading The UN Humanitarian Mission In Iraq
Dennis Halliday is probably the most high-profile critic of continuing sanctions against Iraq the world over. He should know. As UN assistant secretary-general heading the international organisation’s humanitarian mission in Iraq he was first hand witness to the havoc the sanctions were wreaking on the country and its people. In 1998 he resigned in disgust. While in Cairo last week, Halliday found time to talk to Amira Howeidy about the 10-year long genocidal war still being launched against Iraq and the medieval tactics used in a dangerous game masterminded by Washington.
On 9 June, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1302, which extends the Oil-for-Food programme for another 180 days. How do you evaluate this resolution and should we expect improvement in the plight of the Iraqi people?
Resolution 1302 is a continuation of the Oil-for-Food programme, which was not designed to resolve the crisis in Iraq. When it was assembled in 1996, it was designed to stop further deterioration. But the fact is that Oil-for-Food has sustained the humanitarian crisis. Mortality rates of children under five years of age still remain at 5,000 per month, plus an additional 2,000-3,000 people per month among adults, other children and teenagers. These people are dying because of bad water, inadequate diets, broken down hospital care and collapsed systems.
We have massive malnutrition in Iraq, despite the Oil-for-Food programme. There is a huge social collapse, families falling apart with children out of school taking to the streets. The electric power is 35 per cent of what it was in 1990. So the Oil-for-Food programme has totally failed to bring about the well being of the Iraqi people. Having said that, it has, however, provided something like 20 million tonnes of basic food. It does make a huge difference in keeping the Iraqi people alive — but only barely alive.
The conditions in Iraq today under the UN economic sanctions and the Oil-for-Food programme constitute famine conditions. The average birth weight of a child in Iraq today is less than five pounds. That is an indicator of famine. The Oil-for-Food programme is something that the UN should be ashamed of. It is a continuation of the genocide that the economic embargo has placed on Iraq.
I say genocide because it is an intentional programme to destroy a culture, a people, a country — economic sanctions are known to do that. [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright herself acknowledged half a million dead children back in 1996. Yet the member states — the United States and the United Kingdom in particular — have continued the economic embargo despite their knowledge of the death rate of Iraqi children. That is genocide.
Oil-for Food is better than nothing, but it is not the solution. The solution is to rebuild the economy. There is no other way to address the problems of the Iraqi people but to give 100 per cent of the oil revenues back to Iraq and allow Iraq to invest that money in agriculture, health care and education, to rebuild the infrastructure, water systems, sewage systems, electric power and rebuild its capacity to produce oil and so on. That is the only solution to this crisis.
After ten years of disarmament and sanctions, outrageous mortality rates and evidence of famine, why has the UN Security Council failed to agree on lifting the embargo? Do you believe that the continuation of this genocide is deliberate?
I think the UN Security Council today reflects the wishes of the US. The US, supported by the UK, has corrupted the UN. They deliberately sustain this policy. This is not about Kuwait, it is about something much bigger. It is a new form of neo-colonialism [applied by] the US to dominate the Arab world in order to control the supply of oil and destroy and suppress perhaps the strongest country within the Arab world which in 1990 who dared to challenge the West. A country which dared to stand up and plan to create some regional leadership.
The US found that unacceptable. They were afraid of the power that Saddam Hussein represented after the Iraq-Iran war. Although the economy was damaged and he was short of money, he had capacity. When they realised this capacity, and when he foolishly invaded Kuwait — a grave mistake — it was a gift to President George Bush. They prayed for something like that and they got it. They destroyed Iraq and they were very happy to do that. They were very frightened that he would withdraw from Kuwait before [General Norman] Schwarzkopf and Bush were ready to crush the Iraqi people.
But when they did that, they broke the international law and the Geneva convention. They deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure. And this was the US — under the umbrella of the UN — committing crimes against humanity during the Gulf War.
So Iraq has been controlled and destroyed. Why, then, are the sanctions still in force?
What is happening now is that they are frustrated. They are punishing the Iraqi people by killing them because they cannot find a way to punish Saddam Hussein and deal with the government in Baghdad.
This is a substitute for dealing with the real problem as they see it, which is the government in Baghdad.
But this sounds rather medieval.
Yes. It is like raiding the city and killing all the women and children or killing all the men and then taking the women. It is absolutely medieval, you’re quite right.
When they launched Operation Desert Fox against Iraq in 1998, was it actually possible for the US and the UK to get rid of Hussein?
I think they deliberately decided to keep the government in Baghdad in power to sustain the instability of Iraq on the one hand, and the threat that Iraq posed for the Kuwaitis and the Saudis in the Gulf on the other.
This has been done to control the financial and oil resources of the Arab world in order to provide opportunities to sell American weapons and the American army. And they have done it very successfully.
Defense Secretary William Cohen travelled all over the Arab World selling hundreds of billions of dollars worth of planes and guns. It is called business. They have got a market for military hardware from the US and Europe and they’ve got control over the oil resources. I mean, we know that Iraq probably has the world’s biggest supply of oil in the world, not the second. But this has all been suppressed. In other words, the Americans have got what they wanted. Who cares about 6,000-7,000 people dying every month?
I think we must address the fact that the American policy vis-í -vis Iraq serves to diminish the entire Arab world. It has been gobbling up Arab financial resources that should be going to the people; to education and to the future, into oil production and petrochemicals. That money is going into military arms, which will never be used — I hope.
Do you have any insight into exactly where the money is going?
Well, we know that the US has sold huge amounts of weapons to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Abu Dhabi just bought $6.3 billion worth of fighters the other day. We know of the huge presence of NATO and the US in Turkey. We know military support goes to Israel.
Here, we have a huge problem. Nuclear warheads in Israel, some of it undoubtedly pointed toward Baghdad, raise the whole problem of double standards. Moreover, Turkey can invade Iraq at will and does, nothing happens. Israel can invade Lebanon, nothing happens. There are no sanctions, no reparations, nothing is happening. It is just a huge game that’s controlled by the US.
Do you think your resignation and those of your two successors had any effect on the decisions of the UN?
We’ve made no change or improvement. The UN is still responsible for killing 6,000 to 7,000 Iraqis per month. And these aren’t my figures, they’re UN figures, UNICEF figures.
Calls are now being made to have Western leaders who caused this genocide sit trial in the War Criminals Tribunal. Is this possible and do you support such calls?
I do. I think it has become known as the Pinochet tactic. Pinochet has done us all a favour by being vulnerable and being caught — even though he was released. It was a signal to everybody from Bush, Albright to Hussein; men and women alike who make decisions that constitute crimes against humanity have got to watch out. They’re not free to travel, they’re not free to do these things. They will be — and must be — prosecuted.
So you think President Bill Clinton should be tried?
Absolutely. He is the commander-in-chief and he approved the bombing of Iraq, for example, in December 1998. There was no justification for this, no UN resolution. It is a breach of international law. It is outrageous and it is, of course, a crime against humanity.
How has your international lobbying — including efforts in Egypt — fared so far?
I have been invited by the Egyptian Committee for Lifting the Sanctions Against Iraq to come here, meet with them, to talk to them about my perceptions and my experience. This is what I’ve been doing around the world, speaking about sanctions and trying to get governments to have some courage and some integrity to stand up and take on the US. I am here to talk to people in Egypt to encourage them to do more. Egypt is fundamental, pivotal even, in making a difference.
But one of the problems I encounter around the world, in Europe for example, is that they do not see the Arab leaders standing up and defending the people of Iraq. This is a real problem. They do not see the Arab League standing up and passing resolutions demanding an end to economic sanctions.
Egypt may have done more than other countries, but it is not enough. If the Arab World does not identify with the people of Iraq and demand from the US to put an end to their suffering, then it is very difficult for the rest of us.
Countries like Egypt have a special relationship with Washington, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and they have got to use their connections. The sanctions are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of fellow Arabs. Some day this will become very costly. It is going to be very difficult for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to rebuild a relationship with Iraq. The Iraqi people know that they are responsible for continuing this regime of sanctions. It is very damaging.
We need in the Arab world a vision for the next 50 or 100 years. The sooner we end the crisis in Iraq, the sooner the Arab world can rebuild its relationships and the Arab League can play a bigger role.
The whole of the Arab world is damaged by the economic sanctions of the Iraqis. I cannot visualise harmony in the Middle East without peace in Iraq.
But given the “special” relationship with Washington, would that not be a reason why Egypt and other Arab governments cannot push for more? At the same time, Arab public opinion remains under a sort of media black-out on what is actually happening in Iraq.
I’m afraid you’re absolutely correct. The news about Iraq is suppressed everywhere, even in the US. The international media does not want to address this. The people who own the media are the same people who produce arms and are making a lot of money in the Middle East from selling armament.
It is very tragic that the people of Egypt don’t understand what is happening to their Arab brothers and sisters in Iraq. But I also believe that the government in Egypt is deeply concerned about the long-term impact of this crisis. They sense that many Egyptians in the street and in many other Arab countries are extremely unhappy about what is happening to the people of Iraq. They see Saddam Hussein as a man of leadership and who had the courage to defy the West and the US. So he is becoming a hero in the streets of the Arab world.
I think that the Egyptian government would welcome an expression of frustration on the part of the average Egyptian person. This way, they would have the courage to address Washington.
These special relationships work both ways. I think that President Hosni Mubarak has the ear of President Clinton. I think that President Mubarak has a unique position of power and influence over Washington and they would listen; particularly if they felt he was speaking on behalf of the majority of the Arab leadership and reflecting the views of the average Arab in the streets.
Iraq has rejected UN Security Council Resolution 1284. Do you find this justified?
After 10 years of economic sanctions to talk about “suspending” sanctions is too little, too late. Secondly, the design of this programme, if everything worked absolutely to the clock, would take 10 months before the council can even consider suspending sanctions. That means 10 months multiplied by say 7,000. Some 70,000 Iraqi people have been sentenced to death by the Security Council. I find that outrageous.
This is the UN. They can make a plan that sentences 70,000 people to death. Whether they blame Saddam Hussein or they blame themselves, it makes no difference. Some 70,000 people are going to die under Resolution 1284. We know it is not going to work because the Americans have said, again and again, we will never lift the economic sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power. Why should Iraq cooperate with the regime in Washington when this is the situation?
To me there are several ways to do it. First of all, the economic sanctions must be lifted. Iraq has got to be allowed to have revenues of oil to rebuild its economy. However there’s going to be a price. The Iraqis have got to agree to the inspections of their military capacity and they have got to expect that weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated because of the past.
They have got to understand that they have terrified the Kuwaitis and the Saudis. They have got to live with that for the next 10 or 20 years. Gradually, they will accept that because if Saddam Hussein can give the Iraqi people the gift of a new economy, health care, education and employment, he will give them a whole new life.
You warned of a new generation of extremist Taliban-like Iraqis. What makes this a valid concern?
What I usually say is that the Iraqis are much too sophisticated for a Taliban-type movement. What is dangerous is that within the ruling Baath Party there are young men and women who are rising up. They will be the leaders of the future. However, they’re isolated, alienated from the Arab world and the West. They are inward looking, a bit like the Taliban.
Secondly, they are frustrated with Saddam Hussein. They believe that he is too moderate. He has compromised too often. He has backed down too many times in regard to the US and the UN.
They are so angry with the situation, and so frustrated with the humiliation of Iraq. They are ready to throw the UN out and certainly have Iraq suffer. But at least this way, they can rebuild the dignity, sovereignty and honour of Iraq, which is very important everywhere. Honour and dignity are worth a lot.
The Iraqis see themselves living in a refugee camp of 22 million people. And they have been fed badly with their own money. This is a gross humiliation and they’re being punished doubly by the UN and the US.
I think that the leadership in Baghdad today is sophisticated, worldly, has travelled overseas and understands the West. The next leadership under these conditions will not be like that. It will be much more difficult to communicate with these young men and women of the future who don’t have these opportunities to understand the world and the West.
We are creating for ourselves a much bigger problem. This is especially true for the Arab World. You in the Arab World have to live with Iraq and the sooner that the damage in the past is repaired and the relationships are restored, the better for everybody, not just for Iraq but for the whole Arab people