Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Different Kind of War

Hans C. von Sponeck. A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanction Regime in Iraq. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006.

Reviewed by T. Hatch

Once upon a time the IMF and the World Bank saw Iraq as an up-and-comer with an annual per capita income of $2,400. After 1991 Iraq was the first nation state to have comprehensive economic sanctions applied against it. Historical parallels to the brutally swift disintegration of Iraqi civil society are virtually non-existent. Hans von Sponeck a United Nations humanitarian coordinator concerned with the administration of the much maligned Oil-for-Food Programme witnessed what his predecessor Denis Halliday referred to as “a criminally flawed and genocidal UN Security Council policy.”

Oil-for-Food in operation from 10 December 1996 until 21 November 2003 was entirely funded by Iraqi revenues. The way it was supposed to work was that the low levels of funding permitted by the United Nations Security Council were deposited in the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). Those funds under the control of the UNSC were then budgeted for one of eight humanitarian sections of the program. Despite assertions to the contrary by the Clinton administration and the UK foreign ministry there was no evidence that the Iraqi government withheld humanitarian supplies from the civilian population (pp. 74-75). In fact, funding habitually lagged behind that which was already budgeted. Any data which brought into question the US/UK strategy of weakening Iraq through sanctions was dismissed as either Iraqi propaganda or characterized as being based on inadequate UN data.

As permanent members of the UNSC the US/UK could put a hold on Oil-for-Food funds designated for one of the various areas of the program. This prerogative was vigorously utilized and resulted in actions such as the US representative to the UNSC delaying the delivery of 800 ambulances until the radios were first removed. Additionally, the UN Compensation Commission awarded governments and corporations monies from the inadequately funded Oil-for-Food account at a time of immense human misery in Iraq. About thirty percent of Iraq's permitted oil revenues went to these compensations.

Following the Iraqi Liberation Act in October of 1998 (which called for regime change) President Clinton authorized Operation Desert Fox in December of that year. Desert Fox was a bombing campaign against various Iraqi targets which resulted in “enlarged rules of engagement” in the no-fly zones. Many of the targets were Iraqi oil industry facilities which further reduced that government's ability to fund Oil-for-Food. Of course the US and UK governments maintained that they did not target civilians in their bombing operations. Straight from the pages of the Orwellian play book the British Minister of Defense opined in 1999 that: “We have to continue making these air strikes in order to carry on with our humanitarian work.”

Von Sponeck's work suggests several conclusions. While Tony Blair was George W. Bush's trusty “poodle,” Bill Clinton was in fact his first love. And, the continuity between the Clinton and Bush administrations is such that it is safe to say that George W. Bush did not invent unilateralism in recent American foreign policy. By the way, an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died as the result of these “humanitarian efforts.”

On order for the Grinnell College Libraries

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