The Guardian April 19, 2000

Iraq: Genocide
UN/US "Food for oil" program

DENIS HALLIDAY worked for the United Nations Organisation for 30 years. 
He was promoted by the former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali to 
the position of Assistant-Secretary General for Human Resources Management 
with responsibilities for the organisation world-wide. He continued in that 
position when Kofi Annan took over in 1996, and in August 1997, at his own 
request, joined the "Oil for Food Program" in Iraq. He oversaw this program 
for 13 months before resigning from his United Nations positions. His 
successor only completed another 13-14 months before he also resigned. 
While in Sydney, on a speaking tour in Australia, he was interviewed by 
Anna Pha for The Guardian. Denis Halliday started, by explaining why 
he resigned.

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Denis Halliday: In that position one represents the UN system/family in Iraq and is very much involved with the whole program including the military inspections, although it was a separate area with Richard Butler during my time there. I felt that the perception and the responsibility I had was totally incompatible with the UN, the Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and my own experience, a good experience of 30 years in the development business. There was no way I wanted to be associated with this program which effectively, through sanctions, had become genocidal. As a civil servant I was unable to speak out freely, therefore I decided to resign, to be free to do what I am doing with you and elsewhere in Australia, Europe and North America. Anna Pha: Could you please tell us about the "Oil for Food Program"? DH: The Security Council began to realise fairly early on in the days back in '91 and '92 that economic sanctions were creating famine conditions in Iraq. They understood even then that they were responsible for this mess. Rather than lifting sanctions they proposed to Iraq the so-called "Oil for Food Program". When they proposed it initially, it amounted to 20 cents per person per day. That is not a program on which you can live. Finally in '96 the Iraqis reluctantly agreed to total control of Iraqi oil revenues, total control of those expenditures, control of the contracts the Government would negotiate and control of the content of those contracts that the Government would negotiate under the Program. So the Iraqis were very reluctant but also desperate in terms of the well- being of the Iraqi people, all 23 million. It allows Iraq to sell a certain amount of oil, the revenues go to the United Nations accounts. The Iraqis then concluded contracts with a number of countries in a competitive bidding process for food, drugs, medicines including Australia which has become the biggest, I think, wheat provider, $330 million worth per year. These contracts were approved by the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council in New York. The UN then paid the contractors, the food was delivered. I had a team in Iraq of a 150 observers who monitored, for example Australian grain, its delivery to mills throughout the country, conversion into flour and then the distribution of the flour to some 49,000 agents of the government throughout the country to whom the Iraqi people go every month to pick up their supplies. It's wheat flour, it's rice, it's cooking oil, sugar, tea, soap, pulses, beans the very basics of life. We also interviewed recipients to see how they managed. The story was always the same. First of all, the food was very unattractive, it did not have the usual quality, there were not enough animal proteins, a lack of vitamins and minerals but also there was a shortage in terms of quantity. They only actually got about three weeks' supply. It was further compounded by the fact that the average Iraqi family today has no other source of income. Unemployment is massive. So many of them were obliged to sell some of that food to others, either to buy a bit of chicken, a bit of cheese, eggs maybe, which were not included, or to use money to buy shoes for their kids, clothes, all the necessities of life. They have already sold many of their belongings furniture, TV sets or whatever they had, their cars... in order to buy food and medicines. AP: How is the money from the oil distributed? DH: Of the $10 billion, 30 per cent comes straight off the top and goes into reparations to Kuwait and Kuwaitis and others who had lost property or whatever in the invasion of Kuwait period. Then five to six percent comes off the top to cover the cost of the UN system both in New York and in Baghdad and elsewhere in the North. Of the remaining gross, 15 per cent goes to three million Kurds in the North who get extra per person. The balance, 53 per cent, is available for the 19 million Iraqis in the rest of the country. That's less than 15 cents per person for food, drugs, medicines, agriculture, health care, education, sewage systems, water systems it's just not a serious amount of money under the circumstances. AP: How comprehensive are the sanctions? DH: This is a uniquely comprehensive embargo of goods and services, it's both material and intellectual in its coverage. Iraqis cannot legally obtain books, computers, scientific materials all sorts of contact with the outside world is cut off. This also includes all basic consumer goods clothes, supplies, foods, technology. All that's allowed in is the components under the "Oil for Food Program" which includes a modest range of food stuffs. The normal things that you and I need for life, those are heavily constrained and there isn't any money for them. The average Iraqi today is living at a very modest level, having come from a standard of living in 1990 comparable to southern Europe. AP: Is there truth in the claim that the supplies being sent in are being diverted and not reaching the people? DH: This is the charge made by people like Albright and Clinton and Blair it's complete rubbish and misinformation. We have tracked food coming into the country for two and a half years. We have never ever been able to report diversion of foodstuffs. In the health sector there is great inefficiency in procurement and in distribution. They asked us for refrigerated trucks to move delicate medicines and drugs, in particular. The Security Council denied that. They asked for computers for inventory control that was denied also. One of the charges is that they keep drugs in store. The US and the UK, in particular, have played games with the medical area. They would approve a batch of purchases, all interlinked for surgery, let's say. They would approve four out of five and hold the fifth. So the four items would be delivered and stored in the warehouses waiting for the fifth. The fifth is then held for political reasons by Washington or London, so the treatment could not be carried out. AP: What was the situation in Iraq when you were there? DH: What hits you first is the state of disrepair of the cities. Whole areas are run down, neglected. The people themselves are looking tired and shabby, wearing clothes which are obviously well past their best but lacking resources for replacement. There are streets in Baghdad dedicated to nothing else but selling people's furniture and people's books. It is very tragic to see, a heart-rendering situation. You see in the streets, which is very un-Arab and certainly very un-Iraqi, the begging by very young children for money or for food or both. Street crime has increased. There is a curfew at night. People are desperate, desperate to find money to survive. There is an air of decay, depression, unemployment and lack of hope and depression. And it's really a desperate situation for young people. It is a very dangerous social situation and a very dangerous political situation. Most Iraqis can't see any hope because it's been 10 years, it's a long time. You have Iraqis who were not born when they went into Kuwait but they are paying the price with their entire lives and see no end to it. One of the reasons they see no end to it is that they have heard people like Albright, Rubin, Blair, and Clinton say `look, no matter what the Government of Iraq does, we will never lift the economic sanctions as long as President Saddam Hussein is in power'. That concept stinks. It undermines the efforts of the Government to cooperate. AP: How serious is the situation regarding the children in Iraq? DH: I believe in Australia today the mortality of children under five is about six or seven over a 1000 of live births. The figure in Iraq today is 131 deaths over 1000 live births. Back in 1989 that figure was about 35. That adds up to approximately five, six, seven hundred thousand children under five; well over one million individuals since economic sanctions were imposed. Mortality is a real crisis for everybody infants, children under five, or for elderly adults who do not get their necessary drugs for complicated problems of angina, heart, diabetes, cancer. Cancer of course is a whole new problem in Iraq due to the Allies' use of depleted uranium. Secondly, in terms of malnutrition, again probably 20-30 per cent of adults are malnourished. And the same figures apply to children, perhaps 15 per cent are acutely malnourished which is a death-threatening situation and can only be dealt with by very special attention to diet and nutrition. More tragic probably, in some sense, is chronic malnutrition which affects possibly 15-20 per cent of Iraqi kids. That leads to physical and mental damage which can never be repaired and will never be repaired. We have developed a whole generation, a "sanctions generation", of young Iraqi kids, now young adults who are going to be crippled in a sense for the rest of their lives. We are creating problems for Iraq and the Middle East and the world that are not going go away.
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NEXT WEEK: in Part II of the interview Denis Halliday discusses the purpose of the sanctions, the forces behind them and the role of the United Nations.

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