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Former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday opposes U.N.’s sanctions

January 16, 2001
11 p.m. EST
Gulf War

(CNN) – Ten years ago, the United States led a military coalition against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait. After six weeks of bombing and four days of ground fighting, President Saddam Hussein’s armies were driven from Kuwait. Next the world, via the United Nations, imposed economic sanctions on Iraq that are still in place today. Critics charge that the sanctions have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and are punishing the people, while Hussein is still in power.

Denis Halliday joined the Gulf War Chat after the airing of "The Unfinished War: A Decade Since Desert Storm" on CNN. Halliday, a former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, was a guest in the show. He served as the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq beginning September 1, 1997, but resigned thirteen months later in protest over the U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

The U.S. State Department declined CNN’s invitation to participate in the chat.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com, Denis Halliday.

Denis Halliday: Thank you. I'm pleased to be with you.

CNN Moderator: David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, points out that the oil-for-food program produces billion of resources "that can be used to address humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people." David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and co-author of "The Sanctions Decade," says that the responsibility for the humanitarian situation lies with the Iraqi regime's "malicious, diabolical strategy" to gain international sympathy.

Why should the U.S. or the international community bear the brunt of the blame for Iraq's humanitarian crisis when Saddam Hussein refused to accept the oil-for-food deal until the worst of the humanitarian crisis had passed?

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Denis Halliday: Since the oil-for-food program began at the end of '96, Iraq has pumped and sold some 35 billion dollars worth of oil. Of that money, the U.N. has taken 35 percent off the gross amount. To date, Iraq has received food and medicines equivalent to some 10 billion dollars over the four-year period.

You might ask: Where is the rest of the money? Ten billion dollars over four years divided by 22 million people, believe me, is not adequate funding to feed and provide medical care for the Iraqi people. In addition, it falls very much short in dealing with the damage of the Gulf War bombing by the U.S. and with other sectors of Iraq which were damaged by the war, such as agriculture, health care and education.

One of the reasons the U.S. is blamed for the humanitarian crisis is because politics have been used within the Security Council to block expenditure of oil revenues to meet the basic needs of the Iraqi people. The Iraqis rejected the first offers for oil-for-food until 1995, when calorific intake had fallen below 1,000 calories per day. They did so acknowledging that they were giving up their sovereignty over oil resources, but they did so in the best interests of the Iraqi people.

CNN Moderator: Iraq has insisted that the oil-for-food program be converted to euros rather than dollars, an act that is costing Iraq several hundred million dollars a year in income. Why shouldn't Saddam Hussein have to answer for taking so much money away from the humanitarian needs of his people?

Denis Halliday: I think converting from U.S. dollars to euros was simply a political gesture. If there is any loss of revenue, it seems to me a waste. Nevertheless, due to U.N. controls, Iraq has an unspent balance in United Nations’ accounts of some 6 to 10 million dollars. Therefore, money is not the first problem; it's the ability to spend it properly. That's the problem Iraq faces. And the Security Council is playing politics with the humanitarian crisis.

CNN Moderator: In the program, David Cortright also expressed the opinion that, "It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Iraqi regime has little or no concern for the suffering of its own people. It has actually consciously manipulated and allowed that suffering to take place in order to gain the sympathy of people in the West and other countries in order to have sanctions lifted."

Why should we lift the sanctions when Iraq has done little to comply with the ceasefire terms he agreed to on April 6, 1991?

Denis Halliday: The history of the Baath Party in the 1970s and 1980s shows huge investments in the well being of the Iraqi people. Billions of oil dollars were spent in health care and education. To my mind, it is Western propaganda to say now that Baghdad does not care about its children. The fact is, it's the U.S. that is in control of the Iraqi economy. And the fact is that politics are being played, both in Baghdad and in Washington, at the cost of the Iraqi people.

CNN Moderator: Wasn't Iraq having serious economic problems prior to the U.N. sanctions because of its eight-year war against Iran?

Denis Halliday: Yes. After the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq owed some 30 billion dollars to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. That was one of the issues between Kuwait and Baghdad. Iraq wanted to increase the price of oil in order to pay back its debts and to rebuild the country. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were flooding the world market with cheap oil and, at the same time, demanding Iraqi repayment. That set off the crisis that tragically and illegally led to the invasion of Kuwait.

Question from the chat room: What is the Baath Party doing now for the Iraqi people?

Denis Halliday: The Baath Party -- as led by President Saddam Hussein, of course -- handles the entire oil-for-food program. That means they do the contracting; they do the handling and processing of, for example, wheat into flour; and they handle distribution of these foodstuffs in the country. According to my current successor in Baghdad, who is an expert on the world food program, Baghdad does an extremely efficient job of food distribution.

Comment from the chat room: We get the impression that Saddam would rather see his people suffer than open his weapons development sites for inspection.

Denis Halliday: I realize that is the impression that's been given in the West, in the United Nations, but the fact is that in Iraq today, many younger people are angry with Saddam Hussein because they feel he has compromised too often under pressure from the United Nations and the United States. They're angry because they feel the honor and the dignity and the sovereignty of Iraq have been compromised.

There is more to any country than food and medicines; it's much more complex than that. We have to accept that the Iraqis are a very proud, ancient Arab people and, despite the suffering and facilitated by the economic sanctions, they continue to support the government in Baghdad.

Question from the chat room: Aren't you concerned that by lifting sanctions now, you could give Saddam Hussein a major political victory and increase his prestige among the Iraqi people?

Denis Halliday: Yes, undoubtedly, he will claim a victory and, of course, he will also undoubtedly stay in power. If one considers the alternative, using UNICEF data, some 4-5,000 children are dying unnecessarily each month. I don't believe loss of face on the part of Washington or London is important if we can save the lives of the Iraqi people. I think we should do that, regardless of a victory or not a victory for Baghdad.

CNN Moderator: If the economic conditions are so dire and if Saddam Hussein is concerned about his people, especially the children, why won't he comply with the weapons inspection regulations and other terms of the sanctions?

Denis Halliday: At the moment, there only is one issue and that is the issue of weapons of mass destruction. According to some of the experts, including Scott Ritter, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction capability today. Even Hans Blix, who is the chairman of UNMOVIC (United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission), which replaced UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission), has said that he does not believe that Iraq has redeveloped weapons of mass destruction.

I believe that today we see a huge demonization of Iraq, an exaggeration of Iraq's threat "to the neighborhood" and a huge capacity for military aggression amongst the neighbors of Iraq. Today, in fact, it is Iraq that is disarmed and surrounded by countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are heavily armed by Europe and North America. This is not a situation that encourages Baghdad to cooperate. And it is further compounded by Washington’s decision to finance the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein himself.

Question from the chat room: Do Iraqis not see that Saddam compromised their integrity in the world with the invasion of Kuwait?

Denis Halliday: I think many Iraqi people are very conscious of the high price that Iraq has paid for the invasion of Kuwait. Every day, they see children in their neighborhood die or fall sick. Nevertheless, by attacking their head of state, the United Nations and the United States have strengthened their support for the president. That's what happens with an embargo; it tends to work completely upside-down, so to speak.

Question from the chat room: Can we be assured that assistance would go to the children, given Saddam Hussein's history?

Denis Halliday: I don't believe it's a matter of assistance. I believe that if the economy was restored to Iraqi management, the Baath Party would continue its policies of investing in health care, education, good water systems, electric power and employment.

Before the war, all Iraqi children were given breakfast and lunch in the school system. So, the fact is that we, the United Nations of the West, have demolished the human rights of the Iraqi children. There's no history of the Baath Party not meeting the basic human rights of Iraqi children. In summary, I think we have no basis to be suspicious of Baghdad’s approach to its own children.

Question from the chat room: If you don't support sanctions against Iraq, what would you support?

Denis Halliday: What I support, as simply as possible, is to reopen a dialogue with Baghdad, as President Clinton has successfully done with North Korea. Secondly, we should maintain the embargo on weapons of mass destruction, not only for Iraq, but also for all the countries of the Middle East. Thirdly, we should end the economic sanctions and, fourthly, work with Iraq on rebuilding its infrastructure and its economy for the well being of its people.

I should add that Iraq has its own obligations to meet. They must correct their own human rights violations. They must resolve their differences with the Kurdish minority and they must rebuild their relationships with countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Comment from the chat room: All they have to do is allow inspectors in; end of problem.

Denis Halliday: I believe that if that were true, Baghdad would be very much inclined to do that, but it's not true. As I said already, Washington has passed legislation financing the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein. The question to the person who made that statement is: Can you really expect cooperation from a man that you are committed to overthrow?

CNN Moderator: In the program, you state that, "We cannot have the United Nations, the guardian of well-being, sustaining a regime of embargo or sanctions against a people that impacts only on the people, not on the government." You go so far as to call the sanctions genocide. However, can we have the United Nations rewarding a nation with financial aid after what many consider genocidal action against the Kurds and others?

Denis Halliday: That's a good question. But I think one needs to correct the impression of aid or assistance to Iraq because there is no assistance to Iraq. The government of Iraq finances everything Iraq receives under the oil-for-food program.

Secondly, we have a United Nations today that is governed by a Charter. Articles 1 and 2 of that Charter require that the sovereignty of member states be respected and that the United Nations work towards the well being of the people of the world. However, with the embargo in Iraq, we have a United Nations whose decisions in the Security Council have led to the deaths of possibly more than one million people in ten years. Now that is a tragedy. And that begins to meet some of the definitions of the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

Comment from the chat room: Saddam has NEVER cooperated. Let him and his country reap what they have sown.

Denis Halliday: First of all, Iraq cooperated successfully with UNSCOM for many years and, as we saw on the CNN film, hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons were destroyed. Secondly, Iraq has cooperated effectively on oil-for-food. Thirdly, Iraq has accepted a new border with Kuwait. And lastly, no matter what we may think of President Saddam Hussein, nothing justifies killing the children of Iraq; nothing.

CNN Moderator: Couldn't Saddam Hussein be charged with human rights violations for the way he has treated the Kurds and other Iraqi citizens? Isn't he guilty of humanitarian violations?

Denis Halliday: Under the new International Criminal Court, which President Clinton reluctantly signed just recently, there is a requirement that individuals, including heads of state, be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and that would include gross violations of human rights.

Now we have seen violations of human rights against the Kurds, against the Kuwaitis, against the Jews in the Second World War, against the Africans under slavery and against the Native Americans. And there are many other terrible examples in recent history. In the Gulf War itself, we saw breaches of international law by the United States and its allies. We saw the use of depleted uranium, which is in breach of the Geneva Conventions.

What I'm saying is that both sides of this conflict and many conflicts are guilty. If we can accept that, then I think we would see many military leaders, heads of state, facing prosecution.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Denis Halliday.

Denis Halliday: Thank you. I hope this was helpful to those of you who had issues to raise.

Denis Halliday joined the Gulf War Chat via telephone from New York City. CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Tuesday, January 16, 2001.



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