The Sanctions Against Iraq
and the Consequences of
the "Oil-for-Food" Programme


PressInfo # 154

 August 23, 2002


By Christian Hårleman, TFF Board Member


Two weeks in Iraq are not sufficient to acquire the knowledge necessary to produce an extensive and detailed analysis of the conditions prevailing in this part of the Middle East. It is, however, long enough to be able to verify the picture so powerfully presented by the individuals and organisations involved who fight daily for the several humanitarian issues that plague those most ignored and forgotten developing countries. The aim of this text is not to try to influence one's opinion with emotionally charged expressions but to discuss some of the reasonable arguments concerning the "Oil-for-Food" programme.


A Short History of the Sanctions

For more than a decade the UN has been imposing sanctions against Iraq. During the last few years, three of the highest UN representatives have left their positions in protest against the unreasonable character of the sanctions programme. Various organisations (the UN and others) involved in the so-called "Oil for Food" programme have in different ways expressed their opposition to the sanctions and demanded the abolition or the reformulation of the sanctions programme. Why? Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council, based on Chapter VII of the UN's Constitution, decided to introduce sanctions against Iraq. Essentially, this implies that all economic and diplomatic relations with Iraq have been interrupted, including all forms of traffic (sea, land, air and television). The Security Council decided in 1991 (UNSCR 687) that the sanctions would only be abolished after Iraq had fulfilled the following requirements: the destruction of all weapons of mass destruction; the promise not to develop or to acquire any other weapons in the future, and co-operation with the UN's inspection programme aiming at verifying that Iraq does not possess or develop weapons of mass destruction. In addition, Iraq also had to agree to recognise the 1963 international border agreement with Kuwait; not to support and carry out international terrorism; to repatriate all Kuwaiti as well as all other nationals to their respective homelands; to return all Kuwaiti properties; and to offer compensation to those who suffered from losses and injuries caused by the invasion.

Iraq has for the most part fulfilled the Security Council's requirements. But the vital issue of the weapons of mass destruction has not been resolved in a way judged satisfactory by the UN. The politics and the mediatisation of this particular issue have been feeding a most heated debate.


The Oil-for-Food Programme: No Income for Iraq

Despite the fact that the UN has proposed two resolutions since 1991, it is only in 1996 that Iraq first accepted that a programme based on the previous year's decision (UNSCR 986) could be implemented. The resolution authorises Iraq to export a certain amount of oil and to buy food and other "humanitarian necessities" with the income of authorised oil exports. During the first six months of that mandate period the value of these exports raised up to 2,000 million US Dollars and during 2001 (two mandate periods) up to approximately 11,000 million US Dollars.

Unfortunately this is not the whole truth. Of the sold oil "income", only 53 percent is allocated to the part of Iraq under the control of the government, which represents approximately 20 million inhabitants. The rest is reserved partly (30%) for the compensation of those who suffered losses or injuries during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, partly (13%) for the three Northern Provinces (3.5 million Kurds), and partly (4%) to cover the operation costs of the UN for the so called "Oil-for-Food Programme" (OFFP). Consequently, in 2001, Iraq only had 6,000 million US Dollars at its disposal to buy medicines and other essential goods. In other words, the Iraqi government is supposed to support and answer for the welfare of a population that is double the size of the Swedish population with one quarter of the Swedish State's annual costs for social expenditures. The income from Iraqi oil goes directly into a certain UN bank account from which the UN remunerates foreign suppliers of goods and services. Thus, Iraq does not dispose of the incomes in liquid capital. Rather, the exchange can be seen as an ancient barter trade system. Iraq delivers the oil and the UN delivers the food and other goods (Oil-for-Food).


The List of the Goods Forbidden To Iraq Is Unlimited

Within that system, Iraq states and sends its collective needs for the upcoming six months. Through the so-called Sanction Committee, the UN controls and ensures that the needed goods and services traded to Iraq conform to the content of the sanctions - i.e. that the goods and materials acquired cannot be used for military purposes. The difficulty is that high technology is a necessity for the economic and general development of a "normal" modern society. Today, such material is used in most countries, as much in civilian as in military structures; nevertheless, Iraq is not authorised to import such goods.

The list of materials forbidden to Iraq that could eventually be used in a military context is infinite and, unfortunately, pathetic in its detailed formulation of technical details. The strict and rigid character of the list is comprehensive. For example, is it reasonable that the import of chloride (one of the WHO recommended products for the purification of drinkable water) is not allowed for fear that the product could eventually serve a dual purpose - i.e. as a component of a chemical war product. When reading through the thousands-of-items-long list, one wonders if the objective is to prevent the use of the listed articles for military purposes or if it is to hinder the development of a sovereign state - or even worse &emdash; its survival.


A Welfare Society in "De-development"

As a result, Iraq is deprived of the bulk of what constitutes a country's wealth and competitiveness. One is forced to conclude that we are presently witnessing the "de-development" and the delaying of a country's progress, a country which, until no more than 15 years ago, counted among the world's most progressive with a blooming industry and an extensive free health-care system. A significant number of reports reflect the devastating effects of the sanctions on the individual. Although certain people live relatively well (even in times of shortages), the majority of the population lives in unacceptable conditions - although not necessarily in terms of kilocalories. Through a comprehensive food distribution programme, each family receives the amount of calories necessary to survive (2472 kilocalories per day per individual along with 60.2 grams protein per day per individual). Through the ongoing "Oil-for-Food Programme", the UN has created a dependency that is totally unique for its kind.

Between 1991 and 1998, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed a total of 500,000 tonnes of provisions, while today the total amount of provisions distributed through the UN programme is as high as 350,000 tonnes per month. In other words, in a country that owns the world's second largest oil resource, people are nearly fully dependent on a share of provisions that would otherwise be distributed to those developing countries "really" in need. Seen in that light, Iraq's dependency on the provisions distributed through the "Oil-for-Food" Programme appears completely absurd.


Implications for the Average Person

For a middle-class earner (although that term has lost much of its relevance today), for example a teacher, this quantity of provisions represents 83% of his/her total monthly income. In real terms, a teacher is paid 25 of his/her 30 USD salary in provisions. The result is, among other things, an increase in black market exchanges and trade, emigration, and, regrettably, prostitution. The amount of kilocalories that is provided to the individual citizen by the UN is sufficient to ensure his/her survival. However, the educated middle-class of the pre-Gulf War era has been reduced to such a degree that will surely affect Iraqi society for many generations to come. The fact is that money exists in very limited quantities. As mentioned previously, the "Oil-for-Food" Programme is a "natural trade" system. Even if in theory it does include a so-called "cash component", for political reasons that part of the programme has never been implemented. With the inflation of the Iraqi Dinar (ID) from 1 ID against 3 USD in 1985 to 2000 ID against 1 USD today as well as the scarcity of liquid capital, the notion of "salary" as we know it in the West loses all meaning. Unemployment has thus taken on absurd proportions and left up to 40-50% of the population without jobs.


The Worst Consequences of the Sanctions Are "Hidden"

Teachers (like many other professionals) cannot be paid and students do not have the means to pay tuition fees, which did not exist previously. Consequently, the number of teachers per student has diminished drastically, both at the university and pre-university levels. We can already speak today of a lost generation. The consequences of this will affect society for the next 20 to 30 years. Reports from different organs of the UN, human rights organisations, aid agencies, members of parliament and researchers all say the same thing: the sanctions programme is devastating. Malnutrition and unserviceable drinking water have produced a negative transformation of the country's general health profile. This, along with the lack of healthcare resources, has given way to an increase in the mortality rate and a decrease in the birth rate. The dramatic increase of child mortality reflects the seriousness of the situation. The amount of students attending educational institutions has diminished, and the declining number of female students is highly significant. Increased gender segregation and a diminished secularisation are other features indicating the transformation of the social structure. At the same time, an intellectual impoverishment is taking place, which is partly due to the scarcity of educational tools and partly to the emigration of the middle-class that has taken place and continues to do so. To this, one must add the lack of economic and material resources, which render impossible the maintenance and upholding of the industrial, economic and social infrastructure.


Famine and War Politics of the Middle-Ages

To sum up, in 10 years, the UN sanctions against Iraq have transformed a nearly fully developed country into a developing one. The "Oil-for-Food" Programme has not become the solution to the problem - it has become the problem itself.

Speculating about the future is something that should be left to politicians and economists. An eventual war could be perceived as decisive for Iraq. But it is not for the individual citizen; strict survival and subsistence are the only concerns of his/her everyday life. Presently, with total dependency on the 350,000 tonnes of food distributed monthly, the Iraqi people survive. But in the eventuality of a war, in which the UN and Iraqi authorities' exceptionally well-functioning distribution mechanism breaks down, the situation becomes totally different. From an historical perspective, Iraq is an interesting case study. In order to reach their military objectives, rulers and warlords in the Middle Ages first encircled and besieged their opponents' fortifications. Then, when starvation and poverty had reached a sufficiently high level and done enough damage, they attacked, destroyed whatever was left, and divided the booty among themselves. Have we not made any progress since then?


© TFF 2002


Translated by Jean-Francois Drolet  


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