Executive Summary                                                                              1


Chapter 1 – Introduction                                                                   4    


Chapter 2 – Comprehensive Economic Sanctions:

 A Badly-Flawed Policy                                                                         7


Chapter 3 – Sanctions and the Civilian Population               9        

3.1. Early Warnings

3.2  Steady Flow of Critical Reports


Chapter 4 – Causes of Human Suffering                                           17                                4.1. Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War Campaign

4.2. Civil War, Regime Change, No-Fly Zones and

                                    Military Attacks

4.3. Responsibility of the Government of Iraq and

the Politics of Vilification

                        4.4  Commercial Interests and Oil Politics


Chapter 5 – Oil-for-Food                                                                          26                                5.1. Short Term Policy

5.2  Deductions and Delays

5.3  Blocked Contracts, Dual-Use and Holds

5.4  War Reparations Fund: Oil-for-Compensation

                        5.5  North vs. Center-South

5.6  Nutrition and Health

5.7  Deaths


Chapter 6 – “Smart” Sanctions, Price Disputes and

             Military Threats                                                                              39

6.1  Background

6.2  Smart Sanctions vs. Targeted Sanctions

6.3  Oil Pricing Dispute & Falling Humanitarian Revenue

6.4  US Military Threats and Appraisals of Iraq’s



Chapter 7 – The Council’s Obligations Under International

Human Rights and Humanitarian Law                                     45

7.1. Legal Framework for the Security Council

7.2. Human Rights Law

7.3. Humanitarian Law


Chapter 8 – Conclusion                                                                          50


Appendix I – Chronology                                                                         53


Appendix II – UK Select Committee                                                    57       
Iraq Sanctions:  Humanitarian Implications and Options for the Future




1. Introduction  The United Nations Security Council has maintained compre-hensive economic sanctions on Iraq since August 6, 1990.  The international community increasingly views the sanctions as illegitimate and punitive, because of well-documented humanitarian suffering in Iraq and widespread doubts about the sanctions’ effectiveness and their legal basis under international humanitarian and human rights law.


2. A Flawed Policy  In the early 1990s, many policy makers saw comprehensive economic sanctions, imposed under Resolution 687, as an ethical and non-violent policy tool.  Though Iraq sanctions produced some significant disarmament results, they failed to achieve all their policy goals and they have deeply harmed powerless and vulnerable Iraqi citizens.  The Security Council implicitly accepts such a negative assessment, since it no longer uses comprehensive economic sanctions in other peace and security crises.


3. Warnings of Civilian Harm  Suffering in Iraq is not an unexpected collateral effect, but a predictable result of the sanctions policy.  Security Council members have received warnings of the humanitarian emergency in Iraq and the damage done by sanctions since shortly after the Gulf War.   Warnings have come from three Secretary Generals, many UN officials and agencies including UNICEF, WHO and WFP, and two Humanitarian Coordinators who have resigned in protest. A Select Committee of the UK House of Commons offered a very negative judgment as well.


4. Causes of Suffering  Sanctions are not the sole cause of human suffering in Iraq.  The government of Iraq bears a heavy burden of responsibility due to the wars it has started, its lack of cooperation with the Security Council, its domestic repression, and its failure to use limited resources fairly.  However, the UN Security Council shares responsibility for the humanitarian crisis.  The United States and the United Kingdom, who use their veto power to prolong the sanctions, bear special responsibility for the UN action.  No-fly zones, periodic military attacks, and threats of regime-change block peaceful outcomes, as do vilification of Saddam Hussein, pro-sanctions propaganda, and other politicization of the crisis.  Though real concerns about Iraq’s security threat undoubtedly are legitimate, commercial interests, especially control over Iraq’s oil resources, appear to be a driving force behind much of the policy making.


5. Oil-for-Food  Sanctions advocates proposed Oil-for-Food under Resolution 986 as a temporary solution to the humanitarian crisis.  Oil-for-Food materially improved conditions in Iraq in contrast to the early days of the sanctions.  But Oil-for-Food failed to resolve the humanitarian crisis, much less provide a long-term solution for Iraq.  Punitive deductions for war reparations weaken the program as do unacceptable delays in delivery (less than 60%f of all items ordered from oil sales since December 1996 have actually arrived in Iraq).  Politically-motivated blocks and “holds,” imposed almost entirely by the United States, have plagued the program as well.  Consequently, there has been little repair and renewal of Iraq’s badly-deteriorated infrastructure, including water treatment, electricity, and public health. Oil-for-Food has failed to improve sufficiently the nutrition and health of Iraqi citizens, who continue to suffer from conditions drastically worse than the pre-sanctions period.  Less than $200 per year per capita has arrived in Iraq under the program. Studies have amply documented a substantial rise in mortality of children, five years of age and below and credible estimates suggest that at least 400,000 of these young children have died due to the sanctions.  Various reforms, including Resolution 1284 have proven ineffective in addressing these problems.


6. Smart Sanctions?  The United States and the United Kingdom recently proposed “smart sanctions” as an answer to critics.  This reform, embodied in Security Council Resolution 1409, offers small improvements, but it has little in common with the “targeted sanctions” that experts have proposed in recent years.  Targeted sanctions would directly impact Iraq’s leaders, by freezing their assets and preventing their international travel, without damage to ordinary Iraqis.  Resolution 1409 is grossly inadequate as a solution to the Iraq crisis.  The enormous Goods Review List of items with possible military use suggests further blockage of goods and delays, as well as disappointingly little substantial advance.   Meanwhile, a dispute over pricing methods has greatly reduced Iraq’s oil sales, drastically depleting the funds of the humanitarian program, while the United States threatens to attack Iraq and impose a change of regime.


7. International Law  The Security Council has clear obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, which provide means to assess its sanctions record.  A number of policy papers by UN agencies and bodies, as well as studies by legal scholars, have determined that the Council is in serious violation of its responsibilities in the case of Iraq.  The Council has committed both procedural and substantive violations, by failing to conduct regular assessments of the humanitarian impact of the sanctions and by directly violating a number of important rights including the rights of children to protection and the right to life itself.



A solution to the crisis in Iraq must be based on a comprehensive agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq in which many important and interrelated issues would be addressed.  The United Nations must begin with five steps:


Such change will not be free of risk.  The government of Iraq cannot be counted on to make benign and peaceful policy choices, or to promote automatically the well-being of its people.  In this context


The Government of Iraq must give firm assurances to the international community, as a part of reciprocal undertakings, that


If the government of Iraq fails at any time to provide adequate means for inspection and arms control, then:


If Iraq is to return to normalcy, and if it is to be persuaded to agree to international accords, it must be freed from constant military pressure, threats and intimidation.  The Security Council’s decisions, not unilateral action by one or two powerful states, must prevail.  In this framework


Further elements in the design for post-sanctions Iraq are also required, in order to address immediate humanitarian concerns, long-term development needs and safeguards for minorities.  In such a framework:


Chapter 1 -  Introduction


The United Nations Security Council has maintained comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq since August 6, 1990.[1] The international community increasingly views the sanctions as illegitimate and punitive, because of well-documented humanitarian suffering in Iraq and widespread doubts about the sanctions’ effectiveness and their legal basis under international humanitarian and human rights law.  This paper examines key legal and humanitarian issues of the current sanctions arrangements and it argues for urgent, fundamental changes.


When first imposed, four days after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, under Resolution 661, the comprehensive sanctions appeared legitimate, as a short-term means to press Iraq to withdraw.  When redefined on April 3, 1991, under Resolution 687, after the US-led military coalition had forced Iraq’s withdrawal, the sanctions likewise commanded broad support, as a means to compel Iraq’s compliance with Security Council resolutions and in particular to end Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction.[2]  Iraq eventually met (however reluctantly) many of the UN requirements and the United Nations supervised substantial Iraqi disarmament, including extensive dismantlement of Iraq’s mass-destruction weapons, weapons programs and delivery systems.[3]


Questions still remain about the extent of Iraq’s compliance, but many experts believe that Iraq has been substantially disarmed and has little capacity left in the four banned weapons types.[4]  Residual concerns and conjectures must be weighed against the sanctions’ present ineffectiveness, their great harm to innocent civilians, the clear option of targeted sanctions, and the discredit that the status quo brings to the United Nations, the Security Council and international law more generally.  Though the overwhelming opinion of the international community favors change, comprehensive economic sanctions remain firmly in place and criteria for their lifting remain imprecise, fluid and subjective.[5]     


A large majority of Security Council members now oppose the comprehensive sanctions or have serious reservations about them, but they cannot lift them, because vetoes of two Permanent Members, the United States and the United Kingdom, block action for comprehensive reform.  Indeed, most discussions of Iraq sanctions have taken place in secret, among the Council’s five Permanent Members, side-stepping the ten Elected Members and keeping the international community in the dark.  Ambassador Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands, Chairman of the Iraq Sanctions Committee in 1999-2000, spoke in an open meeting of the Council in November 1999 about the intense frustrations of elected Council members at this lack of information, transparency and accountability.[6] 


Such secret diplomacy by the Great Powers shows disregard for the international community and for the lives and well-being of the people of Iraq. Recent adjustments by the Council in Resolution 1409 (May 14, 2002) fall far short of the needed fundamental change.  Just two Council members negotiated in secret the Goods Review List, at the heart of the new resolution.  Instead of such gestures, the international community should insist on the lifting of comprehensive economic sanctions.  There must also be program to help re-build and restore the country’s civilian economy and to promote the democratic rights and human development of the Iraqi people.  


All parties agree that the Iraqi people’s basic needs are unmet.  Governments, UN agencies, the press, and international NGOs all acknowledge that the Iraqi population is living through a long humanitarian crisis.  Those who defend the sanctions policy insist on blaming the government of Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein, for all the suffering, insisting that the humanitarian situation can only improve if the leader satisfies the demands of the US and the UK or, better still, relinquishes power. Such an approach holds Iraq’s humanitarian suffering hostage to international power politics, the hidden play of commercial interests, and the goal of “regime change.” 


Sanctions do not cause all distress in Iraq. The government of Iraq must bear a large share of responsibility, because of its failure to comply with Council requirements and because of its failure to use all resources at its disposal to meet the humanitarian crisis. But as long as the United Nations maintains control over economic life in Iraq, the Security Council bears a joint responsibility with the Iraq government for the health and well being of the population. The Council has the means to alleviate the economic crisis, but it has failed to discharge its responsibility to act in accord with universal human rights and humanitarian standards, as we shall see in more detail below.


The sanctions put economic pressure on the population and supposedly use civilian suffering as a tool in arms control negotiations with Iraq’s government.  In theory, the deprived and angry populace will press their rulers to change policy.  If policy does not change, the people are expected to reject the rulers and rise against them.  This has proved to be a simplistic and false model.  Politics in Iraq have not worked this way.  To the contrary, the sanctions appear to have strengthened the government, by increasing its economic role and its symbolic appeal.


The suffering of Iraq’s civilian population must command primary attention and legal priority. The Security Council should not continue to pursue arms control goals with a mechanism that exacts such a high human cost.   Rather, the Council should move towards alternatives that the overwhelming majority of international opinion has long favored:



In the chapters that follow, this report will consider the flaws in comprehensive economic sanctions, the question of responsibility and the shortcomings of the oil-for-food program.  The report will then consider the current “smart sanctions” in contrast to longstanding proposals for “targeted sanctions” aiming at political leaders.  Finally, the report will look at the Security Council’s responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law and it will conclude with a discussion of recommended alternatives.















Chapter 2  -  Comprehensive Economic Sanctions: A Badly-Flawed Policy 


When the Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990, many diplomats, scholars and citizens believed that comprehensive economic sanctions were innovative, benign and non-violent. Some believed that sanctions offered an ethical foreign policy tool to combat threats to peace and security without causing unintended suffering.[7]  


It is now clear that comprehensive economic sanctions in Iraq have hurt large numbers of innocent civilians not only by limiting the availability of food and medicines, but also by disrupting the whole economy, impoverishing Iraqi citizens and depriving them of essential income, and reducing the national capacity of water treatment, electrical systems and other infrastructure critical for health and life.  People in Iraq have died in large numbers.  The extent of death, suffering and hardship may have been greater than during the armed hostilities, especially for civilians, as we shall see in more detail below.[8] Comprehensive sanctions in Iraq, then, are not benign, non-violent or ethical. 


The 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war include a prohibition of economic sieges against civilians as a method of warfare.  Ironically, legal consensus does not yet define economic sanctions as subject to these laws, which apply in warfare and which legally require belligerents to target military rather than civilian objectives.  Sanctions operate in a hazy legal status between war and peace.[9]  Unlike the dramatic, visible toll of military action, sanctions take their effect gradually, indirectly and with low visibility.


UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recognised the growing doubt about  the legal and moral status of comprehensive sanctions when he wrote in 1995 that they


raise the ethical question of whether suffering inflicted on vulnerable

groups in the target country is a legitimate means of exerting pressure

on political leaders whose behaviour is unlikely to be affected by the

plight of their subjects[10]


The Security Council has implicitly accepted this judgement.  In recent years, it has always imposed either narrowly-targeted sanctions that seek to pressure rulers and elites directly, or embargos of arms sales to belligerents, or embargos of strategic resources fueling conflicts like diamonds.  The Council has not imposed  comprehensive economic sanctions since 1994 and no one expects that it will adopt this policy again.[11]  


Iraq sanctions do not effectively target or affect political or military elites.  Rather, they hit the weakest and most vulnerable members of Iraqi society, those with the least ability to influence decisions and who are least able to compete for scarce resources.  The primary victims of the sanctions – children, the elderly, the sick, the poor -- are also those least responsible for government policy and least able to change policy.  Even so, advocates in Washington have insisted that sanctions on Iraq are necessary and justified, as a means to pressure an evil dictator and keep him “in a box.”   Such imperatives have found declining acceptance in the rest of the world, where people increasingly see comprehensive economic sanctions as a blunt and cruel weapon.  As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2000:


just as we recognize the importance of sanctions as a way of compelling compliance with the will of the international community, we also recognize that sanctions remain a blunt instrument, which hurt large numbers of people who are not their primary targets.[12]   


The sanctions on Iraq have left the country impoverished, isolated and socially disrupted, they resulted in widespread illness and death of innocent civilians, and they have tightened the grip of a repressive political regime.





















Chapter 3 - Sanctions and the Civilian Population


3.1. Early Warnings


Iraq sanctions have not caused suffering as an unexpected collateral effect or a lesser evil that passed unnoticed.  The suffering was not only foreseeable (and foreseen) in advance, but dozens of studies have documented it in great detail for more than a decade.


From the early days of the sanctions, well-informed UN officials and envoys warned about dire humanitarian consequences. In March 1991, Under Secretary General Martti Ahtisaari reported that, directly after the massive bombing of the Gulf War, the situation was especially troubling:


most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous.  Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology. [13]


Ahtisaari pointed out that Iraq needed more than just emergency relief of food and medicine.  The power grid and the communications system had been badly damaged, he said, and needed repair.


The far-reaching implications of this energy and communications vacuum as regards urgent humanitarian support are of crucial significance for the nature and effectiveness of the international response.[14]


In July of the same year, the Secretary General's Executive Delegate, Sadruddin Aga Khan, submitted a comprehensive report based on a country-wide assessment of conditions.  The Executive Delegate’s report spoke of immediate needs for reconstruction as well as humanitarian assistance, setting the cost of restoring pre-war conditions at $22 billion. Calculating only the most urgently-needed initial reconstruction costs, he estimated that Iraq would require $6.8 billion in the first year, for which substantial quantities of Iraqi oil would have to be sold.[15]   Many well-known international experts and eminent persons, as well as more than a dozen agencies, were involved in producing the report, which said:


Our aim has been to be sober, measured and accurate. We are neither crying wolf nor playing politics. But it is evident that for large numbers of the people of Iraq, every passing month brings them closer to the brink of calamity. As usual, it is the poor, the children, the widowed and the elderly, the most vulnerable amongst the population, who are the first to suffer.[16]


The report concluded, issuing a clear call:


It remains a cardinal humanitarian principle that innocent civilians – and  above all the most vulnerable – should not be held hostage to events beyond their control. Those already afflicted by war's devastation cannot continue to pay the price of a bitter peace. It is a peace that will also prove to be tenuous if unmet needs breed growing desperation.[17]


Instead of making such humanitarian provision to avert the impending catastrophe, the Security Council passed Resolutions 706 and 712 (August 15 and September 19, 1991) which put a low cap on Iraq’s allowed oil sales and deducted about a third of the oil revenues to pay for war reparations, weapons inspectors and UN administrative expenses.  The oil sales ceiling would have yielded (after deductions) about $1.1 billion every six months for Iraq’s humanitarian needs,[18] a small fraction of Sadruddin Aga Khan’s estimate for essential spending. The stage was set for rejection by Baghdad and years of fruitless manoeuvring.  Neither side gave priority to the growing humanitarian crisis.


Nearly five years later, on May 20, 1996, the Council and the government of Iraq finally agreed to an Oil-for-Food program, under Resolution 986.  The agreement allowed for the sale of oil to pay for humanitarian and other vital imports.[19] This step, while significant in some respects, was to prove woefully inadequate as a solution to the humanitarian emergency.[20]  


3.2  A Steady Flow of Critical Reports


Throughout the 1990s, regular surveys by the Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Food Programme documented the lack of food in Iraq and its effect on vulnerable groups. In 1996 the World Health Organisation reported on health, morbidity and mortality data for 1989 -1994 and commented:


Comparing levels of the infant mortality rate (IMR) and the mortality of children under 5 years old during the pre war period (1988-1989) with that during the period of the sanctions (since 1990), it is clear that the IMR has doubled and the mortality rate for children under 5 years old has increased six times. [21]


Various agencies, including UNICEF, presented reports to the Council, cataloguing the suffering, but the US and the UK used their diplomatic weight and threatened use of the veto to block remedial action beyond the Oil-for-Food program.[22] These two countries also used their considerable influence with the news media to downplay the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Iraq, accusing humanitarian agencies of bad science or even complicity with the Iraqi government.[23]  The two partners portrayed themselves as well-meaning, innocent victims of Saddam’s finely-tuned propaganda machine.


Legal and interpretive reports also appeared that raised the broader issue of sanctions policy within international law and policy.  In 1996, the Graca Michel report to the General Assembly on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children concluded that sanctions’


humanitarian exemptions tend to be ambiguous and are interpreted arbitrarily and inconsistently.... Delays, confusion and the denial of requests to import essential humanitarian goods cause resource shortages .... [Their effects] inevitably fall most heavily on the poor.[24]


The following year, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, headed by the distinguished Australian jurist Philip Alston, issued a report expressing concern that the Security Council, in establishing and maintaining sanctions, did not adequately take into account its responsibilities under economic, social and cultural rights law.  The report stated that sanctions


often cause significant disruption in the distribution of food, pharmaceuticals and sanitation supplies, jeopardize the quality of food and the availability of clean drinking water, severely interfere with the functioning of basic health and education systems, and undermine the right to work. [25]


As such, the report continued, sanctions “have a major additional impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.”[26]


The Council’s Oil-for-Food program eased the worst of the food shortages as supplies began to arrive in mid-1997, but reports from the field suggested that the situation remained very serious.[27]


Responding to the many troubling reports and to the waning political support for sanctions, the chairman of the Security Council’s Iraq Sanctions Committee, Ambassador António Monteiro of Portugal, convened a series of meetings with Council colleagues during 1998.  He brought together the chairmen of the Council’s sanctions committees, all elected members, to discuss the Council’s humanitarian responsibilities and the steps that it should take to improve sanctions more generally.  On October 30, the group circulated a paper to the whole Council, setting forth their concerns with a series of reform proposals.  They noted that sanctions


often produce undesired side effects for the civilian population, including     children. The decisions of the Security Council to impose sanctions imply the Council's obligation to ensure that proper implementation of sanctions does not result in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and its responsibility to do all within its power for the respect of the basic economic, social and cultural rights, and other human rights of the affected population.[28]


The paper insisted on the Council’s responsibility to monitor the impact of its sanctions, the need for clear criteria for lifting of sanctions, and the need to move towards “targeted” sanctions that would impact on top leaders, not the general population of the offending state. 


Towards the end of 1998, the legitimacy of the sanctions/disarmament regime was enormously compromised by evidence that the United States had used the UN weapons inspection teams of UNSCOM to carry out espionage and covert action.[29]  UNSCOM issued an alarmist report about the state of Iraq’s disarmament, said to have been strongly influenced by US pressure.  In December, the US and the UK threatened to attack Iraq, to force compliance with the inspections.  With military action imminent, the Chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, ordered the weapons inspectors withdrawn.  US-UK aerial attacks, beginning on December 16, continued for four days.[30]  Discredited UNSCOM was never to return.


Though Council membership changed at the turn of the year, momentum for sanctions reform continued.  The reformers succeeded in getting a watered-down version of the October proposals embodied in a statement by the President of the Council on January 29, 1999, giving some of the ideas official status.[31]  Also in the October spirit, elected members persuaded the Council to establish three assessment “panels” on Iraq under the chairmanship of Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil. One panel considered arms control issues, a second looked at prisoners of war and other issues, while a third focused on the humanitarian situation. In its report of March 1999, the humanitarian panel set forth the alarming decline in living standards in Iraq, including health, food, infrastructure and education


In marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affects at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child under five years of age, only 41% of the population has regular access to clean water, 83% of all schools need substantial repairs.[32]


The report concluded with an implicit call for re-development and normalization of the Iraqi economy:


In presenting the above recommendations to the Security Council, the panel reiterates its understanding that the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts.[33]


The report provides a measure of how far the sanctions had lost support within the Council’s membership. 


In Baghdad, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponeck, was raising alarms.  His predecessor, Dennis Halliday, had resigned in the summer of 1999, in protest against the sanctions.  Now von Sponeck himself was shocked by what he saw and was beginning to speak out strongly to visiting UN officials and others.  A visiting delegation reported on this conversation:


The oil for food program provides him with $177 per person per year – 50 cents a day – for all of the needs of each Iraqi citizen.  He said, “Now I ask you, $180 per year?  That’s not a per capita income figure.  This is a figure out of which everything has to be financed, from electrical service to water and sewage, to food, to health – the lot . . . that is obviously a totally, totally inadequate figure.[34]


Meanwhile, UNICEF’s 1999 survey of child mortality in Iraq provided some chilling facts. In a summary of the study, prepared for the distinguished British medical journal Lancet, researchers Mohamed Ali and Iqbal Shah presented the following findings:


Infant mortality rose from 47 per 1000 live births during 1984–89 to 108 per 1000 in 1994–99, and under-5 mortality rose from 56 to 131 per 1000 live births.[35]


On June 21, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights published a working paper by Marc Bossuyt, its expert representative from Belgium, which called sanctions in Iraq “unequivocally illegal” and said they had caused a humanitarian disaster “comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decades.”[36]  Later, the outraged US ambassador, charged that the report was “incorrect, biased and inflammatory.”[37]


In addition to death, disease and general impoverishment, some reports showed that the sustained sanctions in Iraq were having numerous other negative effects.  Emigration was sapping away many of the best and brightest.  Workers’ skills were disappearing after years of mass unemployment.  Women had lost jobs disproportionately in the shrunken workforce.  Stress and psychiatric illnesses had ravaged families.  Social cohesion had steadily unravelled.[38] The Security Council became increasingly aware of these broader issues.  Its humanitarian panel spoke of such effects in 1999, noting that observers often report alarming signs such as:


Increase in juvenile delinquency, begging and prostitution, anxiety about the future and lack of motivation, a rising sense of isolation bred by absence of contact with the outside world, the development of a parallel economy replete with profiteering and criminality, cultural and scientific impoverishment, disruption of family life. WHO points out that the number of mental health patients attending health facilities rose by 157% from 1990 to 1998.[39]


Many Council members hoped that the panel reports would lead to remedial action and that the Council would eventually lift the comprehensive sanctions, moving towards sanctions targeted at Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.  Many also hoped for regular monitoring of sanctions’ humanitarian impact, as agreed in the January presidential statement. Negotiations began towards a comprehensive new resolution, but Washington held firm against substantive change and the UK, unable to persuade its partner to adopt a more reform-oriented policy, chose to maintain a status quo posture as well. 


Because of deep differences, the Council did not adopt a new resolution until the end of 1999.  A divided Council finally adopted Resolution 1284 on December 17 with abstentions by three Permanent Members: Russia, China and France.  It fell far below the earlier hopes of sanction reformers such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Slovenia, though it did incorporate a few of the moderate panel suggestions.  It lifted the cap on oil sales completely[40] and it marginally relaxed the system of goods review. It also set forth rules for an improved system of weapons inspection.  But it proposed neither targeting, nor humanitarian monitoring procedures, the two most important reform proposals.  Further, it left more vague than ever the conditions under which the Council would consider lifting or “suspending” the sanctions.[41] 


Even in the UK parliament, scepticism about Iraq sanctions abounded.   On January 27, 2000, after ten months of hearings, the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development issued a report that proved a sharp rebuke to the government’s sanctions policies.[42]    The Executive Summary stated that:


There is a clear consensus that the humanitarian and developmental situation in Iraq has deteriorated seriously since the imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions whilst, at the same time, sanctions have clearly failed to hurt those responsible for past violations of international law as Saddam Hussein and his ruling elite continue to enjoy a privileged existence. [43]


In February, UN Humanitarian Coordinator von Sponeck announced his resignation and on 29 March, as he prepared to leave Baghdad, he explained that “I can no longer be associated with a program that prolongs suffering of the people and which has no chance to meet even basic needs of the civilian population.”[44]   Later, he would declare that “lawlessness of one kind does not justify lawlessness of another kind,” and ask “how long must the civilian population be exposed to such punishment for something that they’ve never done?”[45]  A few weeks later, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed doubts of his own.  At a meeting organized by the International Peace Academy and in the presence of most Council ambassadors he concluded that:


The record of the “Sanctions Decade” has raised serious doubts not only about the effectiveness of sanctions, but also about their scope and severity when innocent civilians often become victims not only of their own government, but of the actions of the international community as well.


When robust and comprehensive economic sanctions are directed against

authoritarian regimes, a different problem is encountered. Then, tragically, it is usually the people who suffer, not the political elites whose behaviour triggered the sanctions in the first place.


...sanctions remain a blunt instrument, which hurt large numbers of people

who are not their primary targets.[46]


On the same day, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy spoke to the Council during a special session on sanctions and insisted that “sanctions must reflect the will of the international community – not just the interests of its more powerful members.”[47]  Three months later, French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine stated that his country considered Iraq sanctions “cruel, ineffective and dangerous.”[48]


In spite of these many warnings, pressures, legal opinions and expressions of humanitarian concern, the US-UK gave few concessions to the critics, insisting always on Iraqi perfidy. According to insiders, the US stepped up pressure on Council members for silence and conformity. The most reform-oriented ambassadors, including Amorim himself, were recalled by their governments or assigned to other postings. Activist junior diplomats likewise moved on.  The reform vision faded, though deep opposition continued within the Council’s chambers. 






















Chapter 4 - Causes of Human Suffering


4.1. Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War


Two wars, both started by Saddam Hussein, laid a basis for the harsh impact of comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq. The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 greatly damaged Iraq and reduced it from prosperity to economic difficulty.  The United States and the UK (as well as France and the Soviet Union) supported Iraq in that conflict, the longest conventional war of the twentieth century. The support included weapons sales, military advisors and intelligence sharing.  The United States provided, among other things, economic assistance, political support, arms, satellite intelligence and the assistance of a US naval battle group.[49] Iran proved a resilient foe, however, and the war dragged out at great cost in life and material infrastructure. 


In addition to great damage on the Iranian side, the Iran-Iraq War destroyed several Iraqi cities and much of Iraq’s oil production and refinery system.  It caused several hundred thousand Iraqi casualties.  It also caused environmental damage, stripped the government of cash, halted infrastructure building and government welfare programs, and caused large human displacement.[50]  Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and internal repression grew still more oppressive during wartime conditions, including a harsh campaign against the Kurds in the North, though both the United States and the UK governments deflected attention from the widespread human rights violations and the regular use of chemical weapons by their ally.[51]


In the Gulf crisis and War of 1990-91, Saddam Hussein again attacked a neighboring country – the oil rich emirate of Kuwait – and sought to annex it.   This time, the United States and the UK opposed Hussein, along with many other countries. US President George Bush the elder declared: “Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom ... would all suffer if control of the world’s great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein.”[52]  A series of United Nations Security Council resolutions called on Iraq to withdraw, imposed sanctions and authorized the use of force by member states.  The United States took the lead in a coalition that eventually launched an air war against Iraq, followed by a brief ground campaign that drove Iraq from Kuwait and decisively defeated Iraqi forces.[53]


This second war resulted in many Iraqi casualties as well as grave damage to Iraq’s infrastructure with losses estimated at $170 billion.[54]  Much of the damage was due to one of history’s heaviest aerial bombardments, a 43-day long campaign conducted largely by units of the US air force.[55]  US President George Bush Sr. claimed publicly that


we do not seek the destruction of Iraq, nor do we seek to punish the Iraqi people for the decisions and policies of their leaders,[56]


yet US war planners created conditions for civilian suffering in the course of the intense bombing campaign.  As a Washington Post article reported a few months afterwards:


Planners now say their intent was to destroy or damage valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistance.  The worst civilian suffering, senior officers say, has resulted not from bombs that went astray but from precision-guided weapons that hit exactly where they were aimed – at electrical plants, oil refineries and transportation networks... ‘What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of the sanctions’… If there are political objectives that the U.N. coalition has, it can say, 'Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.' It gives us long-term leverage’… Said another Air Force planner: ‘We're not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we'll fix your electricity.”[57]


United States war planners did not intend to march on Baghdad and install a new government. Instead, the coalition ground forces halted their offensive in southern Iraq and signed a cease-fire with Baghdad.  US policy planners expected that the war had weakened Iraq militarily and economically, and that postwar unrest and economic sanctions would succeed in toppling the Saddam regime soon afterwards.  


4.2  Civil War, Regime-Change, No-Fly Zones and Military Attacks


After the Gulf War, United States radio broadcasts urged Iraqis to rise up against the Hussein regime.  In March, the Shi’a populations in the South and the Kurds in the North staged an insurrection and a brief civil war followed.  The uprising failed to topple the government, however, and Baghdad soon brutally repressed it in the South, while US unilateral military intervention under Operation Provide Comfort in the North eventually provided some protection for the Kurdish populations.[58]  The United States continued to insist on “regime change” to sweep the dictator from power.


The Security Council never agreed, however, to “regime change” as a purpose of its sanctions against Iraq.  Resolution 687 referred to disarmament and other issues, but it said nothing about a new government.  Nevertheless, the United States openly pursued this other goal. On February 15, 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, President Bush had made the point quite bluntly: “(T)here’s another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolution."[59]   To a greater or lesser extent, regime change has continued to be a goal of US policy ever since.


In April 1991, the US, the UK and France established a “no-fly zone” in the North, originally to protect coalition military operations in the area.  This policy banned Iraqi aircraft from flying over the national territory above 36 degrees north latitude. To this the three allies added in August 1992 a “no-fly zone” in the South, excluding Iraqi overflight of territory below 32 degrees. The US and its partners claimed that Security Council Resolution 688 authorized these actions, though the resolution was not adopted (as would be required) under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and said nothing about military measures or Iraq’s aircraft or airspace.  The protagonists said their no-fly enforcement overflights were undertaken to protect vulnerable populations of Shi’a in the South and Kurds in the North from further blows by Baghdad, but Turkey was not restrained from striking blows at Kurds in this zone or from repressing its own Kurdish population across the border.[60] Further, the no-fly zone did not even include several major Kurdish cities in the North. Nor did the southern no-fly offer any clear protection to populations there. France withdrew from northern “no-fly” enforcement at the end of 1996 and southern no-fly at the end of 1998. Thousands of overflights, mainly by US-UK military aircraft, enforced these zones on a daily basis.


In addition to no-fly, the powers launched military operations against Iraq, by aircraft and cruise missiles.  France participated in the attack of January 13, 1993 involving 80 strike aircraft, but thereafter the French withdrew from this type of action. United States forces, operating from a variety of ground bases and naval ships, carried out most of these operations, sometimes with UK participation.  The main events took place on January 17 (42 cruise missiles) and June 26 (23 cruise missiles), 1993, September 3-4, 1996 (Operation Desert Strike)(44 cruise missiles), and especially December 16-19, 1998 (Operation Desert Fox)(hundreds of strike aircraft and cruise missiles).[61]  There were also a variety of military deployment operations intended to threaten Iraq, including US operations titled Phoenix Scorpion I, II, III and IV and phases of Operation Desert Thunder, together lasting from November 1997 to December 1998. [62]


Some of these attacks targeted sites in Baghdad or other populated areas and resulted in civilian casualties.  Operation Desert Fox, in December 1998, an intense aerial attack, destroyed a Basra oil refinery and hit a number of targets in Baghdad and other cities, including civilian housing.[63]  More US-UK air strikes followed Desert Fox as part of no-fly enforcement, under “enlarged rules of engagement”[64] and an enlarged no-fly zone (to the 33 degree parallel, near the southern suburbs of Baghdad).  These more robust and provocative patrols led to hundreds of clashes with Iraqi forces, including attacks on radar and anti-aircraft missile sites, command and control centers, intelligence installations and more, including sites outside the no-fly areas.  They resulted in regular civilian casualties.[65] 


When the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponeck, documented these strikes (as well as the destruction and death they caused, and the danger to UN staff), the US and the UK reacted with outrage and demanded his resignation.[66] 


Such unilateral military attacks deepened confusion as to the economic sanctions policy and what steps the Iraqi government could be expected to take to cooperate with UN inspectors and to comply with requirements that might lead to the lifting of sanctions. The Russian ambassador at the UN, Sergey Lavrov, remarked in the Council that “it was not possible to ask the [Iraqis] to cooperate and, at the same time, bomb their territory.”[67] 





4.3  Responsibility of the Government  of Iraq and the Politics of Vilification


The government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein bears responsibility for the wars and the weapons programs that brought suffering to Iraq’s people and its neighbors.  The government of Iraq has also been a notorious human rights abuser.  The United States and the UK often point to these crimes as rationale and justification for the sanctions. But sanctions cannot legally, under the UN Charter or under any standard of international law, serve as punishment for past acts, heinous as they are.  Nor, of course, should the punishment fall on the people of Iraq and not the responsible leaders themselves.  


As the international community grew increasingly aware of the human costs of the sanctions, the US and UK worked tirelessly to shift responsibility away from themselves and onto Saddam Hussein. By charging Saddam with non-compliance, they sought to prove that the Iraqi leader was himself solely answerable and deserved full moral opprobrium.  In fact, considerable compliance occurred, in spite of the Iraq government’s obstruction and lack of full cooperation.


The US and the UK also accused the Iraqi leader of various kinds of malfeasance that deepened his people’s economic and social crisis. The accusations charged that Saddam built presidential palaces, a stadium and a lavish safari park, while his people were suffering, and that he built an artificial lake during a drought.[68] Many of the charges appear to be true and reflect the Iraqi government’s lax humanitarian priorities. However, these projects appear to have cost only a small portion of the country’s vast needs for humanitarian supplies and capital re-building. While outrageous, they fall far short of providing by themselves an explanation for Iraq’s humanitarian emergency.[69] 


Other charges directly address the Oil-for-Food program. In 1998 and 1999, the Western press accused the Iraqi government of not ordering adequate baby foods, of failing to order pulses – a main ingredient in Iraqis’ diets — and even of exporting foods.[70] In many cases, these allegations have proved unfounded, as we shall see.[71]