From firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Mar 20 12:32:51 2000
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2000 22:16:02 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Iraq sanctions: Pilger's article in New Statesman (20 March)
From: Sanjoy Mahajan <email@example.com>
New Statesman [www.newstatesman.co.uk]
Mark Higson was the Iraq desk officer at the Foreign Office in 1989
when the British government was still giving Saddam Hussein almost
anything he wanted, secretly and illegally, a year before Iraq invaded
Kuwait. Higson, who resigned in protest, was one of the few British
officials commended by the Scott inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq
scandal. He described
a culture of lying at the Foreign Office.
The draft letters I wrote for various ministers, he later told
were saying that nothing had changed, the embargo on the sale
of arms to Iraq was the same.
Was that true? I asked.
No, it wasn't true . . .
And your superiors knew it wasn't true?
Yes. If I was writing a draft reply for a minister, replying to a
letter from an MP, I wrote the agreed line. I also wrote replies to go
to members of the public. The letters were awfully polite. But we were
all quite well aware that nothing had changed: that Jordan was being
used [to get arms to Iraq].
So how much truth did the public get?
The public got as much truth as we could squeeze out, given that we
told downright lies . . .
I went to the Foreign Office that same year, 1989, to interview Lord Brabazon, a junior minister. The subject was Cambodia. The Thatcher government was then supporting the Khmer Rouge-led coalition and the SAS was secretly providing training in mine-laying. Like its part in the arms-to-Iraq scandal, the Foreign Office was lying about it. (Two years later, the Major government owned up.)
I was met by a minder from the news department, Ian Whitehead, who
took me aside, as he was no doubt used to doing with journalists, and
told me to
go easy on the minister. With the interview under
way, he began shouting that I had departed from the
agreed line of
line had been agreed. These days, the style
is less obtuse, but the aim is the same. Senior broadcasters and
commentators pop in to the Foreign Office without any material favours
expected; for them, the flattery and
access are enough. Thus,
much of the world is represented in terms of its usefulness to western
Over the years, I have been able to observe how the Foreign Office,
the last true citadel of the British imperium, treats the public. From
time to time, documentary films that I have made have caused people to
write to the government and their MPs, seeking answers to serious
questions about the effects of British policies on large numbers of
human beings all over the world. East Timor was a prime example. For
years, British officials denied any British complicity in the genocide
there and sought to devalue the scale of suffering. One official, J L
Wilkins of the South East Asia department, was the prolific author of
replies to the public.
No one really knows the truth about the
death toll, was his message, because some estimates
so dramatically different from the British government's that
cannot help but suspect them to be exaggerated. The same
devotion to historical accuracy was shown by another official who,
when asked about the huge death toll, replied,
Yes, but it
didn't happen in one year.
In 1993, a letter sent to the Labour MP Greg Pope, and signed by a
senior official in the Indonesia section, claimed:
We are currently
pressing the Indonesians to allow resumed [Red Cross] access to Xanana
Gusmao. This was entirely bogus. An internal Foreign Office
memorandum, which accompanied the letter, read:
infn/edification. The letter is for stonewalling.
The sale of British Aerospace Hawk aircraft to Indonesia, and their
use in East Timor, is a famous case in point. In 1978, when David
Owen, the Labour foreign secretary, approved the export of the first
Hawks to Indonesia, a young MP called Robin Cook described the sale as
particularly disturbing because the Jakarta regime was
war in East Timor.
Sixteen years later, Cook, now a member of Labour's front bench,
lambasted the Tories for selling more Hawks to Indonesia. The
minister, said Cook,
will be aware that Hawk aircraft have been
seen on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984. He
was right. Indeed, Mark Higson told me that the Foreign Office had
known all along exactly where and how the Hawks were being used in
Five years later, with Labour in office and Cook the Foreign Secretary, Foreign Office officials continued to lie in off-the-record briefings to prominent journalists that Hawks were not being used in East Timor. There was plenty of evidence to the contrary; but it was only last year, when the world's press finally discovered East Timor, and a Hawk swept menacingly over Dili, the capital, that the Foreign Office came cleanwith Robin Cook expressing indignation that the Indonesians could do such a thing, his expose from the opposition benches long forgotten,
This brings us to the great suffering in Iraq, where 200 children die
every day under the most ruthless embargo in the modern era, enforced
principally by the United States and Britain and sustained by arguably
the biggest lie of all.
We must nail the absurd claim, said
that sanctions are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi
people. Again, the evidence to the contrary has been overwhelming.
According to Unicef, half a million children have died in eight years,
the brunt of the economic hardship caused by
Because few journalists bother to go to Iraq and the propaganda of an
entire society's guilt by association with a tyrant has been
seldom questioned, the suffering and its principal cause are not
news. Iraqis are media
unpeople. So Cook can say, unchallenged:
Food and medicines have never been covered by sanctions. In
fact, while food, medicines and
supplies for essential civilian
needs are technically exempt from sanctions, the truth is very
different: Iraq is prevented from obtaining foreign currency and
therefore from funding the minimum needs of the population. Shortly
before he resigned in protest against sanctions, Hans von Sponeck, the
UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Baghdad, explained:
We are allowed
just $180 [over six months] for every Iraqi. Everything must come out
of that: food, water, health, power. How can people live a proper life
on that? It is not possible. Currently, approval for $1.5
billions'-worth of vital humanitarian-delayed shipments is
hold at the UN Sanctions Committee in New York, which Washington
and London dominate. This includes food and $150 million worth of
Then there is the $10-billion lie. Cook told parliament that Iraq
can now sell over $10 billion of oil per annum to pay for food,
medicine and other humanitarian goods. Under the oil-for-food
programme, the UN controls all the revenue from sales of Iraqi oil and
allocates only 66 per cent for humanitarian supplies.
The balance, more than a third of the revenue, pays compensation to
the multi-billionaire Kuwaiti royal family and western oil companies
expenses to the UN. The oil-for-food programme, said the
a meaningless gesture, because the Iraqi oil
industry had been so devastated by allied bombing that it could not
pump the quantity of oil permitted by the Security Council. And less
oil means less food and medicine, and more dying children.
Last month, the UN executive in charge of the sanctions office in New
York attacked the Security Council (that is, the US and Britain) for
holding up shipments of oil industry parts, which the Security Council
had already approved. This followed an extraordinary attack by Kofi
Annan, the UN secretary-general, on the US and by implication on
using its muscle to put indefinite 'holds' on
more than $500 million in humanitarian goods that Iraq would like to
buy. A senior US official told the Washington Post:
we can fool around in the [Security] Council and keep things static,
Then there is the lie that the Baghdad regime is culpably hoarding
food and medicine while the population goes without. Peter Hain, the
Foreign Office minister, offered this in recent letters to the New
Statesman and the Guardian.
The goods that come into this country
are distributed to where they belong, said von Sponeck, the senior
UN official in charge.
Our most recent stock analysis shows that
88.8 per cent of all humanitarian supplies have been distributed.
Unicef and the World Food Programme confirm this. The medicines which,
lie in warehouses are there because, as UN officials
tirelessly explain, the World Health Organisation has instructed Iraq
to maintain emergency buffer stocks and actually wants these
increased. Because of the delays in New York, they say, supplies
arrive erratically: for example, IV fluids frequently turn up ahead of
equipment, without which they are useless.
Much of the latest Foreign Office propaganda has come almost
word-for-word from a US State Department briefing document, Saddam
Hussein's Iraq, distributed last September. Denis Halliday, the
former UN assistant secretary-general who also resigned in protest
rather than continue to administer the oil-for-food programme, has
analysed this report, describing it as
garbage from beginning to
end. Saddam Hussein's palaces are said to cover
greater than Paris. In fact, UN weapons inspectors found his
palaces to be nearer the size of Paddington.
Such desperation is evident in the government's response to the
ITV documentary on Iraq that I made with Alan Lowery, Paying the
Price, which, on 6 March, drew a powerful response from the
public. Peter Hain, having metamorphosed in the depressingly
time-honoured way from a principled political activist to yet another
Foreign Office mouthpiece, wrote in the Guardian that Saddam Hussein
makes sure there are plenty of malnourished children to
film. Those of us who, unlike him, have watched Iraqi children
dying in front of us, reserve a particular contempt for such an
obscenity, and wilful ignorance. Tens of thousands of malnourished
children need no setting up; they are everywhere. And they are dying
because this government bans vaccines and blocks standard equipment
like blood platelet machines, and refuses to allow the restoration of
clean drinking-water: a universal child saver. Hain might like to see
a cancer patient dying in pain, denied morphine by this government, as
Having brought a born-again zeal to his new career, Hain indulges in
The friends of the Iraqi regime, he told parliament, are
all those who in one way or another lend their weight to
Iraq's opposition to sanctions. Dupes, in other words. As for the
parallels that he draws with the sanctions against South Africa, these
are absurd. Unlike Iraq, which imported 70 per cent of its essentials,
South Africa was largely self-sufficient in food, and the majority of
people and the ANC supported the disinvestment and cultural and
sporting isolation that hit the white elite. In Iraq, there has been
an opposite effect; instead of weakening the regime, the resistance
has been weakened, and the majority made more powerless than ever.
That is why both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have publicly opposed
sanctions against Iraq. To Hain, they must be dupes, too.
Both Richard Butler and Scott Ritter, late of Unscom, the weapons inspections agency, have said that Saddam Hussein has been disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction. With all non-military sanctions lifted, Baghdad has indicated that the inspectors can return. What alarms the US and Britain is a section of the original Resolution 687 on Iraq, which they never mention. This calls for the downgrading of weapons of mass destruction throughout the region, meaning the nuclear-armed Israeli invaders of Lebanon and the Turkish invaders of Iraqi Kurdistan. It would also mean the scaling down of the west's arming of countries like Saudi Arabia, upon which much of Britain's weapons trade depends.
The truth is that the policy of sanctions is disintegrating, with US
oil companies already making secret peace with Baghdad. In the US
State Department, sanctions are dismissed as
vendetta, and those officials and diplomats with an instinct for
career survival are keeping their distance and their silence during
the presidential campaign.
At the Foreign Office, there is sub-imperial confusion. Jon Davies,
the head of the Iraq deskwho has never been to Iraqstood up at a
conference and blamed the Americans, then told his listeners that his
off the record. It seems that the FO wants Britain
to be a bridge between the US and Europe, and if the government
opposed sanctions, the Americans would be displeased and the great
strategy would suffer.
That this obsequious bit of realpolitik has nothing to do with Iraq, let alone its dying children, is by the by. Davies has said privately that last December's Security Council Resolution 1284, which Hain promotes as a breakthrough, changes nothing. Publicly, the Foreign Office says the opposite, of course.
It was understandable that no member of the government would be
interviewed by me for Paying the Price without Millbank conditions of
control. In parliament, Robin Cook entirely misrepresented his refusal
to appear, claiming he was denied a
right of reply. For two
months, I offered him a major interview, with the bulk of the
questions supplied beforehand so he could prepare his responses to
longstanding criticisism. Unlike the secretary-general of the UN and
the US State Department spokesman, he demanded special
treatment. Our fearless Foreign Secretary, an FO man explained, did
not want to be
skewered nor appear in a film
babies. I asked for Peter Hain, who in last week's NS
described me as his old friend. But he too was available only on
I offer him this old friend's advice: sanctions against the Iraqi
people breach a multitude of international laws, including the
Nuremberg Charter and the Convenant against Genocide. Even Margaret
Thatcher is careful where she travels these days, lest she be
indicted. So take care, Peter, that you are not assigned the last
watch as others scuttle overboard, leaving a murderous policy that is
already regarded, judicially not rhetorically, as an epic crime
against humanity. Think of the company you keep, and the words of
History will slaughter those responsible.