Paying the Price for the Gulf War by John Pilger

Paying the Price for the Gulf War

by John Pilger

Children in Basra.
Photo by Alan Pogue (July 1998)

from the book

Verso Books
ISBN 1-85984-393-X

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.

President George Bush Senior

We think the price is worth it . . .

U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright,
when asked if the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were a price worth paying for sanctions

They know we own their country . . . we dictate the way they live and talk. And that's what's great about America right now. It's a good thing, especially when there's a lot of oil out there we need.

Brigadier-General William Looney, U.S. air force, director of the bombing of Iraq


Wherever you go in Iraq's southern city of Basra, there is dust. It rolls down the long roads that are the desert's fingers. It gets in your eyes and nose and throat; it swirls in markets and school playgrounds, consuming children kicking a plastic ball; and it carries, according to Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, "the seeds of our death." Dr. Al-Ali is a cancer specialist at the city hospital and a member of Britain's Royal College of Physicians. He has a neat moustache and a kindly, furrowed face. His starched white coat, like the collar of his shirt, is frayed.

"Before the Gulf War, we had only three or four deaths in a month from cancer," he said." Now it's thirty to thirty-five patients dying every month, and that's just in my department. That is twelve times the increase in the cancer mortality. Our studies indicate that 40 to 48 per cent of the population in this area will get cancer: in five years' time to begin with, then long afterwards. (Video Clip) That's almost half the population. Most of my own family now have cancer, and we have no history of the disease. It has spread to the medical staff of this hospital; yesterday, the son of the medical director died. We don't know the precise source of the contamination, because we are not allowed to get the equipment to conduct a proper survey, or even test the excess level of radiation in our bodies. We strongly suspect depleted uranium, which was used by the Americans and British in the Gulf War right across the southern battlefields. Whatever the cause, it is like Chernobyl here; the genetic effects are new to us. The mushrooms grow huge, and the fish in what was once a beautiful river are inedible. Even the grapes in my garden have mutated and can't be eaten." 1 (Video Clip)

Along the corridor, I met Dr. Ginan Ghalib Hassen, a pediatrician. At another time, she might have been described as an effervescent personality; now she, too, has a melancholy expression that does not change; it is the face of Iraq. "This is Ali Raffa Asswadi," she said, stopping to take the hand of a wasted boy I guessed to be about four years old. "He is nine years," she said. "He has leukemia. Now we can't treat him. Only some of the drugs are available. We get drugs for two or three weeks, and then they stop when the shipments stop. Unless you continue a course, the treatment is useless. We can't even give blood transfusions, because there are not enough blood bags . . ."

In the next bed, a child lay in his shrouded mother's arms. One side of his head was severely swollen. "This is neuroplastoma," said Dr. Hassen. "It is a very unusual tumour. Before 1991, we saw only one case of this tumour in two years. Now we have many cases." Another child had his eyes fixed on me and I asked what would happen to him. She said, "He has an abdominal mass. We have operated on him, but unless the tumour receives treatment, it will recur. We have only some drugs. We are waiting for the full course. He has renal failure now, so his future is bad. All the futures here are bad." (Video Clip)

Dr. Hassen keeps a photo album of the children she is trying to save and has been unable to save. "This is Talum Saleh," she said, turning to a photograph of a boy in a blue pullover and with sparkling eyes. "He is five-and-a-half years old. This is a case of Hodgkin's Disease. Normally, with Hodgkin's, a patient can expect to live and the cure can be 95 per cent. But if the drugs are not available, complications set in, and death follows. This boy had a beautiful nature. He died." (Video Clip)

I said, "As we were walking, I noticed you stop and put your face to the wall."

"Yes, I was emotional . . . I am a doctor; I am not supposed to cry, but I cry every day, because this is torture. These children could live; they could live and grow up; and when you see your son and daughter in front of you, dying, what happens to you?"

I said, "What do you say to those in the West who deny the connection between depleted uranium and the deformities of these children?"

"That is not true. How much proof do they want? There is every relation between congenital malformation and depleted uranium. Before 1991, we saw nothing like this at all. If there is no connection, why have these things not happened before? Most of these children have no family history of cancer. I have studied what happened in Hiroshima. It is almost exactly the same here; we have an increased percentage of congenital malformation, an increase of malignancy, leukemia, brain tumours: the same." 2 (Video Clip)

Under the economic embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council in 1990 and upgraded the following year, Iraq is denied equipment and expertise to decontaminate its battlefields, in contrast to how Kuwait was cleaned up after the Gulf War. The U.S. army physicist responsible for cleaning up Kuwait was Professor Doug Rokke, whom I met in London. Today, he himself is a victim. "I am like many people in southern Iraq," he said. "I have 5,000 times the recommended level of radiation in my body. The contamination was right throughout Iraq and Kuwait. With the munitions testing and preparation in Saudi Arabia, uranium contamination covers the entire region. The effect depends on whether a person inhaled it or ingested it by eating and drinking, or if they got it in an open wound. What we're seeing now, respiratory problems, kidney problems, cancers, are the direct result of the use of this highly toxic material. The controversy over whether or not it's the cause is a manufactured one; my own ill-health is testament to that."

Professor Rokke says there are two urgent issues to be confronted by people in the West, "those with a sense of right and wrong" : first, the decision by the United States and Britain to use a "weapon of mass destruction," such as depleted uranium. He said, "In the Gulf War, well over 300 tons were fired. An A-10 Warthog attack aircraft fired over 900,000 rounds. Each individual round was 300 grams of solid uranium 238. When a tank fired its shells, each round carried over 4,500 grams of solid uranium. These rounds are not coated, they're not tipped; they're solid uranium. Moreover, we have evidence to suggest that they were mixed with plutonium. What happened in the Gulf was a form of nuclear warfare.

"The second issue is the denial of medical care to American and British and other allied soldiers, and the tens of thousands of Iraqis contaminated. At international symposiums, I have watched Iraqi officials approach their counterparts from the Department of Defence and the Ministry of Defence and ask, plead, for help with decontamination. The Iraqis didn't use depleted uranium; it was not their weapon. They simply don't know how to get rid of it from their environment. I watched them put their case, describing the deaths and the horrific deformities that are showing up; and I watched them rebuffed. It was pathetic." 3

The United Nations Sanctions Committee in New York, dominated by the Americans and British, has vetoed or delayed a range of vital medical equipment, chemotherapy drugs, even pain-killers. (In the jargon of denial, "blocked" equals vetoed, and "on hold" means delayed, or maybe blocked.) In Baghdad, I sat in a clinic as doctors received parents and their children, many of them grey-skinned and bald, some of them dying. After every second or third examination, Dr. Lekaa Fasseh Ozeer, the young oncologist, wrote in English: "No drugs available." I asked her to jot down in my notebook a list of drugs the hospital had ordered, but had not received, or had received intermittently. She filled a page.

I had been filming in Iraq for my documentary Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq. 4 Back in London, I showed Dr. Ozeer's list to Professor Karol Sikora who, as chief of the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO), wrote in the British Medical Journal: "Requested radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by United States and British advisers [to the Sanctions Committee]. There seems to be a rather ludicrous notion that such agents could be converted into chemical and other weapons." 5 He told me, "Nearly all these drugs are available in every British hospital. They're very standard. When I came back from Iraq last year, with a group of experts I drew up a list of seventeen drugs that are deemed essential for cancer treatment. We informed the UN that there was no possibility of converting these drugs into chemical warfare agents. We heard nothing more. The saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because there was no chemotherapy and no pain control. It seemed crazy they couldn't have morphine, because for everybody with cancer pain, it is the best drug. When I was there, they had a little bottle of aspirin pills to go round 200 patients in pain. They would receive a particular anti-cancer drug, but then get only little bits of drugs here and there, and so you can't have any planning. It's bizarre."

I told him that one of the doctors had been especially upset, because the UN Sanctions Committee had banned nitrous oxide as "weapons dual use" ; yet this was used in caesarean sections to stop bleeding, and perhaps save a mother's life. "I can see no logic to banning that," he said. "I am not an armaments expert, but the amounts used would be so small that, even if you collected all the drugs supply for the whole nation and pooled it, it is difficult to see how you could make any chemical warfare device out of it."

I asked him how his criticisms were received by the World Health Organisation. "We were specifically told not to talk about it afterwards, about the whole Iraq business. The WHO was embarrassed; it's not an organisation that likes to get involved in politics." 6

Mohamed Ghani's studio in Baghdad is dominated by a huge crucifix he is sculpting for the Church of the Assumption in Baghdad. As Iraq's most famous sculptor, he is proud that the Vatican has commissioned him, a Muslim, to sculpt the Stations of the Cross in Rome, a cultural acknowledgement, he says, of his country as Mesopotamia, the" cradle of western civilisation." When I visited him, Mozart was playing on his venerable tape deck, which perched on a refrigerator of similar vintage and in which were two small bottles of beer. He handed me one. "Here's to life and no more sorrow please," he said. His latest work is a twenty-foot-high figure of a woman, her child gripping her legs, pleading for food. "Every morning I see her," he said, "waiting, with others just like her, in a long line at the hospital at the end of my road." He has produced a line of figurines that depict their waiting; all the heads are bowed before a door that is permanently closed. "The door is the dispensary," he said, "but it is also the world, kept shut by those who rule the world." 7

The next day, I saw the same line of women and children at the Al Mansour children's hospital. Their doctors' anguish had a terrible echo. "Children with meningitis can survive with the precise dosage of antibiotics," said Dr. Mohamed Mahmud. "Four milligrams can save a life, but so often we are allowed only one milligram. This is a teaching hospital, but children die because we are not allowed parts for machines that separate blood platelets." 8

It was here, as we walked along the line of people waiting, that my companion Denis Halliday had an extraordinary reunion. A courtly Irishman who the previous year (1998) had resigned as the UN's Coordinator of Humanitarian Relief to Iraq in protest against the effects of the embargo on the civilian population, he had returned with me to Baghdad. Now he spotted a man and his daughter, and the three erupted with greetings.

"Saffa!" he said, dropping to his knees to take the hands of a nine year-old girl.

"John, this is Saffa Majid and her father, Majid Ali. Saffa I met two years ago in this hospital, when I was the UN chief in Iraq and she was in a very poor condition with leukemia. One cannot deal with thousands, but one can deal with two or three or four children. And I was able, with the help of the World Health Organisation, to bring in drugs, on the quiet. They were enough for two years of treatment for this little girl. And today, look at her! She looks wonderful and her father says she has only to come once a month now. So I think she's almost cured of the leukemia. Saffa was one of four I helped. Two little girls died."

"Why did they die?"

"They died because the medications were not available."

"And when you set out to help these children, you were the United Nations representative here."

"That's right. And to help them, I had to act illegally. I had to breach my own economic sanctions, so to speak, established by the Security Council, led by Washington and London. In this hospital, we have seen the evidence today of the killing that is now the responsibility of the Security Council member states, particularly Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. They should be here with us. They should see the impact of what their decisions and their sustaining of economic sanctions mean.

"The very provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights are being set aside. We are waging a war, through the United Nations, on the children and people of Iraq, and with incredible results: results that you do not expect to see in a war under the Geneva Conventions. We're targeting civilians. Worse, we're targeting children like Saffa, who of course were not born when Iraq went into Kuwait. What is this about? It's a monstrous situation, for the United Nations, for the western world, for all of us who are part of some democratic system, who are in fact responsible for the policies of our governments and the implementation of economic sanctions on Iraq." 9

Denis Halliday had resigned after thirty-four years with the UN. He was then Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, with a long and distinguished career in development, "attempting to help people, not harm them." His was the first public expression of an unprecedented rebellion within the UN bureaucracy. "I am resigning," he wrote, "because the policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple as that . . . Five thousand children are dying every month . . . I don't want to administer a programme that results in figures like these."

Since I met Halliday, I have been struck by the principle behind his carefully chosen, uncompromising words. "I had been instructed," he said, "to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults. We all know that the regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for economic sanctions; on the contrary, he has been strengthened by them. It is the little people who are losing their children or their parents for lack of untreated water. What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will slaughter those responsible." 10

In the UN, Halliday broke a long collective silence. On February 13, 2000, Hans Von Sponeck, who had succeeded him as Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad, resigned. Like Halliday, he had been with the UN for more than thirty years. "How long," he asked, "should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?" 11 Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, another UN agency, resigned, saying that she, too, could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people.

When I met Von Sponeck in Baghdad in October 1999, the anguish behind his measured, self-effacing exterior was evident. Like Halliday's, his job had been to administer the so-called Oil for Food Programme, which since 1996 has allowed Iraq to sell a fraction of its oil for money that goes straight to an account controlled by the Security Council. Almost a third is not used on humanitarian aid, but pays the UN's "expenses," as well as reparations demanded by Kuwait, one of the world's wealthiest nations, and compensation claims by oil companies and other multinational corporations. Iraq must then tender on the international market for food and medical supplies and other humanitarian resources. Every contract has to be approved by the UN Sanctions Committee in New York.

When sanctions were imposed, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, all imports, including food, were effectively banned for eight months, even though Security Council Resolution 661 of August 6, 1990 explicitly exempted food and medicines. For a year, the UN refused to allow Iraq the means of raising funds beyond its exhausted cash reserves. As Iraq imported almost everything, the effect was immediate and devastating, compounded by the results of a bombing campaign designed to cripple the civilian infrastructure. "U.S. military planners," reported the Washington Post, "hoped the bombing would amplify the economic and psychological impact of international sanctions on Iraqi society . . . Because of these goals, damage to civilian structures and interests, invariably described by briefers during the war as 'collateral' and unintended, was sometimes neither. 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. Among the justifications offered is that Iraqi civilians were not blameless. A senior air force officer said, 'They do live there . . .'" 12

Reporting on the aftermath of the bombing, UN Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari described the "near apocalyptic" state of the country's basic services. "Iraq has for some time to come been relegated to a pre-industrial age," he wrote, "but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology." 13 A Harvard University study team concluded that Iraq was heading for a "public health catastrophe," with tens of thousands of deaths by the end of 1991 alone, the majority of them young children. The team of independent American professionals and academics estimated that, during the first eight months of sanctions when all shipments of food and medicines were blockaded, 47,000 children under the age of five had died. 14 The administration of George Bush Senior appeared to concur with these assessments; 15 and yet, wrote Dr. Eric Herring of Bristol University, a sanctions specialist, "comprehensive economic sanctions remained in place. Those policymakers who backed the sanctions cannot say that they did not know what was going to happen. Whatever the political purpose, it was a conscious and callous choice to deny an entire society the means necessary to survive." 16

In 1991, the Security Council, in its Resolution 687, stated that, if Iraq renounced "weapons of mass destruction" (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) and ballistic missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres, and agreed to monitoring by a UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), the embargo would be lifted. 17 In 1998, UNSCOM reported that, despite Iraqi obstruction in some areas, "the disarmament phase of the Security Council's requirements is possibly near its end in the missile and chemical weapons areas." 18 On December 15, 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that it had eliminated Iraq's nuclear weapons programme "efficiently and effectively." 19

Scott Ritter, for five years a senior UNSCOM weapons inspector, agreed. "By 1998, the chemical weapons infrastructure had been completely dismantled or destroyed by UNSCOM or by Iraq in compliance with our mandate," he told me. "The biological weapons programme was gone, all the major facilities eliminated. The nuclear weapons programme was completely eliminated. The long-range ballistic missile programme was completely eliminated. If I had to quantify Iraq's threat, I would say [it is] zero." 20 (Video Clip)

While food and medicines are technically exempt, the Sanctions Committee has frequently vetoed and delayed requests for baby food, agricultural equipment, heart and cancer drugs, oxygen tents, X-ray machines. Sixteen heart and lung machines were put "on hold" because they contained computer chips. A fleet of ambulances was held up because their equipment included vacuum flasks, which keep medical supplies cold; vacuum flasks are designated "dual use" by the Sanctions Committee, meaning they could possibly be used in weapons manufacture. 21 Cleaning materials, such as chlorine, are" dual use," as is the graphite used in pencils; as are wheelbarrows, it seems, considering the frequency of their appearance on the list of "holds." 22 As of October 2001, 1,010 contracts for humanitarian supplies, worth $3.85 billion, were "on hold" by the Sanctions Committee. 23 They included items related to food, health, water and sanitation, agriculture and education.

Most members of the Security Council want the sanctions eased considerably or lifted. The French have called them "cruel, ineffective and dangerous." 24 However, American dominance of the Council is such that the U.S. and British representatives on the Sanctions Committee alone veto and delay contracts. The British claim they hold up only "one per cent" of humanitarian contracts. 25 This is sophistry; by never objecting to American obstruction, they give it tacit support. Moreover, a veto or "hold" can only be rescinded by the Council member who orders it.

So blatant is the obstruction that Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General virtually appointed by the Americans, complained that the delays and vetoes were "seriously impairing the effective implementation of the [Oil for Food] programme." He urged the approval of water, sanitation and electricity contracts "without delay" because of "their paramount importance to the welfare of the Iraqi people." 26 The Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, has attacked the Council for holding up spares for Iraq's crumbling oil industry, warning that the less oil Iraq is able to pump, the less money will be available to buy food and medicine. 27 In 1999, a senior Clinton administration official told the Washington Post, "The longer we can fool around in the [Security] Council and keep things static, the better." 28

In Britain, Customs and Excise have stopped parcels going to Iraqi relatives, containing children's clothes and toys. The chairman of the British Library, John Ashworth, wrote to Harry Cohen MP that, "after consultation with the Foreign Office," it was decided that books could no longer be sent to Iraqi students. 29 The British Library had already distinguished itself by informing a translator in Baghdad that it was not permitted to send him a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses. From the petty and craven to the farcical: an attempt to send documents to Iraq advising Iraqis on human rights and press freedom was blocked by the Department of Trade and Industry in London. The package, which also contained advice on family planning and AIDS, was posted to Mosul University but was intercepted and returned to Article 19, the anti-censorship group. 30

When Denis Halliday was the senior United Nations official in Iraq, a display cabinet stood in the foyer of his office. It contained a bag of wheat, some congealed cooking oil, bars of soap and a few other household necessities. "It was a pitiful sight," he said, "and it represented the monthly ration that we were allowed to spend. I added cheese to lift the protein content, but there was simply not enough money left over from the amount we were allowed to spend, which came from the revenue Iraq was allowed to make from its oil." 31 He describes food shipments as "an exercise in duplicity." A shipment that the Americans claim allows for 2,300 calories per person per day may well allow for only 2,000 calories, or fewer. "What's missing," he said, "will be animal proteins, minerals and vitamins. As most Iraqis have no other source of income, food has become a medium of exchange; it gets sold for other necessities, further lowering the calorie intake. You also have to get clothes and shoes for your kids to go to school. You've then got malnourished mothers who cannot breastfeed, and they pick up bad water. What is needed is investment in water treatment and distribution, electric power production for food processing, storage and refrigeration, education and agriculture." 32

His successor, Hans Von Sponeck, calculates that the Oil for Food Programme allows $l00 for each person to live on for a year. This figure also has to help pay for the entire society's infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. "It is simply not possible to live on such an amount," Von Sponeck told me. "Set that pittance against the lack of clean water, the fact that electricity fails for up to twenty-two hours a day, and the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of trying to get from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable." 33

The cost in lives is staggering. A study by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, found that between 1991 and 1998, there were 500,000 deaths above the anticipated rate among Iraqi children under five years of age. This, on average, is 5,200 preventable under-five deaths per month. 34 Hans Von Sponeck said, "Some 167 Iraqi children are dying every day." 35 Denis Halliday said, "If you include adults, the figure is now almost certainly well over a million." 36

In 1999, a humanitarian panel set up by the Security Council reported that Iraq had slipped from "relative affluence" prior to 1991 into "massive poverty."The panel criticised the Oil for Food Programme as "inadequate" to remedy a "dire" humanitarian situation "that cannot be overstated." The panel's members took the remarkable step of attacking their sponsor, charging that "the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council." Once again, children were found to be the main victims, with the infant mortality rate soaring from one of the lowest in the world in 1990 to the highest. 37

In a separate study, Richard Garfield, a renowned epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, says that, in tripling since 1990, the death rate of children in Iraq is unique. "There is almost no documented case," he wrote, "of rising mortality for children under five years in the modern world." 38 Extrapolating from these statistics, American researchers John Mueller and Karl Mueller conclude that "economic sanctions have probably already taken the lives of more people in Iraq than have been killed by all weapons of mass destruction in history." 39

In 1999, seventy members of the U.S. Congress signed an unusually blunt letter to President Clinton, appealing to him to lift the embargo and end what they called "infanticide masquerading as policy." 40 The Clinton administration had already given them their reply. In 1996, in an infamous interview on the American current affairs programme 60 Minutes, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, had been asked: "We have heard that half a million children have died . . . is the price worth it?" Albright replied, "I think it is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price it worth it." 41

Malnourished child in Al Mansur Pediatric Hospital, Baghdad, in July 1997.
Photo by Peter L. Pellett


My journey to Iraq was almost surreal. With Denis Halliday and my television colleagues Alan Lowery, Preston Clothier and Grant Roberts, I spent sixteen anxious hours on a road that is a ribbon of wreckage. Pieces of tire drifted towards us, like giant black birds escaping the squalls of sand and dust. Beside the road lay two bodies. They were old men in suits, as if laid out for their funeral, their arms stiffly by their sides. A taxi rested upsidedown. The men had been walking to the border, each with his meagre belongings, now scattered among the thornbushes. The taxi's brakes had apparently failed and it had cut them down. Local people came out of the dust and stood beside the bodies: for them, on this, the only road in and out of Iraq, it was a common sight.

The road from Amman in Jordan to Baghdad was never meant as an artery, yet it now carries most of Iraq's permissible trade and traffic to the outside world. Two narrow single lanes are dominated by oil tankers, moving in an endless convoy; cars and overladen buses and vans dart in and out in a danse macabre. The inevitable carnage provides a roadside tableau of burnt-out tankers, a bus crushed like a tin can, an official United Nations Mercedes on its side, its once-privileged occupants dead. Of course, brakes fail on rickety taxis everywhere, but the odds against survival here are greatly shortened. Parts for the older models are now non-existent, and drivers go through the night and day with little sleep. With the Iraqi dinar worth virtually nothing, they must go back and forth, from Baghdad to Amman, Amman to Baghdad, as frequently and as quickly as possible. And when they and their passengers are killed or maimed, they, too, become victims of the most ruthless economic embargo of modern times.

Baghdad was just visible beneath a white pall of pollution. Young arms reached up to the window of our van: a boy offering an over-ripe banana, a girl a single stem flower. Before 1990, begging was almost unknown and frowned upon. Baghdad today is an urban version of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. The birds have gone as avenues of palms have died, in what was once the land of dates. The splashes of colour, on fruit stalls, are three-dimensional. A bunch of Dole bananas and a bag of apples from Beirut cost a teacher's salary for a month; only foreigners and the rich eat fruit.

The rich, the black marketeers, the regime's cronies and favoured supplicants, are not visible, except for an occasional tinted-glass late-model Mercedes navigating its way through the rustbuckets. Having been ordered to keep their heads down, the elite keep to their network of clubs and restaurants and wellstocked clinics, the presence of which make nonsense of claims in Washington and London that the sanctions are hurting the regime.

The Al Rasheed Hotel is where Saddam Hussein's people are glimpsed. Dark glasses, large dyed moustaches and spooks proliferate. You enter by way of an icon of dark Iraqi humour, crossing a large floor portrait, set in tiles, of George Bush Senior, a good likeness, and the words: "George Bush is a war criminal." The face is forever being polished. I met an assistant manager, who had been at the hotel since the 1980s and whose sardonic sense of western double standards was a treat. "Ah, a journalist from Britain!" he said. "Would you like to see where Mr. Douglas Hurd stayed, and Mr. David Melon [sic] and Mr. Tony Newton, and all the other members of Mrs. Thatcher's Government . . . These gentlemen were our friends, our benefactors." He has a collection of the Baghdad Observer from "the good old days." Saddam Hussein is on the front page, where he always is. The only change in each photograph is that he is sitting on his white presidential couch with a different British government minister, who is smiling or wincing.

There is Douglas Hurd, in 1981, then a Foreign Office minister who came to sell Saddam Hussein a British Aerospace missile system and to "celebrate" the anniversary of the coming to power of the Ba'ath (Redemption) Party, a largely CIA triumph in 1968 that extinguished all hope of a pluralistic Iraq and produced Saddam Hussein. There is Hurd twice: on the couch and on page two, bowing before the tyrant, the renowned interrogator and torturer of Qasr-al-Nihayyah, the "palace of the end." And there is the corpulent David Mellor, also a Foreign Office man, on the same white couch in 1988. While Mellor, or "Mr. Melon" as the assistant manager preferred, was being entertained, his host ordered the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja, news of which the Foreign Office tried to suppress. 42 And there is Tony Newton, Margaret Thatcher's Trade Secretary, who, within a month of the gassing of the Kurds, was on the same white couch offering Saddam 340 million of British tax-payers' money in export credits. And there he is again, three months later, back on the couch, celebrating the fact that Iraq was now Britain's third-largest market for machine tools, from which a range of weapons was forged. As the subsequent inquiry by Sir Richard Scott revealed, these celebrities of the Baghdad Observer knew they were dealing illegally with the tyrant. "Please give Mr. Melon my greetings," said the assistant manager.

Read carefully, history will usually offer an explanation. A few miles from the Al Rasheed is a cemetery girded by iron railings, behind which lines of stone crosses are just visible through drifting skeins of dust and sand. This is the British Cemetery, where soldiers who fought the Turks near the end of the First World War are buried. "Here have been recovered or interred," says a plaque, "the bodies of British officers and men who, after the fall of Kut, being prisoners in the hands of the Turks, perished . . . These are they who came out of great tribulation." Private FR Reynolds of the Imperial Camel Corps was nineteen when he was killed on October 11, 1918. His cross has crumbled. Frederic Ivor Hesiger, Second Lieutenant Royal Field Artillery, was twenty when he was mortally wounded at the battle of Shatt-Eladhaim on April 30, 1917. Being the eldest son of the Third Baron Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, he has his own tomb, which weeds and vines have claimed. None of the inscriptions says: "He died to secure a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." That was how the U.S. State Department in 1945 described the oilfields of the Middle East. 43

After oil was discovered in the late nineteenth century, the European powers lost no time in getting their hands on "the greatest prize." By 1918, they had seen off the Ottoman Turks and divided up their empire. Iraq and all the Arab lands became colonies, despite earlier promises of independence after the war. France kept Syria, Lebanon and northern Iraq; Britain seized Baghdad and Basra in the south. The long-suffering Kurds were kept in a separate region under the British; and when they rose up, Winston Churchill, the Colonial Secretary, mused: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes."

Having crowned a puppet Iraqi king, Faisal, the British set about destroying the independence movement by pulverising villages with artillery and bombing farmlands with phosphorus bombs and metal crowsfeet designed to maim livestock. Iraq, source of the world's highest-grade oil, remained a British colony in all but name until the Suez invasion in 1956.

Two years later, the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown by a nationalist, Abd al-Karim Kassem, who himself fell victim to an internecine struggle. The new regime called itself an " Arab socialist union," and a measure of plurality included a decentralised administration and recognition of the Kurdish language and national identity. When the Iraq Petroleum Company, the foreign consortium that exploited Iraq's oil, was threatened with nationalisation in 1963, the new imperial power, the United States, engineered what the Central Intelligence Agency called its "favourite coup." "We regarded it as a great victory," said James Critchfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East. 44 The Secretary-General of the Ba'ath Party, Ali Saleh Sa'adi, concurred. "We came to power on a CIA train," he said, thereafter instigating a reign of terror that produced Saddam Hussein, who became the top man in 1979. He was America's man. "Saddam has a great deal to thank the CIA for," Said Aburish, his biographer, told me. "He can thank them for bringing the Ba'ath Party to power, for helping him personally, for providing him with financial aid during the war with Iran, for protecting him against internal coups d'etat. It's a continuing relationship from the early 1960s until now, and it's a love/hate relationship." 45 (Video Clip)

So enduring was America's ardour, or rather its gratitude to Iraq for protecting its client Arab states from Iran's revolutionary virus, that Saddam Hussein was given everything he wanted, almost up to the day he invaded Kuwait in August 1990. When John Kelly, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, visited Baghdad in 1989, he told him: "you are a force for moderation in the region, and the United States wants to broaden her relationship with Iraq." 46 The "force for moderation" had just claimed victory in a war against Iran, which resulted in more than a million casualties on both sides, dead and wounded. When human rights groups presented evidence that Saddam Hussein had used mustard gas and nerve gas against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians, the State Department refused to condemn him. 47 As Saddam Hussein was preparing his forces for the attack on his southern neighbour, a U.S. Department of Energy official discovered that advanced nuclear reactors were being shipped to Iraq. When he alerted his superiors, he was moved to another job. "We knew about their bomb programme," said a former member of the Bush administration, "but Saddam was our ally . . . " 48

In 1992, a Congressional inquiry found that President George Bush Senior and his top advisers had ordered a cover-up to conceal their secret support for Saddam Hussein and the illegal arms shipments being sent to him via third countries. Missile technology was shipped to South Africa and Chile and then "on sold" to Iraq, while Commerce Department records were altered and deleted. (This mirrored the emerging scandal across the Atlantic, which saw British weapons technology being illegally shipped to Iraq, with Jordan listed on the "end-user" certificates.) Within weeks of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the CIA was still feeding copious intelligence to Baghdad. Congressman Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the House of Representatives banking committee, said, "Bush and his advisers financed, equipped and succoured the monster they later set out to slay, and they were now burying the evidence." 49

A 1994 Senate report documented the transfer to Iraq of the ingredients of biological weapons: botulism developed at a company in Maryland, licensed by the Commerce Department and approved by the State Department. 50 Anthrax was also supplied by the Porton Down laboratories in Britain, a government establishment. 51 A Congressional investigator said, "It was all money, it was all greed. The U.S. Government knew, the British Government knew. Did they care? No. It was a competition with the Germans. That's how the arms trade works." 52

During the parallel Scott Inquiry in London into the arms-to Iraq scandal, Tim Laxton, a City of London auditor, was brought in to examine the books of the British arms company Astra, which the Thatcher Government covertly and illegally used as a channel for arms to Iraq. Laxton was one of the few observers to sit through the entire inquiry. He believes that if Sir Richard Scott's brief had been open and unlimited, and Thatcher's senior aides and civil servants had been compelled to give evidence under oath, as well as numerous other vital witnesses who were not called, the outcome would have been very different from the temporary embarrassment meted out to a few ministers. "Hundreds," he said, "would have faced criminal investigation, including top political figures, very senior civil servants from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade . . . the top echelon of government." 53

In the centre of Baghdad is a monolith that crowds the eye; it commemorates, or celebrates, the 1980-90 Iran-Iraq war, which Saddam Hussein started, urged on by the Americans who wanted him to destroy their new foe in the region, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Cast in a foundry in Basingstoke, its two huge forearms, reputedly modelled on Saddam Hussein's own, hold triumphant crossed sabres. Cars are allowed to drive over the helmets of dead Iranian soldiers embedded in the concourse. I cannot think of a sight anywhere in the world that better expresses the crime of sacrificial war and the business of making and selling armaments: America and Britain supplied both sides with weapons.

We stayed at the Hotel Palestine, a far cry from the AI Rasheed. The smell of petrol is constant; if you stay too long inside, you feel sick. With contracts for disinfectant "on hold" in New York, petrol, more plentiful than water, has replaced it. In the lobby there is an Iraqi Airways office, which is open every day, with an employee sitting behind a desk, smiling and saying good morning to passing guests. She has no clients, because there is no Iraqi Airways, which died with sanctions. Two of the pilots are outside, waiting beside their empty taxis; others are sweeping the forecourt or selling used clothes.

In my room, the plaster crumbled every night and the water ran gravy brown. The one frayed towel was borne by the maid like an heirloom. When I asked for coffee to be brought up, the waiter hovered outside until I was finished; cups are at a premium. "I am always sad," he said matter-of-factly. In a month, he will have earned enough to pay for somebody to go to Amman to buy tablets for his brother's epilepsy.

A melancholia shrouds people. I felt it at Baghdad's evening auctions, where intimate possessions are sold in order to buy food and medicines. Television sets are common items up for sale. A woman with two infants watched their pushchairs go for pennies. A man who had collected doves since he was fifteen came with his last bird; the cage would go next. My film crew and I had come to pry, yet we were made welcome; or people merely deferred to our presence, as the downcast do. During three weeks in Iraq, only once was I the brunt of someone's anguish. "Why are you killing the children?" shouted a man in the street. "Why are you bombing us? What have we done to you?" Passers-by moved quickly to calm him; one of them placed an affectionate arm on his shoulder, another, a teacher, materialised at my side. "We do not connect the people of Britain with the actions of the government," he said, reassuringly. Those Muslims in Britain, terrified to leave their homes after the bombing of Afghanistan, have little of the personal security I felt in Iraq.

An Iraqi nurse at a Basra hospital for the rehydration of children
Photo by Alan Pogue (July 1998)

Through the glass doors of the offices of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund in Baghdad, you can read the following mission statement: "Above all, survival, hope, development, respect, dignity, equality and justice for women and children." Fortunately, the children in the street outside, with their pencil limbs and long thin faces, cannot read English, and perhaps cannot read at all. "The change in such a short time is unparalleled, in my experience," Dr. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF's senior representative in Iraq, told me. "In 1989, the literacy rate was more than 90 per cent; parents were fined for failing to send their children to school. The phenomenon of street children was unheard of. Iraq had reached a stage where the basic indicators we use to measure the overall wellbeing of human beings, including children, were some of the best in the world. Now it is among the bottom 20 per cent.

Dr. Singh, diminutive, grey-haired and, with her preciseness, sounding like the teacher she once was in India, has spent most of her working life with UNICEF. Helping children is her vocation, but now, in charge of a humanitarian programme that can never succeed, she says, "I am grieving."

She took me to a typical primary school in Saddam City, where Baghdad's majority and poorest live. We approached along a flooded street, the city's drainage and water distribution system having collapsed since the Gulf War bombing. The headmaster, Ali Hassoon, guided us around the puddles of raw sewage in the playground and pointed to the high-water mark on the wall. "In the winter it comes up to here. That's when we evacuate: We stay for as long as possible but, without desks, the children have to sit on bricks. I am worried about the buildings coming down." As we talked, an air-raid siren sounded in the distance.

The school is on the edge of a vast industrial cemetery. The pumps in the sewage treatment plants and the reservoirs of potable water are silent, save for a few wheezing at a fraction of their capacity. Those that were not bombed have since disintegrated; spare parts from their British, French and German manufacturers are permanently "on hold." Before 1991, Baghdad's water was as safe as any in the developed world. Today, drawn untreated from the Tigris, it is lethal. Touching two brothers on the head, the headmaster said, "These children are recovering from dysentery, but it will attack them again, and again, until they are too weak." Dr. Singh told me that, in 1990, an Iraqi child with dysentery, or other water-borne illness, stood a one-in-600 chance of dying; today, it is up to one in fifty. 54

Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Dr. Kim Howells told Parliament why. His title of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs perfectly suited his Orwellian reply. The children's vaccines were, he said, "capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction." 55

"Much of the suffering is unseen," said Dr. Singh. "There has been a 125 per cent increase in children seeking help for mental health problems. In a society that takes education very seriously, most homes have been denuded of the very basic stimulation materials, books and toys, because most families, in order to cope, have sold everything except the bare essentials. We have here a whole generation who have grown up with a sense of total isolation and a feeling of dependency, and the lack of hope. I often think of my own nieces and nephews, and I ask myself, 'Would I accept this for my own family?' and, if I wouldn't, then it's unacceptable for the children of Iraq. This is not an empty emotion. It's a fundamental tenet of the [UN] Convention of the Rights of the Child: Article Two, the Principle of Non-Discrimination. It is simply their right not to lose out in terms of their life."

In an Edwardian colonnade of Doric and Corinthian columns, schoolchildren and college students come to sell their books, not as in a flea market, but out of urgent need. Teachers and other professionals part with treasured history volumes and art books, leather-bound in Baghdad in the 1930s, obstetrics and radiology texts, copies of the British Medical Journal, first and second editions of Waiting for Godot, The Sun Also Rises and, no less, British Housing Policy 1958. A man with a clipped grey moustache, an Iraqi Bertie Wooster, said, "I need to go south to see my sister, who is ill. Please be kind and give me twenty-five dinars [about a penny]." He took it, nodded and walked smartly away. A teacher said, "you know, I have sold every book I own, including my Koran and my dictionary." A nineteen-year-old engineering student said, "I just sold my pens. I have one left." (Video Clip)

Felicity Arbuthnot and I spotted a book called Peace Flows from the Sky. We stared at such bleakly ironic words, and bought it. Such is the terrible plight of this society that even a collection of almost childishly sentimental poetry had the power to stir:

Peace flows
from the sky
through the air
to me . . .
The birds' singing
brings me out of my trance
to remind me of life . . .

Felicity has spent the past decade alerting the outside world to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Time and again, she has braved the terrible road from Amman, never complaining about her personal hardship, always inspired by the courage of Iraqis she has befriended, especially children. (Read her tribute to and obituary of Jassim, "The Little Poet," New Internationalist, November 1998.) When I set out from Jordan with Felicity and Denis Halliday (both are Irish), she nursed a broken wrist in a sling. Every pothole brought agony, which she disguised with cheerfulness. She reminds me of another humanitarian journalist and adventurer, Martha Gellhorn: she drinks, laughs, gets incensed at injustice and hypocrisy, cares about the powerless, and writes beautifully; and she once drove a red Alfa Romeo ("It had a walnut dashboard") all the way from Miami to Mexico City. 56

I had asked Felicity to do research for the filming of my documentary, Paying the Price. We drove to the northern city of Mosul, through a moonscape evocative of Monument Valley in California. We arrived at what had been a scene of devastation six months earlier, when Felicity had been here. On the dusty open ground there were still pieces of a water tanker, shrapnel from a missile, a shoe, and the wool and remains of sheep. "I found this whole area strewn with dead sheep," she said. "There were the bodies of two sheepdogs, and personal belongings. It was clearly blast damage. The tanker was riddled with bullet holes. Local people told me it happened on a Friday, the Sabbath, and so the villagers had all come down, and about forty to fifty were sharing an early-morning meal. When they went back, they left the family of six, the grandfather, the father and four children, to mind the sheep. They heard the plane and the bombs drop. They came running back. They said they searched from early morning until dark to try to find the bodies to bury them within twelve hours, in accordance with Islam." 57

We found the brother of the shepherd, Hussain Jarsis. He agreed to meet us at the cemetery where his father, brother and the four children are buried. He arrived in an old Toyota van with the shepherd's widow, whose name is Icdai Thanoon. She was hunched with grief, her face covered. She held the hand of her one remaining child, and they sat beside the mounds of earth on the children's graves and she wept. When Felicity went over to her to apologise for the atrocity, the figure in black stood up, faced her and said, "I want to speak to the pilot who killed my four children."

Her husband's brother is also a shepherd. After he had prayed at the gravesides, he said. "When I arrived to look for my brother and family, the planes were circling overhead. I hadn't reached the causeway when the fourili bombardment took place. The last two rockets hit them. At the time I couldn't grasp what was going on. The truck was burning. It was a big truck, but it was ripped to pieces. Nothing remained except the numberplate and the tires you saw. We saw three corpses, but the rest were just body parts. And the sheep. With the last rocket, I could see the sheep blasted into the air. The rocket burned an area of a hundred square metres: total incineration. In the last bombardment, the planes were very low. That's when they fired two rockets simultaneously. There were six dead people: my father, who was seventy years old, my brother, who was thirty-five, along wiili his four children. The youngest was Sultan, who was five. He hadn't been accepted into school yet. He told me, 'Uncle, they'll take me next year.' God Almighty didn't let him do it. We belong to God and to Him we shall return." 58 (Video Clip)

Without livestock, the family is penniless. I offered him money. He declined, but asked me if I would come to his home for something to eat.

The attack was investigated, and verified, by Hans Von Sponeck, the senior UN official in Iraq, who drove there especially from Baghdad. Nothing nearby resembled a military installation. The valley is treeless, open and desolate. Von Sponeck recorded his finding in a confidential internal document, Air Strikes in Iraq: 28 December 1998—31 May 1999, prepared by the UN Security Section (UNOHCI). Dozens of similar attacks were described: on villages, a fishermen's wharf, near a World Food Programme warehouse. He ordered UN relief convoys suspended for several hours in the afternoon, when many of the attacks occurred. (Video Clip)

When she returned to London after seeing the evidence of the atrocity, Felicity had phoned the Ministry of Defence. "I've just come back from Mosul," she said, "and you are bombing sheep, and I wondered if you have a comment."

The official replied, "We reserve the right to take robust action if threatened." 59

We drove into the dung-coloured hills beyond Mosul, along a precarious road to a fourth-century monastery that commands the valleys. St Matthew is buried here and Iraqi Christians come in their hundreds to pray at his shrine. At weekends, the monastery is a popular place to picnic; I met a family of twenty: the youngest two years old, the eldest eighty-six. They had relatives in Australia and I took their photograph, and later sent copies to them in Mosul and the Australian branch in suburban Sydney. They talked about the bombing, shaking their heads and holding the young children close to them. "Why?" they asked. A priest said, "The safety and peace these people felt here has been taken away. Last year, dozens of people climbed the slopes to watch the eclipse of the sun—it was one of the clearest views anywhere in the world—and the planes came and bombed: American or British, I don't know. Five people were killed, we were told. Every day, we hear the thumpthump. What are they attacking?"

American and British aircraft operate over Iraq in what their governments have unilaterally declared "no fly zones." This means that only they and their allies can fly there. The designated areas are in the north, around Mosul, to the border with Turkey, and from just south of Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border. The U.S. and British governments insist the no fly zones are "legal," claiming that they are part of, or supported by, the Security Council's Resolution 688.

There is a great deal of fog about this, the kind generated by the Foreign Office when its statements are challenged. There is no reference to no fly zones in Security Council resolutions, which suggests they have no basis in international law. To be sure about this, I went to Paris and asked Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary-General of the UN in 1992, when the resolution was passed. "The issue of no fly zones was not raised and therefore not debated: not a word," he said. "They offer no legitimacy to countries sending their aircraft to attack Iraq ."

"Does that mean they are illegal?" I asked.

"They are illegal," he replied.

The scale of the bombing in the no fly zones is astonishing. During the eighteen months to January 14, 1999, American air force and naval aircraft flew 36,000 sorties over Iraq, including 24,000 combat missions. 60 During 1999, American and British aircraft dropped more than 1,800 bombs and hit 450 targets. 61 The cost to British taxpayers is more than 800 million. 62 There is bombing almost every day: it is the longest Anglo-American aerial campaign since the Second World War; yet it is mostly ignored by the British and American media. In a rare acknowledgement, the New York Times reported, "American warplanes have methodically and with virtually no public discussion been attacking Iraq . . . pilots have flown about two-thirds as many missions as NATO pilots flew over Yugoslavia in seventy-eight days of around-the-clock war there." 63

The purpose of the no fly zones, according to the British and American governments, is to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a in the south against Saddam Hussein's forces. The aircraft are performing a "vital humanitarian task," says Tony Blair, that will give "minority peoples the hope of freedom and the right to determine their own destinies."

Blair's specious words are given the lie by a secret history. When Saddam Hussein was driven from Kuwait, in 1991, his generals were surprised to be told by the victors that they could keep their helicopter gunships. The British commander, General Sir Peter de la Billière, defended this decision with the following astonishing logic: "The Iraqis were responsible for establishing law and order. You could not administer the country without using the helicopters." 64 Law and order? The same law and order that approved the gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja? A clue was given in a chance remark by Prime Minister John Major. "I don't recall," said Major, "asking the Kurds to mount this particular insurrection . . . " 65

Turkey is critical to the American "world order." Overseeing the oilfields of the Middle East and former Soviet Central Asia, it is a member of NATO and the recipient of billions of dollars' worth of American arms. It is where American and British fighter-bombers are based. A long-running insurrection by Turkish Kurds, led by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), is regarded by Washington as a threat to the "stability" of Turkey's crypto-fascist regime. Following the Gulf War, the last thing the Americans wanted was tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds arriving in Turkey as refugees and boosting the struggle of local Kurds against the regime in Ankara. Their anxieties were reflected in Security Council Resolution 688, which warned of a "massive flow of refugees towards and across international frontiers . . . which threatens international peace and security in the region . . . "

What the refugees threatened was Turkey's capacity to continue to deny basic human rights to the Kurds within its borders. The northern no fly zone offered a solution. Since 1992, the zones have provided cover for Turkey's repeated invasions of Iraq. In 1995 and 1997, as many as 50,000 Turkish troops, backed by tanks, fighter-bombers and helicopter gunships, occupied swathes of the Kurds' "safe haven," allegedly attacking PKK bases. In December 2000, they were back, terrorising Kurdish villages and murdering civilians. The U.S. and Britain said nothing; the Security Council said nothing. Moreover, the British and Americans colluded in the invasions, suspending their flights to allow the Turks to get on with the killing. Virtually none of this was reported in the western media.

In March 2001, RAF pilots patrolling the northern no fly zone publicly protested for the first time about their role in the bombing of Iraq. Far from performing the "vital humanitarian task" described by Tony Blair, they complained that they were frequently ordered to return to their Turkish base to allow the Turkish air force to bomb the Kurds in Iraq, the very people they were meant to be "protecting." Speaking on a non-attributable basis to Dr. Eric Herring, the Iraqi sanctions specialist at Bristol University, they said that whenever the Turks wanted to bomb the Kurds in Iraq, the RAF aircraft were recalled to base and ground crews were told to switch off their radar so that the Turks' targets would not be visible. One British pilot reported seeing the devastation in Kurdish villages caused by the attacks when he resumed his patrol. "They were very unhappy about what they had been ordered to do and what they had seen," said Dr. Herring, "especially as there had been no official explanation." 66

In October 2000, the Washington Post reported: "On more than one occasion [US pilots who fly in tandem with the British] have received a radio message that "there is a TSM inbound:" that is, a "Turkish Special Mission" heading into Iraq. Following standard orders, the Americans turned their planes around and flew back to Turkey. 'You'd see Turkish F-14s and F-16s inbound, loaded to the gills with munitions,' [pilot Mike Horn] said. 'Then they'd come out half an hour later with their munitions expended.' When the Americans flew back into Iraqi air space, he recalled, they would see 'burning villages, lots of smoke and fire.'" 67

During the Gulf War, President George Bush Senior called on "the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their hands and force Saddam Hussein to step aside." 68 In March 1991, the majority Shi'a people in the south rallied to Bush's call and rose up. So successful were they, at first, that within two days Saddam Hussein's rule had collapsed across southern Iraq and the popular uprising had spread to the country's second city, Basra. A new start for the people of Iraq seemed close at hand. Then the tyrant's old paramour in Washington intervened just in time.

"The opposition," Said Aburish told me, "found themselves confronted with the United States helping Saddam Hussein against them. The Americans actually stopped rebels from reaching arms depots. They denied them shelter. They gave Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard safe passage through American lines in order to attack the rebels. They did everything except join the fight on his side." 69 In their book, Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, Andrew and Patrick Cockburn describe the anguish of one of the rebel leaders, a brigadier, who watched American helicopters circling overhead as Iraqi government helicopter crews poured kerosene on columns of fleeing refugees and set them alight with tracer fire. "I saw with my own eyes the American planes flying over the helicopters," he said. "We were expecting them to help; now we could see them witnessing our demise . . . They were taking pictures and they knew exactly what was happening." 70 In Nasiriyah, American troops prevented the rebels from taking guns and ammunition from the army barracks. "The Iraqis explained to the American commander who they were and why they were there," wrote the Cockburns. "It was not a warm reception . . . The U.S. officer went away for ten minutes and then returned with the curious claim that he was out of touch with his headquarters. [He] curtly suggested that they try and find the French forces, eighty miles to the west."

The rebels eventually found a French colonel, who wanted to help; but when he tried to set up a meeting with General Schwarzkopf, the American commander, he was told this was not possible. The revolt was doomed; crucial time had been lost. The first city to fall to Saddam Hussein was Basra. Tanks captured the main road and demolished the centres of resistance. "It was a bad time," said a doctor at the hospital. "you could see dogs eating bodies in the streets." 71

In the north, the Kurds, too, had risen up: the revolt John Major said he had "never asked for." Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards, who had been pointedly spared by Schwarzkopf, entered the Kurdish town of Sulaimaniya and extinguished the Kurdish resistance. Saddam Hussein had survived by a whisker; as his troops were celebrating their victory, their ammunition ran out. 72 Five years later, when Saddam Hussein sent his tanks into another rebellious Kurdish town, Arbil, American aircraft circled the city for twenty minutes, then flew away. The CIA contingent among the Kurds managed to flee to safety, while ninety-six members of the CIA-funded Iraqi National Congress were rounded up and executed. 73 According to Ahmed Chalabi of the INC, tacit American support for the regime was "the most significant factor in the suppression of the uprising. They made it possible for Saddam to regroup his forces and launch a devastating counterattack with massive firepower on the people." 74

Why? What the Americans fear is that the Kurds might establish their own state, perhaps even socialist and democratic, and that the Shi'a might forge an "Islamic alliance" with Iran. What they do not want is for them to "take matters into their own hands." The American television journalist Peter Jennings put it this way: "The United States did not want Saddam Hussein to go, they just didn't want the Iraqi people to take over." 75 Brent Scowcroft, President Bush Senior's National Security Adviser, concurred. In 1997, he said: "We clearly would have preferred a coup. There's no question about that." 76 The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a guard dog of U.S. foreign policy, was more to the point. What Washington wants is "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta," which would be "the best of all worlds." 77 The clear conclusion is that they want another Saddam Hussein, rather like the one they had before 1991, who did as he was told.

"Perhaps the most repulsive thing about the whole policy," wrote Eric Herring, "is that U.S. and British decision-makers have exploited popular humanitarian sentiment for the most cynical realpolitik reasons. They have no desire for the Shi'ite majority to take control or for the Kurds to gain independence. Their policy is to keep them strong enough to cause trouble for Saddam Hussein while ensuring that Saddam Hussein is strong enough to keep repressing them. This is a direct descendant of British imperial policy from the First World War onwards [and is about the control] of Iraqi oil . . . Divide and Rule was and is the policy." 78

In 1999, the United States faced a "genuine dilemma" in Iraq, reported the Wall Street Journal. " After eight years of enforcing a no fly zone in northern [and southern] Iraq, few military targets remain. 'We're down to the last outhouse,' one U.S. official protested. 'There are still some things left, but not many.'" 79

There are still children left. Around the time that statement was made, six children died when an American missile hit Al Jumohria, a community in Basra's poorest residential area. Sixty-three people were injured, a number of them badly burned. "Collateral damage," said the Pentagon. I walked down the street where the missile had struck in the early hours; it had followed the line of houses, destroying one after the other. They are rebuilt now, and several of the families have moved away. A man sat on a doorstep with his small son. He told me he had lost two daughters, aged eight and ten. "They died sleeping," he said. His opaque face bore his enduring shock and unimaginable grief. I asked him if he had photographs of them. No, nothing. I asked other parents. They shook their heads, as if the question was strange. Of course, poor people do not own cameras. Women waiting in the hospital queues had asked me to take pictures of them and their infants, because they had none.

In the Sheraton Hotel in Basra, vast, decaying and almost empty, there is a shop in the lobby that is still open. It is owned by Nabil Al Jerani, who used to make a living processing tourists' film. There are no tourists now. "I do a few weddings," he said. "When the missile hit Al Jumohria, I went down there the next morning with my camera." He photographed the two sisters whose father I had met. They are in their nightdresses, one with a bow in her hair, their bodies engraved in the rubble of their homes, where they had been bombed in their beds. I included his images in my film Paying the Price; they haunt me.

Central Baghdad.
Photo by Alan Pogue (July 1998)


I flew to Washington in the hope of seeing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to ask her about her statement that "we think the price is worth it." She was not available, alas, and her spokesman, Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin, agreed to an interview. In his mid-thirties, self-assured and ideological, Rubin is the model of the post-cold war "spin doctor," a professional propagandist who can also be refreshingly candid. When UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was effectively sacked by Albright for not being sufficiently malleable, it was Rubin who told the media: "Dr. Boutros-Ghali was unable to understand the importance of co-operation with the world's first power." 80

The interview took place at the State Department in a room decked with flags and prints from the War of Independence. Rubin's assistant, Price Floyd, a worried man, fussed about the nature of my questions and the time Rubin could spare me. Tension built. When Rubin arrived, it was clear he preferred giving what he called "presentations" to the press. Much of what he said had little basis in fact.

For example: "We [the United States] allocate billions of dollars' worth of food and medicine for the Iraqi people." In fact, the United States gives not a dollar: all humanitarian aid is paid by the Iraqi government from oil revenues authorised by the UN Security Council. He said that American policy was "not sanctions per se, but to deny Saddam Hussein's regime the funds they would otherwise have to rebuild their mad military machine . . . the sanctions that we've imposed have made sure that Saddam Hussein has not had access to hundreds of billions of hard currency that he could use to build up that mad military machine . . . to build new chemical weapons capabilities, to build new biological weapons capabilities . . ."

I asked him, "Don't you think it's ironic that for many years the United States helped Saddam Hussein obtain these weapons of mass destruction to use against his neighbours?"

"No, I don't fmd that ironic. Iraq's regime is responsible, that's who's responsible. The United States didn't gas the Kurds . . ."

"The seed stock for Saddam Hussein's biological weapons was supplied by the American Type Culture Collection, a company that's just down the road from here, in Rockville, Maryland."

"I'm sure they've been prosecuted for it."

"No, they had Commerce Department approval."

"To suggest we were sanctioning the sale of chemical weapons to Iraq is ridiculous."

"It's true. The Senate hearing in 1994 heard that this particular company was given Commerce Department approval to sell biological agents to Saddam Hussein. All the documents are in the Library of Congress."

"Are you suggesting that kind of thing was a goal of the United States?"

"It happened, and I'm only suggesting it's ironic that the U.S. gave such support to this dictator, and now imposes an embargo that is causing such suffering not to him, but to the civilian population."

"The suffering is not our fault . . . they have enormous quantities of food and medicine available. They store it in warehouses; they don't distribute it."

"The senior United Nations Coordinator denied this. He said 88 per cent of all humanitarian supplies were delivered within a week of entering the country. A report by the head of the UN Office of Iraq in New York says that 76 per cent of medicines are distributed and the rest kept as a buffer stock, as directed by the World Health Organisation."

"If you take a careful look at that report, there are examples where the Iraqi government has imported food and medicine, then not distributed them . . ."

"More than 73 million dollars in food production supplies for Iraq are currently blocked in New York by your government. If what you are saying is true, why did Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently criticise the United States for holding up 700 million dollars' worth of humanitarian supplies?"

"You'll have to ask him."

He went on to argue that a report by UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, proved that where the Iraqi government was in charge of distribution, in the south of the country, it was to blame for a higher child-mortality rate. I pointed out that the report had stated the opposite, that "the difference in mortality rates between the north and south cannot be attributed to the way the relief effort has been implemented."

He retorted, "If you'd like to give a speech, we can switch chairs."

"I don't think it becomes a senior State Department official to speak like that."

"Let me hear your speech."

"Why have you misrepresented the UNICEF report?"

"Our analysis is based on a wide variety of sources, not simply the UNICEF report . . ."

"The chief United Nations official in Iraq, Hans Von Sponeck, has appealed to the United States and Britain to let supplies through. He said, 'Don't fight the battle against Saddam Hussein on the backs of the civilian population.'"

"Mr Von Sponeck is commenting on subjects beyond his competence."

"He is commenting on the humanitarian situation, and he is the senior United Nations humanitarian official on the ground in Iraq . . . Mr Rubin, by what logic can an entire nation be held hostage to the compliance of a brutal dictator, simply because they are unlucky enough to live under his brutal regime?"

"Look . . . in the real world, real choices have to be made, and it's our view that to allow Saddam Hussein unchecked access to hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue would be a grave and clear and present danger to the world. We have to weigh our profound sorrow at the tragic suffering of the people of Iraq against the national security challenge that Saddam Hussein would pose to the world if he weren't checked by the sanctions regime and the containment policy."

I asked if the choice he described had been summed up by Madeleine Albright when she said that the "price" of half a million dead children was "worth it."

"That quote has been seriously taken out of context . . ."

I handed him a transcript of the interview given by Albright. Her words were in context.

"Well, we don't accept the figure of half a million . . ."

"It's from the World Health Organisation." (And backed by UNICEF.)

"It's derived from a methodology we don't accept. We do accept that in choosing, in making policy, one has to choose usually between two bad choices, not between a good choice and a bad choice, and unfortunately the effect of sanctions has been more than we would have hoped."

"Why is the U.S. bombing civilians in Iraq?"

"Our aircraft are there to prevent Saddam Hussein from raining hell down on his own people. If he was not shooting at our aircraft, we would not need to take out the surface-to-air missile sites."

"Your aircraft are taking out shepherds, their children and their sheep. It's in a UN report."

"That report was based primarily on Iraqi sources. Iraqi propaganda will do anything to misrepresent what went on . . ."

"I went to Iraq to investigate and I found it to be true."

"Well, I don't know the facts [and] I'm not a military expert. You'll have to address that to the Pentagon."

"Have you been to Iraq?"

"No, I don't think I would be very welcome there!"

"Then how can you speak with such authority about what is going on there?"

"I've spoken to a lot of people . . . What you have to understand is that Saddam Hussein invaded another country. It's about Iraq's violation of the basic rule of the international system. They are paying the price for that."

"Who is paying the price?"

"We're trying to minimise the price for the people of Iraq . . . what you have to understand is that there is a real world and an ideal world."

"Is it too idealistic to ask who pays the price in Iraq? We are not talking about Saddam Hussein, but innocents. Was it too idealistic to ask who paid the price in the Holocaust, and East Timor and other atrocious happenings around the world?"

"Well, the idea of comparing what's going on in Iraq with the Holocaust, I find personally offensive."

"It's also known as a holocaust."

"Well . . . to compare the [effects of] sanctions with the Holocaust is an offence to the people who died in the Holocaust."

"You don't think the deaths of half a million children qualify?"

"We've gone over that." 81 (Video Clip)

I flew on to New York for an interview with Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He appears an oddly diffident man, so softly spoken as to be almost inaudible.

" As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which is imposing this blockade on Iraq," I said, "what do you say to the parents of the children who are dying?" His reply was that the Security Council was considering "smart sanctions," which would "target the leaders" rather than act as "a blunt instrument that impacts on children." I said the United Nations was set up to help people, not harm them, and he replied, "Please do not judge us by what has happened in Iraq." 82

I walked across United Nations Plaza to the office of Peter van Walsum, the Netherlands' Ambassador to the UN and the chairman of the Sanctions Committee. What impressed me about this diplomat with life-and-death powers over 22 million people half a world away was that, like liberal politicians in the West, he seemed to hold two diametrically opposed thoughts in his mind simultaneously. On the one hand, he spoke of Iraq as if everybody was Saddam Hussein; on the other, he seemed to believe that most Iraqis were victims, held hostage to the intransigence of a dictator. He seemed a troubled man who, following the interview, sent me a gracious fax saying I could use the answers he had given to questions to which he had not agreed in advance.

I asked him why the civilian population should be punished for Saddam Hussein's crimes.

"It's a difficult problem," he replied. "You should realise that sanctions are one of the curative measures that the Security Council has at its disposal . . . and obviously they hurt. They are like a military measure."

"Who do they hurt?"

"Well, this, of course, is the problem . . . but with military action, too, you have the eternal problem of collateral damage."

"So an entire nation is collateral damage. Is that correct?"

"No, I am saying that sanctions have [similar] effects . . . I . . . you see . . . you understand, we have to study this further."

"Do you believe that people have human rights no matter where they live and under what system?"


"Doesn't that mean that the sanctions you are imposing are violating the human rights of millions of people?"

"It's also documented the Iraqi regime has committed very serious human rights breaches . . ."

"There is no doubt about that. But what's the difference in principle between human rights violations committed by the regime and those caused by your committee?"

"It's a very complex issue, Mr. Pilger."

"What do you say to those who describe sanctions that have caused so many deaths as 'weapons of mass destruction,' as lethal as chemical weapons?"

"I don't think that's a fair comparison."

"Aren't the deaths of half a million children mass destruction?"

"I don't think that's a very fair question . . . We are talking about a situation which was caused by a government that overran its neighbour, and has weapons of mass destruction."

"Then why aren't there sanctions on Israel [which] occupies much of Palestine and attacks Lebanon almost every day of the week? Why aren't there sanctions on Turkey, which has displaced three million Kurds and caused the deaths of 30,000 Kurds?"

"Well, there are many countries that do things that we are not happy with. We can't be everywhere. I repeat, it's complex."

"How much power does the United States exercise over your committee?"

"We operate by consensus."

" And what if the Americans object?"

"We don't operate." 83

In London, I sought an interview with Robin Cook, then the Foreign Secretary, another ambiguous figure, or so it seemed. A leading proponent of sanctions, he was also the inventor of the "ethical dimension" in British foreign policy under New Labour (which has since been abandoned). My request was submitted in writing to the Foreign Office, and I was told there was "a good prospect of a ministerial interview." However, an official said that Cook was reluctant to be in a film "next to images of dying babies," because this was "an emotive issue," and he did not wish to be "skewered." I offered assurances that the interview would be straightforward and fairly edited, and said he could have most of the questions in advance.

After two months of to-ing and fro-ing, letters and phone calls and general stalling, Cook demanded an exclusive screening of the film, followed by an uncut ten-minute "response" by him at the end. I replied that I wanted to conduct an interview with him, like everybody else in the film. His junior minister, Peter Hain, also wanted editorial control. I declined.

When Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq went to air, triggering a significant public response, the Foreign Office produced a standard letter signed by Cook or Hain or an official. It exemplified the "culture of lying" described by Mark Higson, the Iraq Desk Officer at the Foreign Office during the arms-to-Iraq scandals of the 1980s. Almost every word was misleading or false. These ranged from "sanctions are not aimed at the Iraqi people" to "food and medicines have never been covered by sanctions." One of the most persistent lies was, "Saddam Hussein has in warehouses $275 million worth of medicines and medical supplies, which he refuses to distribute." The United Nations, right up to Kofi Annan, had refuted this. George Somerwill, the United Nations spokesman on Iraq, said, "Not one of [the UN's] observation mechanisms has reported any major problem in humanitarian supplies being diverted, switched, or in any way misused."

Then there was the $10 billion lie. "Baghdad," said Cook, "can now sell over $10 billion of oil per annum to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods." Cook knew that more than a third went on reparations and UN expenses. This was topped by Peter Hain, who claimed that" $16 billion of humanitarian relief was available to the Iraqi people last year." Citing UN documents, Hans Von Sponeck replied that the figure used by Hain actually covered four years and that, after reparations were taken out, Iraq was left with $100 for each human being it had to keep alive.

"Knowing what you know," Von Sponeck accused Hain, "you repeat again and again truly fabricated and self-serving misinformation."

Hain: "UN Resolution 1284 [continuing sanctions] represents the collective will of the Security Council."

Von Sponeck: "You know how deceptive this assertion is. Three out of five permanent members and Malaysia did not support this resolution." 84

Hain's enthusiasm for promoting sanctions has shocked those who remember him as a tenacious anti-apartheid campaigner and opponent of the American invasion of Indochina. Perhaps ambitious apostates are like that. He has even claimed "there is no credible data" linking the use of depleted uranium by Britain and the U.S. in Iraq with a sevenfold increase in cancers among the civilian population. As Professor Doug Rokke has shown, the evidence for the carcinogenic effects of depleted uranium is voluminous, from a warning in 1944 by Brigadier Leslie Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project, to numerous internal reports leaked from the Pentagon and Ministry of Defence. In 1991, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority calculated that if 8 per cent of the DU fired in the Gulf War was inhaled, it could cause "500,000 potential deaths." 85

There is little doubt that if Saddam Hussein saw political advantage in starving and otherwise denying his people, he would do so. It is hardly surprising that he has looked after himself, his inner circle and, above all, his military and security apparatus. His palaces and spooks, like the cartoon portraits of himself, are everywhere. Unlike other tyrants, however, he not only survived, but before the Gulf War enjoyed a measure of popularity by buying off his people with the benefits from Iraq's oil revenue. Having sent his opponents into exile or murdered them, more than any Arab leader he used the riches of oil to modernise the civilian infrastructure, building first-rate hospitals, schools and universities.

In this way he fostered a relatively large, healthy, well-fed, well-educated middle class. Before sanctions, Iraqis consumed more than 3,000 calories each per day; 92 per cent of people had safe water and 93 per cent enjoyed free health care. Adult literacy was one of the highest in the world, at around 95 per cent. 86 According to The Economist's Intelligence Unit, "the Iraqi welfare state was, until recently, among the most comprehensive and generous in the Arab world." 87

It is said the only true beneficiary of sanctions is Saddam Hussein. He has used the embargo to centralise state power, and so reinforce his direct control over people's lives. With most Iraqis now dependent on the state food rationing system for their day-today survival, organised political dissent is all but unthinkable. In any case, for most Iraqis, it is cancelled by the sense of grievance and anger they feel towards the external enemy, western governments. In the relatively open and pro-western society that existed in Iraq before 1991, there was always the prospect of an uprising, as the Kurdish and Shi'a rebellions that year showed. In today's state of siege, there is none. That is the unsung achievement of the Anglo-American blockade.

Of this, ignorance is assured. "Most Americans," wrote Roger Normand, "are unaware that sanctions against Iraq have killed more people than the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, because the media have focused exclusively on the demonised figure of Saddam Hussein and presented Iraq as a country of military targets rather than people." 88 By making the connection between the barbarism of western policy and that of the tyrant, opponents of sanctions are often called "dupes."(The late James Cameron, a journalist who was no stranger to this abuse, once told me, "If they call you a dupe, you know you're getting something right.")

This has been Peter Hain's unconscionable tactic, smearing principled whistle-blowers like Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck: an ironic echo of the apartheid regime in South Africa calling the younger Hain "a dupe of communism." Perhaps this is the familiar ritual of denial by those who, having retreated from their past, are the keenest participants.

The playwright Arthur Miller was more charitable. "Few of us," he wrote, "can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied." 89

The economic blockade on Iraq must be lifted for no other reason than it is immoral, its consequences inhuman. When that happens, says Scott Ritter, "the weapons inspectors must go back into Iraq and complete their mandate, which should be reconfigured. It was originally drawn up for quantitative disarmament, to account for every nut, screw, bolt, document that exists in Iraq. As long as Iraq didn't account for that, it was not in compliance and there was no progress. We should change that mandate to qualitative disarmament. Does Iraq have a chemical weapons programme today? No. Does Iraq have a long-range missile programme today? No. Nuclear? No. Biological? No. Is Iraq qualitatively disarmed? Yes. So we should get the inspectors in, certify that, then get on with monitoring Iraq to ensure they do not reconstitute any of this capability." 90 Iraq has already accepted back inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

UN Security Resolution 687 says that Iraqi disarmament should be a step "towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction . . ." In other words, if Iraq gives up, or has given up, its doomsday weapons, so should Israel. After September 11, 2001, making relentless demands on Iraq while turning a blind eye to Israel will no longer work. "The longer the sanctions go on," said Denis Halliday, "we are likely to see the emergence of a generation who will regard Saddam Hussein as too moderate and too willing to listen to the West." 91

Neither can the old double standard of justice apply. At the time of writing, forty-three countries have ratified the establishment of an International Criminal Court; sixty are needed. The United States opposes the court, fearing Americans will be indicted. Certainly, if Saddam Hussein is to be prosecuted, so should Ariel Sharon; and so should their Faustian sponsors in the West, past and present.

In a letter to the New Statesman, Peter Hain described as "gratuitous" my reference to the possibility that he, along with other western politicians, might find himself summoned before the International Criminal Court. 92 It is not gratuitous. A report for the UN Secretary-General, written by Professor Marc Bossuyt, a respected authority on international law, says that the "sanctions regime against Iraq is unequivocally illegal under existing human rights law" and "could raise questions under the Genocide Convention." His subtext is that if the new court is to have authority, it cannot merely dispense the justice of the powerful. 93

A growing body of legal opinion agrees that the court has a duty, as Eric Herring wrote, to investigate "not only the regime, but also the UN bombing and sanctions which have violated the human rights of Iraqi civilians on a vast scale . . . It should also investigate those who assisted (Saddam Hussein's] programmes of now prohibited weapons, including western governments and companies." 94

In 2000, Hain blocked a parliamentary request to publish the full list of law-breaking British companies. A prosecutor might ask why, then ask who has killed the most innocent people in Iraq: Saddam Hussein, or British and American policy-makers? The answer may well put the murderous tyrant in second place.

The Real World

On my last night in Iraq, I went to the Rabat Hall in the centre of Baghdad to watch the Iraqi National Orchestra rehearse. I had wanted to meet Mohammed Amin Ezzat, the conductor, whose personal tragedy epitomises the punishment of his people. Because the power supply is so intermittent, Iraqis have been forced to use cheap kerosene lamps for lighting, heating and cooking; and these frequently explode. This is what happened to Mohammed Amin Ezzat's wife, Jenan, who was engulfed in flames. "It was devastating," he said, "because I saw my wife burn completely before my eyes. I threw myself on her in order to extinguish the flames, but it was no use. She died. I sometimes wish I had died with her." 95

He stood on his conductor's podium, his badly burned left arm unmoving, the fingers fused together. The orchestra was rehearsing Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, and there was a strange discord. Reeds were missing from clarinets and strings from violins. "We can't get them from abroad," he said. "Someone has decreed they are not allowed." The musical scores are ragged, like ancient parchment. The musicians cannot get paper. Only two members of the original orchestra are left; the rest have set out on the long, dangerous road to Jordan and beyond. "You cannot blame them," he said. "The suffering in our country is too great. But why has it not been stopped?"

It was a question I put to Denis Halliday one evening in New York. We were standing in the General Assembly at the United Nations, where he had been Assistant Secretary-General. Now crossing the empty chamber, its design and decor almost lost in time since the 1950s, I asked him if the answer lay in James Rubin's remark about the "real world and the ideal world."

"This is where the real world is represented," he said. "This is where democracy applies: one state, one vote. By contrast, the Security Council has five permanent members which have veto rights. There is no democracy there; it does not in any way represent the real world. Had the issue of sanctions on Iraq gone to the General Assembly, it would have been overturned by a very large majority. We have to change the United Nations, to reclaim what is ours. The genocide in Iraq is the test of our will. All of us have to break the silence: to make those responsible, in Washington and London, aware that history will slaughter them."

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1. Interview with the author, Basra, October 18, 1999.

2. Ibid.

3. Interview with the author, January 14, 2000.

4. Carlton Television, Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq, broadcast on ITV, March 6, 2000.

5. British Medical Journal, January 16, 1999.

6. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Washington Post, June 23, 1999.

13. New York Times, June 3, 1991.

14. Asherio and others, "Special Article: Effects of the Gulf War on Infant and Child Mortality in Iraq," New England Journal of Medicine, September 24, 1992.

15. New York Times, June 2, 1991.

16. Eric Herring, "Between Iraq and a hard place: a critique of the British government's case for UN economic sanctions," Review of International Studies 2002, pp. 40-41.

17. See the UN website:

18. United Nations, Report of the Executive Chairman on the Activities of the Special Commission Established by the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paragraph 9 (b) of Resolution 687, 1991. October 6, 1998.

19. Letter from the UN Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, December 15, 1998.

20. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

21. Agence France Presse, November 3, 1999.

22. See Paul Conlon, United Nations Sanctions Management: a Case Study of the Iraq Sanctions Committee, 1990-1994, New York: Transnational Publishers, 2000, pp. 73-4.

23. United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme (Oil for Food), Weekly Update, New York, October 16, 2001.

24. Speech by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Morning Star, August 3, 2000.

25. Standard Foreign Office letter signed by Jamie Cooper, Middle East Department, March 27, 2000.

26. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paraaraph 5 of Security Council Resolution 1281 (1999), June 1, 2000.

27. United Nations, Briefing by Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Iraq Proaramme, at the Informal Consultations Held by the Security Council, July 22, 1999.

28. Washinaton Post, January 28, 1999.

29. Letter from John Ashworth, Chairman of the British Library, to Harry Cohen MP, June 30, 1999.

30. The Guardian, February 18, 2000.

31. Interview with the author, Baghdad, October 17, 1999.

32. Green Left Weekly (Sydney), June 21, 2000.

33. In conversation with the author, January 16, 2001.

34. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Government of Iraq, Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999: Preliminary Report, 1999.

35. Toronto Star, June 25, 2000.

36. In conversation with the author, May 4, 2000.

37. The Guardian, April1 , 1999.

38. "The Public Health Impact of Sanctions," Middle East Report, no. 215, summer 2000, p. 17. (Garfield is Professor of Clinical International Nursing at Columbia University, New York.)

39. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, "The Methodology of Mass Destruction: Assessing Threats in a New World Order," The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 23, no.1, 2000, pp. 163-87.

40. Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2000.

41. "Punishing Saddam," 60 Minutes, CBS Television, May 12, 1996.

42. See John Pilger, "Mythmakers of the Gulf War," Distant Voices, London: Vintage, 1994.

43. State Department document, 1945, cited by Joyce and Gabriel Kolko in The Limits of Power, New York: Harper & Row, 1972, p. 242.

44. Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, New York: HarperCollins, 1999, p.74.

45. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

46. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes, p. 83 (see n. 44).

47. Roger Normand, "Sanctions against Iraq: New Weapon of Mass Destruction," Covert Action Quarterly , Washington, spring 1998.

48. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes, pp. 89-90 (see n. 44).

49. The Guardian, May 2 and 8, 1992. See also U.S. General Accounting Office, IRAQ:. U.S. Military Items Exported or Transferred to Iraq in the 1980s, February 1994.

50. U.S. Senate, Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and Their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War, May 25, 1994. See also U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Finance Administration, Approved Licences to Iraq, March 11, 1991.

51. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

52. The Guardian, May 8, 1992.

53. Interview with the author, for Central Television, Flying the Flag, Arming the World, broadcast on ITV 1994.

54. Interview with the author, October 1999.

55. Hansard, December 21, 1999.

56. Interview with the author, October 2001.

57. Ibid.

58. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

59. Ibid.

60. Figures supplied to Christopher Martin, associate producer of Paying the Price (see n. 4), by Captain Amy Bailey, Department of Defence, Washington, February 19, 2000. The period covered is from May 31, 1998 to January 14, 2000. As a comparative figure, 18,276 sorties were flown by U.S. aircraft during the Gulf War: same source.

61. Boston Globe, December 11, 1999; CNN, December 28, 1999.

62. The Guardian, November 11, 2000.

63. New York Times, August 13, 1999.

64. WashinBton Post, March 12, 1998.

65. Independent Television News, April 4, 1991.

66. In correspondence and conversation with the author, March 3-4, 2001.

67. Washington Post, October 25, 2000.

68. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes, p. 13 (see n. 44).

69. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

70. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes, p. 23 (see n. 44).

71. Ibid., pp. 24-5.

72. Ibid., p. 29.

73. Green Left Weekly, October 24, 2001.

74. Ibid.

75. Interview on ARC News, cited by Sarah Graham-8rown in Sanctioning Saddam, London/New York: IB Tauris, 1999, p. 19.

76. Cited by Herring, "Between Iraq and a hard place" (see n. 16).

77. New York Times, July 7, 1991.

78. New Statesman, March 19, 2001.

79. Wall Street Journal, October 22, 1999.

80. Peter Gowan, Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism'" New Left Review, September/October 2001.

81. Interview with the author, Washington, November 29, 1999.

82. Interview with the author, New York, December 2, 1999.

83. Interview with the author, New York, December 2, 1999.

84. The multiple claims and counter-claims by government ministers and opponents of sanctions are digested in Voices, the excellent newsletter of Voices in the Wilderness, available from 168 Cherwell Road, Oxford, OX4 18G. See also New Statesman, March 27, 2000 and articles from New Statesman thereafter, posted on; also The Guardian, January 8, 2001. The UN document quoted by Hans Von Sponeck, refuting Peter Hain's claim of $16 billion worth of relief, is S/2000/1132, November 29, 2000. George Somerwill was quoted in the Toronto Star, June 24, 2000.

85. The Independent, June 5, 1999, citing a confidential memorandum from the UK Atomic Energy Authority to Royal Ordnance, Apri1 30, 1991.

86. Cited in Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI), StarvinB Iraq: One Humanitarian Disaster We Can Stop, Cambridge, pp. 5---6.

87. Iraq: Country Report 1995-96, Economist Intelligence Unit, London, p. 6.

88. Roger Normand, "Sanctions against Iraq: New Weapon of Mass Destruction," Covert Action Quarterly, spring 1998.

89. Arthur Miller, "Why I Wrote The Crucible: An Artist's Answer to Politics," New Yorker, October 21-28, 1996, pp. 163-4.

90. Paying the Price (see n. 4).

91. Interview with the author, December 3, 1999.

92. New Statesman, January 15, 2001.

93. Marc Bossuyt, The Adverse Consequences of Economic Sanctions on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, Working Paper, UN Economic and Social Council Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, June 21, 2000.

94. New Statesman, January 22, 2001, following correspondence with the author.

95. Interview with the author, Baghdad, October 24, 1999.

Photo and Video Credits

All photos were taken from Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War edited by Anthony Arnove, 2000, South End Press.

Video clips are from John Pilger's film Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq supported on the Carlton Television web site.

About the Author

John Pilger, an Australian, has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of Journalist of the Year, for his work all over the world, especially as a war correspondent. For his documentary film-making, he has won France's Reporter sans Frontières, an American television Academy Award, an "Emmy," and the Richard Dimbleby Award, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for a lifetime's factual broadcasting. He lives in London.



1. Basra

2. Baghdad

3. Washington

4. The Real World


About the Author

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