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Behind Washington's demand to lift sanctions on Iraq

By Sara Flounders

The U.S. government has demanded the complete and immediate lifting of UN Security Council sanctions on Iraq.

For 13 years, a world movement against the sanctions had met total resistance by the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Why has Washington now reversed itself on this question? And how should the world movement against sanctions respond to Washington's new strategy?

First, it is important to understand the Bush administration's motives.

The UN Security Council now has control over at least $30 billion, held in its Oil for Food accounts, that was accumulated by the sale of Iraqi oil during the sanctions regime.

Since it militarily destroyed the government, the U.S. has appointed itself the overseer of Iraq and the force that will hand-pick a new government. But the sanctions keep the money from going to Iraq. So the U.S. wants an end to sanctions so that these billions of dollars can be turned over to a U.S.-administered government in Iraq. It regards the money as plunder owed it for its criminal invasion and destruction of Iraq's sovereignty.

In addition, billions of dollars of Iraqi money have been frozen since August 1990 in accounts around the world. An end to sanctions could be a first step in making this money available to a U.S.-controlled "Iraqi government," which would then turn it over to greedy U.S. corporations that have been awarded contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq.

The sanctions caused the deaths of more than a million and a half Iraqis, according to UN estimates. Should the government that caused these deaths and laid waste to Iraqi cities in a brutal war of conquest now be trusted to administer the funds it has so long withheld from the Iraqi people?

It is essential to recognize that the U.S. or Britain have no right to any of the resources in Iraq. There is no justification for the tens of thousands of imperialist troops occupying the country. It is criminal, lawless aggression. Now the U.S. campaign to end the sanctions and turn the billions in withheld Iraqi funds over to itself, the occupiers, is piracy in its most blatant form.

Billions at stake

This issue of lifting the sanctions on Iraq is shaping up as the next big confrontation in the UN Security Council.

France, Russia and China all have veto power over whether to end the sanctions. A number of countries on the Security Council have reminded Washington that sanctions cannot be lifted until UN weapons inspectors confirm that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. This diplomatically throws in Washington's face the same fraudulent excuse that the U.S. government used for 13 years to continue the sanctions.

France has further enraged the Bush administration by proposing that civilian sanctions could be "suspended" for humanitarian reasons. By stating that it was not for "lifting" sanctions, it was reminding Washington that the web of sanctions the U.S. had spun gives the UN Security Council control over all of Iraq's future oil revenues. This is also Russia's position.

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer rejected these views by stating categorically, "The sanctions should be lifted, not merely suspended. ... With the regime gone, the U.S. position is economic sanctions are no longer necessary."

As long as sanctions officially remain in place, the revenue from all Iraqi oil sold will continue to be deposited into UN accounts. Billions of dollars are at stake in future contracts. The countries on the Security Council that had joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions are not so anxious to turn these accumulated funds, the bidding on all reconstruction contracts, and the future oil revenues over to the conquerors.

Of course, France may be all too willing to strike a quiet deal with U.S. imperialism for a share of these expropriated funds and future contracts. France, it should be remembered, is also an imperialist power with global financial interests based on looting the resources of developing countries that were formerly part of its colonial empire. France has troops in a number of African countries.

This is part of the reason why Washington does not want the United Nations involved in any way in Iraq. The Bush administration does not want any other financial claims on its unilateral theft.

Syria, a rotating member of the Security Council, stated that lifting sanctions would "legalize the U.S. and British invasion." It would give the U.S. "the right to control Iraq's oil and install a government it prefers."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is rushing to install just such a government. It reportedly plans by early May to put day-to-day control of the oil industry in the hands of Iraqis appointed by the Bush administration. They in turn will be under the "civil" administration of retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner. A former CEO of Shell oil company, Philip J. Carroll, will head an advisory committee for the Iraqi oil industry. This committee is clearly where the real decisions will be made.

Until it is clear who has legal title to Iraq's oil, it will be difficult for the U.S. to sell the oil on the world market. Before the 1991 war, Iraqi oil revenue was more than $20 billion a year.

History of UN sanctions

It is worth reviewing the history of U.S./UN sanctions imposed on Iraq, their impact and what is at stake today in this new and old debate.

In August of 1990, using its overwhelming power, Washington crafted and rammed through the UN Security Council the economic sanctions that have strangled Iraq over the past 13 years. The sanctions were defined as a measure to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.

It should be remembered that on July 25, before the invasion of Kuwait, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie had met with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He informed her that Iraq would take measures against Kuwait if negotiations failed. The rich sheikdom had been keeping oil prices low and stealing Iraqi oil by slant drilling under its land. Iraq was in dire financial shape because of its war with Iran.

Glaspie replied that Washington had "no opinion" on Iraq's conflict with Kuwait.

When Iraq did move into Kuwait, however, the U.S. demanded and got from the UN the most extreme form of collective punishment ever imposed on an entire people.

Iraq could not sell its oil or any goods at all. It could not import anything. All its funds held in banks outside of Iraq--billions of dollars from the sale of oil--were frozen. With its funds frozen, without any trade, credits or loans, the entire economy shut down. Inflation spiraled wildly out of control.

When the Pentagon started bombing in January 1991, its targets were chosen to sharpen the deadly impact of the sanctions. The U.S. consciously destroyed the water, sanitation, sewage and pumping facilities, along with food-processing plants, pharmaceutical plants and medical facilities. Epidemics of cholera, typhoid and measles erupted. Within months, tens of thousands of Iraqi children were dead from polluted, untreated water.

At the end of the massive U.S. 40-day bombing campaign, Iraq withdrew from Kuwait. This should have ended the reason for the UN sanctions. But as a condition of the cease-fire, the U.S. demanded that sanctions remain until the UN Security Council had confirmed that Iraq had destroyed any unconventional weapons it may have obtained.

This became the excuse for a protracted struggle to demand the right to send thousands of inspectors into Iraq to confirm that Iraq had no such weapons. Whole industries necessary for any modern industrialized country to function were blown up, including chemical plants and plants making fertilizers and pesticides. Despite over 9,000 inspections, the continuing threat of U.S. veto has kept these starvation sanctions in place for 13 years.

The campaign against sanctions

From its very inception in 1991, the International Action Center waged a campaign to end the sanctions on Iraq. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the founder of the IAC, in an effort to bring world attention to the impact of sanctions, made the difficult trip to Iraq every year with fact-finding delegations. He wrote an International Appeal to End Sanctions on Iraq that was signed by a number of world leaders, along with international human rights groups and peace organizations.

The appeal characterized sanctions as a weapon of genocide and a "crime against humanity," as defined by the Nuremberg Principles. The appeal was translated into many languages and became the basis of a series of international peace conferences in London, Rome, Athens, Madrid, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco.

By 1995 a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report confirmed that 567,000 children under the age of five had died as a direct result of the continued UN sanctions. A growing global mobilization demanding that sanctions be lifted created a radical shift in world public opinion.

As world outrage mounted, the U.S. shifted its public relations approach. In an attempt to give a humanitarian cover to its brutal policy, it pushed through the Oil for Food Program. This program allowed Iraq to sell a limited amount of its oil and buy food and medicine from the revenue. The UN Security Council, under a special committee called the 661 Committee, would control all the revenue and review every contract for supplies that Iraq would receive.

Out of these severely restricted oil sales, Iraq would also have to pay reparations to Kuwait and a host of other claims arising from the U.S. destruction and bombing in the 1991 war. From January 1997, when this program began, to the end of 2001, Iraq was able to sell approximately $50 billion worth of oil. All this money was deposited into a UN-controlled account. Iraq received less than 25 percent of this amount for the purchase of food and medicine, amounting to less than 22 cents per day per person.

Some 34 percent of the Iraqi Oil for Food revenue went to the Kuwaiti monarchy and other "victims" of the 1991 war. ExxonMobil received $200 million in "war reparations" from the Oil For Food funds, which were supposed to feed starving Iraqi children. Billions of dollars also went to the UN to administer this program. A multi-billion-dollar bureaucracy was created that guaranteed lucrative contracts to many countries.

For the past six years the U.S. and British representatives on the 661 Committee have denied, delayed or obstructed most of the contracts submitted by Iraq. Under U.S. pressure the committee denied over 90 percent of Iraq's contracts for the repair of water/sewage treatment and irrigation projects.

Because of this continual obstruction, billions of dollars from oil sales were never released for Iraq's desperate needs but continued to be held in UN accounts. These funds, along with future oil revenue, is what U.S. corporate power wants undisputed control over.

The world movement to end the sanctions on Iraq is in essence a movement to struggle for the right of the Iraqi people to control their own resources. The sanctions have been a crime against humanity and an assault on the national sovereignty of every developing country. They must be lifted.

But the U.S. occupiers of Iraq today must not be allowed to continue their imperialist plunder in another form. The anti-war and anti-sanctions movement must demand that U.S. troops get out, along with their hand-picked stooges. It must defend the right of the Iraqi people to control their own resources. Not one penny from Iraq's oil should go to the criminal U.S.-occupation regime.

Sara Flounders is coordinator of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge and a co-director of the International Action Center.

Reprinted from the May 8, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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