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SANCTIONS ON IRAQ: A BLIND WEAPON
by Dr. H. Al-Shahristani
8 June 2000
Sanctions were imposed on Iraq in the wake of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 in accordance with the Security Council resolution 661. In April 1991 resolution 687 was passed setting out the conditions for lifting those sanctions.
Throughout 1991-1995 the UN urged the government of Iraq to make arrangement to sell oil in return for humanitarian supplies. The Government of Iraq refused and insisted that sanctions be completely lifted. In April 1995, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 986 outlining the oil-for-food programme. Saddam at first refused its terms. After more than a year of negotiations with the UN Secretariat, Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out detailed arrangements for the implementation of SCR 986.
Under the terms of SCR 986 the Government of Iraq was to be responsible for implementation of the programme and the oil revenues collected each six month period are to be divided:
- 53% for food, medicine and humanitarian supplies in the centre and south of Iraq,
- 13% for food, medicine and humanitarian supplies in the three northern governorates,
- 30% to the UN Compensation Fund, and
- 4% for the UN's administration costs and costs of the UN Special Commission.
For the 53% account, the Government of Iraq enters into contracts with suppliers of its choosing, receives the supplies and is responsible for the distribution among the population.
Phase I started on 10 December 1996 and the last phase VII ended on 8 June 2000. The revenue from these oil exports totalled $28.74 billion.
Currently Iraq is exporting more than 2.5 million barrels a day for an estimated revenue of about $2 billion per month. Since the implementation of the program, $18,920 million has been allocated for the purchase of humanitarian supplies.
The number of contracts submitted by Iraq to the UN Office for Iraq Programme for different categories and their total value, what has been approved and what actually has arrived in Iraq from the beginning of the oil-for-food programme till 31 May 2000 is shown in the Table below:
Sanctions were not meant to heart the Iraqi people, we are told. They were imposed on Iraq to force Saddam's regime to abandon its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), that are a threat to the Iraqi people themselves and to Iraq's neighbours. Let us examine what did these sanctions achieve; how did they affect the Iraqi people and what impact they had on Saddam's WMD.
How did sanctions affect the Iraqi people
Iraq was the second largest oil producer in the Middle East and had one of the highest standards of living in the region. It had one of the most modern infrastructures.
By UN estimates more than a million Iraqis have died, directly or indirectly because of the sanctions. This is in addition to more than a million Iraqis who have been killed in Saddam's wars of aggressions, executed in prisons or massacred in genocide campaigns against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs. In 1990, for every 1000 live births, 56 children under the age of five were dying. Now 10 years later, the figure has gone up according to UNICEF to 131 per 1,000. Quarter of the Iraqi children are underweight and one in 10 wasting away because of hunger and disease. The leading cause of childhood death, diarrhea, is 11 times more prevalent in Iraq than other countries in the region; and while polio has been wiped out throughout the Middle East, it has returned to plague Iraq's people. There is evidence that mental disorders of children under 15 has significantly increased. School attendance has fallen drastically. The state of education in Iraq is totally inadequate. There is not enough books, pencils or classroom furniture.
Under the oil-for-food programme, the government is required to provide a food ration for the population. The World Food Programme reports in the south and centre of Iraq nearly two thirds of households visited said that the food basket lasted only 20 days or less. For many years the average calorie intake of large proportion of the population was less than 1,500 calorie per day.
The non-availability of clean water is another serious problem. The per capita share of water decreased drastically from 330 to 180 litres per day in Baghdad, and between 60 to 135 litres per day in other towns. The status of electricity is not much better. In most towns, electricity is not available for more than a few hours a day in a country where the temperature reached 50oC on summer days, which means people can not use a fan or fridge.
Ordinary civilians have exhausted their resources and their health trying to survive on £2 per month. With an unemployment rate that is estimated at between 60 and 75 percent, people depend on what is given to them and that is humiliating and does not make for a future of self-reliance and a dignified way of living. It will take Iraqi people at least a generation to recover from this situation after sanctions are lifted.
Now how did the sanctions affect Saddam's regime. Has he really been deprived of his WMD, for which the sanctions were imposed at the first place?!
Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction
WMD are generally categorised into: chemical, biological and nuclear.
Chemical Weapons Programs
Saddam ordered the production of chemical agents immediately after his invasion of Iran in September 1980. At that stage, production was heavily reliant on the import of chemicals from foreign suppliers. By 1982 Saddam's forces were using mustard gas routinely against Iranian soldiers. In March 1984 they used tabun, and this was first use ever of a nerve agent in war. Later they used the nerve agents sarin until the end of the war in August 1988. In total during the 8 years war about 60,000 Iranians, both military and civilians, were affected by chemical warfare agents including 16,000 who were killed by mustard gas and 5,500 killed by tabun nerve agent.
Saddam Hussein's forces also killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds with chemical agents; about 5,000 in Halabja alone on 16 March 1988. The poison gas attack on Halabja was the largest-scale chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in modern times.
Iraq admitted to UNSCOIM that it had produced 3,080 tons of mustard gas. This agent could be stored for long periods, either in bulk or in weaponized form. Even years after its production, the mustard agent analysed by UNSCOM was found to be in good and usable condition. Iraq also admitted producing 250 tons of tabun nerve gas and 812 tons of sarin nerve gas. Over the period from June 1992 to June 1994, UNSCOM Chemical Destruction Group destroyed 30 tons of tabun, 70 tons of sarin and 600 tons of mustard agent which constituted 12%, 8% and 19% of the amounts produced respectively. The rest is still unaccounted for.
Saddam's regime also produced another nerve agent, VX. Iraq had imported between 1987-88 enough chemicals to produce 250 tons of VX. These chemicals were exported from the west to Saddam even after the UN has established that Saddam was in breach of the 1925 Geneva Protocol on the use of chemical weapons.
Iraq currently has 41 sites with equipment that could be converted to produce chemical weapons agents and four facilities that produced chemical munitions until 1991 and could do so again. UNSCOM estimated that, under current circumstances, Iraq would be able to organise the production of chemical agents through reconfiguration or relocation of available dual-use material within several days or weeks.
Biological Weapons Program
raq's biological weapons program embraced a comprehensive range of agents both anti-personnel and anti-plant. These included the following:
- botulinum, which causes acute muscular paralysis and death in days;
- anthrax, which is a bacterial disease causing death in a matter of days to weeks after ingestion or inhalation;
- aflatoxin, the liver-cancer element. It is generally considered to be non-lethal in humans but of serious medical concern because of its carcinogenic activity;
- gas gangrene, which eats away at skin and causes rotting of flesh;
- ricin, a castor bean derivative that kills by impeding circulation;
- wheat smut , a moldy growth that can devastate a nation's grain sources;
The program covered a whole variety of biological weapons delivery means, from tactical weapons (e.g. artillery shells), to strategic weapons (e.g. aerial bombs and rocket warheads) filled with anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin and "economic" weapons, e.g. wheat cover smut.
The biological weapons program started in 1985 at Al Muthana Establishment, and in May 1987, the biological weapons program was transferred from Muthanna to Salman Pak. Thereafter, a special dedicated facility, Al Hakam, was established in March 1988 for biological weapons development and production as well as large- scale storage capabilities. The Al Hakam project was given the designator '324'.
The research group at Salman Pak tested biological agents on animals, including sheep, dogs and donkeys and later on Iraqi political prisoners and Iranian prisoners of war using inhalation chamber, as well as in the field. UNSCOM discovered two human-size "inhalation" chambers. Iraqi officials had said they tested animals, such as donkeys, in the chambers, but UNSCOM inspectors noted that they are primate-shaped and that Iraq did not have monkeys to test germ or nerve weapons. One of the chambers measured 5 cubic meters, and was supplied by Karl Kolb, a German company. UNSCOM inspectors also dug up trenches near Salman Pak that contained remains of human bodies that have been used for testing. But before the search was finished, Iraq flooded the plain with water diverted from the Tigris River.
Another centre for testing biological and chemical agents on humans was "Unit 2100" at Al Haditha. Iraqi political prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison were delivered to Unit 2100 between 01 July and 15 August 1995. All came from the Closed Department of Abu Ghraib. This special department was made up exclusively of Shia political prisoners.
After the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam's biological weapons program was drastically intensified. From August 1990 until 15 January 1991, about 5,400 litres of concentrated anthrax toxin had been produced. UNSECOM reports that 100 bombs type R-400 were filled with botulinum toxin, 50 with anthrax and 16 with aflatoxin. In addition, 13 Al Hussein rocket warheads were filled with botulinum toxin, 10 with anthrax and 2 with aflatoxin.
Finally the Iraqi regime declared to UNSCOM it had produced at least 19,000 litres of concentrated botulinum toxin (nearly 10,000 litres were filled into munitions), 8,500 litres of concentrated anthrax (some 6,500 litres were filled into munitions) and 2,200 litres of concentrated aflatoxin (1,580 litres were filled into munitions). They also claimed in 1991 that all biological munitions and the remaining bulk agent were destroyed after the Gulf war. However, the Iraqi regime has not been able to provide an exact date or location for the destruction operations. Four years later in August 1995, Iraq showed to UNSCOM team a location, which it claimed to be the destruction site. However, later on, Iraq changed its story and was unable to identify with any degree of certainty the exact location of warheads destruction operations.
UNSCOM identified 40 Iraqi facilities -everything from university labs to manufacturing plants and weapons storage facilities- of which only five were adequately explained to UNSCOM. Records and descriptions of activities at the other 35 remain incomplete. Iraq has declared to UNSCOM that its production capacity is 350 liters of weapons-grade anthrax per week using the equipment it is known to possess.
The strangest element in Iraq's biological arsenal is aflatoxin. The agent is not necessarily lethal, but it does cause liver cancer, usually after about 10 years. Inspectors have questioned Iraq's claim to have manufactured 2,200 liters of the substance. None of it has been recovered. Even stranger is documentary evidence and statements obtained by UNSCOM that Iraq was mixing aflatoxin with riot-control gas. We do not know when and how much such laced gas was used against populations opposed to Saddam, such as the Shias and the Kurds, but we know that Saddam hasn't made any weapon that he hasn't used on the Iraqi people.
The program comprised:
· Local production and covert procurement of natural uranium.
· Research and development of the full range of enrichment technologies culminating in the industrial-scale electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) and gas centrifuge enrichment.
· Research and development of irradiated fuel reprocessing technology.
· Development of implosion-based nuclear weapon design at the A1 Atheer nuclear weapons development plant.
· A "crash programme" to divert safeguarded research reactor fuel and recovering the highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use in a nuclear weapon.
Although Iraq's nuclear weapons programme plan had the objective to produce a small arsenal of nuclear bombs -with the first device scheduled in 1991- the three main components of the programme, namely the production of HEU from domestic sources of uranium, the design and production of a viable device and the development of a delivery system, had not progressed equally to meet the planned schedule.
· The weapon design component was making the best progress and by January 1991, the PC-3 group was finalising a viable implosion-based design.
· The production of HEU by enrichment of domestic uranium, pursued through the two parallel lines of EMIS and gas centrifuges was lagging behind.
· The design and development of the delivery system had progressed well. A modification of the Al Hussein missile was being designed with a separable warhead to deliver a payload of 1 ton over a distance of 650 km.
Iraq's inventory of safeguarded HEU contained 10.97 kg of 80% U235, 1.27 kg of 36% U235 both supplied by Russia, and 35.95 kg of 93% U235 supplied by France. The material supplied by France was sufficient to make 2 nuclear bombs, but the irradiated fuel needed reprocessing. In January 1991, Saddam ordered a crash programme to divert this safeguarded fuel and reprocess it to produce the first bomb.
The Iraqi EMIS program was largely indigenous and was based on the technology used by the United States in the Manhatan Project in the 1940's. Enrichment activities included two industrial-scale facilities for producing HEU at Tarmiya and at Al-Sharqat facilities. Saddam spent 4-8 billion dollar on this project alone, which was supervised by Dr Jafar Dhia Jafar. Iraq was close to production of HEU through the EMIS process, but it claims it has only produced half of a kilogram of 4% U235.
Another important programme for the production of HEU was Petrochemical-3 project (PC-3) using gas centrifugal technique. Iraq had two facilities at Al Furat and Rashdiya and was constructing a third at Taji which would have accommodated cascade halls of up to 1,000 machines.
In addition to extensive development of the EMIS and centrifuge enrichment technology, Iraq had also been pursuing laser isotope separation, gas diffusion and chemical enrichment including both the ion-resin process and the liquid-liquid solvent extraction process.
The delivery system available in 1990 was Al Hussein missile designed to deliver a warhead of one ton up to 650 km and to accommodate a small nuclear package of 80 cm diameter. The longer-term plan was for a delivery vehicle based on Al Abid satellite launcher. This vehicle would have had a payload chamber of 1.25 meter diameter and the capability to deliver a warhead of at least one ton to a range of 1,200 km that was planned to be completed by 1993 - two years after the first nuclear weapon was supposed to have been produced.
All these nuclear facilities were destroyed either through coalition bombing or subsequently by UNSCOM inspection teams.
Saddam's efforts to conceal WMD
Saddam refuses to comply with the UN SC resolution to destroy his weapons of mass distraction, and has organised a sophisticated programme to conceal these weapons from UN inspectors.
· In 1995, Iraqi officers who conducted field trials of R-400 bombs filled with biological agents described the tests to UNSCOM experts in considerable detail. These field trials were reflected in Iraq's June 1996 biological weapons declaration. Yet, amazingly, the regime now denies that any such trials were conducted at all.
· In July 1998, Iraq seized from the hands of UNSCOM inspectors an Iraqi Air Force document indicating that Iraq had lied about the destruction of over 6,000 bombs which contained over 700 tons of chemical agent. Iraq continues to refuse to provide this document to the UN.
Iraq's concealment efforts to hide WMD from UN inspectors involve thousands of people from Mukhabarat; the Amn al-Khass, and the Special Republican Guards. Qusai, the younger son of Saddam, is the deputy chairman of the Special Security Committee of the Iraqi National Security Council that was created in 1996 as part of the president's office. The Committee is supported by a staff of over 2,000 whose main task is to prevent the UN monitoring activities from uncovering information, documents, and equipment connected with mass destruction weapons. The responsibilities of this body are divided between two elements, each of which has a staff of about 1,000:
· The task of the first component is the daily work of the UN monitoring commission, escorting UN inspectors and preventing them from carrying out their mission.
· The task of the second component is to conceal documents, equipment, and materials and move them about from one location to another. Several locations have been built for collecting and hiding such selected material. It is a common knowledge among Iraqis that trucks and containers carrying dangerous materials park in residential areas for a day or two and then move to another location. This group is also responsible for importing material through "special channels" as part of the program of rebuilding the strategic military arsenal, including chemical and biological weapons and as well as missiles and associated technology.
Iraqi regime's misuse of the sanction conditions
· Iraq is actually exporting food, even though the Iraqi people are malnourished. Iraqi rice, dates and other essential foods are been exported by the regime and are sold openly in the markets of the neighbouring countries, particularly in Iran and Jordan. Recently, the ship M/V MINIMARE containing 2,000 metric tons of rice and other material being exported from Iraq was intercepted in the gulf.
· Baby milk sold to Iraq through the oil-for-food program has been found in markets throughout the Gulf, demonstrating that the Iraqi regime is depriving its people of much-needed goods in order to make an illicit profit. A few months ago a shipment coming out of Iraq was seized and found to carry baby powder, baby bottles, and other nursing materials for resale overseas.
· The UN has reported that, despite of infant malnutrition, the government of Iraq has ordered only a fraction of the nutrition supplements for vulnerable children and pregnant and nursing mothers recommended by the UN. Only $1.7 million of $25 million set aside from oil-for-food revenues for nutritional supplements has been spent by Iraq. Despite a four fold increase in oil revenues from $2 billion to $8 billion every 6 months, the Iraqi government has increased the amount earmarked for food purchases by only 15%;
· The regime diverts supplies from the south to limit the Shia population's access to food, medicine and drinking water. According to the UN Special Rapporteur, thousands of persons in Nasiriyah, Amarah and Basra provinces were denied rations that should have been supplied under oil-for-food programme. Access to food is used to reward regime supporters and silence opponents. Senior Baathists and top military and security officials are provided with extra monthly food rations, Mercedes automobiles, and monthly stipends in the thousands of dollars. By comparison, the average monthly government salary is about £2.
· The UN has reported that $300 million worth of medicines and medical supplies sit undistributed in Iraqi warehouses. This is about a third of the value of all the medical supplies that have arrived in Iraq. Since the beginning of the programme, $26.6 million worth of anti-cancer drugs had arrived in the country, of which a quantity worth $13.3 million (50 %) had been distributed. Saddam can move his troops and missiles around the country and attack the population in the southern marshes, but claims that he doesn't have enough transportation to distribute these medicines.
· Medicines received through the oil-for-food program are sold by the regime to private hospitals at exorbitant prices.
· The Iraqi government keeps on trying to mask dual-use or other prohibited items by inserting them into contracts for humanitarian goods, knowing very well that those efforts only result in the delay of needed food, medicine and other humanitarian items.
· Saddam has spent over $2 billion in building 48 palaces for himself since the end of the Gulf War. Some of these palaces boast solid gold taps and handles, and some are bigger than the White House. During the draught of summer 1998, when even drinking water was rationed in a number of southern cities, Saddam ordered the diversion of the remaining water in Euphrates to fill the large lakes of his Abu Ghraib Palace.
· In April 1999, Iraqi officials inaugurated Saddamiat al Tharthar. Located 85 miles west of Baghdad, this sprawling lakeside vacation resort contains stadiums, an amusement park, and 625 homes to be used by government officials. This project cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
· In July 1999, Forbes Magazine estimated Saddam personal wealth at $6 billion, acquired primarily from oil smuggling.
What can be done?
Who is to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people: the West, for imposing harsh economic sanctions, or Saddam Hussein for failing to comply with the disarmament terms required for lifting those sanctions.
The sanctions are hurting the Iraqi people while leaving Saddam firmly in power. Lifting sanctions per se would not offer the Iraqi people much relief from neglect and manipulation at the hands of Saddam's regime. Saddam's priorities are clear: palaces for himself, prison for the Iraqi people, and weapons to destroy Iraq's citizens and its neighbors. Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with the oil-for-food programme and its deliberate misuse of resources are cynical efforts to sacrifice the Iraqi people's welfare in order to bring an end to UN sanctions without giving up his weapons of mass destruction.
So, what can be done? I would endeavor to propose some measures that could alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people.
1. The link between economic sanctions and the military embargo should be broken, easing pressure on Iraqi people while keeping tight control of any arms going into Iraq.
2. The UN Sanctions Committee, ought to use much better judgment and their priority should be the relief of human suffering of the Iraqi people. They should make arrangement to expedite approval and shipment of humanitarian items. One way is to "preapprove" applications to import food, pharmaceuticals, medical, agricultural, and educational equipment;
3. The distribution criteria are established by the Government of Iraq, and the distribution program is generally assessed within those parameters. At the same time, it is constantly being reported that the available resources are not distributed to all the people in the southern governorates, who are the worst off and in the greatest need. A new universal distribution criteria should be set by UN Office of Iraq Programme (OIP) and enforced.
4. The OIP should set up its own depots and bulk distribution centres, and deal with the local distribution network directly without any hindrance or interference from Saddam's government.
5. The World Health Organization should carry a wide-scale scientific study to determine the causes of very high rates of cancer in Iraq, and particularly leukemia among the children. UN agencies should then carry out a large-scale clean-up operation to decontaminate the environment from agents responsible.
6. Steps should be taken to end the intellectual and informational isolation of Iraqi educators and health professionals in particular;
7. The pressure on Saddam's regime should be maintained or even increased, and linked not only with the elimination of WMD but also to human rights conditions in Iraq as required by UN SCR 688.
8. France, Russia, China and Qatar have been calling for unconditional lift of the sanctions. It is their own self-interest and not that of the Iraqi people at heart. France seems to have been promised good oil deals in post-sanctions Iraq, while Russia is hoping Iraq can pay it back for Soviet-era arms sales. Tragically, saving Iraqi lives--or, for that matter, the lives of others who might be endangered by weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's hands--does not appear to be their concern. The co-operation of these governments with Saddam's regime in deepening the suffering of the Iraqi people should be exposed to the public opinion in an effort to end this collaboration.
Dr. H Al-Shahristani is a prominent Iraqi nuclear scientist and was a chief scientific advisor to the Iraqi Government till 1979.
Dr. Al-Shahristani disagreed with the policies of the Iraqi Government to divert the nuclear research facilities from peaceful to military application which resulted in his imprisonment in December 1979 and was kept in a solitary confinement till his escape from Abu Ghraib prison in March 1991.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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