Sep
11
2000

Iraq Won't Let Outside Experts Assess Sanctions' Impact on Lives

New York Times

Iraq will not allow independent experts into the country to assess the living conditions of Iraqis a decade after economic sanctions were imposed, Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Security Council today.

In a report to the Council, Mr. Annan also said the Iraqis were barring another group of experts that Mr. Annan wanted to send to devise ways to improve an oil-for-food program, which was developed to soften the human impact of the sanctions. Those experts had planned to set up a system in which Iraq would use some of its oil-sales money to buy goods locally, a move that was expected to spur the local economy.

The latest decisions by Iraq not to cooperate with this new purchasing program or the human-impact survey come after it also refused to allow Ambassador Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands, who is chairman of the Security Council's sanctions committee, to visit Iraq.

"It's not just on disarmament issues," a diplomat said of the Iraqis' refusal to cooperate, even in their own interest. "They claim they can't get things done, but won't let anybody come in and fix it."

Diplomats and relief officials say several reasons contribute to this attitude. Iraqis say they do not want charity. President Saddam Hussein, whose government is now probably the world's most repressive, wants to control all contact between Iraqis and outsiders, and can in effect veto the assignment to Iraq of even United Nations officials. Furthermore, the government demands the right to decide how aid is distributed and by whom. If cash is to be made available for local purchases, the Iraqis want total control of the money.

Diplomats and international aid workers say Iraq has also been turning down offers of relief from private organizations. Earlier this year, a British "flying hospital" was given permission by the United Nations sanctions committee to land in Iraq and provide free medical treatment, but the Iraqis barred it. Iraq has severely restricted or expelled some groups in recent months, representatives of the Middle East Council of Churches.

Anti-sanctions protesters, who bring in relatively small amounts of aid, are welcomed for their propaganda value.

Private aid, a relief official said, "has not even scratched the surface," although its potential in meeting Iraqi needs is great. Another official said the repressive political atmosphere of Iraq made it almost impossible to work there. Human rights monitors are routinely barred, and entry has been denied to Yuli M. Voronstov, a Russian diplomat and special United Nations envoy, who is looking into the cases of people missing since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Since last December, Iraq has been permitted to sell unlimited amounts of oil -- at high international prices -- to pay for essential civilian needs under the oil-for-food program. The embargo cannot be lifted until Iraq meets key disarmament requirements, but Mr. Hussein will not permit arms inspectors to enter the country either.

Since 1996, when Iraq finally agreed to the oil-for-food program, Mr. Hussein has sold $32 billion in oil. Nearly $1 billion in medicine and medical supplies have been bought, along with more than $6 billion in food.

Concern is growing that as more and more goods flow in, close associates of Mr. Hussein will gain from cornering distribution rights, if not through outright black-marketeering. If no independent collection of information is possible, Iraq can continue to blame outsiders, particularly the United States, for illnesses and deaths from disease or malnutrition, when relief officials say that at least some of the problem rests with the Iraqi leadership.

"The Iraqi victims of these unjust and unrestricted sanctions amounted to more than a million children, women and elderly people during the past 10 years," Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, told a summit meeting of world leaders last week. "The United Nations cannot escape its moral responsibility for the consequences of sanctions."

A European diplomat said there were "pretty solid reports" that Iraq has been exporting medical supplies, some of which appear to have found their way to Lebanon, and has sold food from the oil-sales program to Syria and Jordan. Ships have been intercepted leaving Iraq carrying wheat and beans. At the same time, Iraqis are buying large quantities of cigarettes and imported whiskey for the use of Mr. Hussein's associates, a diplomat said.

Diplomats say several large aid organizations based in Europe have been turned away when they responded to Iraqi needs. A shipment of long-life milk from the Netherlands was allowed to spoil and had to be destroyed.

The Security Council, responding to persistent reports of undue suffering because of the embargo, requested the impact survey in June. The panel's study was to be submitted by Nov. 26.

The plan to allocate cash for local purchases has been discussed for nearly two years and seemed to have the approval of Iraq until it became clear that the United Nations intended to retain oversight.

"Without the cooperation of the government of Iraq on this issue," Mr. Annan said in his report, "I am not in a position to submit to the Security Council finalized arrangements."

He said he had selected his group of experts to study Iraqi deprivations and why they persisted despite the larger influx of money. "However, in discussions with the United Nations," he wrote, "the government of Iraq has indicated that it does not intend to cooperate with or issue visas to such experts."