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NZ to enforce sanctions responsible for the death of 567,000 children - US professor

By Jeremy Rose

The New Zealand frigrate Canterbury will be helping to impse sanctions already responsible for the death of more than 560,000 children under the age of five, says an Amercian professor who headed a United Nations fact-finding mission to Iraq late last year.

Dr Peter Pellett, a professor of Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, says another 100,000 children will almost certainly die if the Security Council sanctions are maintained for another 12 months.

Foreign Minister Don McKinnon does not dispute the figures, but says there is no evidence that lifting the sanctions, in place since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, would benefit ordinary Iraqis.
"If this man [Saddam Hussein] can watch his people starve and build an enormous new palace for himself and continue to manufacture weapons for his army, people don't mean a lot to him," McKinnon says.

Dr Pellett's comments come amidst growing international concern over the consequences of the sanctions, which have been described by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark as "one of the greatest crimes against humanity of this epoch".

Dr Pellett says New Zealand and other countries supporting the sanctions are being pushed "down the road in a fit of pique from the United States. 'We hate Saddam Hussein and we're never going to stop until he's removed.' The mere fact that people are dying along the way isn't going to stop them."

Meanwhile, a former New Zealand ambassador to the United Nations, and chair of the Security Council Sanctions committee, Terence O'Brien, agrees it's a mistake for New Zealand to send a frigate to help enforce the sanctions.

O'Brien, now the director of the Centre For Strategic Studies at Victoria University, says he came to the conclusion the sanctions were unduly harsh while chairing the sanctions committee in 1993.

He says at that stage there were already reports of large scale death and malnutrition as a result of the sanctions. "UNICEF came out with some distressing conclusions. The report was never factored in by the Security Council. The Security Council works in very, very strange ways."
"I found it extraordinary difficult to accept. There is nothing in the sanctions that say they are supposed to effect the livelihood of every day Iraqis.

"But the major power line was that nothing that would assist an Iraqi economic recovery was acceptable. For example a request for cloth to make shirts with would be turned down, but made-up shirts approved."

Since O'Brien returned to New Zealand, the sanctions committee has blocked the import of spare parts such as tyres for ambulances on the grounds that they are "not essential". There are 50 ambulances in Baghdad of which two are operational.

O'Brien is supportive of New Zealand's role in sending personnel to help with the detection and elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and the work in redrawing the boundaries between Kuwait and Iraq, but says the time has come to revise the sanction regime.

"Inside the New Zealand Government there are those who for defence reasons see advantage in being involved in a multi-nation defence exercise. I agree there is merit in that, but not if the substantive case is somewhat questionable."

"The guy did some terrible things things. In the heat and flush of retribution the sanctions were not unreasonable, but with the passage of time I think there should be some reconsideration."
Ramsey Clark, is less restrained in his criticism of the sanctions. In an open letter published on the 50th anniversary of the UN, in October last year, Clark described the sanctions as: "a weapon of mass destruction wreaking havoc collectively on the entire civilian population. They are the direct cause of hundreds of deaths daily.

"Sanctions against a whole nation inherently harm the poor first, killing and crippling infants, children, the elderly, the chronically ill and emergency medical cases, the very parts of every population that society has the highest duty to protect.

Don McKinnon says the government will only support lifting the sanctions when it is convinced Saddam Hussein is not developing weapons of mass destruction.

"Here is a nation actively developing these weapons and all the time saying they're not doing it. So they really have to be regarded as an untrustworthy nation."

"I was very supportive of the food for oil deal [a relaxation of the sanctions, now on hold, that would have seen Iraq allowed to sell $2 billion worth of oil], I thought well at least if they will get food and medicine for the oil money, at least it's going to the people that need it. Well it's not going to the people that need it. It's going to the Iraqi people in the central region, it's not going to the Kurds in the north and it's not going to the Shi'as in the south.

In contrast, Dr Pellett's UNFAO report concluded that a famine situation has been "prevented largely by an efficient public rationing system which provides a minimum food basket to all Iraqi families - excluding those in the north".

While backing up Mr McKinnon's claims that things are are worse in the North and South of the country, the report's findings were based largely on a survey of children's health in Baghdad where child mortality has risen nearly five fold since 1990.

"The deterioration nutritional status of child is reflective of events which are occurring in Iraqi society - a lack of purchasing power and high prices for basic food items, poor water and sanitation quality, and high burden of infectious and parasitic diseases."

Meanwhile, Dr Pellett says the chance of widespread epidemic and famine increases daily.

"In the south the whole sewage system is in a state of collapse. There are no spare parts for pumps down there. Sewage backs ups through street drains. We saw huge green smelly areas in the street of the Southern city of Basra. The surprising thing to us was not that there had not been cases of cholera and dysentery and so on but there hadn't already been massive epidemics of these things."
Dr Pellett says he has no difficulty accepting Ramsey Clark's estimate than a million people have died so far as a result of the sanctions.

"The sanctions are all about creating economic pain until the population rises up and over throws its evil rulers. That's basically the philosophy behind the sanctions. But of course they don't work that way. The power elite has not been hurt one iota by the sanctions."

Mr McKinnon agrees that the sanctions have little chance of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. "We are really hoping that he begins to take seriously his role as the leader of Iraq towards all his people."

Dr Pellett says the UN already has in place the means to relieve much of the suffering caused by the sanctions.

"That's the great irony. There is widespread UN activity in the country. You've got UNICEF functioning, you've got the world food programme functioning, and a myriad of other UN agencies functioning. There they are all dashing around in brand-new white Toyotas trying to do things while the other half of the UN is saying sanction, sanctions. It is just madness."


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