Professor Pitches Hard-Line Sanctions Policy toward Iraq

By Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire | National Catholic Reporter, August 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Professor Pitches Hard-Line Sanctions Policy toward Iraq


Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire, National Catholic Reporter


Oil for food program debated; Rumsfeld, Powell choose sides

While Washington reconsiders its strategy for Iraq, Michael Rubin, professor of history and visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is pitching a hard-line agenda to the American public and policymakers alike: Retain sanctions. Contain or remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Opponents of sanctions say Rubin's analysis has obscured the complexities of the Iraq picture and the source of Iraqi suffering. Propelling their debate is the question, "What direction will the United States take in Iraq?"

Since his return from Iraqi Kurdistan in mid-June, Rubin has argued against softening sanctions in a radio interview and two articles published in the New Republic.

The Yale lecturer, whose area of expertise is 19th-century Iranian reform literature, spent nine months teaching in the three northern governates of Iraq. That region, he observed, is experiencing sanctions very differently from the southern and central parts of the country. The infant mortality rate has dropped below pre-war levels. Unemployment remains high, but "the stores and pharmacies are well-stocked." Even Haagen-Dazs' ice cream is available. "The key point," he notes, "is that it is the same sanctions administered throughout every part of Iraq."

Rubin, who did not visit southern and central Iraq, argues that discrepancies between the two regions can be attributed to a single variable -- the Hussein regime. In the North, the United Nations oversees implementation of the Oil for Food program, but in southern and central Iraq the program is administered by the Iraqi government.

Initiated in December 1996, Oil for Food allows Iraq to export oil and use a portion of that income to buy basic goods from other countries. The remaining revenue is used for Kuwaiti war reparations and to cover U.N. administrative costs, Iraqi oil earnings are kept in a U.N. bank account in New York and cannot be spent without the approval of the U.N. Sanctions Committee, which evaluates Iraqi proposals for import contracts, submitted every six months. If these are deemed legitimate, funds are released.

Critics of sanctions say that "holds" at the United Nations have prohibited Iraqis from obtaining vital commodities such as blood bags. Rubin says the problem lies entirely with Baghdad. "Most of the revenue from the Oil for Food program has not been spent by the Iraqi government," says Rubin.

Contesting U.N. reports linking Iraqi suffering to sanctions, Rubin admits there is a humanitarian crisis in southern and central Iraq. The solution, however, is not to remove or alleviate sanctions but to "bypass Baghdad" and let the United Nations deal with the distribution of goods. "Right now, under Oil for Food, Baghdad has to order the medicine. Let the United Nations buy the medication, instead."

But economics professor Colin Rowat argues against attributing North-South differences in Iraq to a single factor. "Monocausal explanations that blame Saddam Hussein for the whole difference" between the two regions, Rowat says, "are simplistic."

Rowat who received his doctorate from Cambridge University, England, is a former member of the university's Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq. He visited southern and central Iraq for two weeks last December but did not travel in the North. "I think that one can recognize the benefits that have accrued to Iraqi Kurdistan this past decade and one can seek their continuance without oversimplifying the issues."

"There are a number of factors," says Rowat, that distinguish the Oil for Food program in the two regions. They include agricultural differences -- northern Iraq has always been the agricultural heartland of the country -- and differences in funding. The North receives 22 percent more per capita from the Oil for Food program and about 10 percent of all U.N.-controlled assistance in currency while the rest of the country receives only commodities.

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