No one, except those unaware of the uncompromising US stand on the Iraqi sanctions, can undermine the importance of US Representative Tony Hall's recent visit to Iraq. It's about time that elected American officials are willing to see the fate of Iraqis from a human standpoint, acknowledging the suffering of the people and demanding a change. Yet, regretfully, Mr. Hall refrained from placing the blame where it belongs, leaving the official US argument as strong as it was before his visit. " However, the question of whether lifting sanctions would solve the humanitarian problems is less clear," he uttered.
Some might find It understandable why Mr. Hall chose to emphasize the humanitarian aspect of his trip, taking into consideration that blaming the United States sanctions policy, openly and honestly, might and will jeopardize Rep. Hall's political career. Even then, we had hoped that Rep. Hall could come up with a realization, firm enough that it calls for an end to the sanctions policy, and would be bold enough to confront American foreign policy makers regarding their role in prolonging the suffering of the Iraqi people. Such hope was not too much to ask, as Rep. Hall is well known for his anti-poverty campaigns, and long history of activism aimed at easing peoples' suffering within and outside the United States.
The arguments delivered to international media by Rep. Hall, are the kind of arguments that can be agreed upon, even by Madeline Albright herself. Rep. Hall claimed that the Iraqi suffering was not the sole work of the sanctions, for "Iraq's wars in the past 20 years also contributed." It is true that Iraq's war with Iran left undeniable damage. But due to the Gulf states' abundant support of the Iraqi government, the United States' strategic assistance, and wide open Iraqi borders , have all made the losses of the war less damaging to the country's infrastructure, health system, education, food supplies, .. etc. The war with Iran, although a lengthy one caused a severe shortage of Iraqi missile defense capabilities, but it neither drained hospitals of simple medicine, poisoned the water supplies, devastated the soil with depleted uranium or caused over 200 deaths a day among children aged five and younger. The war with Iran had its own negative effects, plenty of them indeed, but such negativity had very little in common with the devastation and hurt experienced by Iraq and Iraqis nowadays.
Separating sanctions and the humanitarian aspects in Iraq is neither logical nor helpful. "This is simply why the US has agreed on and supported the Oil-for-Food program, "any pro- sanctions American official could simply argue. In fact the US recently drafted a UN resolution which calls for the doubling of Iraqi oil sales in order to purchase badly needed oil production parts, "to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people." The US has time and again recognized the suffering of the Iraqi people, yet it denied any wrong doing, blaming the suffering of Iraqis on the Iraqi government itself. The US is very clever in rationalizing its position. Somehow it manages to implement its uncompromising policy, at any cost, while at the same time convincing many that all it hopes to achieve is saving the people in a given country from "dictator X" or "extremist Y".
But despite the suffering and the hurt witnessed by the Rep. Hall , "we cannot have weapons of mass destruction exported out of this country. We cannot have that, that's the bottom line", Tony Hall was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. Rep. Hall did in fact, in a separate interview affirm the need for the sanctions. " You must remember why sanctions were put on this country and why the UN (was) very concerned about weapons of mass destruction being exported and that is the main reason for the sanctions," he told a reporter. It is proclamations like these that have prolonged the sanctions so painfully long. Such statements, are what have demonized Iraq for the past 10 years, and are what have drove many to see that the death of a million Iraqi children as a necessary price to prevent an imaginary nuclear and chemical Iraqi attack on its neighbors.
Yes, the speeding of the flow of health supplies and other urgent commodities under the UN humanitarian program will be one way of helping to save more Iraqi lives, like Mr. Hall has suggested. But blaming the shortcomings on "the international community" is not a decisive conclusion either. I cannot recall the last time that Malaysia, France, Brazil or Egypt blocked health supplies to Iraq and overwhelmed the Oil-for-Food program procedures with endless bureaucracy. It is the United States who has thus far delayed billions of dollars in contracts, claiming that simple medications could be made into chemical weapons, as if Iraq posses Aladdin's magic lamp to perform such miracles.
I am indeed grateful to Rep. Hall for visiting Iraq, for such an effort by itself, if compared to the tremendous apathy exercised by most American officials, is an achievement that deserves to be applauded. But, I urge Mr. Hall to walk this path to the end, by confronting his country's foreign policy and demanding a real and decisive end to Iraq's misery, through a complete lifting of the sanctions. Yes, carrying a firm stand against the sanctions might lead to political losses at a certain point in the future of Rep. Hall's career. But what is a political loss if compared with the loss of one child, or one million who were deprived the right to rejoice, to grow and to live, just as American children do?