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Denis Halliday.

You probably have heard of Scott Ritter, the UNSCOM weapons inspector (and former U.S. Marine) who resigned his post last August to protest what he saw as the failure of the United States to act more forcefully against Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But you may not have heard of Denis Halliday, who resigned his post as head of the United Nations' Oil for Food program in Iraq just weeks later to protest the humanitarian costs of the U.N. sanctions.

"Four thousand to 5,000 children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions," he said. "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral."

Halliday, an Irishman, worked for the United Nations for thirty-four years. A specialist in Third World development issues, he was stationed in Iran, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as at U.N. headquarters in New York. On September 1, 1997, he was appointed U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq. He resigned thirteen months later.

I interviewed him on my radio program, Second Opinion, when he came through Madison, Wisconsin, on December 5. And I spoke with him again on the phone later in the month after the United States and Britain bombed Iraq.

Q: Why did you decide to resign from the United Nations?

Denis Halliday: I found myself in the very uncomfortable position of representing the United Nations, which in Iraq has two faces. One is the face of the military inspections supported by sanctions, which are killing thousands of Iraqis every month and sustaining malnutrition at the rate of 30 percent for children alone. At the same time, I'm trying to run a humanitarian assistance program, and I find these two functions incompatible. I don't believe the Security Council has the right to punish the people of Iraq simply because it is unhappy with the president of the country.

Q: You have said that the sanctions policy is a breach of international law. How?

Halliday: It's a complete breach of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, for example. It's a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It undermines the very charter of the United Nations itself. The preamble of the charter is being clobbered by these U.N. sanctions: the right of individuals to have a life, liberty, opportunities to live, work, and so on. It's very fundamental stuff.

Q: What is the magnitude of the suffering in Iraq? I've seen a lot of numbers. I saw one U.N. study that said 500,000 Iraqi children had died--this was several years back--as the result of sanctions.

Halliday: I believe the 500,000 is a UNICEF figure. It's probably closer now to 600,000 and that's over the period of 1990-1998. If you include adults, it's well over one million Iraqi people.

Q: What caused these deaths? What is the chain of fatality?

Halliday: It originates with the horrendous and comprehensive damage done by the missiles and bombing of the coalition forces during the Gulf War period, which was of greater extent than any of us understand. They set about demolishing the civilian infrastructure of this country, including the water supplies, sewage supply systems, electric power systems, the production systems, educational facilities, places of work. It's hard to visualize, perhaps, but the infrastructure that supports a good standard of living has been demolished. So that's the starting point. And then you have the sanctions now for seven or eight years, and the damage that was done, combined with the lack of money, or spare parts, upkeep for maintenance in the agricultural sector. This combined has got us in the situation now where we have poor nutritional intake, we have very poor health services, lack of drugs and medicines, and we have a disastrous water/sewage situation whereby water-borne diseases like typhus are killing thousands of Iraqis, particularly children.

Q: Were you an eyewitness to this hardship?

Halliday: Yes, almost every evening driving back from the office I would have to drive through raw sewage, which was often on the streets of Baghdad. I would come up against three- or four-year-old children begging for money at the traffic lights. And, of course, I visited the poor parts of the country outside Baghdad, and I visited the children's hospital.

Q: What was the hospital like?

Halliday: The conditions are quite appalling. When I was there, there was raw sewage in the basement of this hospital. The doctors do not have drugs to deal with the problems they face. I was looking at young children with leukemia. And of the four children that I got to know in the fall of 1997, two died within six weeks. That's a very common situation: Doctors are making horrible decisions as to who dies, who lives.

Q: What reaction do you get when you go around and speak about the calamity of sanctions?

Halliday: When regular, ordinary people like you and me, so to speak, understand some of the impact, and when they realize that Iraqi people are just like you and me, with all the expectations we have for our children, it hits home that we are rather callously sitting back here and allowing people like ourselves to be killed. But having demonized Saddam Hussein, policy-makers in Washington have demonized the Iraqi people. And they are just regular people, like you and me, with families, and gardens, and dogs, and houses, and all of that stuff. They have the same expectations we have--to live a life.

Q: What was your reaction to the U.S. and British bombing campaign against Iraq in December?

Halliday: I must say, I'm appalled that here we are in 1998 and we are resorting to the brutalization of an innocent people. I find this incredible. Apart from that, I really am concerned that nobody thinks through the consequences of these sorts of actions. There is a bankruptcy here of ideas on how to deal with this country, and bombing is the fall-back position, unfortunately.

It was a totally counterproductive effort. It enhanced Saddam Hussein's image. It outraged the Arab community. It reinforced the general sense that Washington doesn't understand the Arab world. Arabs who heard all the talk from the Clinton Administration about respecting Ramadan--they thought that was a joke. It's done incredible damage to Tony Blair and discredited him in the eyes of the international community. It astonishes me that the U.K. is willing to be led around by the nose, and I find that incompatible with the past role of Great Britain. Britain has distinguished Arabists who understand how the Arab world functions, and I thought they would have come up with something more positive.

Q: What do you make of Richard Butler, head of UNSCOM?

Halliday: I think Butler's finished. He bugs everyone. He's making decisions without consulting Security Council members. He's so much in the pocket of Washington. They own him. They appointed him. He's their man. He's Madeleine Albright's creation.

Q: Let's take the argument of Scott Ritter, Richard Butler, and Madeleine Albright. They say, "Look, Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction against Kurds and Iranians, and he invaded Kuwait. If it weren't for economic sanctions, as punitive as they've been, Saddam Hussein would have more of these weapons of mass destruction right now."

Halliday: Well, you know, you have to perhaps start at the beginning and query, "Where did these arms come from in the first place?" I think Saddam Hussein was an ally of the West, and this country in particular, when he took on the battle with Iran. He was a good guy, and now of course, he's not a good guy. And I am not about to apologize for him or support him. However, nothing justifies, in my view, the decision by the Security Council to kill and maim Iraqi people to the tune of thousands every month.

Q: You seem much less worried than a lot of U.S. officials about the danger of someone like Saddam Hussein acquiring these weapons of mass destruction. Why does that seem not to trouble you so much? Or, if you're troubled, why do you think that a different approach is necessary?

Halliday: You know, I think no matter how we make this work, there's going to be a risk factor. But I believe that if we are going to move forward, we have to separate economic sanctions--which only hurt the people, not the leadership--from the issue of the rearming of Iraq. Separate those two things and deal with them separately.

Q: And how do you ensure that Iraq doesn't cheat?

Halliday: You need an elaborate system of control on the manufacture and purchases of military items. The Iraqis will have to understand that there would be a need to monitor military rebuilding well after sanctions have gone. I think that would have to be one of the arrangements.

Q: By your own estimation, what is the extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction?

Halliday: I would guess, and this is purely speculation, that it's extremely modest. I think people overestimate his capacity. The military is very depleted; the equipment is very old. I fly out of Habbaniyah military airport. Habbaniyah is an old British base. It's littered with junked aircraft, but it also has a number of Mirage and MIG jets, all of which are aged machinery but are flying.

So I think the capacity is largely diminished and greatly exaggerated. That's not to say it couldn't be rebuilt. Of course it could. But as of today, I think it's of no great importance whatsoever--and certainly outgunned by the neighborhood American equipment throughout the Gulf countries.

Q: Some people who are harshly critical of Saddam Hussein and who take a bellicose stand say that the Oil for Food program wasn't working and that Saddam Hussein was siphoning off the revenues of the oil sales to feed the military, to feed himself, feather his nest. What's the truth to that?

Halliday: Well, there's absolutely no truth, whatsoever. Every penny from oil sales goes into the hands of the United Nations, into a United Nations bank account, and is released by the United Nations directly to the contractors--American, Russian, French, Chinese, whatever they may be--who provide the foodstuffs, medical equipment, medical supplies. There's no possibility of funds being siphoned off whatsoever.

Q: And what about the extent of the oil revenues? Was there enough to meet the humanitarian needs?

Halliday: No, absolutely not. It fell short in that the funds available did not provide a balanced diet. We have been providing, under the Security Council Resolution, a totally inadequate food basket for the Iraqi people.

Q: How far short was it falling?

Halliday: In terms of calories it was short, but it was more seriously short in terms of proteins, basically animal proteins. And that was only the immediate, day-to-day requirement. What is required to deal with malnutrition of the kind we find in Iraq is a multisectoral approach. That means putting real money--and I'm talking billions of dollars--into the health care situation, into the potable water and sewage situation, into electric power production, into domestic agricultural production, into education. All of that money is simply not available.

Q: Would it not have been possible for the U.N. to say, "Look, you can sell an unlimited amount of oil, but we're going to administer it all through the U.N., just as we did with the Oil for Food program. You can build up your infrastructure, but you can't siphon money off to the military, because we're going to monitor every penny"?

Halliday: Yes, absolutely possible. But I think, sad to say, the Security Council was not prepared to have Iraq recover, rebuild, and rehabilitate itself.

It decided to sustain Iraq at a very modest survival level and thus focus the Oil for Food program to do no more than supplement the already tragic standard of living.

Q: Now, after the December bombing, Iraq is threatening to pull out of the Oil for Food program. Do you think it will? And what would be the consequences of that?

Halliday: That's not a new threat. It's something they've wanted to do for a long time. They want to go it alone. They resent the intrusiveness. They are sick and tired of working with the United Nations. They feel that to continue to compromise with the United Nations is not in the best interest of Iraq.

Q: But you know how that's read in the United States: "He's willing to allow thousands of Iraqis to be killed."

Halliday: But the fact is, thousands are being killed right now, under U.N. auspices. We are killing 6,000 or 7,000 every month. I don't think you can do much worse than that. And at least they'll be running their own country. They'll have a sense of national pride and sovereignty intact. And despite their reservations about their own leadership, they'll do their damn best to make it work. And I think they'll get help--much more help than we may anticipate--from Arab neighbors, Islamic neighbors, and other countries throughout the world that will finally give up on sanctions. And sanctions will remain, in my view, only a device of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Q: After the Iraqi experience, what's your view of economic sanctions as a tool? And why were they legitimate against the apartheid regime of South Africa but not Saddam Hussein's Iraq?

Halliday: You've picked out the only possible example of economic sanctions having worked worldwide. I think there was a severe penalty for the people of South Africa, but I believe that they went along with this proposed program. This was part of their approach--the ANC [African National Congress] approach--to resolving the problem of apartheid and the government at the time. That is not the case in Iraq. These are innocent people who were not consulted. They are bearing the brunt of sanctions to a much greater degree than ever in South Africa, and we've seen the death and malnutrition that has resulted. I think it's a different circumstance. And I think it's a failed device. It's not putting pressure on the leadership, and it's certainly not producing the results that the Security Council had hoped for.

Q: Right now the United States government is again trying to find and fund some forces in Iraq that will overthrow Saddam Hussein. Do you think that is credible?

Halliday: Well, I think it makes no sense whatsoever, and frankly, I believe there are something like seventy to eighty different Iraqi opposition groups outside the country. Within the country, I think there are very few who are even in a position to contemplate any sort of change in government systems. I don't understand the viability of this program.

Q: There are those in conservative circles in the United States who say that the only real answer is for the United States to send in the ground troops, march to Baghdad, overthrow Saddam Hussein, and occupy the country.

Halliday: That's a total nonstarter. The American people would never accept that kind of exposure to its troops. The Iraqis would fight back, and the loss of life would be horrific. It would be another Vietnam.

Q: But the argument is, basically, "This guy is Hitler. You can't appease Hitler. You've got to take Hitler out." To what extent is the Hitler metaphor useful?

Halliday: National Socialism grew up because of the Versailles Treaty and the harshness of the conditions we placed on Germany after the First World War. The conditions that are being placed on Iraq are rather comparable, and we're getting the same kind of results. And that's very dangerous. If Saddam Hussein is gone tomorrow, the system can continue: The party is there, the military is there, his people are still there. There's not necessarily going to be a dramatic change. And because of sanctions, we are building a new generation of Iraqi leaders who are as mad as hell, who are introverted--more of the Taliban model.

Q: So what's your solution?

Halliday: I think we'd be much wiser to focus on the reality of Iraq today, work with what we've got, and get the country back on its feet. When the country is back on its feet, you may see change from within, that's the only change that is likely to last. Clearly, sanctions have strengthened the leadership. They've increased the dependence of the average person on the central government. And every time there is a threat of a military strike, Saddam Hussein's position is going to be enhanced. There is a naive sense that out of this sanctions situation a miracle of democracy will emerge. That, of course, is completely nonsensical. I think there is almost nobody left in the country who has time to think about governance. They're concerned with survival, putting food on the table, and getting their kids educated, and keeping themselves, their children, and their families alive. It's naive to think that positive change will come out of the present sanctions regime.

Q: So your policy would be to lift sanctions right away?

Halliday: Lift economic sanctions right away, but retain a series of devices to control arms manufacture and arms purchases.

Q: What should people do who are concerned about the plight of the Iraqi people?

Halliday: Well, we already have now forty-three members of Congress who have signed a letter to President Clinton, making a suggestion of separating the arms issue from the economic sanctions issue. That's the beginning. And there are others in Congress who are ready to think and listen and learn about the impact on the Iraqi people. Therefore it's up to the American voters to express their views through their electoral machinery.

Q: What kind of work are you doing now? Are you affiliating with a human-rights group or some other agency?

Halliday: No, in fact, I am unemployed. But I am independent, and I plan to stay that way, and speak out as I feel it is useful, to try to influence public opinion, to influence the decision-makers in Washington, London, and elsewhere.

Matthew Rothschild is Editor of the Progressive.
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Title Annotation:former United Nations employee resigned over Iraq sanctions
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Previous Article:One Iraqi's Story.
Next Article:Pardoning Pinochet's Pals.

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