Iraq Trip Report Congresssional Staff
27 August - 6 September 1999
Staff Members of
Office of Danny Davis (D-IL)
Office of Sam Gejdenson (D-CT)
Office of Earl Hilliard (D-AL)
Office of Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
Office of Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
In late August 1999, five congressional staff members traveled to Iraq. It was the first congressional visit since 1991, shortly after the Gulf War. The delegation's primary focus was the impact of U.S.-UN economic sanctions on the humanitarian situation facing Iraqi civilians; they also wanted to examine the question of depleted uranium's continuing effects, and the impact of sanctions on U.S. exports, especially grain, to Iraq including potential exports post-sanctions.
The members of the delegation included:
Brian Sims, office of Danny Davis (D-IL)
Amos Hochstein, office of Sam Gejdenson (D-CT)*
Jack Zylman, office of Earl Hilliard (D-AL)
Peter Hickey, office of Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
Danielle LeClair, office of Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
* Mr. Hochstein did not participate in drafting the Trip Report.
Plans for the delegation grew out of increasing concern in Congress and among the American people about the humanitarian impact of U.S. policy in Iraq. The unchanging U.S. policy of maintaining economic sanctions far beyond their potential viability in influencing Iraqi government positions, along with the repeated statements by U.S. government officials and spokespeople that sanctions would remain in place until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, or "until the end of time" as President Clinton said, in violation of the actual terms of the United Nations sanctions resolution, increased the concern.
In October 1998, 43 Members of Congress, following the initiative of Congressman John Conyers, signed a letter to President Clinton calling on the Administration "to de-link the economic sanctions, which have been a complete failure, from the military sanctions... " It went on to state that "We hold no illusions about Iraq’s overall record of compliance with weapons inspections. It is clear, however, that continued economic sanctions allow Saddam Hussein to exploit the suffering of his people to his political advantage." Several ad hoc hearings were held in Congress during which witnesses provided expert evidence as to the immediate and long-range damage sanctions are causing to Iraq’s civilian population. Those witnesses included former United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday, inspection team leader for the Food and Agriculture Organization nutritionist Professor Peter Pellett, and others.
The Members signing the Dear Colleague letter ended with a plea to the Administration "to look squarely at the economic sanctions, which have outlasted their political utility. They now serve only to extend the human suffering of the population." Unfortunately the aides delegation observed that one year after the letter, human suffering continues.
History of Congressional Involvement in Iraq
During the nine years that UN economic sanctions have been in place, the U.S. Congress and the American people have paid an economic, political and social price - in billions of dollars of direct costs and lost export revenue, in diminished influence with our allies who view the economic sanctions as increasingly unsustainable, and in a dangerously growing hostility to America by people throughout the Middle East among whom the economic sanctions are seen as devastating Iraq's population rather than its leadership.
But throughout those nine years there has been no independent examination by Congress of the impact of that sustained policy. The August 1999 aides’ delegation to Iraq was envisioned as a first step in conducting such an independent congressional examination.
The Aides’ Delegation’s goal was to bring home to their Members of Congress a first-hand look and as much information as possible on the following issues:
The effect of economic sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq, especially children and other vulnerable sectors.
The possible effect of depleted uranium on cancer rates, birth defects and other health problems, and the potential for information-sharing between Iraqi and U.S. health professionals concerned about DU’s effect on Iraqi civilians and American Gulf War veterans and their families.
The role of economic sanctions in the decline of U.S. grain exports to Iraq, and the potential for increasing such exports after economic sanctions are lifted.
Other relevant information regarding the effect of U.S. policy in and towards Iraq.
Details of Trip to Iraq
The delegation left Washington on Friday, 27 August. Because of the economic sanctions regime, air travel to Iraq is prohibited. They flew to Amman, Jordan, from where they travelled overland by car across the desert to Baghdad; the trip took approximately 10 hours. Arrival in Baghdad was on Sunday afternoon.
The aides remained in Baghdad from Sunday through Wednesday morning, when they traveled south to the town of Amara, and then to Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, close to the Iranian border. They spent one night in Basra, and on Thursday morning travelled to the small city of Nassyria, and then the ancient city of Ur, legendary birthplace of the prophet Abraham, before returning to Baghdad on Thursday evening.
They remained in Baghdad until Saturday morning, when they left for the drive back to Amman, arriving that evening. The flight out of Amman was delayed ten hours, so arrival in Washington (via New York) was on Monday morning, 6 September 1999.
Humanitarian Effect of Economic Sanctions
Background of the Sanctions
The UN sanctions that were put in place in Iraq in August 1990 prohibited all oil exports from Iraq, halting virtually its entire foreign trade. The "oil for food" program that began in 1996 allowed Iraq to export limited quantities of oil, with all payment sent not to Iraq but to an escrow account administered by the UN. With those funds, Iraq was permitted to contract with suppliers for food and medicine and a very limited amount of other humanitarian goods. Only in the more recent period has Iraq been permitted to contract for supplies and equipment to repair its severely degraded oil infrastructure.
Because of the deterioration of its oil drilling equipment, prior to October 1999 Iraq had never managed to produce the maximum amount, or cap, set on its oil exports. With insufficient oil being pumped, insufficient funds were available for food and medicine, and virtually none for larger-scale requirements for repair and rebuilding of the water purification, sewage treatment, and electrical generating capacity destroyed during the 1991 war.
The oil for food program was not designed to improve the Iraqis’ rapidly deteriorating health and wellbeing; it was designed to stop further deterioration of those conditions. To accomplish that, and because of the overall poverty does not allow Iraq to import sufficient foodstuffs, the food that is available is distributed on a strict rationing basis. Each Iraqi receives a "food basket" on the first day of each month, distributed through local food agents in a system closely supervised by UN agencies. The rations include flour, rice, lentils or other beans, cooking oil, sugar, tea, soap and little else. Powdered milk and cheese have been included sporadically, but there is no other animal protein, no fresh fruits or vegetables, and insufficient vitamins and minerals. The food basket, distributed once each month, is estimated to last from 20-23 days.
Throughout the aides’ visit, the most consistently useful, nuanced and comprehensive information came from briefings by staff members of the United Nations agencies working in Iraq. Assistant Secretary General Hans Von Sponeck, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, provided a broad overview of the humanitarian crisis facing the country.
He described "the less visible, less dramatic non-material side of the economic sanctions’ impact," He identified the many coping methods used by Iraq’s once-dominant middle class to deal with the economic crisis. "Many of those methods are illegal," he told the aides, and reliance on them is "creating in Iraq a generation of fixers, manipulators of the system, rather than thinkers or strategists."
The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization Director Amir Khalil described rising prostitution, corruption, and theft resulting from economic collapse.
"Everything is tired," Von Sponeck said. "Iraq’s social fabric is under serious attack."
Education & Effect of Intellectual Embargo
Several people discussed the "silent exodus" of Iraqis, especially the educated class, and the resulting erosion of Iraq's knowledge base. This brain drain is having severe consequences on Iraq's once-advanced scientific, technological and academic progress. With no access to the Internet, the U.S. and British prohibitions on access to medical, academic and other intellectual journals impose essentially total deprivation of global intellectual communication on Iraqis.
The oil for food program funds are barely enough for Iraqis’ urgent and immediate physical needs, with nothing made available for intellectual needs. The result is complete intellectual deprivation. At the physical level, schools are deteriorating, and a university professor reminded the aides that Iraq’s textbooks from elementary school through university are almost all ten years old. A UNESCO report prepared for the Security Council's panel on humanitarian issues in Iraq notes that literacy rates by 1987 "had increased to 80%. This is attributed to the success of the massive literacy campaign conducted during the late seventies and early eighties. ...In 1995, the rate of illiteracy was estimated at 42%, a major shift in favour of illiteracy."
The UN also noted the problem of "deprofessionalization," including incomplete education, and those with advanced degrees working outside their fields, usually in menial jobs, because of a lack of employment possibilities. This phenomenon "also raises the serious issue of lack of opportunity for Iraqis, particularly youth, to prepare for nation-building responsibilities and participation in an international world which is increasingly leaving Iraq behind in terms of knowledge, technology and cooperation."
One result is a narrowing of vantage point born of international isolation. As a political consequence, a generation is growing up in Iraq lacking in the cosmopolitanism, language skills, and the familiarity with the outside world that once characterized Iraqis. A particularly dangerous outgrowth of this reality is the growth of political extremism among the young generation coming up in the Ba'ath Party. As xenophobic and narrow-minded as is the regime of Saddam Hussein, almost all of the top leadership of the current generation in power studied abroad, mainly in the U.S. or Europe. The younger activists, educated poorly and without any access to colleagues, friends or academic contacts, denied travel even in the neighboring Arab countries let alone in the wider world, are emerging as an even more extreme force within Iraqi politics. It is from these younger Ba'ath figures that pressure on Saddam Hussein is emerging from the right, challenging his "too accommodating" stance towards the UN and the West.
The image of emaciated babies and malnourished young children ill or even dying in Iraq is by now well-known in the U.S. The staff delegation, visiting hospitals in Baghdad, Amara and Basra, found that reality unchanged, with most of these children dying from treatable diseases, usually the result of unclean water and exacerbated by malnutrition, for which basic medications and treatments are unavailable.
According to the director of the Al-Mansour Teaching Children's Hospital in Baghdad, "986 [the oil for food funding] never supports all our needs - it only meets 30% of the real needs for our patients. In the last phases of life, where more advanced medicines are needed, it only meets 5 - 10%." There is not sufficient money available to purchase the needed supplies, many contract applications are held up in the Sanctions Committee, and there is inefficiency- and bureaucracy-related delays in distribution of medicines.
In a post-visit but related instance, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan confirmed on October 27, 1999, the problem of contracts being held and delayed by the Sanctions Committee. "These holds are having an undesirable impact on our humanitarian activities."
The Director of the children’s hospital noted that most of the children he sees are under-developed and not well-nourished, and therefore become immune-depressed and more vulnerable to diseases. Once rare diseases are on the rise since sanctions were imposed - including typhoid fever, typhus, measles, chicken pox, Kwashiorkor & marasmus. The oncology numbers, especially for leukemias, were down in 1991-92, but up again in 1994-97, the last available data period. Cholera is also being seen, not traditionally found in Iraq.
In treating cancers, the hospital lacks chemotherapy drugs, so there are frequent relapses. Doctors often give only 50% of the recommended dosages to treat pneumonia, diarrhea, even meningitis because sufficient drugs are unavailable. Patients begin treatment already immune-compromised. Infant and child-sized catheters remain impossible to obtain.
All the hospitals face a serious problem of the lack of nursing care. During the 1970s and 1980s, Iraq relied largely on foreign nurses, almost all of whom left the country when sanctions were imposed and they could no longer be paid. The UN staff doctor described how cultural sensitivities and Iraq's high development level led most women interested in medicine to want to be doctors. There are some male nurses, but in her view they are not well qualified or experienced yet. Specialized nursing care is needed, but no training is available. The result is that even in intensive care or neo-natal units, there is no monitoring by nurses, and ordinary bedside nursing tasks are routinely carried out by families.
According to UNICEF’s most recent report, the deteriorating health conditions since sanctions were imposed in 1990 have led to the deaths of over 500,000 children under five years of age. In Baghdad's once-medically advanced pediatric teaching hospital, the director told the delegation that "these children’s deaths are a tragedy for us."
The director mentioned the effect of the infrastructure collapse: "we have a problem with disposal of dirty water and sewage; the cooling system is bad, it creates an unhealthy environment in the hospital; and we can’t get spare parts for hospital equipment. The oxygen factory was destroyed; we have 200 empty oxygen cylinders." The lack of clean water is causing widespread diarrheal diseases. Empty oxygen cylinders were in fact visible in a number of hospital areas. The outside temperature in Baghdad in August was 110 degrees; in Basra and Amara, close to 120. The hospitals had no functioning air conditioning systems, and the inside temperature was probably 90 degrees; mothers used hand-held fans to try to cool their children.
Hospitals outside of Baghdad are in even worse condition. In Amara, many children are hospitalized with severe malnutrition. The delegation was told there are only two lasers available for eye surgery in the country. After intensive therapy they are sent home with special food supplements and arrangements for follow-up monitoring, but hospital staff told the congressional aides that they often see the same children relapse and return for treatment but the food ration is simply insufficient.
Amara's general hospital has only one dialysis machine that must serve the entire governorate (county). The director told the delegation that with kidney diseases requiring reliance on blood products and dialysis, the anticipated life-span in Iraq is now about 10 years; in Cyprus, with identical diagnosis, the usual prediction is for a perfectly normal life. He said that bone marrow transplants are no longer done for leukemia or other patients; they are too expensive.
Beyond the individual tragedies, perhaps even the more significant danger is in the long-term effect of the erosion of Iraq's medical technology and health system. Once relied on by patients needing advanced heart, brain and other surgery from throughout the Middle East, and once used by the World Health Organization as a teaching model of how developing countries' public health systems should operate, Iraq's medical infrastructure since the imposition of sanctions has deteriorated to the level of under-developed Third World countries. The once-accessible scholarships for advanced medical study abroad have disappeared, and Iraqi physicians and medical schools now find only limited, occasional access even to medical journals.
The deterioration of the physical hospital infrastructure combined with lack of funds means that advanced surgical techniques are rarely if ever performed. The result goes far beyond the individual human tragedies of dying patients and their families. It means that an entire generation of Iraqi medical students will not have the opportunity to learn those advanced techniques, since they cannot observe or train in how to carry them out. The future for Iraq's once world-class medical establishment is bleak.
Public Health Issues
The Baghdad director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Ade Koleade, told the delegation that "before the  986 Memorandum of Understanding, the health situation was bad; the MOU prevented more deterioration." However, numerous UN officials affirmed that the oil for food program had not been designed to improve the humanitarian situation, only to, as the WHO director described, prevent future worsening.
The public health infrastructure, in particular water and sewage treatment facilities, has badly deteriorated. Several non-governmental organizations working in Iraq are focusing on the rehabilitation of water treatment plants, but the overall system remains vastly underequipped. Most diarrheal diseases causing the illness and death of children are water-borne, so the lack of water treatment facilities is taking especially severe toll.
In areas where the Iraqi government had not installed or not improved functioning water and sewage treatment facilities in the past, the current sanctions-era impoverishment has prevented current improvements. Thus the 1980s-built internally displaced persons camps, primarily in the south of Iraq, have running streams of raw sewage between housing blocs, and pond-size pools of untreated standing sewage water with enormous potential for disease.
The WHO director described the problems of items that were late arriving or non-existent because the contracts remained on hold from the "661 committee" -- the UN sanctions committee that must approve Iraq's procurement contracts. He told the delegation of one example of the problem, chemical reagents for cholera testing, remain unavailable because the contract is still on hold.
The WHO director also spoke of the warehouse stockpile issue. This has been a frequent issue raised by U.S. officials who assert that the Iraqi government is deliberately stockpiling medical and other goods in warehouses, refusing to distribute them. The director described some of the complex set of reasons that warehouses often remain full. Many of the parts for medical equipment, he said, fail Iraq's rigorous quality control testing. There is a problem caused by a lack of staff training in inventory techniques and a shortage of computers to carry out the programs, and problems in staff motivation. He raised the problem that the UN itself, even the humanitarian agencies, are still viewed as part of problem by some Iraqis, so information is sometimes not available. When the inadequate computer system goes down, no reports are generated at all. He also raised problems the delegation heard several times from UN officials of various agencies: the lack of sufficient, especially refrigerated transport; and the lack of a cash component in the oil for food program in the Center/South, resulting in an inability to hire or train local workers in distribution tasks. While some refrigerated trucks have now been approved for Iraq, the long lag time with insufficient transport caused serious problems.
[The issue of the discrepancy in conditions between the North and Center/South regions of Iraq emerged in a number of contexts. See North/South section for a fuller discussion.]
The director of the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), Amir Khalil, also described problems leading to goods being warehoused for long periods of time. He described problems with the 661 Committee, including the problem of contracts being on hold. In the last two years, he said, all irrigation items remained on hold; his agency is fighting harder because of the drought conditions facing Iraq. He spoke of the interconnectedness of supplies they receive, because of which the absence (through a contract on hold or insufficient supplies arriving or inadequate quality) of one component makes it impossible to usefully distribute the rest.
Other UN officials described other examples of contracts withheld. A frequent reference was to insulin -- a large shipment had been approved and arrived, but the contract for hypodermic syringes had not been approved, so the insulin remained stockpiled since it could not be administered without the needles.
In the late 1980s, according to UNICEF director and physician Dr. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF viewed Iraq as a "transition country" on the verge of gaining First World levels of child health, education and general welfare indicators. The UN children's agency was about to end its aid program in Iraq, replacing it with the kind of national committee for UNICEF that functions in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere to do advocacy and fundraising work. Now, with the impoverishment brought about by war and sanctions, UNICEF's program through the oil for food arrangement is the second largest in world.
However, it is important to note that UNICEF's actual aid budget for Iraqi children is quite small -- only $25 million. It is used for studies to track the condition of children and women in Iraq. The rest of UNICEF's large-scale program is funded solely out of Iraq's own oil revenues, organized through oil for food.
Dr. Rao Singh discussed in some detail UNICEF's new 1999 report, indicating a steady increase in child mortality after 1989 in the South/Center region of Iraq, with a net decline in those figures for the North. In both North and South/Center, figures for underweight children, chronic malnutrition, and wasting diseases remain high.
She described the non-physical effect of the sanctions regime on children. There has been, she said, a serious deterioration of the quality of education; less than one in two Iraqi schools operate at acceptable standards. The curriculum has been pared down to the basics; the quality of and access to books, and teaching itself, have deteriorated. This kind of academic/intellectual isolation facing Iraqi students is more significant now because the growth of information on a global basis is happening so fast now; the Iraqi children are being left behind.
She urged the delegation to look at the situation facing children now, and how these economic problems caused by sanctions will have a major impact on their future. She pointed to examples of civil unrest in Africa and elsewhere, usually caused by disaffected youth with no hope of education, job, or a future. There is just such a generation of Iraqis growing up now, she said, with no hope, no connection to the outside world, isolated. And that will be very dangerous.
Food & Distribution of Goods
Overall food shortages remain a serious problem in Iraq. The World Food Program country director, Jutta Burghardt, told the delegation that 70% of household income goes for food: by UN and world standards, that is considered an indicator of imminent famine. Through oil for food, they now have about $1 billion every six months for food, soap, baby food for the entire population of almost 23 million Iraqis.
The oil for food program, she said, is shielding but not reversing the accumulated effects of sanctions: Iraq's middle class is disappearing, the stunted children will never recover. The monthly food basket lasts only about 21 days. Many families have no other income, and so are living in a situation of complete deprivation.
The WFP's Burghardt described the urgent need for income-generating programs in Iraq. She tried to initiate such programs, but said her ideas "did not fly" in headquarters. The U.S. is the biggest donor to the WFP, and played a key role in preventing the new plans. She said that the Government of Iraq deals with the food question solely on an emergency basis, and has been reluctant to go forward towards a full solution. The government wants to show the full effects of the sanctions.
In Basra, the delegation watched the monitoring system run by the World Food Program. Their observers check the work of household level food agents at grain pick-up points. The day before each month's distribution, television and radio broadcasts announce what is missing or short in the food ration, so people know what they should be receiving. That seems to insure that any graft at the food agent level is kept minimal.
A WFP staff member described how "we are working in an unfriendly environment, because we are seen as part of the sanctions problem." There are also problems because of low food quality -- in the North, people think WFP buys the food and accuse it of being responsible for low quality. Iraq tried to get a retention clause in their contracts, allowing them to retain part of the payment until quality control was confirmed, but the 661 committee refused, so they have no recourse when countries send inferior quality food.
At the political level, the largely Kurdish North functions under the Western protection, and the food, health, and economic life of the three governorates are managed by local Iraqi Kurdish officials under the control of the UN. In the Center/South the Iraqi government maintains sovereign control of food rationing, health infrastructure, the economy, etc., although it remains under close and constant supervision by the UN. Economically, the North is far more productive: it is the traditional agricultural center of the country, its border with Turkey is thoroughly porous for both legal and clandestine trade, it has sufficient indigenous water supplies, officials are permitted to purchase local food and other commodities, and it has access to a cash component out of its oil for food funds that can be used to hire local workers or buy local materials for reconstruction. It currently receives a higher per capita amount of money from the oil for food program.
The UNICEF director spent some time explaining to the staff delegation the question of disparity in health and other social indicators between the North and South/Center of Iraq. This has been a consistent issue in U.S. and other policy debates, with the assertion made that "the" reason for the discrepancy is the fact that the UN controls distribution in the North, and the Iraqi regime in the South/Center.
Dr. Rao Singh made clear that the issue arises from a complex set of factors, not any single issue, and is certainly not only because the UN is responsible in North and Iraq in Center-South. There are many reasons:
1) There is a significant per capita disparity in oil for food money available for education, infrastructure, etc. in favor of the North. This is because the 13% component of the oil for food funds reserved for the North is taken off the top; the Center/South's share is not 87%, but is only what is left over after deducting the required 30% off the top guaranteed to the Kuwait reparations fund, and the amount deducted to cover costs of the UN operation. The result is the 87% population living in the Center/South have access only to about 53% of the oil for food money.
2) In the North, the program includes a cash component, through which oil for food money can be used to pay local labor or to purchase local goods (food or supplies). In the Center/South, no oil for food money can be used for local purchases or labor, creating additional problems in transport, installation, and use of imported goods. Therefore in the North that cash component allows a much more efficient use of money.
3) Human resources are a serious problem in the Center/South. There are many highly trained professionals left there still working, but they work for government wages which now average $10/month.
Other UN officials provided additional insight to the complexity of the disparity. Non-governmental humanitarian organizations with large-scale financial and political support from Western governments, began working in the North immediately after the Gulf war in 1991; there are now more than 30 agencies working there. In the Center/South, partly because of Iraqi government restrictions and other difficulties, most NGOs began working only after 1996, and there are only 11 there now, mostly with much smaller-scale resources. Additionally, the North was the traditional agricultural center of Iraq; almost half (48%) of Iraq's arable land is in the North, populated by only 13% of the people, and locally produced food is far more abundant. The availability of fresh water is also far higher, and the North’s longstanding traditional agricultural methods were far less vulnerable to coalition bombing during Desert Storm than was the newer high-tech, industrialized electricity-dependent agricultural systems in the Center/South.
There are certainly related problems having to do with the role of the Iraqi regime. It seems clear that the government has access to some amount of money (generally thought to be between $300 and $400 million) obtained from smuggled oil sales. That money is generally not being used for civilian assistance, although the palace-building projects provide WPA-style construction work for Iraqis, using local cement, local labor, and payment in local currency. However, it is likely that it is not a sufficient amount of money to be able to play a major role in the broader sanctions-driven impoverishment.
The UNICEF director told the delegation she believed it was reasonable to question whether the government of Iraq is doing enough. There are problems, she said, with how the government uses its money. She also mentioned that few use the same benchmarks to assess the finances of the local Kurdish leadership in the North. UN estimates are that the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) gets $1 - 2 million/day from its informal tax system. [A member of the delegation told her that KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leaders are questioned about that issue in Washington.]
The UNICEF director, Dr. Rao Singh, described the Iraqi government's definition of equity in access to food, medicine, etc. "Their official goal is to provide everyone with exactly the same amount of the [however insufficient] goods." In her personal capacity, she critiqued that definition, saying that she believes it more appropriate to define equity as providing to each according to what they need -- meaning that those who suffer need a special focus. She said Iraq was not the only country to use such a definition; other officials indicated they understood Iraq's fear of being accused of favoring any particular region, sector or community. But it is still a problem.
The overall economy of Iraq is in crisis. The dinar, once stable at almost $3.00 to the dinar, now trades at 2,300 dinars to the dollar. Families spend large proportions of their meager salaries on supplementing the insufficient food basket.
The director of UNCHS (Habitat), Victor Wahlroos, described the impact on Iraq's civilian population of the economic collapse. "In the 1980s, the dinar was strong, families were okay," he said. He arrived in Baghdad in October 1993; the dinar was trading at 50 to $1.00. By February 1994, it was 500 dinar to $1.00. By 1996, before the oil-for-food program began, the dinar was at 1000 to $1.00. When the oil-for-food plan was announced, it went briefly to 450 to $1.00, then back down to 1000. And now it's at 2,300 to $1.00. "Now," he said, "people live on $10 per month salaries. People are selling jewelry, carpets, air conditioners. The middle class is in poverty now; they have had to sell their houses, apartments, etc."
There is a small wealthy neighborhood of new and opulent houses visible in Baghdad. But the staff delegation saw indications that the layer of Iraqi officials benefiting from the sanctions regime appears to be very thin. Even relatively high-ranking officials described experiences of spending hours in the market, seeking to sell one or another food item from their family's ration basket in order to purchase another more favored item. One official described his family as hating beans, so he would sell their monthly allowance of beans in order to buy extra rice.
The UNICEF director mentioned a UK proposal designed to encourage private enterprise. She believes such programs would be important, because under oil for food guidelines the Iraqi government is not allowed to purchase any locally produced goods (except under the cash component provision in the North alone). Wheat, once produced in some significant amounts, is now imported instead of produced. The result is the creation of more internally displaced persons (IDPs), when people flock to the cities to try to find work instead of returning to agricultural production. It also discourages return to newly de-mined areas to resume agricultural work, since there is no longer a reliable market. Dr. Rao Singh described the need to encourage, while monitoring, a return to local production, including local production of medicines.
The FAO director, Amir Khalil, described the damage caused by agricultural sanctions to Iraq. Once a developed country, Iraq had earned about $600 million in agricultural production before 1990; now it is about $50 million. They have access to no new agricultural technology, and as a result animal diseases are on the increase, water salinity is up to 90%.
Problems are magnified because agriculture is highly electrified and thus dependent on electrical generating capacity, electrified water pumps, etc. More "dual use" items needed for agricultural production are on hold now. "Does the UN's 661 Committee lack confidence in our monitoring?" Khalil asked.
He told the delegation that agricultural chemical spraying had been done by FAO helicopters under UNSCOM inspection for 5 - 6 years in the No-Fly-Zones. He stayed in contact with the military commanders of Southern Watch and Provide Comfort. On August 18 or 19, 1999, Khalil was contacted by the Southern Watch commander, and told to stop his helicopters from flying to spray sugar cane fields in a particular area, although the schedule required one more week to complete the anti-Hoof & Mouth disease spraying. He recalled the helicopters to Baghdad, and the next day an airstrike hit the airport where his helicopters usually were kept. The Hoof & Mouth disease spraying was required because the disease was spreading in region, to the Russian border and North Africa, because of the lack of vaccine. The FAO proposed rehabilitating the vaccine factory destroyed by UNSCOM, to deal with the current lack of domestic vaccine production.
Many UN officials described their view that the overall economic conditions do not appear to be improving under the oil for food program. Particularly with 30% off the top of all oil revenues allocated to the UN reparation fund for Kuwaitis and other victims of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, and the approximately 4% allocated to other UN expenses in Iraq, the money obtained through oil for food simply is not enough.
Depleted Uranium (DU)
Iraq's medical and public health officials have not been able to conduct a comprehensive controlled scientific study of the effect of depleted uranium (DU), which was used by the U.S. during the Gulf War. Effects have been seen among U.S. veterans as well as Iraqi civilians.
On November 30, 1993, the President signed the Defense Authorization Bill, Public Law 103-160 (see Section 271, Subtitle E, Title II). The new law required the Department of Defense to provide funding to study the health effects of inhaled, ingested, and implanted DU.
To date, the Armed Forced Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI), working on behalf of the Department of Defense, conducted implanted DU research on rats that found significant findings related to a possible link between DU and cancer. AFRRI called for more research, including research on inhaled DU. Yet Bernard Rostker, the Army Undersecretary, refused.
To date, the VA has found neurological problems associated with elevated DU in urine. DU was also found in the semen of some Gulf War veterans with DU shrapnel in their bodies.
Gulf War veterans suffer from neurological, immunological, and other systemic disorders that remain difficult to diagnose and treat. The refusal of the DoD to conduct research on inhaled DU continued after DoD acknowledged that more than 400,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans entered into and encamped in DU contaminated areas -- sometimes for up to two months.
The Iraqi health professionals have much anecdotal material, but do not have the resources required to conduct a thorough study that would prove unequivocal causality. They are eager to share the information they have amassed with U.S., British or other international researchers in hopes that such a definitive study could be completed. They are trying to test for DU in urine, by measuring DU particulate matter in a radioactive analysis procedure. But they still have a shortage of the specialized equipment needed to test tissue.
The director of the Al Mansour teaching hospital in Baghdad described the new cancer cases emerging in areas after exposure to DU missiles. The lymphatic system is the first part affected by radiation, and Iraq's medical professionals believe that DU is one of the factors of these higher rates, particularly with lymphomas (which have a better prognosis) and leukemias (a worse prognosis). Most of these new rising rates are in southern Iraq, where the use of DU weapons was heaviest during Desert Storm.
In a meeting with Deputy Minister of Health Shawki Sabri Murqis, he described the 300 + tons of DU used in southern Iraq during the war. He described how DU is stable before firing, but the danger of DU when it explodes, and is blown around as powder. The doctors are seeing rising levels of congenital deformities; Dr. Murqis reminded the delegation of the similarity of those deformed children to the child in a widely-distributed photo of the child of an American GI who had been exposed to DU.
U.S. Grain Imports
The manager of the main grain silo and distribution center in Baghdad described the problems his facility faces with lack of spare parts and equipment. There are high level of impurities in the grain purchased from abroad. The grain they are now using is 30% barley and 20% corn mixed with wheat. The wheat is more expensive so the other grains are mixed with it to produce bread.
Iraq relies on different countries of origin for imported wheat - Australia, Russia, France, and others. It is shipped to Um Kassar, the main Iraqi port, or Aqaba or Syria, and then trucked to central silos and then to local mills. The quality control laboratories run by the Ministry of Trade carries out the grain inspection, but all instruments all pre-1991, and the science director believes they are not accurate. They also have milling problems because the mix of wheat with corn and barley means different size grains must be milled together.
Before the imposition of sanctions, he was aware that Iraq imported a large percentage of its grain from the U.S. About 5% of total grain now comes from the U.S., mostly winter wheat. There have been some problems with insects because of length of shipping process from U.S., but need new instruments for full examination. In general the quality of the U.S. wheat has been fine.
MEETING WITH TARIQ AZIZ
Tariq Aziz is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and major player in Iraqi diplomacy. The meeting included Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's former Permanent Representative at the United Nations and former Ambassador to the U.S.
Aziz began with a description of the history of U.S.-Iraqi relations. In the 1970s, he said, there was not enough U.S.-Iraqi contact. In the 1980s, ties were better and more clear. The 1982-83 period was of more intense ties, and closer links with higher U.S. officials.
"We are ready to receive whoever wants to talk with us; we will talk with whoever wants to listen," he said.
He described how the same government is in power in Iraq now as during the pre-1990 period, but there was a serious deterioration in conditions and relations with the U.S. after sanctions imposed. He reminded the delegation that Iraq had made its own comments to Congress regarding the earlier White House report to congress on relations with Iraq.
Aziz said he is aware that humanitarian concerns by themselves do not change policies. In 1990, he said, the U.S. could get a resolution passed by the Security Council in hours; now it takes months, and sometimes fails.
He emphasized paragraph 14 of Security Council resolution 687, the Iraq ceasefire and sanctions resolution call for "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons." He said "we have said we have fully complied, there is no evidence of the UNSCOM claims. After eight years of economic sanctions, they should have lifted them. No one took any steps to touch Paragraph 14."
Aziz was asked about the British-Dutch proposal under consideration in the Security Council. That proposal would raise the levels of oil Iraq could produce and allow at least consideration of foreign oil company investment, but would leave most of the current economic sanctions regime in place. Aziz described it as "old wine in a new bottle. We would be fools to accept." He said there is too much pressure being brought to bear.
Aziz was asked whether he would accept monitoring if the offer comes to lift the sanctions. He said "the offer cannot be suspension of sanctions, it must be a full lifting. ... What will our people say if I don't accept a reasonable offer?"
Aziz was then asked about the French proposal, which envisions an entirely different framework for sanctions than the current regime. It would establish a new monitoring mechanism on the ground in Iraq, aimed at preventing future re-armament, while increasing border controls to deal with dual use concerns, and would end most import and export restrictions. Aziz said the proposal indicated good intentions, but was not good enough. "It would be difficult to refuse if it should come back with improvements." He added "we understand the concerns about dual use goods - the focus should be on exports and imports."
"We would accept monitoring to confirm disarmament [in context of simultaneous beginning of lifting of sanctions]. ... If they decide to lift sanctions and say they just want to come to inspect the military for that, it would be hard for our people to understand if we rejected that."
Asked about the potential for a democratization process in Iraq after the sanctions crisis, Aziz said, "this are a progressive government, because we are more democratic than its predecessor. We are not a liberal democracy, but it is better than in the past, we are moving forward."
He said that Pinochet's government was a dictatorship because he overthrew an elected government; Hitler was a dictator because he banned political parties after election. "The Iraqi people are capable of changing us if they don't like us. ... We don't want to be called stupid by our own people."
Due to illness, Danielle LeClair of Rep. Bernard Sanders’ office did not participate in the meeting with Tariq Aziz.
Problems Facing UN Agencies' Work
The UN agencies working in Iraq do so under extraordinarily difficult, daunting, circumstances. Their work and living conditions are tightly constrained, and they face enormous obstacles from a number of sources.
Dr. Rao Singh, the UNICEF director, described two serious problems. A 30-year, multi-posting veteran of UNICEF, she told the delegation she had never faced these problems in a field environment. First, serious dialog on social policy in Iraq is effectively constrained. Since the economic sanctions are officially UN sanctions, the UN is often seen as part of the problem. As a result, there is little or no dialog.
Second, she raised the problem of post-analysis. There is distrust by some in the international community in what UN agencies say. She spends about 20% of her time demonstrating UNICEF's objectivity to those in headquarters and various capitals. This time should be spent on substantive work, not proving my case, she said, and this is a new problem, one she never faced before.
Partial List of Meetings
United Nations Officials
Hans Von Sponeck, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq
Amir Khalil, Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Anupama Rao Singh, UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
Jutta Burghardt, World Food Program (WFP)
Victor Wahlroos, Habitat (UNCHS)
Ade Koleade, World Health Organization (WHO)
Joseph Wenkoff, UN De-Mining Program (UNOPS)
Prabhakar Addala, UN Observer Unit
Iraqi Officials, Institutions & Agencies
Al Mansour Pediatric Teaching Hospital - Director
Grain silos & warehouse complex - Director
Ministry of Trade director of quality control lab at grain warehouse
Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs Tarik Aziz
Amara General Hospital director
IDP camp residents & director
WFP-monitored food distribution center - WFP's Alia Zarif
Water treatment plant director
INTERNATIONAL Non-Governmental Organizations working in Iraq
International Federation Red Cross & Red Crescent
Premiere Urgence - (French) - since 1997
Esquilibre - (French) - since 1996
Middle East Council of Churches - (U.S.) since 1991
Life for Relief and Development - (U.S.)
Mennonite Central Committee - (U.S.)
Accompanying the Delegation
Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC
Logistical assistance & participation in some meetings included
Kathy Kelly & Jeff Guntsel, Voices in the Wilderness
Mouthana al-Hanouty, LIFE for Relief & Development
Michel Nahal, Middle East Council of Churches
Carmen Pauls, Mennonite Central Committee
The fiscal sponsor for the delegation was the American Friends Service Committee.
The NGOs and individuals sponsoring the delegation included:
Arab American Institute (AAI)
American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Muslim Council (AMC)
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Muslims for Global Peace & Justice (AMGPJ)
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Archdiocese of Detroit
Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Economic and Social Rights
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate
Margaret Galliardi, OP, Dominican Order of North America
Education for Peace with Iraq (EPIC)
Mary H. Miller, Executive Secretary, Episcopal Peace Fellowship (organization listed for identification purposes only)
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Good Samaritans of the Knights Templar (GSKT)
Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)
Iraq Action Coalition
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
Metro Detroit Against Sanctions (MDAS)
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA)
National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC)
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Pax Christi USA
Peninsula Peace & Justice Center, Palo Alto, CA
Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
San Jose Peace Center
The Honorable Senator Paul Simon
Sinsinawa Dominicans Justice and Peace Office
Voices in the Wilderness (VitW)
Veterans for Peace (VfP)
WAND, Women's Action for New Directions
Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF)
American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102