Press release

From: Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
Contact 1: Seb Wills (conference organiser): tel. 01223 xxxxxx / fax 0870 xxxxxxx
Contact 2: Colin Rowat (CASI Coordinator): tel. 0468 056984
Email: Website: [URL updated April 2002]

EMBARGOED UNTIL 23:59 GMT, 15th November 1999

Sanctions on Iraq conference hosted by Cambridge student group

Over 150 delegates from five countries spent the weekend in Cambridge at a conference on the sanctions on Iraq. Eighteen speakers from four countries addressed them on topics ranging from a history of Anglo-Iraqi relations, child mortality, depleted uranium, the UK anti-sanctions movement, and the current debates within the Security Council. This conference, the first of its kind in the UK since sanctions' imposition, was organised by the Cambridge University student society, Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI). CASI is exclusively concerned with the humanitarian consequences of sanctions on Iraq. It does not support Saddam Hussein's regime and is not opposed to military sanctions on Iraq.

The conference was supported by private donations and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. For further information, including contact details for any of the speakers, or a copy of the pre-conference press pack, please contact CASI (contact details above).

Synopsis of speakers' remarks

Ivor Lucas, former head of the Foreign Office's Middle East Department, emphasised his lack of sympathy for Iraq's leader. While the sanctions on Iraq, in place since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, seemed a best guess at the time it was now clear that they had strengthened the regime and harmed the people.

George Joffé, Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, outlined a history of Anglo-Iraqi relations. Against our clear goals in 1990, our current Iraq policy is reactive and lacking clear objectives. This ingredients produce an inviable policy, whose last pillar, the weapons inspections, were destroyed by the US/UK bombings of last December. Agreeing that the people, rather than the regime, bore the brunt of our confusion, Joffé expressed concern that we were laying the foundations for future conflict and asked whether we were willing to re-assemble 1991's coalition.

Richard Garfield, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, described what is known about child mortality. While data were poor, it was clear that the situation was bad: the doubling of Iraq's child mortality rate is historically unusual. Furthermore, the data were intentionally kept poor by governments on both sides of the debate; Prof. Garfield's own UN mission to Iraq earlier this year had been cancelled by US government manouvering earlier this year. Unicef has recently estimated that an additional half million children under five may have died in Iraq since sanctions' imposition.

Oxford University researcher Harriet Griffin described changing patterns of Iraqi migration. Prior to sanctions, most migrants had been fleeing political persecution; since sanctions they have fled the economic situation. Members of the audience explained that more Iraqi physicians in certain specialties were in the UK than Iraq.

Nadje Al-Ali, an anthropologist at Sussex University, explained how the sanctions were changing life for Iraqi women: more wear the veil; polygamy is increasing and women are accepting arranged marriages to men twenty years older whom they have never met; most prostitutes in Jordan are Iraqi. For many, domestic tensions increased but some found that their husbands, out of work and helping at home, now understood them better.

Emad Salman of the Iraqi Community Association and the Committee for the Lifting of the Economic Sanctions on the Iraqi People, recounted his father's death in 1997. He first went blind after the £2.50 antibiotic eyedrops posted to him by Salman were returned: the drops needed a Department of Trade and Industry permit, which takes weeks to process. When his father was admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection the single cylinder of oxygen was insufficient for all the patients. Doctors explained that, "your father has seen life; give the children a chance to life". His father died the next day.

UEA Weapons of Mass Destruction expert Hugh MacDonald explained that the weapons embargo against Iran and Iraq in the 1980s were aimed at Iran, teaching Iraq that the rules didn't apply to it. He believed that the West did share responsibility for building Iraq's arsenal in the 1980s and noted that the UN weapons inspectors have decided not to publish the names and addresses of Iraq's suppliers, understood to include "many of the major companies involved in the arms trade". Prof. MacDonald remarked that India and Pakistan's recent development of nuclear weapons have diminished the shock of Iraq's weapons programmes and concluded that, while the sanctions regime is "tough to move out of the way", its legitimacy is quickly declining in the international community.

Doug Rokke has been the Pentagon's advisor on depleted uranium. He stressed that concerns about DU's health effects were first raised by his US Army team, not by Iraqis. He went on to document how uranium use's long-term consequences had been known since 1943, when they were explained to the officer in charge of the Manhattan Project. Upon impact, DU shells vapourise into "talcum powder" with a half life of 4.5 billion years; decontamination requires the powder's physical removal. Prof. Rokke's cleanup team had the highest mortality rate of any US unit involved in the Gulf War but he claims that the US military has denied his team members medical care. The US has also refused to share information on decontamination procedures with Iraq, in spite of direct requests. Explaining his continued persistence in the face of official attempts to deny the problem, Rokke explained that "in February 1991 I was tasked to clean up this mess by name. And I'm gonna finish the job". He remarked that the US and UK governments were seeking to destroy archival material relating to DU.

New Internationalist editor Nikki van der Gaag recounted her experiences in Iraq, which she described as an onion: fine on the surface, but falling apart as one moves further in. She said that she had "never been anywhere where there's such a feeling of isolation". Her tour guide at an archaeological site allowed his photo to be taken, but only after she promised not to include his shoes, which were falling apart.

Freelance journalist Felicity Arbuthnot has made over a dozen visits to Iraq. She described that, without reliable electricity, Iraqis had turned to dangerous lamps and stoves; burns are "the new thing". A guard at her hotel recently approached her weeping and repeating, "my wife, my child". His wife had lost her breasts due to burns; his three year old child had no recognisable face. She tried to find a plastic surgeon to help but "even those who swore that they would never leave are leaving". Expensive exit visas force many Iraqis to buy false passports known as "Schindler’s passports".

Milan Rai, coordinator of the anti-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness UK, explained that most anti-sanctions groups were opposed to the non-military sanctions on Iraq, rather than all sanctions. Their concern was the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and they regarded the lifting of the non-military sanctions as a necessary prerequisite to its end. Rai was critical of the UK-Dutch proposal to the Security Council: he explained that it was a less generous version of some UN recommendations which, by their own account, might lead to an "incremental change" in the situation in Iraq.

Chris Doyle of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding sketched "the Arab view" of the sanctions on Iraq, explaining that this view was often informed by personal experience of sanctions, a feeling of impotence, humiliation, betrayal and the application of double standards. Doyle guessed that any representative government of Iraq would not be able to have close relations with the US and the UK. He believes there to be a growing realisation within the Arab world that Iraq might have to be reintegrated, with Saddam Hussein remaining as its leader. The current policy, "is a policy that has failed, it is a policy that is unspeakable", and Doyle conjectured that the Arab world would not overlook it much longer.

Rita Bhatia and Andrea Ledward explained the work of Save the Children in northern Iraq.

Anthonius de Vries, the European Commission's Coordinator for Economic and Financial sanctions, spoke on the role the EU plays in sanctions policy.

Finally, Jon Davies of the Foreign Office and Anis Nacrour of the French Embassy in London presented their respective government's position, speaking off the record. Speaking in the same session was Dr Eric Herring of the University of Bristol, who criticised many aspects of the British government's narrative on sanctions against Iraq, citing and exposing instances of what he believed to be, at best, incomplete information issued by the government. He considers the Iraqi people to be trapped "Between Iraq and a Hard Place" (the title of his recent paper), with suffering inflicted on the one side by the Iraqi regime, and on the other side by the sanctions.

Further information about the conference, its speakers and the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) is available from Seb Wills on 01223 xxxxxx (additional contact details are given above). The CASI website is at [URL updated April 2002]

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