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CASI Newsletter - July 2002
Welcome to CASI's first newsletter of 2002. The period between this publication and its predecessor has seen a transformation in the debate over economic sanctions, and a change in the focus of discussions about Iraq. Whilst the US and UK have reclaimed the initiative at the Security Council with the adoption of their 'smart sanctions' proposals in May, the focus of the wider Iraq debate has shifted away from the suffering of the Iraqi people towards the threat constituted by the government of Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction. Where they have been mentioned, the sanctions have been presented by the US and UK governments as 'streamlined', targeting only Iraq's military capabilities, with the UN's contribution to the civilian burden of sanctions having been removed. Meanwhile, despite renewed UN efforts to secure the readmission of weapons inspectors, the prospect of US military action looks increasingly likely.
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq, however, remains. 'Smart sanctions', introduced in the form of a Goods Review List of potential 'dual use' items by Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1409, have allowed no innovations to the sanctions regime beyond reform of the 'oil for food' programme. The easing of procedures for importing goods into Iraq, whilst producing some minor improvements in the humanitarian situation, has failed to address the fundamental needs of the Iraqi people. Restrictions on foreign investment, foreign exchange and exports other than oil - all restrictions on income - continue to prevent the rehabilitation of Iraq's infrastructure and economy, and so continue to prevent a sustainable improvement of its humanitarian situation.
In addition, politicisation of the 'oil for food' programme has continued to hamper its ability to deliver humanitarian goods, and thus to meet the population's most basic needs. A revenue shortfall in recent months, brought about by the protracted clash over retroactive oil prices and the Iraqi government's month-long suspension of oil exports in April, has left more than $2.2 billion of approved contracts unable to be processed further. 'Smart sanctions', by failing to de-link the humanitarian and political aspects of the sanctions, have ensured that both the Security Council and the government of Iraq will continue to be able to use the Iraqi people as bargaining tools in their ongoing political dispute.
The civil society opposition to this linkage between economic and military sanctions has not been dissipated by 'smart sanctions'. Statements by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and religious bodies indicate that SCR 1409 has failed to address their concerns. CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, called the changes "little more than a cosmetic exercise" which "will do little to help the plight of the ordinary people" [16 May 2002], while Save the Children UK called just before the resolution for the Security Council "to move away from the temporary nature of the "Oil-for-Food" Programme to a more sustainable humanitarian programme" [10 May 2002]. Recognising that 'smart sanctions' have by no means wrapped up the debate, an NGO Working Group on Iraq was set up in the UK in April to share information and prepare joint advocacy initiatives.
The sanctions discourse is now at a critical juncture. Designed either to defuse opposition to the humanitarian impact of economic sanctions, or, based on a flawed analysis, to address that impact, 'smart sanctions' have succeeded at neither. The central issue in the Iraq debate should remain the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, which has not substantially been de-linked from the prevailing political dispute. As the Bush administration looks for a coherent alternative to the policy of deterrent and containment, CASI's role continues to include the provision of detailed, accurate information about the sanctions on Iraq and their context.
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