September 5, 2003
Socialist Worker Online

'The UN Failed the Iraqi People'

by Denis Halliday

[Denis Halliday is the former United Nations coordinator of humanitarian aid for Iraq.]

I WAS initially shocked and horrified at the attack on the compound, which is, after all, the place I worked myself. The corner of the building where the bomb went off is where my office was--probably the same office that Sergio de Mello [the UN envoy killed in the bombing] occupied, in fact. So it came home in a very real sense, given my own role in Iraq.

But the more I think about it, why am I surprised? Maybe some of us here try to envisage the UN in a benign light--as a positive force for good in the world. But of course, in the Middle East, this simply is not the perception that most people have of the United Nations.

In terms of Israel and Palestine, the UN is seen as an instrument of the U.S. and negligent of the resolutions that have been passed but neglected by Israel. The UN is seen as responsible for neglecting the Palestinians, failing to put in peacekeeping forces between Israel and the Palestinians. In regard to Iraq, it's even more immediate--in that it was the UN that sustained sanctions on the Iraqi people for 13 years. Yes, we know that sanctions were driven by the Security Council, which is made up of member states, and those member states were, I think, coerced, corrupted and abused by the U.S. in particular into supporting sanctions for 13 years.

But those of us who worked in Iraq reported--along with UNICEF and others--the impact of those sanctions on the Iraqi people. And I would say that we, the United Nations, killed more Iraqis through UN sanctions--probably a million people, particularly children--in those 13 years than Mr. Bush the First, Mr. Clinton and then Mr. Bush the Second did with bombs.

We all have to remember this--that the UN is a legitimate target under those circumstances. It is an organization that has failed the Iraqi people--that has committed genocide in Iraq for many years, in keeping with the definition of genocide in the UN convention on genocide.

The other issue in Iraq is the collaboration between the UN and the U.S. in the country. And given the fact that the aggression, invasion and occupation of Iraq is illegal, outside international law, incompatible with the UN Charter and not approved by the Security Council, any collaboration between the UN and the U.S. in Iraq is wrong...

There wasn't a family in Iraq that wasn't hurt by the sanctions. Many if not all families lost a child, cousin, father or mother prematurely and unnecessarily from bad water, lack of health care--all of the problems that the sanctions brought and sustained in Iraq for the last 13 years.

It's so easy for people like Blair and Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney to blame Saddam Hussein for everything. But the fact is that it's actually the sanctions that destroyed the economy and the social services of this country.

The UN can only work in Iraq if invited to do so by the Iraqis--not the Americans, not the British, but only by the Iraqis. The terms of that participation has got to be determined by Iraq.

The Iraqis will want massive capital assistance to rebuild the damage of the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War and the 13 years of sanctions. They're going to need tremendous assistance, but they must determine who does that, how and when. That is their sovereign right as a proud and dignified people with an extraordinary history that we in the West--in this Judeo-Christian community particularly--have stomped all over in a manner that in my mind is grossly unacceptable.

[After 30 years working at the UN, Denis Halliday resigned in 1998 to protest the impact of UN-imposed sanctions, which each month killed 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, by the UN's own statistics. Halliday talked to Socialist Worker's ELIZABETH SCHULTE after the bombing of the UN's headquarters in Baghdad.]

Enver Masud, "United Nations of America?," Eastern Times, October 1991

Enver Masud, "An Open Letter to the People of Iraq," The Wisdom Fund, April 23, 2003

Enver Masud, "Denial Is Not An Option," The Wisdom Fund, July 4, 2003

"Iraq Civilian Body Count Passes 37,000?," The Wisdom Fund, July 9, 2003

[In the Pentagon, they've been re-showing Gillo Pontecorvo's terrifying 1965 film of the French war in Algeria. . . .

They've already committed many of the French mistakes in Iraq, and the guerrillas of Iraq are well into the blood tide of the old FLN. Sixteen demonstrators killed in Fallujah? Forget it. Twelve gunned down by the Americans in Mosul? Old news. Ten Iraqi policemen shot by US troops outside Fallujah? "No information," the occupation authorities told us last week. No information? The Jordanian embassy bombing? The bombing of the UN headquarters? Or Najaf with its 126 dead? Forget it. Things are improving in Iraq. There's been 24-hour electricity for three days now and - until two US soldiers were killed on Friday - there had been five days without an American death.

That's how the French used to report the news from Algeria. What you don't know doesn't worry you. Which is why, in Iraq, there are thousands of incidents of violence that never get reported; attacks on Americans that cost civilian lives are not even recorded by the occupation authority press officers unless they involve loss of life among "coalition forces". Go to the mortuaries of Iraq's cities and it's clear that a slaughter occurs each night. Occupation powers insist that journalists obtain clearance to visit hospitals - it can take a week to get the right papers, if at all, so goodbye to statistics - but the figures coming from senior doctors tell their own story.

In Baghdad, up to 70 corpses - of Iraqis killed by gunfire - are brought to the mortuaries each day. In Najaf, for example, the cemetery authorities record the arrival of the bodies of up to 20 victims of violence a day. -- Robert Fisk, "Secret slaughter by night, lies and blind eyes by day," Independent (UK), September 14, 2003]

"Iraq, six months on: A survey of the good, the bad and the uncertain," Independent, October 10, 2003

[Iraqi officials demanded to know yesterday why so little international attention was being given to their numerous dead as the US mourned the death of 1,000 soldiers since the invasion of Iraq.--Patrick Cockburn, "Despair in Iraq over the forgotten victims of US invasion," Independent, September 9, 2004]

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