Denis Halliday and Scott Ritter both have seen and felt first-hand how 10 years of economic sanctions imposed on the Iraqi government by the United Nations has starved the people of the country instead of bringing down Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist Regime as intended.
Halliday, who served as the Assistant Secretary General for the UN, quit his 34-year career with the organization in 1998 in protest of what he calls failed policy and a humanitarian catastrophe.
The same is true for Ritter, an ex-Marine, staunch Republican and former head of the Concealment Investigations Unit for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), who resigned from his post as Senior Weapons Inspector for UNSCOM two years ago, condemning the sanctions as illegal, immoral and un-American.
“What is being done (in Iraq) is in your name,” Ritter told an audience of about 40 people at the Friends Church at 1600 Sacramento St. Friday morning. “You are being held responsible for what happens in Iraq.”
The two former UN officials turned crusaders to end the sanctions are in the Bay Area this weekend as part of an educational visit sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Coalition to End the Sanctions on Iraq. Ritter and Halliday will speak tonight at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral at Gough and Geary Streets in San Francisco.
In 1990, the UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after its occupation of Kuwait. Since then, 1.5 million Iraqis, mostly children and the elderly, have died as a result of lack of medicines and food. The embargo allows medicines and some food to be imported without restriction, but without export earnings Iraq cannot pay for imports. As a result, the Iraqi people face serious shortages of food, medicine and clean water, and are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.
According to the World Health Organization, 5,000 under five-year-old children die each month from such easily treatable conditions as diarrhea and dehydration. And UNICEF estimates that over 30 percent of Iraq’s children under five are chronically or acutely malnourished.
Halliday and Ritter contend that the Clinton administration – and the Bush administration before it – has no vision for Iraq beyond containment through the economic sanctions, and say that this policy of regime removal has no chance of success. In a March 9 letter to the Boston Globe, Ritter writes, “The Iraqi opposition is plagued by deep internal divisions, and has no meaningful constituency inside Iraq.”
Ritter says that this internal inability to mount an effort to remove Hussein by rebellion guarantees that the dictator will remain in power, while the people are sacrificed.
“We will never lift the embargo while Saddam is in power,” Halliday said.
Halliday, a native of Ireland, said the U.S. has the power to promote stability and stop the damage.
“It’s a tragedy for the U.S., as well as Iraq,” he said. “The U.S. manipulates the UN. Its policy is seen as U.S. policy. The American people have to convey that they don’t agree with this. And you must do this through the electoral process,” he said.
Halliday lamented that he didn’t foresee a change in policy in the next presidential administration.
“We can only hope that with help we will get this message across,” he said.
Halliday said that, though there are millions aware and in opposition to the sanctions, the process of ending the sanctions through government is “too late and too slow.”
“Perhaps a million children have died,” he said.
The forthright Ritter agreed. He said that he’s spoken with several representatives and senators in Washington who believe that the sanctions should be lifted.
“Many Congressmen have taken the stance that the sanctions are bad,” he said. “And their hearts are in the right place, but the resolutions they introduce have no chance of succeeding.”
Ritter explained that the “Saddam-centric” policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations have injected fear into Americans by propagandizing the chance that Iraq could again build weapons of mass destruction, when the reality is far different, he says.
“This perception makes it difficult for our politicians to end the sanctions,” he said. “They talk about Saddam as the Hitler of the Middle-East.”
Politicians run the risk of losing votes because when they “explain to their domestic audience that they’re in favor (of ending the sanctions). It seems like they are coddling this brutal dictator,” he said.
As the Senior Weapon Inspector for the UN, Ritter said that from 1991 until his resignation in 1998, he witnessed Iraq’s subjection to “the most stringent arms inspection.”
“The embargo and Desert Storm have devastated their capacity to build weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “For seven and a half years, we dismantled the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction infrastructure piece by piece.”
He said that Iraq has not gained access to rebuild these weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles – and said that by the time of his retirement, they had been destroyed or rendered harmless.
“This is the reality,” he said. “The other reality is that, politically, it doesn’t matter what I say.”
Both Halliday and Ritter called the embargo a “money-maker.” Ritter said that the U.S. persuaded tiny Bahrain to purchase a multi-million dollar advanced Ballistic missile system, and have capitalized on selling arms to several other of Iraq’s neighbors.
“It continues the dominance of the American defense industry in the area,” Ritter said.
Halliday said that the U.S has made $12 billion in arms sales in the region, and said that the instability creates an environment for “good sales” of weapons.
H.R. 3825, a bill that would provide the people of Iraq with access to food and medicine, was introduced into the House of Representatives March 2 and is co-sponsored by six Bay Area congresspersons including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.
Halliday and Ritter will be meeting with the staff of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to solicit their support for the bill.
Educating every person is still the imperative. “It’s important that we become educated,” he said. “And when we do, we have to (educate) our senators and congressmen who can change this.”