Hans C Von Sponeck, the former ‘UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq’, worked for the United Nations for more than 30 years and in 1998 was appointed the UN Assistant Secretary General. This book not only offers us a critical, lucid and a well informed survey of political developments in Iraq, but also a heart rendering account of the suffering of the Iraqi people. He explores the UN’s sanction regime against Iraq, their consequences and the domestic conditions during this period.
Me: Mr. Von Sponeck, thank you for agreeing to this interview and I’m reading your book at the moment which I must say is a real eye opener.
H.C Von Sponeck: I must tell you, since it opened eyes it was meant to open eyes. It wasn’t so easy to publish, the first edition came out in German, the second in Arabic the third in English and the fourth in Spanish, the one that was not so easy was the English one and I was so disappointed over that because I thought that English was the language that would ensure that it would be widely read, that was many years ago now I think many universities have this book, I keep getting calls like yours and that makes me very happy because many books have been written on Iraq as you know and many of them are very superficial, the one that I wrote, I mean not to be boastful but it is one with an insider’s analysis
…On the oil for food program:
Me: That does sound like a very complicated story but you mentioned that there were political reasons why the food packages weren’t more than adequate, can you give us any examples for the benefit of the readers, you know maybe the UN Security Council could have done anything?
H.C Von Sponeck: Well you know, let me just answer this with an example, Iraq grows rice and wheat, and not enough to meet all the needs for such people but under sanctions the UN was not allowed to buy rice and wheat on the Iraqi market which meant that for paying for a ton of meat, $50 that’s a fictitious amount I don’t know the exact amount but the local purchase was 25% of the cost of the imported price, so we had to go to Vietnam we had to go to Australia to import what we could have bought in Iraq. The end result was we got what we needed at a much higher cost and there was less money available to buy other essential items.
Me: What were the implications of this for the people of Iraq? I mean what was the end result?
H.C Von Sponeck: Well there was a lot malnourishment, there is no question about that, it became better as to be fair here over time the food basket was, a little bit more balanced but on the whole it was a survival ration and year in year out, the oil for food program existed for 6 and a half years, this kind of a diet with minor variations wasn’t leading to a healthy physical development.
Me: Was this the result? For example in 1995 Madeline Albreight said that over a half a million children died…
H.C Von Sponeck: Yes I know that, that is a terrible statement, of course what she was referring to were the reports that came out by OXFAM and other institutions like UN agencies like UNICEF which tried to show that before the oil for food program the dietary situation was desperate. And that was totally avoidable, if you want to punish a government with sanctions then punish the government don’t punish the people and until late 1996 when the oil for food program started, it was a completely uncertain survival situation in Iraq because there was no allocation by the governments that insisted on sanctions, it all depended on voluntary contributions from different sources and the voluntary contributions were absolutely abysmally inadequate, much less then what was needed so ultimately the security council and the government in Baghdad agreed to put an end to this uncertainty, that would be the agreement was signed in may 1995 so you can see it took 5 years, again a long story and we don’t have time to go in to that but my book goes in to that to show the political tug of war that was played and the victims of that tug of war were innocent Iraqis of all ages.
You can view the full interview on http://mizansurbanmyths.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/a-different-kind-of-war-the-un-sanctions-regime-in-iraq/