Iraq has been the US's fall-guy

Robin Cook writes that the UN oil-for-food programme "has been working for three years and could have started years earlier had Saddam not blocked it" ("Will he film Saddam's next victims?", 27 March). The claim is worth examining in some detail.

In July 1991, a report by the UN Secretary-General's executive delegate estimated that it would cost $22bn to restore power, oil, water, sanitation, food, agriculture and health sectors to pre-war levels. The same report produced an estimate of $6.8bn, over a one-year period, for the cost of bringing about a situation of "greatly reduced social services": 50 per cent of pre-war electrical capacity, 40 per cent of water and sanitation services and enough food for subsistence rations for the whole population.

Iraqi officials told UN humanitarian administrators in Baghdad that Iraq would accept the executive delegate's recommendations. However, the first two oil-for-food resolutions, 706 (August 1991) and 712 (September 1991) - which Iraq did indeed reject - capped oil sales at $3.2bn a year. After the deductions for war reparations and UN expenses contained in the resolution, Iraq would have been left with less than $2bn a year to pay for humanitarian supplies - in stark contrast to the $2.63bn "every four months" recommended by the executive delegate.

According to a relief consultant for the American Friends Service Committee who was present in Iraq at the time, "UN officials were convinced that the US intention was to present Saddam Hussein with so unattractive a package that Iraq would reject it and thus take on the blame, at least in western eyes, for continued civilian suffering" - which is exactly what happened.

Gabriel Carlyle

This article first appeared in the 03 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Englishness: who cares?