Cook v Pilger: no end in sight

John Pilger's distortions on Iraq continue (3 April). I will confine myself to correcting the more glaring errors.

Pilger is fond of Unicef statistics. According to Unicef, mortality rates per thousand for the under-fives rose from 56 in the late 1980s (before the Gulf war and sanctions) to 131 in the late 1990s. Like Pilger, I am appalled. But to understand who is responsible, we need to see the whole picture. In northern Iraq, outside Saddam Hussein's control and where the UN administers the oil-for-food programme, the under-fives mortality rate per thousand was 80 in the late 1980s, rose to 90 in the early 1990s (before oil-for-food) but fell back to 72 in the late 1990s (lower than before sanctions). Not only do the figures prove that oil-for-food, when administered properly, makes a real difference, they also illustrate Saddam's neglect of the north when he controlled it and his sole culpability for the situation in the part of Iraq he controls.

Pilger claims that we "rigidly enforce a ban on vaccines for children". There is no ban. Contracts containing substances that have potential dual use in weapons of mass destruction are held temporarily. It would be irresponsible not to check that the end-use is legitimate and will be monitored.

Pilger claims that my officials think Security Council Resolution 1284 "changes nothing". Nonsense. Foreign Office ministers and officials worked for nine months on this resolution to find a new way forward. It reflects elements of continuity; Iraq's obligations on the Kuwaitis missing and on disarmament remain. But it is the first resolution that draws all the threads of Iraqi policy into a coherent package. And it introduces some new elements, notably an expansion in the size and scope of the humanitarian programme, and the prospect of the suspension of sanctions.

Finally, Pilger devotes a quarter of his article to defending his refusal to interview me. I can be brief. I offered him an unedited interview of the sort I do every week for other media outlets. He wanted the right to edit my contribution to suit himself.

Rt Hon Robin Cook MP
Foreign Office, London SW1

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy