Dealing with Saddam

John Pilger prays in aid Hans von Sponeck, the former UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq (8 January). But von Sponeck's arguments do not stand up.

He questions the legal basis of the no-fly zones. The no-fly zones were established in support of Security Council Resolution 688, which called on Iraq to end its brutal repression of the Kurds and Shi'a. They are justified, under international law, in response to a situation of overwhelming humanitarian necessity.

Von Sponeck plays down the lifting of the limit on the amount of oil Iraq can exchange for humanitarian goods. Yet this meant that about $16bn of humanitarian relief was available to the Iraqi people last year. This is more than Egypt, Syria or Jordan have to spend on health, education and housing.

Von Sponeck argues that the UK is holding up the implementation of the UN humanitarian programme. Yet the UK led the development of the programme. The UK puts less than 2 per cent of all the contracts submitted to it on hold because of serious concerns about the goods' possible use in Iraqi weapons programmes. Meanwhile, Iraq has ordered no medicines under the programme for the past six months.

Von Sponeck says I have offered no evidence that Saddam Hussein remains determined to develop weapons of mass destruction. Yet UN weapons inspectors have been unable to account for 4,000 tonnes of chemicals used in the production of chemical weapons, 610 tonnes of chemicals used in the production of the nerve agent VX and about 31,000 chemical weapons munitions.

UN Resolution 1284 offers Iraq the suspension of sanctions if it co-operates with UN weapons inspectors. Critics of sanctions should unite with us in calling on Iraq to take up this offer. As for Pilger's gratuitous reference to the international criminal court, I am proud to be taking the bill through the Commons. Saddam and war criminals like him will be prime targets for it - no doubt to Pilger's great discomfiture.

Peter Hain MP
Minister of State for Foreign and

Commonwealth Affairs

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Dotcoms will rise again