Today on Capitol Hill, a U.S. Congressional panel is scheduled to examine the effects of United Nations sanctions on Iraq, during which time members are expected to call for an urgent policy review. RFE/RL's Senior Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports the briefing is being hosted by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich. a Democrat from the midwestern U.S. state of Ohio.
Washington, 3 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, in an interview with RFE/RL, says the time has come for a serious and thorough review of issues related to U.S. sanctions policy on Iraq. He said it is long past time to regard the suffering of the Iraqi people and to bring about an end to a policy which, in his view, only serves to politically strengthen Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Kucinich is one of a growing number of political figures -- both in the United States and abroad -- calling for a lifting of the economic sanctions on Iraq. It is for that reason, coupled with what he called Iraq's "crippled civil society," that he called today's briefing in Washington.
"We'll make the case that on a human rights level, an economic level and foreign policy level these sanctions are a failure. And you know, there's a strong argument that can be made that lifting economic sanctions would take a powerful propaganda weapon away from (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein, who can currently blame the misery of the Iraqi people on the United States."
The briefing will feature speakers Hans von Sponeck, the former UN Oil-for-Food Program Director, the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, and Scott Ritter, the former Senior UNSCOM weapons director.
The sanctions were imposed in Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. They can be lifted only after Iraq proves to the United Nations it has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. has long said it is Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- and not the sanctions -- causing the problems. Philo Dibble, the Director of the U.S. State Department's office of Near East and Gulf Affairs, reiterated that view in an interview Tuesday with RFE/RL. Dibble also rejected Congressman Kucinich s criticism:
"First of all, I don't think the sanctions are a failure. I think the sanctions have successfully contained Saddam Hussein for 10 years now. They are what keeps him from being a threat to his neighbors, they are what keeps him from accelerating or developing weapons of mass destruction again, so I can't buy that statement."
Dibble also said that the United States was already reviewing its sanctions policy on Iraq -- specifically the oil-for-food program. It is aimed at keeping revenues from oil sales out of Saddam Hussein's hands and ensuring that money is spent on food and medicine and other supplies needed by the Iraqi people.
"We recognize that sanctions have imposed hardships on the Iraqi people and we have been taking steps beginning with the introduction of the oil-for-food program itself to try and ease that burden and we continue to do that."
Dibble added that there was no proof that taking away the sanctions and providing resources to the Iraqi regime would necessarily relieve the situation of the Iraqi people. That situation is reported worsening over time. According to a recent report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), money and spare parts have not been available to repair sewage works and purification plants in Iraq since the Gulf War. The ICRC says this has led to an overall deterioration in the quality and quantity of drinking water in the country and in the rapid spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera.
With the public health crisis in mind, Kucinich and 25 other U.S. lawmakers recently wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright requesting a meeting to review U.S. sanctions policy on Iraq. To date, Kucinich said they are still awaiting a favorable reply.
Dibble later told RFE/RL that the letter would be forwarded on to Secretary State Madeleine Albright within the next 24 hours. He said there had not been time to consider the request until now.
Meanwhile, Kucinich also put forth the view that if there was indeed a case to be made for sanctions in the past, there was, in his words, almost a moral case now for seeing them lifted. He said he based his view on the presence of new information that has since come to light:
"We need to face fully the implications of a policy that was constructed on the basis of inadequate information or of hype and we need to look at the people who are suffering and find a way to come to terms with Iraq, just as we have come to terms with other nations who we felt were threats in the past."
Recently, another democratic Congressman from Ohio -- Tony Hall -- spent four days in Iraq to assess the impact of United Nations sanctions. He returned to say there is evidence that the Iraqis are suffering and that there is a need for more food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. But Hall did not advocate a lifting of the UN sanctions.
Asked whether Hall would be participating at today's briefing, Kucinich said it was hoped that he would attend. As to Hall's views on sanctions, however, Congressman Kucinich said he agreed to respectfully disagree.