By Anthony Arnove
When Hans von Sponeck announced in February that he was resigning as coordinator of the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq effective March 31, State Department spokesman James Rubin suggested that the 36-year U.N. veteran was unsuitable for the position and had acted "beyond the range of his competence or his authority" in speaking out on the limitations of the oil-for-food program. "His job is to work on behalf of Iraqi people and not the regime," Rubin charged.
To defend sanctions in the face of growing awareness of their devastating toll on millions of Iraqis, the State Department has sought to discredit von Sponeck. The process started last fall, when pro-sanctions forces in Britain and the United States said von Sponeck had come under the influence of his predecessor in Iraq, Denis Halliday, a vocal opponent of sanctions who resigned in protest in September 1998, after 34 years at the United Nations.
But, as von Sponeck told In These Times in a recent interview in Baghdad, the oil-for-food program created by U.N. Security Council Resolution 986 is fundamentally inadequate and has failed to meet its stated objectives. Not enough food or medicine is reaching ordinary Iraqis. "The net of empirical evidence is increasingly dense," he says. "We are not just talking with our hearts, but we are also talking with our minds. We can back up what we are saying."
Anthony Arnove is editor of Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (South End Press). He recently traveled to Iraq with members of Voices in the Wilderness and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.