Conflict to Sanctions to Conflict

Hassan Baker met with Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary-General to discuss the turmoil brought about by the conflict and the sanctions which led to the current problems in the region.

“Initially it began as punishment for the invasion of Kuwait, they were preliminary and maybe modest. After the invasion, and the gulf war which removed Iraq out of Kuwait, the then Security Council sat down and put together this comprehensive and open ended act of sanctions which lasted 13 years. It resulted in the loss of life of well over a million Iraqis, primarily children.”

Conflict to Sanctions:

Sanctions are listed in the UN charter, chapter seven, article 41 as a peaceful resolve to problems without the need to resort to military problems which is the more aggressive resolution, optioned in article 42 in the same chapter. Mr. Halliday was heavily involved in the sanctions Iraq, working on the ‘Oil for Food’ welfare program. This program was a way of bringing food to Iraqis through the sanctions, in exchange for oil. This Program was regulated by the UN. Mr. Halliday’s opinion on the sanctions is contradictory to the UN charters’ and comes from his extensive experience with sanctions; “My argument is sanctions are in fact violent in their own right. They kill. Prolonged sanctions kill more and more and more… That’s what happened in Iraq, and that’s why I resigned.”

denis-hallidaySanctions are not all to blame, as the cause of the effect in the Middle East. However, it definitely played a big role. The sanctions were UN imposed, and a mistake in Mr. Halliday’s eyes. His opinion on the lead up to the current crisis is as follows: “I think sanctions led to the destruction of Iraq. It brought Iraq to its knees. The war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait, and the sanctions. Those three things put together were catastrophic in terms of loss of life, in terms of loss revenue and keeping the country together, creating wellbeing, employment and opportunity and health and education. All things that were doing so well in the 70’s and 80’s. But with those wars, Saddam made huge mistakes. Kuwait was a huge mistake.”

Mr. Halliday shed light on the specifics of the sanctions and the ‘Oil for Food’ program, going on to describe giant container bays filled with rice, imported from countries such as China. He described the containers to be so big that they needed bulldozers to divide them into smaller containers to ship around the country, so as to feed 25 million Iraqis. “Of course it fell short in terms of quality and proteins. There were no vegetables, no meats. A lot of absences from the diet.”

“The sanctions in Iraq were the first large scale comprehensive sanctions. Every aspect of life, social economic and so on was controlled and damaged by the sanctions. The UN took the entire revenue, at least legal revenue, of the government of Iraq and put it in a UN account. Every penny. We, the UN, the member states, the Americans and the British in particular then controlled how that money would be used. 25% percent went to Kuwait. 5% went to overhead costs, and the balance was then used to hopefully take care of 25 million Iraqis.”

Iran, the neighbour country to the east of Iraq also had sanctions imposed on it recently. These sanctions were not of the same nature however. “The Iran sanctions were targeted. The concept was we won’t do it again. Iraq was a mistake, this time we’ll only focus on the government, banking, shipping, insurance, trade, exports, imports, the big stuff, you know. All the money was seized, as, of course, all of Iraq’s money was seized.” These sanctions were supposed to be less detrimental to the population and target the struggles towards the wealthy and powerful, “but at the end of the day that means life goes on, but prices go up. There was no more imported food, so food became scarce. Paraffin oil became scarce, cooking oil became scarce, and all sorts of things became scarce. The price of course was paid by the poor, as was the case in Iraq. Rich Iraqis always manage to find extra money from families overseas, so money was always coming in and they managed to survive well. The poor, of course, never do”

Regime Change:

The outside intervention of Western influence on Middle Eastern nations, and any nation really has been debated for some time. Mr. Halliday holds passionate criticisms towards the UN, the U.S. and the U.K. for their unjust interventions. “I was criticised for making sure that the families of the military got food supplies, because I was told by New York that ‘We’re not going to give Oil for Food to the military’. I said that’s rubbish. These are men. They’ve got families and children. Of course they’re going to get it. That sort of interference was endless. Quibbling over medical content and small things like was just very ugly deliberate policy by Washington and London to bring down Iraq and Saddam Hussein.”

A major point of criticism has been to put the blame on United States. Mr. Halliday argues that approximately 75% of the blame can be put on the U.S. as conflict and hostility can be traced back to before the fall or even rise of the Ottoman Empire. But the unwelcome and unlawful interventions have clearly amplified and multiplied the conflict. “The invasion to the Americans was of course about something else. It was about regime change. They feared Saddam Hussein, they feared him on behalf of Israel, and they feared that he would control too much oil. They wanted to control the oil, and today they are controlling that oil.”

“The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him” – Shakespeare describing how pride and power hunger leads to corruption, which leads to villainy, an uncanny description of the United States influence in every area of recent conflict in the Middle East.  

Photo By: Cpl Mike Escobar
Photo By: Cpl Mike Escobar

Mr. Halliday claims that the lead up to this conflict doesn’t only sprout from corruption, but also from generally faulty strategy. “What’s extraordinary is the Americans were at war with both the Iraqis and the Iranians, and what they’ve done, in the consequence of the mess they’ve made of it, is that they’ve united to a certain extent. Iran is all over Baghdad is my impression, a lot of influence, military and otherwise. Which is completely contradictory to what we understood the Americans intended. So the Americans screwed up totally.”

On the Topic of Iran, Mr. Halliday spoke out against the embargo on Iran, which lead to the recent nuclear deal. “My view is the West and the UN has no right to interfere in Iran’s desire to have nuclear weapons. We have nuclear weapons in Israel, everybody knows it. The manufacturing plants were built by the French. Endorsed by the Americans. Iran, Iraq and Israel are not part of any international deal to protect weapons or not use weapons. If you have one country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, given this theory that if we all had nuclear weapons we won’t use them (which I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s worked I suppose), the Iranians have a perfect to right to have nuclear weapons as long as Israel does it.”

On the recent conflicts that are occurring in Syria as well as countless other countries, Mr. Halliday stresses that the same mistakes are being made. “In my mind, it’s largely made up of the rest of the world. Syria is not just a civil war, Syria is about American rejection by Assad. America’s request for the oil pipeline was turned down so they wanted to get rid of him. Again it’s the same, a regime change. And to retaliate, they armed the proposition to Assad, which there was plenty of. That has then deteriorated into ISIS and other groups. Without the interference of the West in the last 20-30 years, the Middle East might not be like what it is.”

On the topic of regime change, Mr. Halliday elaborated, using Egypt and former president Morsi as an example: “Look at Egypt. Perfectly good democratically elected government, and we changed it. We overthrew them and we put a military dictator in place. By ‘we’, I mean the United States. The Americans elected Bush, and they might even elect Trump. Countries have the right to make their own mistakes”

This brought the interview, like every conversation now-a-days, onto the topic of the U.S. presidential elections. In regards to Trump, Mr. Halliday stated that “Trump doesn’t have any policies. I think he’s a dangerous maniac. He should be locked up. But I don’t think he’ll make it.” As for Mrs. Clinton’s policies, Mr. Halliday seemed worried about the prospect. “She will be very aggressive militaristically in my view. She’s very close to Wall Street and the corporations, where she’s getting her money. When you take billions, you have to pay back. And paying back is a little war here, a little war there. It’s great for business.”

A Crisis of Refuge:

In relation to the international refugee crisis, Mr. Halliday expressed worry. “I think there has to be a realistic look at the absorptive capacity. In Ireland, we’re small of course, but we’re rich. We should be able to absorb around five thousand a year. But when we say we can do that, then we must provide housing, education, jobs and opportunities. Otherwise, say no. I don’t believe in taking refugees, and as we’ve done in this country fail them. We’ve had them for 10 years on direct provision allowance. We give them €17 a week and they can’t work. It’s a soul destroying dreadful policy.”

In regards to the intake of refugees by the gulf countries, Mr. Halliday stated that “they don’t take any, but then look at Lebanon, they took about the equivalent of one third of their population. Jordan is the same. These are amazing countries, the Turks have 2 or 3 million. During the Afghan war, the Iranians took in millions of Afghanis. They get no credit for it of course.”