UN envoy quits over suffering in Iraq caused by sanctionsBy David Usborne in New York, The Independent, 15 February 2000
In the latest blow to United Nations policy on Iraq, the secretary general, Kofi Annan, was forced to accept the resignation yesterday of his senior representative in Baghdad responsible for co-ordinating humanitarian aid to the country.
Hans von Sponeck, a German career official, had told Mr Annan over the weekend that he could no longer stay in the post because he believed economic sanctions in place on Iraq since its invasion of Kuwait nearly 10 years ago were unfairly harming its civilian population.
Mr von Sponeck's departure will hit a nerve because his predecessor, Denis Halliday of Ireland, walked away from the same job two years ago, similarly protesting against sanctions.
The news will both relieve and embarrass Britain and the United States, which are the two Security Council countries most committed to maintaining the sanctions. London and Washington both voiced anger when Mr von Sponeck twice spoke out against the embargoes in press interviews.
Mr Annan is himself known to harbour serious reservations about the severity of the effect of the sanctions on civilians.Protecting Mr von Sponeck probably became impossible, however, when he received lavish praise in Iraqi newspapers. Last Friday, the Baghdad daily al-Tharwa applauded him for emphasising "the deterioration of the health and food situation".
James Rubin, of the US State Department, welcomed the resignation. "I think an article in the Iraqi press praising his approach to his work is ample evidence of his unsuitability for this post," he said.
Discerning the truth about the effects of the sanctions on civilians remains a tricky science. Iraq has been adept at highlighting the suffering thatindisputably exists as a propaganda tool to undermine London and Washington. Humanitarian groups also insist that UN policy is cruelly taking food and medicine from civilians.
It is true, however, that food and medicines have never been included in the embargo. Moreover, arrangements that let Iraq export oil to allow it to buy humanitarian supplies, known as the oil-for-food programme, have been in place for several years. Last year, the Security Council lifted all limits on how much oil Baghdad can sell.
The Government points out that the sanctions would end the moment Iraq satisfied UN demands that it account for all its weapons of mass destruction and demonstrate that it has no plans to replenish its arsenals. But on this a diplomatic deadlock persists.
A new UN weapons inspections commission is expected to deploy
inspectors to re-examine Iraq's record towards the end of April. But just
last week, Saddam Hussein's regime indicated that it had no intention of
letting any inspectors enter the country.