A Crime Without Punishment

 Alain Gresh lays out "the most glaring scandal of them all" regarding the UN "oil-for-food" program in Iraq. Some excerpts, from The Guardian:

But no committee of inquiry has been set up to investigate the most glaring scandal of all: the imposition of sanctions on Iraq in August 1990 and above all their maintenance after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. These have had devastating consequences on the country and will be a burden on it for a very long time to come. While the media frequently drew attention to Iraq's difficulties in obtaining food and medical supplies - even after the start of the oil-for-food programme in 1996 - they neglected the effect sanctions had on Iraqi society.

Despite the inventiveness of Iraqi engineers, the state's infrastructure crumbled. Basic services, ministries, power stations and drinking water all became precarious. Corruption spread throughout society. Crime exploded. The inhabitants of Baghdad, who had never bothered to lock their doors, now barricaded their homes. When the US invaded, Iraq needed only a little push for the worm-eaten state to collapse.

Sanctions also affected the structure of the population. Middle-class emigration, which had begun before 1991 as people fled the dictatorship, accelerated. Iraq was emptied of its managers and administrators. The education system, which had catered for all the country's young, was abandoned. Children left school to work and help their families, resulting in a generation of quasi-illiterates. Academic links with other countries were severed. Iraq fell 15 years behind and is not about to catch up.

And for what? Everyone realises sanctions did not penalise the regime's leaders. Nor did they weaken its grip on the population: the introduction of rationing enabled the Ba'ath party to keep tabs on everybody, and the regime could have survived for years. But sanctions do explain the problems now encountered in rebuilding the country. Those problems are due not only to a rise in armed resistance, but also to the dilapidated state of infrastructure.

Another factor, which should not be underestimated, is the determination of the US to monopolise reconstruction contracts. Getting the electricity supply working again would have meant involving Siemens and ABB, the German and Swedish firms that built Iraq's modern electricity grid. In the case of the telephone system, help was needed from Alcatel (France), which had installed the network and knew the terrain. But Washington was out to punish Old Europe - and secure juicy contracts for a number of companies that fund the Republican party.

Sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. What is more, they destabilised one of the key states in the region. Who will be tried for these crimes? What committee will report on these errors? And who will guarantee that the US and the UN will not again choose to impose sanctions on a country and punish all of its people for the crimes of its leaders?