UN Official Quits in Row Over Aid to Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent 07/23/1998
A row over aid to Iraq has led to the resignation of the senior UN official in Baghdad in charge of humanitarian relief, who has become a vocal critic of UN sanctions.
Denis Halliday, 57, the Irish-born UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, is reported to have resigned because of differences with the UN headquarters in New York over relief for Iraq. He is said to have clashed with Benon Sevan, executive director of the UN aid programme for Iraq.
Mr Halliday made no secret of his belief that sanctions were causing untold suffering to 23 million Iraqis and should be ended. In a recent interview with The Independent in Baghdad he said Iraq's infrastructure was collapsing and it would take 10 to 20 years to restore it. He said the obvious response was "to lift sanctions and pump in money" and humanitarian aid was "only band-aid stuff."
Appointed last August, Mr Halliday gave a new urgency the UN mission in Iraq. In December he criticised Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, for not asking more forcefully for improved aid programmes. He also objected to the long delays in getting permission from the UN Sanctions Committee to bringing items into Iraq. In the past it has held up spare parts for ambulances because they might be used by the Iraqi army.
Mr Halliday says children are being permanently damaged by malnutrition and protein deficiency. He said the official ration works properly "for three weeks out of four". He wanted to give each Iraqi a kilogram of cheese every month to improve their diet, but New York balked at the total cost of $900 million every six months.
Aside from inadequate food supplies, Iraqis suffer from the collapse of their economic infrastructure. Mr Halliday said: "Electric power is 40 per cent of what it used to be". This meant that in the flat Mesopotamian plain drinking water could not be pumped, leading to an increase in infant mortality. Generating equipment is so old that spare parts are no longer available. Only $300m was available and $10bn was needed for new power stations.
Iraqi agriculture is also short of pesticides, fertiliser and machinery. The UN Sanctions Committee would not allow in helicopters, as they could possibly be used for military purposes.
In charge of a much expanded UN relief operation in the wake of the oil-for-food agreement signed with Iraq in 1996 under Security Council Resolution 986, Mr Halliday was appalled by the poverty he discovered.
He said: "You go to schools where there are no desks. Kids sit on the floor in rooms which are very hot in summer and freezing in winter."