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Fact Sheet

Washington, DC
January 21, 2001

Myths and Facts About Iraq

Iraq Myths Cover Photo

Released by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

January 21, 2001

Myth: Everything that's wrong with Iraq's economy is because of sanctions.

Fact: Iraq enjoyed a strong economy until Saddam Hussein took power and launched attacks against his neighbors--Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990--with devastating results for Iraq. It took 5 years for Saddam to accept the oil-for-food program. Saddam also has failed to implement policies that would boost economic growth and generate job opportunities to improve the population's living standards.

Myth: The Iraqi people do not have an adequate supply of medicine because of sanctions.

Fact: Sanctions have never prohibited or limited the import of medicine. In fact, the UN has urged the Iraqi regime to order more basic medicines, but Baghdad has refused. Saddam has been criticized by the UN for intentionally hoarding medicines in warehouses in government-controlled Iraq instead of distributing it to civilians.

Myth: Sanctions prohibit humanitarian contributions to Iraq.

Fact: Sanctions do not prohibit humanitarian contributions, Saddam does. Since June 1998, Saddam has publicly refused a number of humanitarian contributions while claiming that his people are suffering.

Myth: Sanctions prohibit the import of pencils, books and journals, and desks for schools.

Fact: Basic educational supplies including pencils, books, and desks have never been prohibited by UN sanctions. They have been sent to Iraq regularly since 1991 and nearly $64 million of supplies for the education sector, including photocopiers, and printing and lab equipment, have entered Iraq under the oil-for-food program.

Myth: Sanctions prohibit Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from working in Iraq and the UN can run whatever programs it wants in country.

Fact: Saddam has refused to allow most NGOs into Iraq and sometimes impedes UN workers trying to oversee oil-for-food programs. In fact, Saddam launched a series of terrorist attacks against NGO and UN workers in northern Iraq in the early 1990s.

Myth: Sanctions prevent Iraqis from going on the Hajj.

Fact: Sanctions have never prevented Iraqis from making the Hajj. The Security Council exempted Hajj flights from flight restrictions and has offered the use of oil-for-food revenue to fund private Iraqi Hajj travel, but Baghdad rejected the plan.

Myth: Sanctions prevent travel to the Muslim holy sites in southern Iraq.

Fact: Sanctions have never prohibited travel in or out of Iraq. The UN Sanctions Committee approved a ferry service allowing pilgrims in the region to travel to An Najaf and Karbala.

Myth: Sanctions have crippled Iraq's ability to export oil.

Fact: Iraq's oil exports are approaching pre-war levels. Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq was exporting about 2.6 million barrels per day of crude oil. Its current crude oil exports have averaged about 2.2 million barrels per day in recent months, and the regime said it plans to increase exports to about 2.7 million barrels per day by yearend, which is higher than pre-war exports. In addition, Iraq is smuggling 2.8 million barrels of oil per month through the Persian Gulf.

Myth: Sanctions on Iraq will never be lifted.

Fact: Sanctions remain in place because Iraq refuses to comply with Security Council resolutions. The requirements for lifting sanctions have not changed since they were first imposed in 1991. UN Resolution 1284, which Iraq rejects, lays a path for the eventual suspension and lifting of sanctions.

Myth: The international community has not taken measures to care for the Iraqi people.

Fact: The UN designed the oil-for-food program in 1991 -- unprecedented in size and scope--to provide food and medicine for the Iraqi people. Saddam rejected it outright for four years and then slow-rolled it for another year and a half. The substantial expansion over the years has increased provisions for Iraqis. The international community continues to look for ways to improve the program, despite Saddam's effort to undermine humanitarian efforts.

Myth: The oil-for-food program has failed to meet basic needs of the Iraqi people and it never will.

Fact: Oil-for-food has made significant improvements in the lives of the Iraqis and will continue to do so. The increase in revenue under the oil-for-food program from $4 billion in the first year of the program to a projected $20.4 billion this year means there is a tremendous amount of money available for humanitarian goods. The government of Iraq must choose to make that happen. In northern Iraq, where the UN controls the humanitarian relief programs, child mortality rates are lower than they were before the Gulf War. However, in southern and central Iraq, where the Iraqi Government controls the oil-for-food program, mortality rates have doubled.

Myth: There is a limit on the amount of food Iraq can import.

Fact: There has never been a limit on the amount of food Iraq can import.

Myth: Contract holds have kept a majority of goods from entering Iraq.

Fact: Since the oil-for-food program was implemented in March 1997, the UN Sanctions Committee has approved about 90% of Iraqi contracts received.

Myth: The Iraqi Government is doing all it can to make the oil-for-food program work.

Fact: The regime is slow to order and distribute goods and Saddam's lack of cooperation on monitoring makes it difficult to ensure goods are equitably distributed to the Iraqi people. Baghdad has rejected UN recommendations to increase protein-enriched goods for malnourished children and pregnant women. The Iraqi Government has also rejected assistance by all but a few Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other outside groups.

Myth: The UN provides substandard goods under the oil-for-food program.

Fact: Under oil-for-food, Saddam, not the UN, chooses what is purchased and from whom. Saddam's choice of suppliers is politically motivated. Over one-third of all contracts have gone to Iraq's three most vocal supporters on the Security Council. Iraq also continues to oppose placing mobile testing laboratories for humanitarian goods under oil-for-food at UN entry points that would insure the quality of goods delivered.

Myth: Iraq does not have the resources to support the Iraqi people.

Fact: Baghdad has significant resources available to alleviate much of Iraq's humanitarian suffering, but Saddam does not spend the money on the Iraqi people. The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell as much oil as required to meet humanitarian needs. From December 1999 to June 2000, Iraq earned approximately $8.3 billion from oil sales.

Myth: There is little food available in Iraq.

Fact: More than 13 million metric tons of foodstuffs have arrived in Iraq since the first deliveries of the oil-for-food program began in 1997. In fact, Baghdad has been caught exporting dates, corn, and grain outside of Iraq while claiming the Iraqi people are starving.

Myth: Iraq is in compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions.

Fact: Iraq has not complied with UN Security Council Resolutions that call for dismantling weapons of mass destruction programs, and returning Kuwaiti and other nations' missing persons and POWs and Kuwaiti property seized during the Gulf War.

Myth: Iraq has accounted for all Kuwaiti POWs and missing persons during the Gulf War.

Fact: Iraq has still not accounted for some 600 missing Kuwaitis. For over a year, the regime has refused to cooperate with the ICRC in this humanitarian endeavor. Baghdad also will not allow the UN Kuwaiti Issues Coordinator entry into Iraq to discuss POWs or the property Iraq stole from Kuwait.

Myth: UNSCOM inspectors behaved badly and deserved to be thrown out of Iraq.

Fact: The inspectors were not thrown out of Iraq. Iraq's obstructionism and refusal to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, who were carrying out a UN Security Council mandate, prevented the inspectors from fulfilling their mission and they had no choice but to leave.

Myth: Saddam is not more brutal than other dictators.

Fact: Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988 was one of the largest chemical weapon attacks ever waged against a civilian population. Even today, Saddam continues to practice systematic torture, executions, forced displacement, and repression against the Iraqi people. The U.S. is currently seeking an indictment of senior regime officials for these atrocities.

Myth: Only ethnic minorities (not Sunnis) in Iraq are subject to harsh treatment by the regime.

Fact: Any group opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime is subject to brutal repression. The regime has moved against its people -- be they Arab, Kurd, or Turkoman, Sunni, Shia, or Christian --through expulsion from their homes, razing of villages, arbitrary arrest, execution, and torture.

Myth: Iraq is no longer a threat to its neighbors.

Fact: As a result of its refusal to cooperate with the UN disarmament regime, Iraq maintains the capacity to produce missiles and chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The absence of UN inspectors from Iraq has afforded Saddam the opportunity to reconstitute his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam has already launched two bloody wars; one against Iran in 1980 and the other against Kuwait in 1990. In the last couple of years, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly issued public threats against his neighbors, including calls for the overthrow of a number of regimes.

Myth: Coalition air strikes are aimed at the Iraqi people.

Fact: The air strikes are not targeted at the Iraqi people. They are the direct response for self-defense of the forces that protect the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south from the regime's civilian repression.

Myth: Saddam's palaces are used by the Iraqi people.

Fact: The nearly 80 palaces and VIP residences in Iraq are purely for the enjoyment of Saddam, his family, and key supporters as a reward for their loyalty. Saddam's inner circle is immune from harsh living conditions facing the general population.

[end of document]


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