The von Sponeck argument

Anders Püschel ahp at
Sat Nov 13 10:32:13 MST 1999

Here's an article from the English language webedition of Al-Ahram (Kairo) on
the quarrel between the US, Britain and Kofi Annan over statements made by Hans
von Sponeck [I think his name is misspellt in the article below], head of the UN
Commission overseeing the oil-for-food program in Iraq, including info on what
von Sponeck actually said.

Anders Püschel
ahp at


UN quarrel over Iraq
By Salah Hemeid

Al-Ahram Weekly
11 - 17 November 1999
Issue No. 455

Hans von Sponek, head of the UN Commission overseeing the distribution of
humanitarian supplies in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has accused the United
States and Britain of delaying contracts that Iraq badly needs under its
oil-for-food deal with the United Nations, prompting the US to ask UN
secretary-general, Kofi Annan, to dismiss the German UN staff member.
Sponek took over the post a year ago following the resignation of his
predecessor, Denis Halliday, who had himself left the post after criticising the
two Western countries for insisting on maintaining sanctions against Iraq's 23
million people, arguing that the sanctions were responsible for the deaths of
5,000 Iraqi children each month.
US State Department Spokesman James Rubin said the Clinton Administration had no
confidence in Sponek, whom he accused of supporting softer economic sanctions
against Iraq and of acquiescing in Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's stockpiling
of massive quantities of humanitarian supplies. Sponek had "refused to confront
Baghdad on the failure to meet the needs of their own people," Rubin said in a
At a meeting with Annan last week, US deputy ambassador to the UN, Peter
Burleigh, and British ambassador, Jeremy Greenstoke, asked the secretary-general
to replace Sponek, accusing him of exceeding his mandate by calling for an end
to the UN sanctions and of mishandling the humanitarian programme in Iraq. But
it would seem that the German official's only misdeed is not seeing eye to eye
with the United States and with Britain on the continuation of the economic
sanctions imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Sponek, who has been working at the Baghdad UN mission for three years, said
that the oil-for-food programme "does not deal with Iraq as a nation", and that
it hampered the country's future development. He said that while money made
available under the programme now provided a per capita income of US$550, before
the 1991 Gulf War this figure had stood at around US$2000, and that the fall in
revenue was doing serious damage to the Iraqi population.
Despite US and British demands Annan has, however, stood by the UN official and
has resisted pressures to remove him from his post. The secretary-general
renewed Sponek's contract for a further year, angering Washington and London,
which were already unhappy with Annan's own statements about the worsening
humanitarian situation in Iraq. "There were complaints about his predecessor,
and I think there will be complaints about his successor," said Annan's
spokesman Fred Eckhard, referring to Sponek and Halliday.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Said Al-Sahaf came to the defence of
Sponek, describing him as "an objective, completely professional and very
efficient UN civil servant."
The dispute comes amid efforts within the Security Council to agree on a new
policy towards Iraq. A joint draft resolution put forward by the Netherlands and
Britain and supported by Washington includes proposals for easing the sanctions
against Baghdad if Iraq accepts the return to the country of the UN weapons
inspectors responsible for the dismantling and monitoring of its weapons
US envoy to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said that the five permanent
members of the Security Council were very close to an agreement on a resolution
that would suspend sanctions if Iraq met the disarmament requirements. France,
Russia and China, which have previously opposed such a resolution, have
reportedly softened their positions and may be ready for a compromise that would
ask Iraq to co-operate with a new UN weapons commission in return for the
suspension of sanctions. Baghdad, however, has once again indicated that it
would reject any such deal, insisting that the sanctions, which are now over
nine years old, should be completely and unconditionally lifted.
As wrangling over sanctions and weapons inspections continued, a UN special
investigator issued another appalling report about civil and political rights in
Iraq. Max van Stoel's annual report to the UN General Assembly drew a grim
picture of life in Iraq, accusing the Iraqi government of arbitrary killings,
mass arrests and detention of its opponents and the bulldozing of their homes
and villages.
"The prevailing regime in Iraq has effectively eliminated the civil rights to
life, liberty and physical integrity and the freedom of thought, expression,
association and assembly," Stoel, a former Dutch foreign minister, wrote in his
report, which is now to be debated by the UN Human Rights Committee. Iraq has
rejected the report, saying it is "biased and misleading" and accusing Stoel of
being "an American and Zionist stooge".
The result of such endless debates over the future of sanctions against Iraq,
and squabbles among the leading players, however, is that while more Iraqis are
falling victim to internal repression, foreign strategies are only increasing
Iraq's isolation, and any solution to the crisis seems as far off as ever.


      """""       Anders Püschel
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