Iraq: Extensive compliance despite
36. Following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq,
in August 1990, the UN demanded in Security Council Resolution
(SCR) 660 that Iraq should withdraw unilaterally and unconditionally,
and in SCR 661 it imposed comprehensive sanctions in support of
SCR 660. In November 1990, sanctions were supplemented by the
threat of force in SCR 678, authorising the use of "all necessary
means" to uphold and implement SCR 660. Although the sanctions
began to inflict significant costs on the Iraqi economy, and were
supplemented by the threat of force, Iraq did not withdraw and
a US-led UN coalition finally expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait
in February 1991. This episode thus reflected a failure of sanctions
and military threats.
37. After the Iraqis had been expelled from Kuwait,
the Security Council set out in SCR 687 conditions for lifting
sanctions. Under the terms of the resolution, Iraq was required
to renounce nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and ballistic
missiles with a range of over 150 km, and co-operate fully on
weapons issues with the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM)
and International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) and accept permanent
monitoring and verification of its compliance (set out in SCR
715). Iraq was also required to recognize Kuwait and its borders,
accept a monitored and demilitarized zone, accept liability for
losses and damages caused by the invasion, return property stolen
from Kuwait, repatriate Kuwaiti and other nationals taken prisoner,
and renounce terrorism. These were the conditions only for
the lifting of sanctions on exports by Iraq and related financial
transactions (SCR 687, paragraph 22). The conditions for lifting
the sanctions on non-military imports by Iraq were left undefined
(SCR 687, paragraph 21).
38. Iraq accepted the establishment of a permanent
monitoring and verification system; recognised Kuwait and its
borders; accepted the demilitarised zone; paid billions of dollars
of compensation for the costs associated with invading Kuwait
via a 30% deduction from funds raised by UN-authorised Oil-For-Food
(OFF) programme oil sales but without accepting formal liability;
returned some of the property it took from Kuwait; and claimed
to have repatriated all those it had captured, though some dispute
over this remained.
In relation to what was widely seen as the most important issue,
Iraq eliminated its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) stocks and
production programmes unilaterally in 1991, although it was
not possible to verify fully the regime's claim to have done so
until after the invasion.
This explains why, as Hans Blix, Director General of the IAEA
1981-1997 and then Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring Verification
and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) 2000-2003, stated: "The
long period of inspections from 1992 to the end of 1998 had yielded
much insight into the Iraqi weapons programs but no significant
finds of hidden weapons".
Hence it can be concluded that Iraq complied with most of what
was demanded of it, even though the conditions imposed for the
lifting of sanctions were extremely demanding.
39. The UN became aware in 1992 of the fact of
unilateral destruction of WMD. From that point on, the issue for
the weapons inspectors was acquiring the documentary and physical
evidence necessary to confirm that no hidden capabilities remained.
Iraq secretly retained a documentary archive to make reconstituting
its WMD programmes easier once sanctions were lifted. A high level
defection led to the loss of this archive to UN weapons inspectors
in 1995 and continuing Iraqi obstructiveness fuelled suspicions,
which turned out to be inaccurate, that they were hiding substantial
capabilities. In fact, Iraq's obstructiveness seemed to be influenced
by various factors unrelated to hiding forbidden weapons capabilities.
The units which had been concealing the archive were also those
responsible for presidential security and so Iraq would not permit
a full investigation of their activities; and there was a suspicion
that the US would be able to prevent the lifting of the sanctions
no matter what the regime did. Both of these factors were linked
to the fact that successive US administrations had publicly and
privately advocated regime change in Iraq, either through a military
coup or, in the end, through invasion.
40. What brought about this extensive if incomplete
Iraqi disarmament and compliance? Mr Singleton, Dr Alexander,
Mr Vines and Mr Ross all agreed in their evidence that
the economic sanctions caused so much damage to the Iraqi economy
that they prevented the revival of Iraq's WMD programmes, with
Mr Ross also emphasising the role of the sanctions combined
with the arms embargo in limiting Iraq's conventional military
US Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which had full access to senior officials
and documents captured following the invasion in 2003, concurred
with these judgements in placing primary emphasis on the sanctions,
their cumulative effects into the mid-1990s and the urgency of
the regime's desire to find a way to end them.
In its evidence, the Council for Arab British Understanding (CAABU)
expressed the view that the sanctions influenced the regime, but
saw the timescale of their effects as limited to the first two
or three years (pp 133-138). The views of Hans Blix are closer
to those of the ISG than CAABU on this issue: "Each time
the regime had made what it saw as concessions on the inspection
front, it had been in response to the carrot being dangled in
front of it: the possibility of an UNSCOM report that disarmament
had been achieved, and a resultant lifting of sanctions by the
The most detailed evidence was provided by Mr Ross. He suggested
that "sanctions on Iraq were successful in many significant
ways" in making it decide to destroy its WMD and medium-range
ballistic missiles, preventing it from rearming significantly
with conventional weapons or WMD and forcing it "sporadically"
to comply with UN weapons inspections (p 44).
41. Mr Ross suggested that the impact of
sanctions in disarming Iraq and keeping it disarmed was not recognised
because the real US objective was regime change (Q 133).
The US objective of regime change in Iraq became formal and public
policy in 1998 once President Bill Clinton signed into law the
Iraq Liberation Act passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.
However, sanctions were not seen by the US as the means of achieving
regime change and so this cannot be treated as a failure of sanctions.
The US expected to retain sanctions until the regime changed,
with the chosen means being military coup, a technique which failed,
and then invasion, which succeeded.
Mr Blix stated that Saddam Hussein "may well have come
to believe ... that the U.S. would allow sanctions to disappear
only if he himself disappeared".
If this was the case, then it represented a failure not of economic
sanctions but of diplomacy in not persuading him that compliance
would be rewarded. Alternatively, it represented a success for
US diplomacy in keeping the sanctions in place until he could
be removed by other means. In any case, despite the doubts he
may have had that compliance would be rewarded, Saddam Hussein
still cooperated periodically, at times in the hope that it would,
according to Mr Blix.
42. Mr Ross also argued that the sanctions
were not "particularly successful in political terms"
because, in his view, Iraq could have been contained and coerced
into complying more effectively by a greater effort to end its
oil exports outside of UN control, backed by threats and use of
force; because it took the threat of invasion in 2003 for Iraq
to permit the return of UN weapons inspectors after they left
in 1998; and because the sanctions hurt the Iraqi people, the
reputation of the UK Government and the long-term health of the
Iraqi economy (pp 43-47, QQ 129, 154). Also in
a critical vein, Dr Alexander emphasised that Saddam Hussein's
intent to revive his WMD remained, and Mr Singleton stated
that he thought the sanctions had failed overall (Q 115).
43. The threat of force and its actual use were
a constant accompaniment to the sanctions, and consideration needs
to be given to its role in generating the concessions made by
Iraq. The infrastructural damage caused by the aerial bombing
in 1991 was severe. The regime seemed to expect the sanctions
to be lifted quickly, but when it realised that this was not the
case, the massive economic setback caused by the bombing led to
real urgency in its efforts to get the sanctions lifted. Hence
the most significant steps in Iraq's disarmament and cooperation
in the early 1990s appear to have been caused by the sanctions
and bombing in combination. Going further than this and attaching
primary significance to either factor will remain a matter of
debate and interpretation.
44. After this initial period and up to the
end of 2002, episodes of Iraqi compliance with UN demands were
sometimes related to the prospect of a possible end to sanctions
and at others to averting the use of force by the US and the UK.
The credibility of military threats was reinforced by the existence
of the no-fly zones in the north and south, periodic aerial and
However, the ISG concluded that: "Throughout the 1990s, Saddam
rated the probability of an invasion [by the US] as very
low." In addition,
the bombing campaign of Operation Desert Fox of December 1998,
instead of producing more Iraqi cooperation, resulted in Iraq
refusing to permit the return of weapons inspectors until November
2002 (the UN had ordered their withdrawal just before Desert Fox).
From late 2002 onwards, Iraqi cooperation was a product of
trying to avert the threat of imminent invasion rather than secure
the lifting of sanctions.
The human costs
45. The primary victim was Iraq's civilian population,
part of which suffered terrible hardship. Efforts to alleviate
this through waivers for food and medical supplies, and by allowing
Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to finance the purchase
of other such goods, were largely defeated by the Iraqi regime.
It inflamed popular feeling within Iraq against the sanctions-imposing
powers, elicited humanitarian sympathy around the world, exploited
the black market (and probably also manipulated the oil market)
for financial gain, and used its control over scarce foreign exchange
and other commodities to reward its supporters and so maintain
itself in power.
46. Dr Howells and the FCO emphasised the
role of the regime in the suffering of Iraqis in the period of
the sanctions, while Mr Ross and Mr von Sponeck both
emphasised the severity of the sanctions.
A report produced by the Independent Working Group of the Independent
Inquiry Committee (otherwise known as the Volcker Commission)
concluded that the Iraqi sanctions "led to deprivations of
food and medicine, with consequences worsened by damage to infrastructure
that was not quickly repaired" but that the "mitigation
of these effects by humanitarian relief was partially effective".
It also concluded that "broad sanctions plus relief would
always lead to some damage to health and nutrition, and to loss
of life". 
It is predictable that sanctions which inflict high economic
costs on a country run by a ruthless government are likely to
result in severe suffering among the general population even if
there are humanitarian exemptions and relief programmes.
The overall record of comprehensive
47. A number of those giving evidence pointed
out that sanctions forced the Iraqi population to depend on rations
distributed by the government, and that this provided the regime
with an instrument of political pressure and control.
Several witnesses made the point that sanctions permitted the
Iraqi government to avoid blame for economic problems (and the
same was said regarding US unilateral sanctions on Cuba). The
regime was able to make approximately $2 billion from abusing
the OFF programme by such methods as false pricing and bribes
from suppliers, but its main source of income was oil exports
outside of UN control which generated a total of around $12 billion
(mostly through trade protocols with Jordan and Turkey).
When economic sanctions are relatively weak in their economic
effects, they can have the overall net effect of strengthening
the target regime by legitimizing it, by strengthening its control
command over resources, or both. Where the economic effects of
sanctions are more severe, they can have the effect of weakening
the target regime's overall capabilities to act, especially in
foreign policy, but the regime can still turn aspects of sanctions
to its advantage and increase its internal control.
48. In two of the four cases (Rhodesia and South
Africa), comprehensive economic sanctions contributed in only
a secondary way to achieving the goals set. Force was decisive
and sanctions irrelevant to forcing Yugoslavia to the negotiating
table, although sanctions were central to ensuring Yugoslavia's
acceptance of the Dayton peace agreement at a time when renewed
use of force was improbable. In the case of Iraq, the most important
concessions were produced not by sanctions alone but by sanctions
and force combined. Overall, comprehensive economic sanctions
have not achieved major goals without being combined with or preceded
by the threat or use of force and have inflicted considerable
harm on civilian populations.
8 A number of witnesses expressed the view that sanctions
contributed substantially to the end of white minority rule in
both South Africa and Rhodesia. Written evidence from Margaret
Doxey (p 139) and Kern Alexander (p 28). Mr Singleton referred
to the importance of sanctions in the South African case. Oral
evidence from Alex Singleton (Q 95). Back
See Eric Hoskins, "Humanitarian Impacts of Economic Sanctions
and War in Iraq", "in Thomas G. Weiss, David Cortright,
George A. Lopez and Larry Minear (eds), Political Gain and
Civilian Pain (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).
Scott Ritter, Iraq Confidential (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005),
esp. pp. 38-42, 111, 289. Back
Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), p.
28. See also p. 29. Back
Ritter, Iraq Confidential. Back
Iraq Survey Group, Final Report, 30 September 2004, Vol. 1, Strategic
Intent, p. 34; Ritter, Iraq Confidential. Back
Oral evidence from Alex Singleton (QQ 115-118); written evidence
from Kern Alexander (p 25) and Alex Vines (p 108 ); written and
oral evidence from Carne Ross (p 43-47, QQ 123-129). Back
Iraq Survey Group (ISG), Final Report, 30 September 2004,
Vol. 1, Strategic Intent, pp. 34, 44-45. Back
Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (London: Bloomsbury, 2005), p.
See Ritter, Iraq Confidential, especially pp. 47-76, 127-132,
151-156, 162-170, 219, 274. Back
Blix, Disarming Iraq, p 36. Back
Written evidence from Carne Ross (pp 44-47) and oral evidence
from Carne Ross (QQ 129-147); Ritter, Iraq Confidential,
e.g. p. 253. Back
ISG Final Report p. 31. Back
Oral evidence from Kim Howells (QQ 285-287, 291-293); and written
evidence from the FCO (p 1), Carne Ross (pp 43-44) and Hans Von
Sponeck (pp 168-170). Back
The Impact of the Oil-For-Food Programme on the Iraqi People,
7 September 2005, p. 189. Back
Written evidence from Carne Ross (pp 44-45), Jeremy Carver (pp
129-130) and CAABU (pp 134-135); and oral evidence from Lord Renwick
(QQ 276-281). Back
Written evidence from Carne Ross (pp 44-47). As Mr Ross pointed
out, the figures were calculated by the Iraq Survey Group and
are similar to the estimates arrived at by the Volcker Commission. Back