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On Saturday December 1, a syndicated New York Times article postulated that the war on terrorism in all likelihood will lead to increased US pressure on Iraq to open its borders once again to UN weapons inspectors. When asked what the US response would be to a refusal from Hussein?s government, President bush replied, ?He?ll find out.? Nevermind that the last inspectors thrown out were proven to have conducted espionage to aid in targeting for US warplanes and missile attacks. Nevermind that Iraq has not even the capacity to feed and protect its own citizens from economic strife, let alone build weapons of mass destruction. Nevermind that the US led coalition, and sanctions regime is itself a weapon of mass destruction. In the face of all this the Bush administration has stated its policy: ?Bush?s Iraq policy is focused on three elements: carry out a ?smart sanctions? regime to address concerns for the people of Iraq while stanching the flow of dangerous technology to Baghdad; ?looking at how we might use military power more effectively?; and ?looking at options involving opposition.? (Tyler, A7). Bush obviously pays lip service to the humanitarian issues in Iraq, but none of his policies when closely reviewed will stop the destruction of Iraq?s civil society.
There exist today two major perspectives on Iraq. The dominant approach is that of the US government carried out since 1991. This approach is characterized by its obsession with Saddam the Tyrant. The center focus of US policy toward Iraq under this perspective lies on Hussein as a ?Hitler? who must be controlled at all costs, and of equal importance in this equation are the oil reserves under Iraq. Iraq, to those espousing this view is a nation of 24 million with a ruthless dictator bent on the destruction of the West using all possible resources to accomplish this even at the expense of his own people. He seeks regional domination and a stranglehold on world oil reserves. Peter Rodman, a former adviser of the Reagan and Senior Bush administrations put it this way, ?The people's suffering is caused by Saddam Hussein's diversion of those resources to building new palaces for his henchmen, to rebuilding his military machine, and to clandestine programmes for acquiring weapons of mass destruction.? (Rai 2001).
Over half of the literature available on Iraq deals with the nation as a working lesson how to exert deterrence, or coercion in a strategic manner to control a foreign government. A prime example is the RAND study; Byman & Waxman?s, Confronting Iraq, which looks at Iraq as the rogue state. It describes Iraqi US relations in terms of ?Understanding Coercion,? ?Iraq As An Adversary,? ?Iraq?s Vunerabilities,? and ?Understanding What Cannot Be Affected;? in which the authors state; ?The United States can affect only the level of pain it inflicts, not an adversary?s willingness to accept it...Suffering continued US military strikes is almost always a far safer option for would be oppositionist.? (Bymen & Waxman 88). Nowhere in the 91 page report is the ensuing humanitarian crisis even hinted at.
Oil?s importance in this perspective is prime. Iraqi oil has now become effectively the property of the UN sanctions regime. This approach is militaristic, economic, technical, and purposefully distanced from anything close to the current human conditions in Iraq. Most importantly this approach has not been able to prove its effectiveness. In fact by most accounts it has become a complete failure. This policy is best espoused in the commonly quoted statement of Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State. When asked whether she thought US policy was worth the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children who had died since the imposition of sanctions she replied, ?we think the price is worth it? (Albright 1996). Proponents of this regime have thusfar acknowledged the death toll in Iraq, but have cited the explicit goals as successful therefore warranting the human costs. No goals of the sanctions regime have been met other than the control of most of Iraq?s oil reserves, but even this goal is compromised. Smuggling has been carried out since day one possibly to the sum of $2 billion each year (Lynch 2001). How can this be? If sanctions have been so successful as to justify their decade long existence then how could Iraq possibly now possess weapons of mass destruction warranting further US intervention? And how has the evil tyrant Hussein managed to stay in power so easily? For these reasons as well as the humanitarian issues this essay will focus on why we must condemn US policy toward Iraq as ineffective, warlike, and divergent from the real issue, human suffering.
The approach I will take is one which analyzes Iraq on the presupposition that the people of Iraq are themselves innocent of any mistakes or evils their government has made or committed. Another important point is that regardless of Hussein?s threat to Israel, the US & UK, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or his states status as a government supportive of terrorism, his people are far from complicit. There has been active and popular opposition to the Ba?thist government from day one, although they are ?suffering continued US military strikes?. The people of Iraq are the victims of Hussein and the UN sanctions regime, they have been caught in the middle of global oil politics, a legacy of Islamic sectarian wars, and a popular Muslim movement in opposition to the US as the sole superpower on earth. I will take this perspective in looking at what has become of Iraq.
To properly describe the state of life in Iraq from 1991 to the present day it is necessary to use a chronological method of organization. However for the sake of a coherent supportive argument I will use this chronological method as merely a supportive frame, some of the information will appear free of any linear sense of time. Three major periods, or stages stand out in the course of Iraq?s decline. These are, the Gulf War, the imposition of the sanctions regime, and the current situation as of 2001. Each stage brought about changes within Iraq which has lead to a crisis of poverty, epidemic disease, isolation, millions of deaths, and an unsure future.
The Gulf War
The destruction of Iraq began with the US/UK bombing campaign of the War. The goal of the attacks was to reduce the entire infrastructure of Iraq to rubble. This included communications facilities, military targets, and industrial sites, but also hospitals, sanitation plants, power grids, roads & bridges, schools, any government office, and wide swaths of both residential and business districts. This destruction stands untouched, the people and the state have been crippled by the sanctions regime, economically unable to rebuild or even sustain those necessities to provide minimal public health. Hans von Sponeck former head of the UN sanctions regime who resigned in protest as did his predecessor said of both the war, and sanctions,? as an overall conclusion, one can see that here is a society that is really in shreds, that has no more optimism to move on and fend for itself. You have, wherever you go, you have conversations that show that people have given up. And the physical side of the needs are not met, let alone the non-material sides of life, particularly in the area of education.? (von Sponeck, 5/2000). Material needs are incapable of fulfillment, as are the cultures intellectual needs, partly because of the thorough destruction of public utilities, as well as schools during the war.
When Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 the US led an international coalition which easily wiped out the entire Republican Guard. No definitive figures have been released by any parties of the war, but ?Estimates of military loses indicate that anywhere between 50,000 to 120,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the 43 day Gulf War...In total between 94,000 and 281,000 Iraqis lost their lives during the war and the intifada which followed it.? (Hazelton 80). This human carnage was complemented by the US/UK war Machine?s systematic obliteration of Iraq?s civil society, the nation ceased to exist on a material level. Even taking the conservative estimate of 94,000 lives lost in 43 days we are presented with the annihilation of a significant proportion of the populace. These initial acts of war have proven to be only the initial use of force. Since the Gulf War the US/UK have carried out countless attacks with destroyer launched missiles, and from aircraft. Military force has been used since the Gulf War to the extent to which one might ask whether or not the war is over. Arnove points out that ?By the end of 1999, US and UK forces had flown more than 6,000 sorties, dropped more than 1,800 bombs, and hit more than 450 targets. The Pentagon alone spent more than $1 billion to maintain its force of 200 airplanes, nineteen warships, and 22,000 troops who are part of the operation.? ( Arnove 9). The bombing continues.
As if the immediate devastation brought down upon Iraq was not enough, the effects of the war precipitate to this day in varying forms. Dr. Huda S Ammash in his piece entitled Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions, describes the legacy the war has left. ?The Gulf War ended in 1991, but the massive destruction linked to it continues. An unprecedented catastrophe resulting from a mixture of toxic, radiological, chemical, and electromagnetic exposure is still causing substantial consequences to health and the environment, exacerbated by the sanctions imposed on Iraq. Much of Iraq has been turned into a polluted and radioactive environment.? (Arnove 169). Ammash points out levels of chemical pollution have raised some 705% since the war due to the bombing of industrial targets. Another severe health concern he raises centers on the 300+ tons of depleted Uranium shells scattered around Iraq and Kuwait. Depleted Uranium is known to be a cause of Cancer, as well as several other terminal diseases. This legacy of the war is no doubt causing illness to this day, mostly because of Iraq?s inability to deal with health threats. Under the sanctions regime the few remaining hospitals have almost no capacity to treat victims. Furthermore the Iraqi government has almost no money or resources to carry out a cleanup effort which would nullify the health risks.
It would seem then that for the people of Iraq the Gulf War equates with nothing short of total destruction. With hundreds of thousands of lives lost, a bombed out infrastructure, massive pollution and increased health risks, and Saddam Hussein still firmly in power, how has this war been a success? Unfortunately the Gulf War is not the most damming episode of Iraq?s modern history. The war has simply set the stage for a crisis of hunger, poverty, disease, and violence. It is the sanctions regime which has succeeded where bombs could not in the total war against the people of Iraq.
The sanctions regime was imposed upon Iraq subsequent to its invasion of Kuwait, but as is with economic weapons the effects were slower to emerge than those resulting from bombs and bullets. Sanctions are basically a weapon of war. They are more subtle, but equally effective in terms of siege capability. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their Nobel Prize winning Hunger and Public Action lay down the the cause of severe material depravation as loss of entitlement powers by the populace. Entitlements are the ways in which people secure their food, medicines, shelter, and other necessities. Poverty can be described as a state of lacking sufficient entitlements. Looking at Iraq with this in mind the picture becomes clear. The whole nation has lost its entitlements. Iraq for the past 50 years has found most of its revenue through oil, nearly the whole population relies on the influx of money oil brings in. Therefore all of Iraq have lost their entitlements under the sanctions regime. According to one source, prior to sanctions; ?Oil produced a per capita income of around $4000 per year... Because of the decline in economic activity in nearly all sectors, unemployment is now over 50% and per capita income is around $400, i.e. 10% of prewar levels." (AFSC1997). The majority of the nations 24 million are caught in the predicament of having no money to buy the few goods that make it in the borders. The UN Oil for Food program is inadequate, it does allow some goods into the country, but how can the average Iraqi buy these goods? They have no money, as a community they have no assets, and as a nation they have a dead economy. To really give a sense of the extent of entitlement loss, a March 1996 report by the World Health Organization compared the purchase prices of several grains before and after the sanctions regime. In 1989 the price of wheat was 220-270 Iraqi Dinar, In May 1995 the price had exploded to 95,000-105,000 Dinar, an increase 431x the original price. Rice had jumped from 500-150,000, maize 500-75,000 (WHO 1996). Very few economies have seen such devastating devaluations of their currency, thus it is no surprise that the people of Iraq are dying. This massive price increase was seen in all foods and goods available in Iraq under sanctions. In a counterpoint interview a Voices in the Wilderness representative put it this way, ?The FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) said in 1995 that the nutritional crisis could only be overcome by adequate food supplies in the country, restoring the viability of the Iraqi Dinar, and enabling ordinary families to acquire "adequate purchasing power". It concluded: "These conditions can be fulfilled only if the economy can be put back in proper shape enabling it to draw on its own resources, and that clearly cannot occur as long as the embargo remains in force." (Rai 2001). Clearly what is asked for is a solution which would empower Iraqis to regain entitlement or ?Adequate purchasing power.?
The invasion of Kuwait, and perceived threat to Saudi Arabia stirred immediate action among the West. The US and UK led an initiative in to impose a full economic embargo on Iraq winning the compliance of most of the world including key Arab states. The invasion resulted in the passing of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. UNSCR 661 froze all foreign assets, and banned all import and export activity between Iraq and the Global community. Resolution 661 was followed by 665 imposing a shipping blockade, 670 blocking aircrafts, and resolution 666 establishing a UN Sanctions Committee to revue sanctions. The final Resolutions passed and now standing retained the full embargo on Iraq contained in SCR 661, and also established guidelines for the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, formation of a Compensation Commission diverting 30% of Iraq's oil revenue to injured parties of the Gulf War (Kuwait, Multinational Corporations, and other States, as well as compensation against environmental damage and resource depletion (Hazelton 84). Newer Resolutions concerning Iraq have passed since, but the project remains the same, to devastate the people of Iraq. Currently the Iraqi government is allowed to sell oil for a minimal fund to provide food and medicinal supplies to the population (Oil for food program). However, these ?humanitarian? pursuits do not reach the minimal goal of staving off poverty and death. I had the good fortune of being able to see former UN head of sanctions, Hans von Sponeck speak at Kresge town hall in early November, where he basically stated that sanctions don?t work, the oil for food program doesn?t work, and any future attempts at ?smart sanctions? are bound to equally fail. These economic tools can only target the economic base, the population of the state, and therefore should be abandoned in the name of humanity.
The sanctions regime has the effect of either banning importation of some goods, or making importation so difficult as to stifle not only the number of months necessary to complete the process, but also the numbers of those companies willing to do so. The all out ban on some goods is meant to focus on Saddam?s capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, also called NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical). This ban has focused on sophisticated items including electronics, lab supplies, and nuclear components, but also on items deemed of ?dual use.? Serious doubt has been cast on whether Saddam has these weapons, or the capacity to build them, a voices in the wilderness report quotes former UNSCOM Chief Inspector Scott Ritter ?From a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed,? and paraphrased, ?Iraq does not currently possess the capability to produce or deploy chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.?(Arnove 68). Absurdly this ban on dual use items has helped stem the tide of pencils and other educational supplies, refrigerated trucks, many medical and lab supplies. If the dual use clauses weren?t enough to stifle Iraq's importation of necessities then the bureaucratic lag is sure to do so. The time and effort under the current sanctions regime required to do business with Iraq is just short of forever. Again, Voices in the wilderness: ?Items come in pieces, for example dental chairs arrive but compressors must be ordered from another company, or syringes arrive but needles take longer. Thus, some shipments must be held in Baghdad until they are complete. This happens, von Sponeck explained, with about half the orders.? (Ibid). This piecemeal importation combined with Security Council approvals, and almost a year long application process to ship to Iraq leads to nothing short of a retarded economy.
The Gulf War and the Sanctions regime have sealed the Iraqis coffin. In a 1998 speech to US Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill shortly before his resignation as head of UN sanctions against Iraq, Denis Halliday conferred that, ?In general, there?s a sense of hopelessness and depression. I recently met with trade union leaders who asked me why the United Nations does not simply bomb the Iraqi people, and do it efficiently, rather than extending sanctions which kill Iraqis incrementally over a long period.? (Halliday 10/6/1998).
The Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq
In 1989 Iraq was a modern industrialized state. It had been made rich through the influx of wealth that oil brought, and various successful programs funded with this money had brought Iraq on par with the US and Europe in terms of social welfare. As I stated earlier, the crisis is rooted in war, but exist in the form of UN sanctions. The Security Council?s decision to economically, and politically isolate Iraq from the global community has had a tremendous impact on the people?s health. This isolation amounts to an effective ban on entitlements for Iraqi families. ?Though the United Nations sanctions do not apply to food and medicine, the absence of oil sales has left Iraqi families and hospitals with no money to buy either. Thus, the impact of sanctions on the economy of a country like Iraq, which has relied heavily on the sale of oil since the early 1950?s, its main export commodity, has invariable had damaging effects in many areas of the economy, including the health sector.? (WHO 1996). What is happening in Iraq? What are these damaging effects?
According to most estimates nearly 500,000 Iraqi children have died as a result of economic sanctions. Scarcity of food and medicine has hit the most vulnerable groups harder than any bombs causing extreme levels of malnurishment. Malnurishment is both lack of food as well as cumulative effects of poor health care, education, and general poverty.
The most definitive study?s of Iraq?s crisis have been conducted by Unicef. A 1997 survey conducted by Unicef with Iraq?s Ministry of Health found that some 750,000 children were malnourished. The overall rate of malnourishment of children under 5 throughout Central and Southern Iraq is nearly 20% (Unicef 1997). Obviously children are without a doubt the most affected group. Ben Brown, a BBC reporter puts it bluntly, ?Many babies are severely malnourished and of every 1,000 babies born, 108 will die before their first birthday.? (Brown). When the World Health Organization looked at anthropomorphic indicators of health among children under five the results were shocking. They?re comparison of years 1991, and 1995 found dramatic increases in all three categories they examined. Stunting had increased from 12%-28%, underweight children increased by 22% from 7% to 29%, and wasting from 3%-12%.(WHO 1996). What is most unfortunate is that even if Iraq somehow manages to turn the tide of child malnutrition in the face of sanctions it would be to no avail. These children currently in question will themselves never catch up in terms of mental and physical potential as adults. Other indicators reveal the same picture. Kwashiorkor and Marasmus have steadily increased since 1991 to levels of 51, and 16,025 per 100,000 respectively (ibid). The report concludes that, ?Comparing levels of the infant mortality rate and the mortality rate of children under 5 years-old during the pre-war period (1988-1989) with that during the period of sanctions (since 1990), it is clear that the IMR has doubled and the mortality rate for children under 5 years-old had increased six times. This can be regarded as the result of two major detrimental factors: malnutrition of mothers and children; and the widespread prevalence of infectious diseases....? (ibid).
These WHO, and Unicef studies have for the most part focused on the physical health of vulnerable groups, children especially. It would be misleading to list only children's health statistics as representing the damage the embargo has done. This is not to demphasize the dire circumstances in Iraq, but to simply round out the picture with a description of what the embargo has done Iraqi civil society in general. The sanctions have had nearly the same impact on Iraq?s Intellectual culture as on Iraq?s children. Iraq, prior to sanctions had an advanced western style system of public education. Now the academics in Iraq exist in a state of intellectual poverty to match the material. Barbara Nimri Aziz described her interactions with Iraqi professors as such: ?Iraq has been cut off; it cannot import books or obtain paper to manufacture its own. Iraqis are hardly ever invited to professional conferences abroad. This has been particularly debilitating for a culture whose modernity was dependent on a keen communication with the US, Europe, and the Middle East. I recall a senior professor asking me to bring him a textbook in political science, his specialty. When I asked which title, he replied, ?anything, anything? He was gasping, as if on his death bed, and desperate from lack of contact.? (Arnove 131). The nation has been cut off intellectually from the lowest levels of education to the highest universities in Baghdad. The educational system of Iraq is said to be lacking supplies, facilities, teachers, and funding. Rural areas are generally worse off, but the general trend is a decaying of what used to be an effective advanced service. More than 12,000 teachers have left their jobs since the sanctions began for the sheer futility of trying to be an educator in a country that can no longer even cope with sustaining a minimal level of health and security (Graham-Brown 182). It is important to keep in mind the crucial link between education and public health. The dismal state of Iraq?s schools and universities is yet another outcome of sanctions which feeds the impoverishment and destruction of the nation.
Public Health is not likely to be solved until the sanctions regime is lifted or seriously overhauled. The sanctions have prevented the repair of Iraqi infrastructure necessary to provide services like clean water, medical treatment, and education. This stagnation is compounded by the sanction regime?s disentitlement of Iraqi society. No money exist to repair facilities, no money exist to use these necessities, and no money exist for the people of Iraq to obtain food and medicines. This is truly a nation under siege.
No summation is really necessary to allow one to understand the general outcome of sanctions. The economic war on Iraq has caused nothing short of pure chaos. To conclude I would rather we look toward the future.
On November 29, 2001 the UN Security Council voted to overhaul the sanctions regime in Iraq (Barrow). The change initially seems to warrant some applause, however it remains to be seen what form the new sanctions will take. Currently on the table is the proposal of ?smart sanctions,? still an embargo of sorts, but like the US ?smart? bomb, its proponents claim it can more effectively target Hussein and his government. If these sanctions do prove to be anything like the space age missile technology of the US military, they can only lead to further disaster. Smart sanctions intend to ease the embargo, allowing a free flow of approved civilian goods, food, and medicine. Unfortunately because the whole of Iraq depends upon oil for its wealth, further restrictions on output and revenue will simply continue the entitlement problem. There may be a free flow of goods to the civilian sector but most Iraqi?s will not have the money purchase necessities. Furthermore the targeted government will still have no funds to begin reconstruction of public utilities. Another BBC journalist, Barbara Plett reached a similar conclusion, ?The "smart" sanctions under discussion in the UN Security Council this month aim to target the Iraqi regime rather than its people by lifting restrictions on civilian goods tightening controls on arms-related products clamping down on oil smuggling... Essentially though, average Iraqis do not need the freedom to import more consumer goods since they cannot afford them.? (Plett). Iraq?s economy and it?s peoples well being is entirely dependent on oil revenue. This peculiarity of Iraq deems special consideration if the UN wishes to continue sanctions without the massive civilian causalities it now causes. Also the US demands serious stipulations to any reform of the sanctions. The Bush administration is calling for Iraq to reopen its borders to UN weapons inspectors (Barrow). It is not clear whether the Iraq government will condone inspections. It seems that the people of Iraq will be caught in the middle of this senseless battle between Washington and Baghdad for some time to come.
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