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Iraq Under Siege

Guest Column
Brice Smith

Despite more than nine years of crippling economic sanctions and repeated military attacks, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government remain firmly in power, so who is the West really targeting with its policy of enforced starvation and disease?

As of June 1997, the United Nations had verified that more than 1.2 million people in Iraq, including 750,000 children below the age of five, have died because of the scarcity of food and medicine caused by the economic sanctions that have been in place since August 6, 1990.

Since then, the conditions for the Iraqi people have certainly not improved. In 1998 UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reported that since the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq, the mortality rate among children under the age of five has increased by more than 40,000 deaths per year, due primarily to preventable causes such as diarrhea, pneumonia ,and malnutrition.

In addition, chronic malnutrition among children under five had reached 27.5 percent by this time. The report also stated that the mortality rate among children over the age of five has increased by more than 50,000 deaths per year due mainly to causes such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, liver, and kidney disease.

At the time of this report, approximately 250 people were dying every day in Iraq due to the effects of the economic sanctions. The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization report that basic public health services are near total collapse in Iraq due to a desperate shortage of basic medicines, life-saving drugs, and other essential medical supplies. They also stated that up to fifty percent of the rural population has no access to clean water and that the waste water treatment facilities have stopped functioning in most urban areas, dramatically increasing the spread of disease.

From these reports, and many more I have not mentioned, it is clear that the UN sanctions against Iraq are in blatant violation of the Geneva Protocol 1, Article 54, which states that the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited.

To prevent the appearance that the Western powers, led by the United States and Great Britain, were simply standing by while their policies destroyed an entire generation of Iraqi children, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 986/1111, which is commonly referred to now as the “Oil for Food” program. In 1998, Dennis Haliday, then UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, stated that Iraq would need in the neighborhood of 30 billion US dollars per year to meet its current requirements for food, medicine, and for rebuilding its infrastructure.

Resolution 986 initially allowed Iraq to sell up to 2.14 billion dollars’ worth of oil every six months. After allocations were taken out to pay for Gulf War reparations and UN administrative expenses, the amount of money which actually made it to the average person in central and southern Iraq was less than 25 cents per person per day. The UN did increase the allowed quota to 5.26 billion dollars’ worth of oil every six months, but due to deterioration of oil field equipment under the sanctions, Iraq is only capable of pumping 4 billion dollars’ worth of oil every six months.

Another UNICEF report stated bluntly that there has been no sign of any improvement in the living conditions of the Iraqi people since Resolution 986 was passed.

The clear failure of this policy to have any impact on the stability of Saddam Hussein’s government and its devastating effect on the people of Iraq have generated a large international movement in opposition to the sanctions. France, Russia and China, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, have continually challenged the US position on sanctions and have opposed US military strikes.

The pope, 53 bishops, the World Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church, and numerous other religious leaders have called for an end to sanctions and vigorously protest military strikes against Iraq. The Arab League has called for an immediate lifting of all sanctions as well as an end to US threats to bomb Iraq.

Hans von Sponeck, UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator for Iraq, and Jutta Burghardt, World Food Program Chief in Iraq, both recently resigned their posts in protest against the sanctions imposed on Iraq. In his resignation letter, Mr. von Sponeck said that the “Oil for Food” program failed to meet even the minimum requirements of the civilian population, and that, as a UN official, he should not be expected to remain silent to what he saw as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended.

Even within the United States, there is growing opposition to the sanctions. The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC), the largest Gulf War veterans’ organization in the country, has come out against the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. In addition, on January 31, 2000, 70 congresspersons signed the “Campbell-Conyers letter” to President Clinton, urging a lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq while leaving military sanctions in place.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky, along with Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn, summed up the impact of the sanctions best by stating that “this is not foreign policy -- it is sanctioned mass murder that is nearing holocaust proportions. If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name.”

As citizens of this country, we have the power and the responsibility to stop this wholesale slaughter of children.

Brice Smith is a graduate student in the Department of Physics.