Why Sanctions against Iraq Must End
US Policies Threaten Destruction of Iraq, Regional Destabilization
Washington D.C., Feb. 16 — After almost a decade of unprecedented blockade of their country, euphemistically known as “sanctions,” the people of Iraq are still enduring a man-made humanitarian disaster unlike any in history. No one now denies that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children under the age of five, have died as a direct result of effects of the sanctions on nutrition and public health in Iraq. As 70 members of Congress pointed out in a letter to President Clinton on Jan. 31 appealing for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, “Reports from UNICEF (the United Nation’s Children’s Fund) and other United Nations agencies operating in Iraq estimate that over one million civilians, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and disease as a result of the embargo. UNICEF also reports that, despite the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, several thousand children under the age of 5 die every month.” The devastating effects of the sanctions are only getting worse. At the beginning of this month, the Red Cross reported that “the situation of the civilian population is increasingly desperate.”
Over the past weekend, the head of the UN’s humanitarian operations in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, resigned, effective March 31, in protest over the effects of the sanctions on the innocent people of Iraq. A few days before his resignation, von Sponeck said that “As a UN official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended. How long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent in all this, be exposed to such punishment for something that they have never done?” His resignation follows that of his predecessor, Denis Halliday, who resigned from the job in September 1998 and has become a leading campaigner for the lifting of sanctions. Like Halliday, von Sponeck says that the “oil-for-food” program, which is supposed to address the needs of the Iraqi people living under total blockade, is utterly inadequate. It would appear that no person of conscience can work to alleviate the human crisis in Iraq and remain silent on the horrifying effect of the sanctions.
The economic sanctions are supposed to weaken the Iraqi government, which the United States has determined to remove from power. After more than nine years of suffering and death on a truly massive scale, however, there is no evidence that Iraqi government has been significantly weakened by sanctions, and no indication that sanctions will have any such effect in the future. What is clear is that the innocent people of Iraq, especially children, the elderly and infirm, are paying the price in a manner which would be considered totally unacceptable under most circumstances. The sanctions have wrought unspeakable havoc on Iraqi society, but have manifestly failed to achieve the policy goals attached to them. In spite of this clear policy failure, the Clinton Administration has thus far been unwilling to consider any alternatives.
Broader Implications of US Policy Towards Iraq
The sanctions are only a part of a whole set of policies designed to “contain” and overthrow the Iraqi government. The pillars of this policy – including sanctions, force, inspections and no-fly zones – were all set in place in 1991 – 1992 and have not been formally reviewed, let alone reevaluated, in many years. The long-term effects of all of these policies, including the sanctions, no-fly zones, and bombings, on the future of Iraq and indeed the entire region do not appear to be understood by the Clinton administration. The sanctions and related policies, which amount to a ten-year siege of Iraq, if continued indefinitely, threaten not just Iraqi society but regional stability. These policies have achieved none of the goals set for them, while causing the death and suffering to the Iraqi people and doing great harm to the international reputation and credibility of the United States. They are also increasingly damaging to long-term U.S. interests in the region, because the double standards that inform this policy are the source of tremendous anger and resentment in the Arab world. They provide fodder for the those in the Middle East and here in the United States who would promote the false idea that there is a generalized conflict between the United States and the Arab World.
Although not widely reported in the American press, throughout 1999 and into the new year, almost daily bombing attacks on targets on Iraq have been conducted by the US and British military. In 1999, Iraq was bombed on 138 separate days, with more than 450 targets attacked, 1,800 bombs dropped and 156 people killed, many of them civilians including children. These attacks fuel a strong sense in the Arab world that an anti-Arab double-standard informs the American approach to the Middle East, whereby Arab nations are routinely and casually bombed. Furthermore, what had been an international coalition during the Gulf War has become merely an Anglo-American campaign against Iraq, which is why anger about the bombings and sanctions is directed mainly against the US and UK.
The devastation wrought by the sanctions in Iraq reach far beyond the nutritional and public health disasters that have caused so many deaths. What was a prosperous society, one of the most developed of third world nations, has been completely impoverished. An entire generation of young Iraqis are being raised in a nation cut off from the outside world and besieged. The education they receive has been severely damaged by sanctions which have involved the cutting off of books and educational supplies from Iraq and an intellectual embargo. No consideration seems to have been given to the long-term effects on Iraq and the region as a whole of the impact these conditions are going to have on the public mood in Iraq in coming years and decades, or what effect this will have on the possibilities for reconciliation between Iraq and its regional neighbors which will have no choice but to live togther in the Middle East.
Moreover, the no-fly zones have created what is increasingly a de facto partition of Iraq, with the northen Kurdish region of the country cut off from the rest of the nation and quickly becoming not only autonomous but independent. Conditions are being created that will make the future reintegration of Iraqi society very problematic. If such a reintegration cannot be achieved, the destabilizing effects on the region will be profound, long-lasting and very unpredictable.
There is no evidence that the US government has seriously considered the long-term consequences of any of these policies. Certainly, there has been no serious public debate about them. Even as the 2000 presidential campaign is well under way, the issue of Iraq, insofar as it is ever a subject for the candidates, is framed solely in terms of who can be toughest on Saddam Hussein. The question of the sanctions has yet to be raised in any way during the Republican or Democratic campaigns for the nomination and the long-term effects of the overall Iraq policy go unmentioned. But we must not deceive ourselves – such policies will indeed have far-reaching and long-lasting effects for the entire Middle East and for the US role in the region.
It is high time to end the cruel and pointless sanctions against the Iraqi people and time, moreover, for a serious and frank public debate in this country on the overall policy towards Iraq.