Economic Sanctions on Iraq
by Rick McDowell
Z magazine November 1997
Seven years of the most comprehensive sanctions in modern
history have reduced Iraq and its people to utter destitution.
United Nation Security Council's economic sanctions, invoked only
ten times since the inception of the United Nations, and applied
eight times since the end of the Cold War, constitute an extension
of the devastating allied bombing campaign of 1991.
For the sixth time since January 1996, a delegation from Voices
in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the U.S. supported UN economic
sanctions against Iraq, traveled to Iraq in May 1997 in public
violation of U.S. law. The delegation visited hospitals in Baghdad
and the southern port city of Basrah. Members met with UN and
relief officials, doctors, government workers, religious leaders,
and Iraqis from all walks of life. Our findings of increasing
suffering, death, and desperation throughout Iraq are confirmed
by recent UN reports.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in
December 1995, that more than one million Iraqis have died-567,000
of them children-as a direct consequence of economic sanctions.
UNICEF reports that 4,500 children under the age of 5 are dying
each month from hunger and disease. An April 1997 nutritional
survey, carried out by UNICEF with the participation of the World
Food Program (WFP) and Iraq's Minister of Health, indicated that
in Central/Southern Iraq, 27.5 percent of Iraq's 3 million children
are now at risk of acute malnutrition.
To date, more children have died in Iraq than the combined
toll of two atomic bombs on Japan and the ethnic cleansing of
former Yugoslavia. The UN's Department of Humanitarian Affairs
reports that Iraq's public health services are nearing a total
breakdown from a lack of basic medicines, life-saving drugs, and
essential medical supplies. The lack of clean water-50 percent
of all rural people have no access to potable water-and the collapse
of waste water treatment facilities in most urban areas are contributing
to the rapidly deteriorating state of public health.
Air borne and water borne diseases are on the rise, while
deaths related to diarrheal diseases have tripled in an increasingly
unhealthy environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports
a six fold increase in the mortality rate for children under five,
an explosive rise in the incidence of endemic infections, such
as cholera and typhoid, and a markedly elevated incidence of measles,
poliomyelitis, and tetanus. Malaria has reached epidemic levels.
The WHO further states that the majority of Iraqis have subsisted
on a semi-starvation diet for the past several years.
The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) during the Gulf War-a possible
contributing factor to Gulf War Syndrome-may also be linked to
increases in childhood cancers and leukemia, Hodgkin's disease,
Iymphomas, and increases in congenital diseases and deformities
in fetus, along with limb reductional abnormalities and increases
in genetic abnormalities throughout Iraq.
The vaunted oil for food resolution (UN Resolution 986) is
a failure-its promise of food and medicine having proved to be
too little, too late. According to the WFP, by the end of May
1997, Iraq had exported 120 million barrels of oil and received
692,999 metric tons of food, 29 percent of what had been expected
under the deal. Of the 574 contracts submitted to the Sanctions
Committee for exports of humanitarian supplies to Iraq, 331 were
approved, 191 placed on hold, 14 blocked, and 38 were awaiting
Of the $2 billion in Iraqi oil revenue authorized for a six
month period, 30 percent is designated for war reparations; 5
to 10 per cent for UN operations; 5 to 10 percent covers maintenance
and repair of the oil pipeline; and 15 percent is earmarked for
humanitarian supplies for the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq.
About $800,000 is available for Central/Southern Iraq or approximately
25 cents per person per day for food and medicine.
Regardless, UN Resolution 986 does not provide for critically
needed spare parts to repair Iraq's water, sanitation, and medical
infrastructure, which was devastated during the Gulf War. Importing
such basic items as chlorine, fertilizers, and pencils is prohibited.
Lacking spare parts and materials needed to repair and maintain
their water and sewage treatment facilities, the condition of
many Iraqis is scarcely improved by the food they receive. The
untreated water is contributing to disease and death. Without
hard currency, the economy of Iraq, estimated to have the second
largest oil re serves in the world, has collapsed. Average public
sector wages, for the few who have employment, have fallen to
less than $5 a month, while hyperinflation has caused the price
of goods to rise astronomically. The Iraqi dinar, worth $3 prior
to sanctions, was worth $.000625 in May. Skilled workers, including
doctors and engineers, have deserted their jobs to become taxi
drivers or to sell cigarettes. Iraqi professionals are leaving
the country in increasing numbers. With an estimated 80 percent
of Iraqis affected by the sanctions, families are selling household
and personal possessions to purchase food and medicine. As the
population struggles for survival, the social fabric of Iraq is
disintegrating, as witnessed by the widespread rise in begging,
street children, crime, and prostitution.
The people of Iraq have been on a roller coaster of hope and
despair for seven years and seem to have settled on the rung of
despair. Frial, the manager of a small hotel, asked us to go home
and tell our government to bomb Iraq for 42 more days and get
it over with for, she says, "We are all dying a slow and
painful death under sanctions." A young doctor at a Baghdad
hospital said, "Our life is over." Another doctor, who
has practiced for 8 years and is forced to play God with the few
available life-saving drugs, makes 3,000 dinar a month, or $2,
while a bottle of milk for his children costs 3,500 dinar. He
asks, "What does your country gain from our suffering?"
Children born since the Gulf War and hardly involved in the
politics of sanctions, suffer in silence, often without access
to pain killers, drugs, antibiotics, or hope. Some childhood cancers
realized an 80 percent cure rate prior to sanctions. Now, without
cancer fighting drugs, the survival rate for children with these
same cancers is 0 percent.
The UN, chartered to protect civilian populations from the
ravages of war, is instead engaged in a war of collective punishment,
a war of mass destruction directed at the civilian population
of Iraq. Considering the suffering and death in Iraq, the lack
of public debate over the UN/U.S. participation in this massive
violation of human rights is astonishing. The scourge of sanctions
on the people of Iraq must come to an immediate and unqualified
Human Rights, Justice, Reform