Copyrighted material

Slow Motion Genocide in Iraq

by Randolph T. Holhut

Alexander Cockburn: "New Millennium, Old Crime"
(AR) -- It's been 10 years since Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq has paid dearly for that invasion ever since.

During the 43 days of combat of the Gulf War in January and February 1991, 80 million tons of bombs were dropped on Iraq. The U.S. and its allies destroyed most of Iraq's civil infrastructure in the process.

Between the 1991 war and the nine years of United Nations economic sanctions and intermittent bombing by the U.S. and Britain that followed, as many as two million Iraqis -- about half of them young children -- have died, while Saddam Hussein stayed in power.

The UN sanctions that followed the Gulf War have been even deadlier than the war itself. Since 1991, Iraq has been prevented from the sale of most of its oil production and from importing a substantial amount of the food, medical supplies, building materials and technological assistance it needs to recover from the wartime destruction.

In 1990, diseases such as dysentery, tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid were non-existent in Iraq. According to UNICEF, thousands of cases have been reported yearly since the UN embargo. Iraq once had one of the lowest child-mortality rates in the world. The death rate of children under five today averages about 5,000 per month. Hospitals suffer from chronic shortages of medicines and diseases that are easily preventable or treatable are flourishing.

There's no definitive count of how many have died from the nine years of the UN embargo, but estimates range from 500,000 to more than 1.5 million and that about half have been children under age five. This suffering has been rarely mentioned in the news media.

The Clinton and Blair governments are the main reason why the sanctions still continue. Their general feeling is that the longer they can keep them in place, the better. This is in keeping with the long-standing but unspoken goal of weakening Saddam enough to not be a threat to his neighbors, but keeping him strong enough to stay in power to stave off the fundamentalists.

The items for Iraq that the UN sanctions committee -- which is dominated by the U.S. and British representatives -- have held up seem absurd. Heart-lung machines, water pumps, agricultural supplies, fire-fighting equipment and even detergent and wheelbarrows are on the "hold" list of humanitarian supplies because they are considered "dual use" items that could be turned into weapons of mass destruction. Equipment for restoring the telephone and electrical grid and water treatment plants is also being held up by the UN.

To punish Saddam Hussein, millions of innocent Iraqis have been condemned to live a nasty, pre-industrial age existence. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked in 1996 whether the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children was an acceptable price for maintaining sanctions on Iraq, Albright's response was "we think the price is worth it." The callousness and hypocrisy of this attitude is appalling.

Saddam has been portrayed as a diabolical fiend and a threat to humanity because Iraq is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that the U.S. still has over 31,000 tons of chemical weapons that it is in no hurry to destroy and still has more nuclear warheads than any other nation in the world.

Of course, in U.S. foreign policy, we always reserve the right to have weapons of mass destruction for ourselves and our friends, but not our enemies. Earlier this year, the head of the UN humanitarian program in Iraq resigned. Hans von Sponeck, a 36-year UN veteran, told In These Times magazine that the "oil-for-food" program created by the UN Security Council is fundamentally inadequate and has failed to meet its stated objectives.

"The net of empirical evidence is increasingly dense," von Sponeck said. "We are not just talking with our hearts, but we are also talking with our minds. We can back up what we are saying."

Of the $8.2 billion that the UN has made available in the last three phases of the oil-for-food program, nearly $1.8 billion has been placed on hold to prevent the purchase of "dual-use" items. Von Sponeck said that action has prevented the repair of water, sanitation and electrical systems in Iraq, which in turn is contributing to the needless deaths of thousands of people each month due to contaminated water and poor sanitary conditions.

Can a civilized nation support a policy that amounts to a slow-motion genocide of a nation? The U.S. and British governments evidently believe so. In the name of punishing a dictator, they have allowed hundreds of thousands of innocents to die without the slightest twinge of remorse.

After 10 years, Saddam Hussein still rules a devastated nation while around 150 children die each day from starvation and disease due to the economic sanctions meant to punish him. Clearly, the UN sanctions aren't working and must be lifted. All that prevents this is the intransigence of the U.S. and Britain.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor August 21, 2000 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.