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Sanctions and the War Against Iraq: Facts and Comments


1. Stages of the war

  • The Gulf War – in 1990-91, as many as 200,000 Iraqis and over 100 coalition soldiers were killed. Many more have since died of war-related illnesses.
  • The Sanctions War – originally intended to pressure Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, their continued imposition has killed over 1 million people.
  • Gulf War II? – US claims that Iraqi refusal to allow US members of UN weapons inspection teams on to certain sites, plus the threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, are reasons sufficient to bomb the country again.

2. What are the sanctions intended to accomplish?

  • On paper, compliance with UN resolutions on weapons inspections.
  • Unofficially, the US government has given signs that sanctions are also intended to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
  • Controlling Iraqi oil resources is in Western economic interest.

3. What have been the results of the sanctions?

Human suffering

  • 1 million people killed, nearly 60% are children, as a direct result of sanctions, according to UNICEF.
  • 4500 children under age five die each month.
  • Many die of diarrhea and other easily preventable diseases.
  • The infant mortality rate has increase fourfold from pre-1990 levels.
  • Supplies which are deemed "dual use" (ie. can be used for both civilian or military purposes, ambulances and syringes are included in this category) are not allowed into the country; this has left hospitals with few supplies and decaying buildings, emergency vehicles which do not work and water treatment plants unable to purify drinking water.

More power for Saddam

  • According to Ed Epp of MCC, sanctions increase Saddam Hussein’s power as sympathy and support from the Arab world is directed to him.
  • The West, and not Saddam, is blamed by many Iraqis for their suffering.

4. The "Oil-for-Food" deal (UN Security Council Resolution 986)

  • Iraq can sell $1 billion in oil every three months to buy food and medicine.
  • The revenue is managed by the UN, which claims as much as half of this money as compensation for the 1991 war, to pay for weapons inspections, and other inspection projects. Some food is getting into the country.
  • Phillipe Heffnick, a UNICEF official, has said that Resolution 986 has not effectively improved the situation of the people of Iraq.

5. Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are undeniably terrible—most would agree that inspecting sites in Iraq to ensure that these weapons do not exist there is a good thing.
  • Hitting a chemical weapons site with a bomb is a real risk—what could possibly be released?
  • Whether the members of the inspection teams are from the US or of other nationalities seems to be a secondary concern.
  • The US has weapons of mass destruction, and refuses to allow international teams of observers inspect their nuclear sites, even though history has shown they are willing to use the weapons.

6. Demonization

  • Our world system is based around the need for enemies, preferably inhuman ones.
  • Media coverage focuses attention on Saddam Hussein, as the embodiment of the conflict; whereas many actors and interests are factors.
  • Enemy creation during the Iran-Iraq war, we supported Saddam and sold him weapons.
  • anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment is a significant factor.
  • Saddam is portrayed as an Evil Madman. Without denying the horrific things he has done, this portrayal plays into the cultural stereotype of the absolute oriental despot as well as tapping into comparisons with Hitler.
  • Only with a dehumanized enemy, can US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright say "It’s a hard decision, . . . but we think the price is worth it" when asked on 60 Minutes about achieving US aims at the cost of killing many innocent children.

7. A New War?

  • Violence leads to further violence.
  • Killing Saddam may plunge Iraq into further instability and a successor could possibly be more aggressive.
  • What does is mean for us to love our enemies?

An appeal from Southern Iraq:

Epidemics rage, taking away infants and the sick by the thousands. Those children who survive disease succumb to malnutrition, which stunts their physical and mental development. Our situation is unbearable! We appeal to people of conscience everywhere to work to end the blockade of Iraq.

Archbishop Gabriel Kassab

compiled by Jeremy Bergen, February 24, 1998.