Iraq's children still starve
Ten years of UN sanctions have discredited that organisation
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the imposition of sanctions against Iraq, which the Iraqis would call ten years of genocide. Nearly 5,000 children under five are dying every month as a consequence of the United Nations-imposed blockade. The United States and Britain are still bombing the Middle Eastern country almost every day, while the ``oil for food'' programme holds the Iraqi economy to ransom. What was initially sold as a strategy to put and end to Saddam Hussein's regime is actually destroying the United Nations image as a humanitarian agency.
In 1998, Denis Halliday, a Dubliner working as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, one of the elite senior officials, decided to resign after 34 years of work with this organisation. ``I am resigning,'' he wrote, ``because the policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society... Five thousand children are dying every month... I don't want to administer a programme that results in figures like these.'' Nowadays, Halliday is working to end economic sanctions against Iraq and he was in Ireland to meet with government officials to try to get the Irish government to stand up for the Iraqi people.
He is not alone. UN officials in Iraq have also criticised the policy. On 13 February 2000, Hans von Sponeck, who succeeded Halliday as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned. ``As a UN official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognise as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended,'' he said. ``How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?'' Von Sponeck drew harsh criticism from the United States and Britain for his statements.
UNICEF survey results released in August 1999 revealed that in the South and centre of Iraq, home to 85% of the country's population, under five mortality increased from 56 deaths per 1,000 live births (1984-1989) to 131 deaths per 1,000 live births (1994-1999). This means that at least 200 children will die today and another 200 tomorrow. As Halliday points out, this is due to the man-made famine created by the sanctions: ``I refer to it normally as genocide, but in fact it is famine.''
Those who have an understanding of Iraqi history know that this country could not be considered part of the developing world. Iraq in the 1990s had a standard of living comparable to many countries in Europe. That was due to the country's oil revenues, which were not all spent by Hussein's government on armaments; the Iraqi government also invested billions of dollars on the economy and the wellbeing of the people.
The educational system in Iraq in the mid 1980s was outstanding. Any student, regardless of political linkage or religion, could go overseas to get a Masters or Doctorate degree at the expense of the government. Illiteracy rates in Iraq in 1958 were 85%. By 1990, illiteracy was down to between 5% and 8%. The health care system in Iraq before the sanctions was so good that the World Health Organisation used to send people into Iraq to study how to run a public health system, urban and rural.
During the Gulf War, British and American aircraft focused their attacks on the basic and most important infrastructures in what it was from the very start a war against the Iraqi people. First were the oil refineries, without which Iraq's transport system came to a halt in weeks. Within hours of the start of the air war on 17 January 1991, 90% of the country's electricity production had been destroyed, which led to the stoppage of factories and made food distribution nearly impossible by the loss of refrigeration. The allies bombed four of the seven major water pumping stations and 31 municipal water and sewage facilities. Even food warehouses and grain silos were hit.
In those days, in the 1990 period, Iraq was importing 70% of its food stocks. For the first nine months after the war, the member states of the UN's Security Council imposed a total ban on the sale of Iraqi oil and on the importation of food stocks. ``That is a guarantee of famine in a matter of months,'' says Halliday. ``This was an outrageous thing for the UN to do.''
``The Americans are still bombing Iraq almost daily, certainly two or three times a week'', explains Halliday. ``Recently, they dropped flares in the north of Iraq specifically to burn the wheat and barley that have been growing in the North; this is the harvesting period. It is hard to believe that they have destroyed, burned, the wheat that Iraq is growing itself.''
The combination of all these factors affects worst the young, the poor and the sick. Children today are dying of diarrheia due to the bad water system combine with their lack of immunities, general malnourishment and the shortage of basic medicines to treat curable diseases. Sophisticated drugs for treating heart diseases or cancer often are not available. Such basic chemicals as chlorine to treat the water were blocked by the UN Sanctions Committee. Just before Christmas, Britain's Department of Trade and Industry blocked a shipment of diphtheria and yellow fever vaccines.
``On top of the mortality problem you have malnutrition,'' says Halliday. ``About 70% of adults are now anaemic. Probably more than 30% are malnourished. Among children, 50% are now chronically malnourished, and that means physical and mental damage. More young mothers are anaemic or malnourished, or have lost their immunities. Their children are born underweight and of course the consequences are horrific. That is an incredible situation. The West and the United Nations are creating this situation with the sanctions.''
Halliday, with all his 34 years of experience with the UN, feels that the organisation ``is simply being used as a cover for the US.
``The embargo is about finances, it's about controlling oil supplies over the world, and especially for Europe and Japan. It is about defence; it is about selling American weapons and European weapons.
``Plus, there is political control. By running a system where Saddam Hussein is still in power, the UN and the US are sustaining the big fear that Baghdad creates in the hearts of the Kuwaitis, and the Gulf, and the Saudis in particular, which makes a perfect opportunity for selling arms. It is a wonderful circle of opportunity. You created the fear and sustained it. You create the opportunity and sell weapons. And you finance the Gulf War with Saudi money... This is a fantastic neo-imperialistic opportunity, which has been very well orchestrated by Washington.''
The hypocrisy of the sanctions regimen against Iraq is clear for Halliday. He still remembers how chemical and biological weapons were happily sold to Iraq by all Western powers to be used against Iran and the Kurds: ``We know Saddam has undertaken appalling exercises against the Kurds, against the Sheeah majority in the South, who were encourage by George Bush to rise up in 1991 and then, of course, got no support. In fact, the Americans stood back and supported Baghdad's crushing of both the Kurds and the Sheeah. It is clear that the US should also bear part of the responsibility.
``The situation in the Middle East is very dangerous for peace and it is very dangerous for the United Nations system itself,'' warns Halliday. ``The credibility of the UN has been very badly damaged. I speak in Europe very often and people ask me `Mr Halliday, has the UN any future?', `Is there any independence of the United Nations or has it become part of the US State Department?'. There is a feeling that the UN has been lost to the Security Council, which has been corrupted by the five permanent members. Particularly, it has been corrupted in recent years because now we just have one hyper-power, the United States. So the whole UN is now being manipulated in the best interests of US foreign policy.''