The Economic and Social Toll of U.S. Policy Towards Iraq
years after the United States and its allies imposed economic sanctions
following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the embargo rremains largely in place.
Theembargo continues to exact a heavy toll on Iraqi society, even after the
passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 986 ("Oil for
Food,") that allows Iraq to export oil to pay for food and medicine (and
reparations to Kuwait.) U.S. and British obstructionism on the committee that
approves imports sharply limits Iraq's ability to repair its war-damaged
electrical, sanitation, or health care infrastructure, also critical to health.
draconian character of the sanctions regime guarantees that it would have a
devastating impact on civilians; the highly centralized and anti-democratic
character of the regime exacerbates the devastating impact. Ironically, the
deprivation caused by the sanctions makes Iraqis more dependent on government
rations for survival.
the early 1990's, average incomes in Iraq (GNP per capita) fell more than 80%.
This in itself indicates a catastrophic economic collapse, greater even than the
50% economic contraction suffered by Russia as a result of International
Monetary Fund/World Bank "shock therapy" in the early 1990s, greater
than the 30% contraction suffered by Cuba in the early 1990s due to the loss of
its Eastern European trading partners and the tightening of the U.S. embargo.
demographic survey conducted by UNICEF in 1999 indicated that the rate of death
of children under 5 years of age in central and southern Iraq more than doubled
in the second half of the 1990s from its level a decade earlier. Comparing these
mortality rates with pre-1990 trends of declining child mortality UNICEF
estimated that half a million Iraqi children died between 1991 and 1998 who
would have lived if pre-sanctions trends of declining mortality had continued.
the 1990s primary school enrollment in central and southern Iraq fell from 98%
of all children to 88% of boys and 80% of girls. In two years primary school
drop-outs rose from 17% to 40%. As a result of these shifts literacy fell from
80% to 58% of the adult population.
devastation caused by the sanctions has led to increasing criticism
internationally and in the United States as well. Three UN officials charged
with overseeing humanitarian efforts to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi
population have resigned in protest of the continued brutality of the sanctions;
former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Haliday referred to their
"genocidal impact." In the spring of 2000 a U.S. Congressional letter
demanding the lifting of the sanctions garnered 71 signatures, while House
Democratic Whip David Bonior called the economic sanctions against Iraq
"infanticide masquerading as policy."
the periodic bombing of Iraq by the United States and Britain continues, having
killed more than 140 Iraqi civilians in 1999 alone. In addition, Iraqis (and
U.S. and other veterans) continue to suspect continuing health effects from the
use of depleted uranium shells during the Gulf war - over 340 tons of such
shells were fired. (Recently, European governments - investigating following
complaints from their veterans - have confirmed widespread radiation
contamination in Kosovo as a result of the use of DU shells by U.S. forces
of the incoming Bush Administration have pledged to tighten the pressure on
Iraq. Nonetheless it is possible that the change in government in the U.S. may
create a new opportunity to challenge the sanctions, since many Democratic
Members of Congress may be more willing to question the wisdom (and morality) of
U.S. policy towards Iraq when this doesn't require challenging a Democratic
years of economic sanctions have not accomplished anything other than causing
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children, and much unnecessary
suffering. If the American people were aware of the human toll of these
measures, they would demand to an end to them. Their removal is long overdue.
Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999, Preliminary Report, Baghdad, July
Results of the 1999 Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Surveys, July 23, 1999