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The Evil of Sanctions, Part 2


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U.S. attacks on Iraq in the no-fly zones were carefully planned, especially in the months immediately before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion by the deluded “coalition” that Washington cobbled together by means of deceit and downright lies about “weapons of mass destruction.” On September 5, 2002, for example, some 100 coalition aircraft bombed and rocketed a desert airstrip called H-3, deep in the far west of Iraq. There was no threat from the airfield, but it was planned that it be a base for U.S. Special Forces inserted from Jordan before the war began. It had to be neutralized. And this is but one example of cynical manipulation of an already illegal decree.

According to U.S. Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, the coalition flew 21,736 sorties over southern Iraq between June 2002 and the start of the war in April 2003 — more than 60 a day. Three hundred forty-nine targets were attacked and Moseley claimed that U.S. and other aircraft were fired at 651 times. He had the grace to admit to the New York Times (which helped the Bush administration to convince Americans that the war was justified),

We became a little more aggressive based on them shooting more at us, which allowed us to respond more…. Then the question is whether they were shooting at us because we were up there more. So there is a chicken and egg thing here.

In fact Britain’s Ministry of Defense let the cat out of the bag by admitting that from March to November 2002 there were 8 alleged violations by Iraqi forces of the No-Fly Zone and 143 instances of “recorded threats.” In response, 253,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on Iraq. The number of rockets fired was not stated.

Bombs and rockets

While illegal sanctions caused the premature but prolonged and usually agonizing death of countless innocent Iraqis, the illegal bombings and rocketings played a major part in destroying a country that will take decades to recover, if it ever does. The social consequences of attacks and sanctions have been truly terrible.

Electricity systems, wrecked beyond repair, were unable to supply power to hospitals and the civil population in general. But Saddam and his henchmen were not affected: they had plenty of generators — which were one of the thousands of items forbidden to be imported for ordinary people.

Christian Aid observed in 2000,

The immediate consequence of eight years of sanctions has been a dramatic fall in living standards, the collapse of the infrastructure, and a serious decline in the availability of public services. The longer-term damage to the fabric of society has yet to be assessed but economic disruption has already led to heightened levels of crime, corruption and violence. Competition for increasingly scarce resources has allowed the Iraqi state to use clan and sectarian rivalries to maintain its control, further fragmenting Iraqi society.

And that was before intensification of bombing and the tightening of already harsh controls on imports. These included six-month examinations of requests for importing such things as medical prescription drugs and substances required for water purification. By the time of approval (if given), most drugs were useless and thus dangerous, which may have been the intention. (Such things as aspirin and other pain-relievers were said to be ingredients for making chemical weapons.)

There were some principled people who went public about the appalling human crisis inflicted on Iraq by the United States and its British ally. Dennis Halliday, who was head of the UN’s humanitarian program in Iraq, resigned in protest, as did his successor, Hans von Sponeck. They wrote,

The death of some 5-6,000 children a month is mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US and UK governments’ delayed clearance of equipment and materials is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad.

Their statement was blunt, to the point, and accurate — and completely ignored by the barbarians who considered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children was “a price that was worth it.” The only honorable officials in the entire squalid sanctions horror were Halliday and von Sponeck, but of course they were reviled by those who knew well what effect the cruel sanctions would have and were having.

Oil for no food

Then there was the “Oil for Food” program, which was begun in 1996 and became one of the biggest scams of modern times. According to the BBC, the Oil for Food program “was a $60bn (£32bn) scheme which was supposed to allow Iraq to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies with the proceeds of regulated oil sales, without breaking the sanctions imposed on it after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.” Actually, it was a license for fraud and embezzlement and proved most lucrative to all sorts of lowlifes who profited from a government plan that purported to alleviate misery.

Instead of trying to alleviate starvation and disease, the sanctions administrators deliberately stalled on approving Oil for Food arrangements. The UN found that it took an average of 66 days for agreement to be reached on contracts and a further 59 days for food to be delivered. The intention was clear: no matter the desperate plight of children in Iraq, the sanctions would continue to be imposed with the utmost severity.

In spite of criminality and willful disruption of food and medical supplies, the child mortality rate declined as a result of the Oil for Food program. This was no thanks to such agencies as Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry, which prevented diphtheria and yellow-fever vaccines from being sent to Iraq, claiming that they could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

In 1997, according to UNICEF, 25 percent of children under five were severely malnourished. They were especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases, such as typhoid and cholera, that were unknown in Iraq before the Gulf War of 1991.

To end this sad tale of death and despair on Iraq, the words of the honorable Dennis Halliday are appropriate. Sanctions, he said,

do not impact on governance effectively and instead [they damage] the innocent people of the country…. For me what is tragic, in addition to the tragedy of Iraq itself, is the fact that the United Nations Security Council member states … are maintaining a program of economic sanctions deliberately, knowingly killing thousands of Iraqis each month. And that definition fits genocide.

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    Brian Cloughley is a commentator on political and military affairs and is a strategy analyst for Jane’s Sentinel. He resides in France. Visit his website: www.beecluff.com.