U.S. sanctions responsible for Iraqi genocide

“They died in silence for humanity had closed its ears to their cry …”

Khalil Gibran Khalil


Inside a three-walled room (the fourth wall long since gone), a mother coddles her two-year-old son snugly in her arms. The small child, emaciated and contorted, is suffering from malnutrition and meningitis. Both could have easily been prevented had the supplies been allowed into the country. The woman slowly raises her head and looks through the window where a pane used to prevent the elements from seeping in. Her older son, lucky enough to reach the tender age of seven, is outside, leaping over a stream of sewage that flows through their barren yard. It didn’t always used to be this way …

The waterways of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, were once compared to those of Venice. Now they are filled with raw sewage. This transformation began in January 1991 with the bombing of Iraq by the United Nations – which acts as a fig-leaf for the United States – and has been perpetuated year after year in an endless downward spiral due to the economic sanctions that have been in place for over a century.

Of its population that once numbered 22 million, an estimated 4 million Iraqis have fled the country and over 1.2 million lie dead as a direct effect of the sanctions. It is only now that former President George Bush’s words ring with great irony that he, of all people, would call Saddam Hussein the next Hitler.

The destruction of the Iraqi people was, after all, completely planned by the United States. A Pentagon document, dated January 18, 1991, states, “Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply … Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease … The entire Iraqi water treatment system will not collapse precipitously … full degradation of the water treatment system probably will take at least another 6 months.” The same embargo that banned the importation of water-purifying chlorine a decade ago still exists to this very day, over 10 years after the time when epidemics of cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid were predicted to occur.

The results, needless to say, have been devastating. Iraq, once the most prosperous country of the Middle East, has become one of the worst. Access to potable water, relative to 1990 levels, is only 50 percent in urban areas and 33 percent in rural areas. The overall deterioration in the quality of drinking water has contributed to the rapid spread of infectious disease. And the fact that government drug warehouses and pharmacies have few stocks of medicines and medical supplies due to the sanctions only adds gasoline to an already unquenchable fire.

Children fare the worst in this most abhorrent of situations. Since the onset of the sanctions, almost one-quarter of all infants are born underweight and the same number are malnourished. It doesn’t get any better as they get older either: 32 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished, with the mortality rate increasing over sixfold to be among the highest in the world.

Stemming mainly from hunger and disease, 4,500 children under five die every month. That translates to roughly 150 children killed each and every day. At that rate, an entire Minnesota elementary school would disappear every few days. The United States is 100 percent morally culpable for each and every life that is ended prematurely.

The complete result of the sanctions is the silent genocide of a nation. Unfortunately, the inability to separate a dictator from his people prevents any change from occurring. But, in the words of Denis Halliday, former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, “We cannot hide behind Saddam Hussein. Yes, he’s a miserable dictator and he’s done some appalling things. None of us would apologize or want to apologize for that. But the fact that we cannot communicate with him, the fact that we don’t progress in our dialogues with him, does not allow us, does not empower us to kill the children of Iraq.”

Helen Fein, Ph.D., research associate of the Francois Xavier-Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health writes, “Although every mass killing involves unique circumstances, certain underlying conditions are common to most genocides.” Let’s apply her conditions to the situation in Iraq to determine if genocide has occurred. “The offending nation, or perpetrator, is usually a nondemocratic country that views the targeted group as a barrier or threat to maintaining power, fulfilling an ideology, or achieving some other goal.” Regular or unleaded?

Furthermore, “The perpetrators exclude the victim from their universe of obligation – that is, they believe that they do not have to account for or protect the victims, who are seen as inferiors, subhumans, or strangers.” Isn’t that similar to “protecting the American way”? Also, “Most genocides occur during a crisis, such as a war, state breakdown, or revolution, that is blamed on the victims.” I believe the term is “energy crisis.”

The unspeakable death and destruction -we are responsible for it all. The sanctions must be dropped, and they must be dropped immediately. Denis Halliday summed the situation up perfectly with the words, “There can be no justification for the death and malnutrition for which sanctions are responsible. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that …”

A Peace Vigil to end the sanctions is held every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge. For more information on the Vigil, visit www.circlevision.com. For more information regarding the sanctions, please visit the Education for Peace in Iraq Center at leb.net/epic/.

Jeff C. Lindemyer is a student activist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]