Sanctions and bombs: how the UN and western powers committed mass murder in Iraq before the 2003 invasion

Posted: October 20, 2014 by Admin in At the coalface, British politics, Capitalist ideology, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, Iraq, Labour Party NZ, Middle East, National Party NZ, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Poverty & Inequality, United Nations, United States

This article first appeared in revolution magazine’s Middle East bulletin MidEast Solidarity, issue #1, Spring 2001. It looks at the division of labour between the United Nations and western imperialist powers in committing mass murder in Iraq in the 1990s; in 2003, of course, the US-led invasion took place, killing thousands more and devastating Iraq, creating the current morass. The authors were members of the bulletin’s editorial group and active in the Middle East Information and Solidarity Collective.

UN sanctions killed over a million Iraqis and softened up the country for an armed imperialist invasion, symbolising division of labour between UN and imperialist powers

UN sanctions killed over a million Iraqis and softened up the country for a subsequent armed imperialist invasion, symbolising division of labour between UN and imperialist powers

by Grant Poultney and Yan Lin

The purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective action collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace. . .
Chapter 1. Purposes and Principles: Article 1 of the United Nations Charter

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Four days later, the United Nations implemented a trade embargo on Iraq. This paralysed the country. Before the sanctions were imposed, Iraq imported 70 percent of its food. The sanctions in place since 1990 have crippled one of the once-healthiest countries in the world. UK and US politicians justify having the sanctions in place to contain the threat of Saddam Hussein.

In 1999, the United Nations ICE Fund (UNICEF) reported that over half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of UN sanctions. This works out to be an average of 200 children a day. How do the deaths of these children fit in with the first article in the UN charter? What have they got to do with ‘containing’ Saddam Hussein?

Depleted uranium

Iraq also suffers a continuing legacy as a result of the United States using depleted uranium (DU) during the Gulf War. The United States and its allies dropped an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 DU tank rounds and bombs and 94,000 DU bullets on targets in southern Iraq. It is estimated that the contamination from these DU weapons will last around 4,500 million years and has the potential to kill around half a million people.

DU is what’s left over from the process of uranium enrichment, which produces reactor fuel and nuclear warheads. By coating conventional weapons with DU, they can penetrate armoured vehicles much more effectively. As DU is a waste product of the nuclear industry, it is also far cheaper to dump it coated on bombs onto the Third World than to store it in the West.

The DU contaminated water supplies and spread through the desert dust. It can either be ingested or inhaled. Prolonged internal exposure leads to respiratory diseases, breakdown of the immune system, leukemia, lung cancer and bone cancer. Cases of cancers in Iraq have risen tenfold since 1990. The UN sanctions prevent this knowledge from being accurately published and also prevent the mess from being cleaned up.

Health system

The health system in Iraq has been degraded by the sanctions. Before the sanctions, Iraq had a modern health system with the latest medical technology. Now, not only are hospitals short-staffed due to insufficient funds for salaries, medical equipment like incubators, X-ray machines and heart and lung machines normally used on a daily basis to save lives are banned by the sanctions.

People do not even have the appropriate medication for otherwise treatable diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, dysentery, gastro-enteritis and other water-borne illnesses. Water-borne illnesses are especially prevalent because chlorine and other water purification chemicals are now banned under ‘dual use’ considerations. The UN Security Council consistently blocks vaccines, analgesics and chemotherapy drugs, claiming they could be converted into chemical or biological weapons!

As these sanctions were being created, the United States was well aware of what the impact would be on Iraqi lives. In fact, for more than ten years, the United States has deliberately pursued a policy of destroying the water treatment system in Iraq.

Food shortages

Iraq’s ability to earn foreign currency was hindered with the UN sanctions and, in turn, this constrained their ability to import food. Food shortages and malnutrition became progressively severe and chronic in the 1990s.

Before 1990, the biggest problem faced by Iraqi pediatricians was childhood obesity. It seems a far cry from the hospital wards full of children that are dying of famine-related diseases like kwashiorkor.

In 1995, the UN Security Council introduced Resolution 986, the oil-for-food deal. This scheme permitted Iraq to export limited qualities of oil to finance imports of food and other essential humanitarian needs. This scheme, however, did not entirely solve the food problem. Although food rations under SCR 986 provided a significant proportion of overall energy and protein needs, the provisions were low or lacking in a number of other nutrients, especially vitamins A and C, which are almost zero, and calcium, zinc, riboflavin and vitamin B6, which are all less than 40% of needs. As a result, the quality of proteins was low. For a more balanced diet, food items like fruits, vegetables and animal products are needed.

Sanctions could be considered as one of the greatest acts of war known to humankind. They affect the entire population from the children to the elderly. Like a weapon of mass destruction, sanctions sweep through a country, crippling its economy, causing starvation, disease, death and the collapse of infrastructure.

The end result could be easily compared to that of a nuclear bomb except the process is slower and far more painful. These sanctions were imposed by the United Nations. And now the Greens and the Alliance want the UN ro run the war against Afghanistan!

In MidEast Solidarity the article above was accompanied by a box containing the following:

From an exchange on CBS’ 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996 between Madeleine Albright – then US ambassador to the Unitred Nations and later Clinton’s secretary of state – and interviewer Lesley Stahl. Albright was maintaining that sanctions had yielded important concessions from Saddam Hussein:

Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.

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