Paying the price for the sins of Saddam

By Nadia Hussain

“You’re all falling for their government’s propaganda. It’s not the sanctions that are responsible for the Iraqis’ suffering, it’s only their own government.”

An individual stated this to me on Aug. 9, 2000, the day that I, along with a group of other Calgarians, protested outside the Canadian Federal building, demanding our government to call for an immediate lifting of all non-military sanctions from Iraq.

Since becoming active in calling for a lifting of all non-military sanctions from Iraq, I have frequently encountered sentiments such as the one above. One common thread of judgment in this issue is that those who criticize the current sanctions system on Iraq fall into the “gullible/na├»ve” category, sometimes even labelled as “Saddam-sympathizers.” According to this argument, these individuals (including myself) are grossly manipulated by the propaganda spewed by the Iraqi government, and are saying and doing exactly what Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the members of his regime would have US do. A brief part of a report by the Toronto-based Inter-Church Action focused on this aspect; according to the Inter-Church Action, “…groups which campaign for the ending of sanctions are often criticized by sanction proponents as being “soft” on Saddam Hussein and playing into his hands. This is a familiar strategy based on a conveniently narrow limitation of the options. The churches reject such a simplistic interpretation of the choices to be made.”

Most of US will remember that, on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait–manifestly, an action in direct violation of all international laws. In response, the United Nations Security Council members imposed sanctions upon Iraq on Aug. 6, 1990. In 1991, Robert Gates (who was the then national security adviser and nominee of then U.S. President George Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency) commented that the people of Iraq would “pay the price while [Saddam Hussein] is in power.” Perhaps Gates did not fully comprehend back then how accurate his statement would be. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, 5,000 children aged five or under die each month due to the economic sanctions on Iraq. In other words, one child aged five or under pays the ultimate “price” every 12 minutes due to the economic sanctions.

Magne Raundalen is an internationally renowned child psychologist; according to him, the “most traumatized child population” he has ever witnessed exists in Iraq today. Raundalen was a member of an International Harvard Study Team delegation that visited Iraq in 1991. Trauma among Iraqi children is “intensifying,” he stated, “because of the climate of hunger and deprivation.” Anupamo Rao Singh, the UNICEF representative in Iraq, stated that since 1991 there has been a “125 per cent increase” in Iraqi children seeking professional mental health services.

Today, Iraqi teachers earn a monthly wage of $2 US. This is sufficient in Iraq to purchase two chickens or four kilograms of rice. Prior to the imposition of sanctions, one Iraqi Dinar was worth $3 US. Last year, $1 US was worth about 2,000 Iraqi Dinars. In other words, a 250 dinar note was worth about $750 US 10 years ago. Today, it has a value of 12-and-a-half cents–a 6,000 per cent depreciation.

In 1995, after visiting Iraq, the UN World Food Program’s Emergency Support Officer, Dieter Hannush, stated:

“We are on the point of no return in Iraq… The social fabric of the nation is disintegrating. People have exhausted their ability to cope.”

“I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide, a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults. What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention.”

-Denis Halliday
Former United Nations’
Humanitarian Coordinator of Iraq

Under the current sanctions system on Iraq, certain items are prevented from entering the country, due to the apparent “dual-purpose” threat these items possess (i.e., they can be used for military purposes). Initially, this appears like a rational argument. The particular manner in which this is implemented, however, begs a deeper analysis. The following is a list of some of the items that have been either delayed or prohibited from entering Iraq at one time or another: ambulances, analgesics, antibiotics, baby food, bandages, blankets, burial shroud cloth (required for deceased Muslims in accordance with certain Islamic regulations), children’s clothes, chemotherapy drugs, catheters, dialysis equipment, enriched powdered milk, incubators, medical journals, medical swabs, paper, pencils, radiotherapy equipment, rice, stethoscopes, soap, school books, sheets, syringes, surgical gloves, tooth paste, thread, toys, water purifiers, X-ray equipment and ping pong balls.

Prior to 1990, Iraq had a health-care system “comparable to Canada’s” and the most serious health problem facing Iraqi children back then was obesity. UNICEF concluded that nearly one million children are malnourished in Iraq today.

Though I am not Arab, I was residing in an Arab country when Iraq invaded Kuwait; as a result of that invasion, my family was among the thousands that felt compelled to leave the region due to serious safety concerns. President Saddam Hussein is a despotic tyrant and operates an extremely oppressive regime; while Hussein is a brutal dictator, Iraq is not comprised of 22 million “Saddam Husseins.” One needs to question whether punishing 22 million innocent civilians–particularly young children who were not even born when Iraq invaded Kuwait–for the actions of one brutal dictator is a justifiable action.

“Price” is a word that frequently arises in this entire issue. What price are we willing to inflict upon innocent civilians for the actions of one dictator? On May 12, 1996, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, interviewer Lesley Stahl asked U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright (then U.S. Ambassador to the UN) the following question:

“We have heard that half a million children in Iraq have died… is the price worth it?”
Albright’s reply was, “…we think the price is worth it.” (Note: the 500,000 dead children referred to by Stahl are UNICEF figures, they are not from the Iraqi government).

There is the frequently-asserted argument that sanctions on Iraq would be lifted were it not for the facts that Iraq possesses “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) and is not a democratic country. This article does not dispute these facts, just as it would never dispute that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait are all undemocratic middle eastern countries as well. At least three middle eastern countries–Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel–continue to possess WMD in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 678–adopted more than 10 years ago–that stipulates that the process of Iraq’s WMD disarmament must occur in the context of regional disarmament. Is it rational to expect Iraq to seriously commit to a WMD disarmament process when the responsibilities of Iraq’s neighbours to do the very same are neglected? (Note: both Turkey and Israel have invaded other countries in the past).

Perhaps the most critical conclusions regarding the sanctions on Iraq derive (paradoxically enough) from a UN organization itself. In June of this year, a panel by the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights concluded that:

“The sanctions against Iraq are the most comprehensive, total sanctions that have ever been imposed on a country. The situation at present is extremely grave… most alarming is the health crisis that has erupted since the imposition of the sanctions… any deaths at all caused by the sanctions regime indicate grave breaches of humanitarian law and are unacceptable… The sanctions against Iraq are unequivocally illegal under existing international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

Denis Halliday is the former UN Assistant Secretary General and former UN Humanitarian Coordinator of Iraq. In late 1998, Halliday resigned in protest of the economic sanctions on Iraq, stating, “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that.” Halliday was a 34-year veteran with the UN. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year.

Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck (a 32-year veteran with the UN), was installed as the next UN Humanitarian Coordinator of Iraq subsequent to Halliday’s resignation. On Feb. 14 of this year, Sponeck resigned in protest of the economic sanctions on Iraq, asking, “For how long [should] the civilian population, which is totally innocent in all this, be made to suffer for something that they have never done?” One day after Sponeck’s resignation, the official responsible for the UN World Food Program in Iraq, Jutta Burghardt, also resigned in protest of the economic sanctions on Iraq.

What feasible alternatives exist to the current impasse? As Halliday and Sponeck have both argued, all non-military sanctions should be lifted from Iraq, thereby deflecting the pressure upon innocent civilians and directing it towards the parties that are truly responsible.

“I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide, a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults,” Halliday stated last year. “We all know that the regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for economic sanctions; on the contrary, he has been strengthened by them… What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention.”

“This is not foreign policy–it is sanctioned mass-murder,” wrote Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn (all internationally-renowned academics) in a publicly-released letter in 1998. “If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name… We are past the point where silence is passive consent–when a crime reaches these proportions, silence is complicity.”

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