10 Myths and Realities
Myth #1 Economic sanctions have produced temporary hardship for the Iraqi people, but are an effective, nonviolent method of containing Iraq.
While estimates and overall statistics vary, few independent authorities will protest the fact that at least 500,000 Iraqi children have died since 1990 as a direct result of the economic sanctions. More humans have died from sanctions than died from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the civil war in Bosnia. A September 1999 UNICEF report confirmed this number of excess deaths, finding that infant mortality rates in Iraq have more than doubled since the imposition of sanctions. The 1998 UNICEF report found that over 5,000 children die each month for lack of adequate food and medicine. Former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq and Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday called this statistic “conservative.”
Economic sanctions against Iraq are costly from an American perspective (in the range of $1 billion per year), and deadly from an Iraqi perspective. They target the most vulnerable members of the Iraqi society -- the poor, elderly, new born, sick and young -- in such a way that many consider economic sanctions more lethal than violence and more punishing than war. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire referred to sanctions on Iraq as “the economic nuclear bomb.” The economic sanctions, coupled with the pain inflicted by US military attacks, have reduced Iraq’s infrastructure and economy to virtual rubble; oxygen factories, water sanitation plants, and hospitals stand useless, their lifesaving powers denied. Surveys by UN agencies and independent NGOs continue to report tragic and precipitous declines in health and nutrition throughout Iraq.
The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs has found that “public health services are near total collapse -- basic medicines, life-saving drugs and essential medical supplies are lacking throughout the country. Fifty per cent of rural people have no access to potable water and waster water treatment facilities have stopped functioning in most urban areas.”
Before the Gulf War, Iraq had the best health care system in the Middle East, and one of the best educational programs in the world. Its health indicators were comparable to many western European nations. Iraq is today one of the most malnourished, impoverished, and underfed nations, although it sits on the second largest oil reserve in the world.
Myth #2 Iraq possesses, and seeks to build, weapons of mass destruction. If unchecked, and without economic sanctions, Iraq will threaten its neighbors.
According to former UNSCOM Chief Inspector, W. Scott Ritter, Iraq has been “qualitatively disarmed.” Mr. Ritter explains that Iraq does not currently possess the capability to use, launch, or deploy chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The UNSCOM teams were incredibly effective at reducing Iraq’s arsenal. According to UNSCOM Chairperson Richard Butler, if disarming Iraq were considered a five-lap race, “Iraq would be three quarters of the way around the fifth and final lap.”
Tragic irony and faulty logic sustain the embargo. The United States bombs Iraq and maintains economic sanctions, which have destroyed more human life than all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq combined, because Iraq “has not complied with UN resolutions.” The sanctions are more lethal and illegal than any failure of the Iraqi regime to comply with inspectors. Moreover, there is no way for Iraq to fully comply unless the United States ceases to arm Iraq’s neighbors, who have the ability to threaten its borders.
The United States supplied Iraq with most of its weapons. Just two days before Iraq invaded Kuwait, then-President George Bush approved and signed a shipment of military supplies to Iraq. The United States and Britain were the major suppliers of chemical and biological weapons to Iraq in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, in which the United States supported both sides with weapons sales. A report from the US Senate Committee on Bank, Housing, and Urban Affairs found that 9 out of 10 biological materials used in Iraq’s weapons components were bought from US companies.
Finally, the United States possesses, and keeps on hair-trigger alert, more nuclear weapons than any other nation in the world. US Congress has failed to ratify the Test-Ban Treaty. Many Iraqis feel that it is disingenuous of the United States -- sitting atop the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, refusing to allow its weapons sites to be inspected by international experts, and being the only nation in the world ever to drop an atomic bomb -- to tell Iraq what it can and cannot produce.
Myth #3 Iraq has acted in violation of UN resolutions, while the United States has not.
UN Resolution 687, article 14, calls for regional disarmament as the basis for reducing Iraq’s arsenal. By arming Iraq’s neighbors in the Middle East, the US is contravening the same UN resolution with which it maintains the economic sanctions. The US acts hypocritically, asking that the UN maintain economic sanctions, while bombing unilaterally and refusing to pay its UN dues.
While the United States claims to be pacifying the Middle East by stemming Iraq’s arsenal, it continues to arm Iraq’s neighbors at a rapacious pace. Some of the consumers of American military technology -- in the Middle East and elsewhere -- read like a “whose who” of international terrorists, human rights violators, and dictators. The US supplies Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Syria with weapons and technology, all of who are Iraq’s neighbors and could potentially threaten Iraq’s borders. 87 per cent of the weapons used by the Indonesian military in the repression of East Timorese were sold by the US military or US weapons’ contractors.
Myth #4 The Iraqi government has constantly weakened and undermined the UN weapons inspection program, in part by kicking out inspectors in December 1998 and causing “Operation Desert Fox.”
The Iraqi regime, knowing that the United States favors Saddam Hussein's ouster and will impose sanctions until a regime change, has no incentive to cooperate with the United States or intrusive inspections. Two secretaries of state under President Clinton -- Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher -- have publicly stated that sanctions will remain intact until Saddam Hussein is driven from power. The Iraq Liberation Act has budgeted $97 million toward this end.
Richard Butler removed inspectors from Iraq, prior to the December 1998 bombardment of Iraq, contrary to recent reports of the US State Department. According to Butler’s own records, his team of weapons inspectors made numerous unimpeded visits the week before the December bombing. On only a few visits was he prevented from inspecting a site.
Numerous revelations, confirmed by Butler, indicate that he was in frequent communication with the US military the week before the bombing, making increasingly strident statements about the supposed intransigence of the Iraqi regime. The US government admitted, after an embarrassing Washington Post story, that it had been using UNSCOM to spy on Iraq.
Myth #5 The Iraqi government is deliberately withholding and stockpiling food and medicine, to exacerbate the human suffering for political sympathy and to draw attention to the need to lift sanctions.
In its September 1999 Report, the US State Department alleged that Iraq is warehousing and stockpiling medicine with malicious intent. The warehousing of medicines is heavily monitored by the UN and is acknowledged by local UN administration and staff to be caused by logistical problems stemming from nine years of sanctions and lingering Gulf War damage. UN officials in Iraq call this allegation “a myth that needs debunking.”
The United Nations conducts frequent itemization of the food and medicine that is stored in Iraq. Dr. Popol, Acting Director of the WHO in Iraq, and Hans Von Sponeck, have repeatedly called for the “de-politicization” of distribution, insisting that any stockpiling of medicine and equipment is the result of Iraq’s abysmal infrastructure.
Iraq must purchase goods multinationally rather than indigenously. Items come in pieces - dental chairs arrive but compressors must be ordered from another company, or syringes arrive but needles take longer. Thus, items must be held in Baghdad until they are complete. This happens, Von Sponeck explained, with about one-half of the orders. Moreover, the UN 661 Sanctions Committee takes longer to approve some orders than others, thus forcing Iraq to keep medicine in storage until complements are approved. Most contracts pertaining to spare parts -- to rebuild water, sanitation, or electrical facilities -- have been denied under “dual use” considerations.
Denis Halliday stated on January 12, 1998, that Iraq would need at least $30 billion to meet its current requirements for food, medicine, and infrastructure. After allocations are taken out of the oil revenues to finance Gulf War reparations and UN administrative expenses, the amount of money, which trickles down to the average person in Iraq is 25 cents per person per day.
Myth # 6 The Iraqi leadership uses money -- intended for humanitarian purposes -- to build palaces and enrich itself.
The New York Times recently noted that Saddam Hussein “chose to spend what money was available on lavish palaces and construction projects.” The US State Department used as evidence a new amusement park being built outside Baghdad, and satellite reconnaissance photographs of a town that had been razed by Iraqi troops. It was later admitted that the “evidence” was in fact a photograph of an archaelogical dig, far from the site of the alleged massacre.
While it is true that Iraq is permitted to sell approximately $5.2 billion of oil per month, these funds are not at the discretion of Saddam Hussein, but rather are kept in a UN escrow account, in the New York branch of the Bank of Paris. Thus, the allegation that Saddam Hussein diverts humanitarian aid for personal wealth and political power is near impossible. The United Nations keeps careful accounting of expenditures, most of which is spent on Gulf War reparations and financing UN programs. The economic sanctions facilitate the black market in Iraq, strengthening the hegemony of a small and wealthy elite, while targeting the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society. The upper echelons in Iraq -- those whom the US seeks to undermine -- are in fact helped by the sanctions, as is the government, whose grip of power is emboldened by the fact that sanctions hinder political, social, and educational development. Pluralism and characteristics of a civil society will flourish only when sanctions are lifted.
Myth #7 The distribution in northern Iraq -- where the UN is most heavily involved -- is better than in the south, proving that the Iraqi government is failing to adequately distribute food and medicine to its people.
Sanctions are simply not the same in the north and south. In releasing the recent report, UNICEF's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, explained the differences in Iraqi mortality rates as follows: the Kurdish north has been receiving humanitarian assistance for longer than the remainder of Iraq, agriculture in the north is better, evading sanctions is easier (the northern borders being far more porous); the north receives 22 per cent more per capita from the Oil for Food program than the center/south, and the north gets about 10 per cent of all UN-controlled assistance in currency, while the rest of the country receives only commodities.
UN agency directors and supervisors who monitor the distribution in the south consider the government distribution to be “exemplary.” Said Dr. Popol, Acting Director of the WHO, “The Iraqi government is saving many lives with its distribution mechanism.”
Myth #8 The international community is united in its opposition to Iraq, and favors economic sanctions.
France, China, and Russia are three countries among many, which are united in opposition to the economic sanctions against Iraq. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, they have continually challenged the US and UK position on sanctions. The Pope, 53 Bishops, Denis Halliday, numerous religious leaders, and scores of national institutions have condemned and protested both sanctions and military strikes. Two Nobel Peace Laureates, three delegations of physicians, and five congressional staffpersons have traveled to Iraq this year in violation of sanctions in order to promote international concern for, and understanding of, the conditions found in Iraq. The Arab League has called for the immediate lifting of the economic sanctions. The US is setting a dangerous precedent in the Middle East, promoting discord and violence, and paving the way for future wars, which will be fought by the next generation of US citizens. Our children may have to pay dearly for the mistakes we are making today. Both Halliday and Von Sponeck have noted a sharp increase in fundamentalism in Iraq, likened by both to the political marginalization as the Treaty of Versaille began to punish the people of Germany.
Myth #9 The US and UK fighter planes patrolling No-fly zones are protecting Iraqi minority groups. Since the end of the December bombing campaign, there has been zero collateral damage in these regions.
Since the December bombing campaign against Iraq, US and UK fighter planes have flown thousands of sorties over the northern and southern “No-fly zones” to “protect” northern Kurds and southern Shiites. They patrol the Iraqi air space, they say, so that Iraq cannot attack its own people, as it did during the 1980s. While UN resolutions do call for the protection of Iraqi minorities, there is no stipulation for military enforcement of the zones. Many legal experts have charged that patrolling these zones is illegal. The US and UK planes have killed, according to UNOHCI, hundreds of innocent civilians, and injured many more.
Myth #10 You should trust the news coverage in respected publications and programs such as The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNBC.
General Electric owns NBC. Westinghouse own CBS. Disney owns ABC. Oil companies such as Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil -- all with an interest in sustaining economic sanctions to keep Iraqi oil off the market -- have representatives on the corporate boards of these networks, as does Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-22 fighter plane. General Electric and Westinghouse make bomb parts and fighter plane components. That they would consider their corporate profits when deciding how to portray the situation in Iraq is neither surprising nor new. These networks often treat Pentagon and State Department reports and comments as factual, rather than attempting to verify them with UN officials in Iraq.