U.S. policy in Iraq, as reported in the mainstream news, amounts to “we liberated Kuwait” and Saddam “kills his own people.” Saddam Hussein has been so vilified that when we think of Iraq, we fail to think about the millions of Iraqis who unfortunately have no more control over the actions of their dictatorship government than we have over our “democracy.” The mainstream media plays almost exclusively to our fears of “weapons of mass destruction.” With rare exception, the suffering of the Iraqi people is largely an untold story in the U.S. The Gulf War and the sanctions imposed on Iraq for the last 10 years have caused the deaths of over 1.5 million people in a once thriving country of about 22.5 million people. Many people, including the former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq , Denis Halliday, call this genocide. The sanctions themselves have become the new weapon of mass destruction.

The struggle for U.S. hegemony over Iraqi oil resources has a long, sordid, history beginning with the CIA-backed assassination of Abdel Karim Kassem in 1963 leading to the eventual rise to power of Saddam Hussein. When Iraq nationalized its oil industry in 1972, the U.S. placed it on a list of countries that supported terrorism. Despite this, the U.S. supplied Iraq with intelligence, weapons, and technology though out the Iran-Iraq war including during the alleged use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish population in Halabja in 1988. After officially telling Saddam Hussein that the U.S. had no special interests or security arrangements with Kuwait prior to the invasion and then after the invasion would accept no negotiated settlement. The U.S. led the United Nations Security Council to impose the most draconian and protracted sanctions ever imposed on any nation by the international community. In 1991, U.S. and its allies mounted an all out war on Iraq that deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure destroying water treatment and sanitation facilities, fuel and electrical supplies. In less than three weeks, the tonnage of bombs released on Iraq had exceeded the combined allied air offensive of World War II.

The tightly imposed sanctions regime continues today. Through the U.N. sanctions committee’s holds (currently about 1,934 contracts worth an estimated $4.4 billion are on hold, largely due to U.S. objections) on so-called “dual use” commodities, including such items as chlorine, refrigeration components, water pumps and ambulances, have intentionally slowed to a halt the ability to rebuild the infrastructure and provide any semblance of normalcy. Or as Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness would say, the oil-for-food program amounts to “we’ll be happy to take your oil, but we will have final control over how you spend your money.”

In 1995 and in 1997 reports, UNICEF documented an excess infant and under five mortality rate documenting that over 5,000 children died every month in Iraq as a direct result of the sanctions and that one of every four Iraqi children is malnourished. Many of these deaths are due to diseases that would be treatable if medications were available and outbreaks of diseases caused by the lack of sanitation and pure water. Hospitals in Iraq have reported a 4-fold increase in cancers including leukemia in children as a result of the extensive use of depleted uranium during the Gulf War. The mortality rate of childhood leukemia approaches 90%, while in the U.S. with adequate treatment, mortality is about 10%. In the view of UNICEF, the oil-for-food program is “a short-term response to what is now a long-term crisis.”

The disgusting arrogance of U.S. actions in Iraq is accurately described by Air Force Brigadier General William Looney, head of the U.S. Central Command’s Airborne Expeditionary Force, which directs operations south of the 32nd parallel in Iraq: “They know we own their country. We own their airspace. We dictate the way they live and talk. And that’s what’s great about America right now. It’s a good thinking, especially when there is a lot of oil out there we need.”

The United States and Great Britain imposed the no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq. The U.N. did not establish the no-fly zones and they clearly violate international law. U.N. resolution 687 calls for a much smaller demilitarized zone along the border between Iraq and Kuwait, and the U.N. has not requested the U.S. to enforce this zone. U.S. and British planes patrol the no-fly zones that are actually Iraqi airspace. The orders of operation allow that whenever the planes are locked onto by Iraqi radar, they return to their base and can within 24 hours mount a bombing campaign.

The February 16 bombing south of Baghdad was an incursion beyond the no-fly zones, even though the planes never left the no-fly zones. Although this represented an escalation in force, it was no more illegal than the illegal air strikes that take place on the average of 2 or 3 times a week. This action resulted in three people dead and 30 wounded among the civilian population. The Washington Post reported that the February 16 bombing in Iraq the U.S. used 28 new Raytheon-produced bombs, the “Joint Stand-Off Weapon” known as J-SOW. These are actually cluster bombs. Each 1000-pound bomb carries 145 bomblets, both anti-armor and anti-personnel, which disperse over a football field-sized area. Pentagon sources day that 26 of the 28 bombs missed their target. Cluster bombs, once on the ground, become landmines, rendering the entire area lethal. These cluster bombs have what William Arkin called a “unique civilian impact.” About 5% the bomblets fail to detonate on impact and become highly volatile land mines. On February 20, a shepherd was wounded near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq when an unexploded bomblet detonate. On February 15, Reuters reported that two Iraqi boys in western Iraq, also tending sheep, were injured by a cluster bomblet. On February 9, a child was killed and sub-munitions near Basra wounded six others. U.N. officials documented 144 civilians killed by U.S.-U.K. bombings in the no-fly zones throughout 1999.

Despite the fact that intelligence from the UNSCOM activities was used as espionage, it is not true that Iraq kicked the arms inspectors out of the country as is commonly reported. UNSCOM was withdrawn from Iraq in preparation for the December, 1998 bombing of Baghdad. UNSCOM was largely successful in ridding Iraq of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the mean of production. Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector, stated that “…from a quantitative standpoint, Iraq has in fact been disarmed…The chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs that were a real threat in 1991 had, by 1998, been destroyed or rendered harmless.” As a matter of fact, they were very close to certifying this in 1998. It is also a common misconception that the sanctions would end if Iraq would allow the arms inspections to resume.

U.N. Resolution 1284 allows only for a 90-day suspension of sanctions pending the reports of a newly to-be-established weapons inspection team. The resolution was carefully crafted to keep both arms inspections and sanctions in place, a combination that could not be acceptable to Iraq.

It is difficult to decide whether the late-breaking state department rhetoric on softening the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people is a sincere humanitarian concern or a feeble propaganda attempt to counter growing world-wide, anti-sanctions sentiment. The continued attacks using antipersonnel bombs would argue against humanitarian concerns. Additionally, even recently, the U.S. has consistently resisted U.N. efforts to make the sanctions less lethal to the civilian population or “smarter.” It is almost certain that proposed changes would not end the diversion of Iraq’s oil revenues to the U.N. escrow account.

Whether the intentions are noble or not, softening the repeated blows of injustice is not enough. The sanctions must be lifted. When Leslie Stahl confronted Madeline Albright with the UNICEF report on child mortality, she stated that “we think the price is worth it.” Denis Halliday states, “The death of one Iraqi child attributable to economic sanctions is one death too many.” It was coincidental that a national two-day conference on Iraq was held in Colorado just after U.S. and Great Britain launch air strikes on Baghdad. The day of the air strikes over 100 delegates representing more than 60 organizations all over the country converged in Denver at the Second National Organizing Conference on Iraq and formed the National Network to End the War in Iraq (NNEWAI). The group’s goal is to create a unified national voice and course of action meant to address a growing humanitarian crisis for which members said the U.S. has shirked its moral responsibility.

Columbus, Ohio is famous in the national anti-sanctions movement. The people (especially the Antiracist Action) in Columbus who rose up to challenge Madeline Albright’s Town Meeting by demonstrating outside St. John’s arena, confronting the panel with the truth, and putting the brakes on their attempt to popularize genocide were remembered and acknowledged at the National Conference. The challenge to us is to continue to live up to the reputation of being bold, creative, and energetic in continuing what was so effectively accomplished at the Columbus Town Meeting - a total disruption of the anti-Iraq agenda!

Connie Hammond is a member of the CCAC Middle East Peace committee and the Progressive Peace Coalition. CCAC is a the local affiliate of Peace Action. She serves as a member of the Coordinating Committee and the advocacy working Group of the National Network to End the War in Iraq and serves as a member. For more information on the activities of any of these groups, she can be reached at

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