The summer of 2002 marks the the twelth year of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. On August 6, 1990 the United Nations Security Council imposed a near total embargo on Iraq, the most comprehensive sanctions in the history of the multi-national body.
Since the imposition of sanctions Iraq “has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty” and “Infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world.” (UNICEF)
According to the International Monetary Fund, Iraq’s economy shrank by nearly two-thirds since 1991. Despite food and medicine being exempt by sanctions, without export earnings, Iraq could not pay for imports. At times, sanctions violated the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.” Five years after the implimentation of the UN Humanitarian Program (“oil for food”), sanctions still deny Iraqis access to adequate health care, clean water and electricity. According to the World Food Program (2000), access to potable water is only 50% of 1990 levels in urban areas and 33% of 1990 levels in rural areas.
The deterioration in the quality and quantity of drinking water has contributed to the rapid spread of infectious diseases. Hundreds of tons of raw sewage, for example, is dumped untreated into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers each week, causing epidemics of cholera, typhoid and gastroenteritis.
In 1998, the U.S. Committee for Refugees reported 104,000 Iraqi refugees and one million “documented” displaced persons in Iraq. Over three million Iraqis now live abroad. In recent years, tens of thousands have fled Iraq, including many professionals, due to the deteriorating economic and political situation.
For a visually friendly overview of basic facts on Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, see Some Facts on Iraq, a simple slideshow produced by EPIC staff after a December 2001 visit to Iraq.
The Oil-for-Food Program is not Enough
The oft-touted Oil-for-Food Program, while averting an outright famine, has not been adequate to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. In March 2000, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Hans Von Sponeck stated that the Oil-for-Food program currently totals only $252 per person per year – or less than 70 cents per person per day. This explains the persistent and alarming 30% chronic malnutrition rate among children under five. (UNICEF 2001)
The program does not generate the revenues nor provide the imports necessary to adequately address Iraq’s failing civilian infrastructure. Thus, capital crucial to the reconstruction of Iraqi society funding remains scarce. As a result, engineers, teachers, technicians, doctors and other vital professionals receive woefully inadequate salaries and either leave Iraq in search of paying work or tap into other income sources, thus decreasing time devoted to basic public services such as utility management, education and health care.
The UN estimates $7.1 billion is needed to rehabilitate Iraq’s electrical system. Under the Oil-for-Food program, $1.1 billion has been allocated, but the UN 661 Committee has held up applications valued at $600 million and only $112 million worth of equipment has arrived. As a result, many Iraqis experience power cuts lasting 9 to 18 hours a day, undermining health, water, sanitation, and other services.
Many supplies, desperately needed to repair the infrastructure, are banned or restricted as “dual-use” items, capable of use as military supplies. This includes chlorine, needed for water purification.
Costs of Rebuilding Society
In his July 1991 report on humanitarian conditions in Iraq, UN official Sadruddin Aga Khan estimated the cost of restoring Iraqís power, oil, water, sanitation, food, agriculture, and health sectors to pre-war levels to be $22 billion. Damage caused by the Gulf War was at least $30 billion (New York Times, 2 June 1991).
Due to further breakdowns and lack of maintenance, the costs of restoration have increased. The UN deducts 33% of Iraq’s oil revenues for UN costs & war reparations to Kuwait, leaving a fraction of what Iraq earned prior to sanctions.
Equipment on Hold
The UN 661 Sanctions Committee decides what orders Iraq can and cannot import. Even with “Oil-for-Food” exceptions, import controls restrict and delay much of what funds remain. Contracts for desperately needed equipment routinely get held up in the Security Council for months at a time.
In a February 2000, briefing to the Security Council, Executive Dir. Benon Sevon of the Iraq Humanitarian Program criticized the excessive holds placed on items: “There is currently a backlog of around 800 humanitarian & oil sector applications – my colleagues and I believe this is unacceptable.” 100% of all contracts for telecommunications, 65.5% of electricity contracts, 53% of water and sanitation contracts, and 43% of oil sector contracts were held up in 1999, according to a November report by Mr. Sevon.
Such holds aggravate the humanitarian crisis. Mr. Sevon reported, “Iraq could potentially achieve a 50% increase in electricity supply if these holds were released… [and] there is a direct link between reliable power generation and the provision of health care, water supplies and other basic services.”
If spare parts for Iraq’s oil sector had been delivered in 1999, its year 2000 oil sales would be ~$19 billion. Unfortunately, as a result of the UN’s failure to deliver, and if many of the pending oil sector contracts remain on hold, Iraq will likely earn less than $14 billion this year. This represents a loss of over $5 billion in potential oil sales in 2000, diminishing funds available for the humanitarian program. From December 1996 to 29 February 2000, Iraq sold $25.3 billion of oil under the Oil-for-Food program. After UN deductions, $17 billion was allocated toward the purchase of food, medicine and other goods. Largely because the U.S. has vetoed more than a thousand contracts in the past three years (not to mention holds), only $7 billion in goods reached the Iraqi people as of 2000!
Saddam Hussein and Weapons
of Mass Destruction
In 1991, Iraq was forced into an unprecedented disarmament process and its military has been greatly reduced. UNSCOM Chief Richard Butler said in July 1998, “if Iraqi disarmament were a five-lap race, we would be three quarters of the way around the fifth and final lap.”
Ex-weapons inspector Scott Ritter wrote in the Boston Globe (3/9/00) that, “…from a qualitative 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.”
Sanctions undermine U.S. interests, both in Iraq and throughout the region. Punitive broad sanctions and bombings (all “stick” and no “carrot”) provide no incentive for Iraq to cooperate in disarmament efforts. In targeting civilians, sanctions have fostered resentment among the Iraqi people toward the United States, not Saddam Hussein. They have strengthened Hussein’s power and undermined institutions of civil society necessary for democratic change.
Most Iraqi dissidents and refugees oppose economic sanctions. U.S. indifference to abject suffering in Iraq has elevated anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. Lifting economic sanctions would take a powerful propaganda weapon away from Saddam Hussein, who can currently blame the misery of the Iraqi people on the United States.
The Air War
Since the U.S.-Iraq ceasefire of 1991, U.S. and British forces have regularly bombed Iraqi sites – the longest continuous air campaign since the Vietnam War. The attacks, allegedly on military targets, have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties. See one such report from CNN here . Under the rubic of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch, U.S. air attacks have continued through 2002 on a weekly basis.
Continued air assaults show that the U.S.-Iraq war has not ended. Instead, the ongoing bombing undermines efforts to renew weapons inspections and Iraqi disarmament. De-linking economic from military sanctions would effectively end the humanitarian crisis, while strengthening a strict international arms embargo on Iraq without targeting innocent civilians.