While the Bush administration scrambles to come up with a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, few here in the United States notice that our government is currently perpetrating one of the most devastating biological terror campaigns in the history of the modern world — neatly labeled “U.N. sanctions.”
Since the inception of the sanctions against Iraq in 1990, the child death rate has increased over 345 percent. The sanctions have killed over 1 million children under the age of five, according to the United Nations. These innocent children have died of easily preventable causes such as malnutrition and diseases caused by contaminated water. Many blame the Iraqi government for these deaths and use them as further justification for invasion. While no one would defend Saddam Hussein, given our position as American citizens and the history of the situation, we ought to worry more about our own government’s culpability.
When the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions in 1990 under U.S./U.K. leadership, they were intended as a short-term measure to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Instead of repealing the sanctions after Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait, the Security Council continued enforcing them, ostensibly to compel Iraq to disarm. Now, 13 years later, the sanctions are still in place and wreaking havoc on Iraq’s civilian population while Hussein sits tight in his presidential palaces.
And in a campaign that was no less than biological terrorism, the U.S. State Department predicted and actively contributed to preventing the Iraqi people from having access to clean water.
Shortly before the onset of the Gulf War and six months into the sanctions, the Pentagon predicted the rapid collapse of the Iraqi water infrastructure. Nevertheless, the United States aggressively blocked Iraqi efforts to replenish supplies for water treatment and pharmaceutical production by implementing excessively rigid sanctions. Following the Pentagon’s analysis that, “Unless the water is purified with chlorine, epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid could occur,” the United Nations proceeded to block an ever-increasing number of Iraqi requests for water-supply contracts.
Once the war began with heavy bombing, the U.S. military systematically targeted Iraqi dams and water treatment factories under the guise of destroying weapon manufacturing plants. The U.S. army did this knowing full well that the entire country’s water infrastructure was on the verge of collapse. Indeed, the Iraqi people, children in particular, began to suffer from just the sorts of preventable water born diseases foreseen by the Pentagon. The war ended quickly, but the brutal sanctions continued. By 1996 the sanctions’ death toll reached over 500,000 Iraqi children. When asked about this, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “We think the price is worth it.”
This blatant disregard for innocent human life on the part of the U.S. government is inexcusable and totally inconsistent with attempts to justify intervention in Iraq on humanitarian grounds.
In response to criticisms, the United States advocated so-called “smart sanctions,” tailored specifically towards weakening the Iraqi government by limiting the importation of military or “dual use” goods — anything that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, the U.S. manipulation of the “smart sanctions” continued to target civilians, further solidifying Saddam Hussein’s power.
Under the U.N. sanctions, any Security Council member has the right to block the Iraqi purchase of goods for any reason. Often blocks have been justified as preventing the importation of “dual use” goods. The problem is that many of the most basic tools necessary for a country to function can be easily framed as dual use goods; medicines, water tanks, truck tires, respirator masks, bulldozers and pipes have all been blocked repeatedly. Iraqi school children have even been denied pencils due to the U.S. government’s claim that the carbon could be extracted and used to coat airplanes.
The United States, seconded occasionally by the United Kingdom, has placed far more blocks of Iraq’s purchases than any other Security Council member, frequently offering no explanation. Since the inception of the program, the blocks have been so abused that Iraq has been allowed to import only $170 worth of goods per person per year. Meanwhile, the United Nations spends over $400 per dog per year on imported food for the dogs that work on the Iraqi demining campaign. While we criticize Iraq for mismanagement of funds, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to provide for the needs of an entire nation with such limited resources.
The dialogue about Iraq’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction distracts the American people from our government’s use of sanctions as a weapon of mass destruction against Iraqis. Perhaps we should learn from our reactions to Sept. 11, 2001, that the massive destruction of innocents is inexcusable and unforgettable. If so, then the destruction of Iraqi civilians — through bombs or “smart sanctions” — cannot bring the national security we so desperately seek. If we truly desire security from terror, then we must demand that our government stop wreaking havoc on the Iraqi people.
Chesa Boudin is a senior in Trumbull College and Sarah Stillman is a freshman in Pierson College. Both are members of the Yale Coalition for Peace.