Iraq has been cruelly burdened with UN imposed sanctions for 14 years. In a recent article, based on a the forthcoming paper back edition of his book, ’The New Rulers of the World’ (Independent On Sunday, London, 23 February 2003) the award winning journalist John Pilger investigates these barbarous blockades that have cost, according to various estimates, between half a million to one million Iraqi lives. With irrefutable evidence and arguments, the anti-war journalist shows the devastation wrecked upon Iraqi society by years of western imperialist policies.
No to war.
John Pilger investigation condemns UN sanctions as "genocide"
Pilger begins by pointing out that under the UN sanctions Iraq is barred from access to equipment and expertise to decontaminate the battlefields from the 1991 Gulf War.
Professor Doug Rokke, the US army physicist responsible for cleaning up Kuwait’s war zones, told the reporter: "When a tank fired its shells, each round carried over 4,500 g of solid uranium. What happened in the Gulf was a form of nuclear warfare."
Pilger interviews medics and scientists trying to cope with the horrendous results of cancer causing uranium, especially amongst Iraqi children. His descriptions of child suffering are almost too unbearable to read. He gives an indication of the scale of the problem by citing the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which reported in 1991 that if only 8% of the depleted uranium fired in the Gulf War were inhaled, it would lead to "500,000 potential deaths".
In the looming new war against Iraq, the US and British military will once again used depleted uranium, killing off many people and causing horrific physical deformations amongst untold numbers of adults and the as yet unborn.
Pilger points out that the UN Sanctions Committee, set up to administer the embargo, is dominated by the US and British governments. "Washington has vetoed or delayed a range of vital medical equipment, chemotherapy drugs, even pain killers."
By October 2001, 1,010 contracts for humanitarian supplies, worth $3.85bn, were "on hold" by the Sanctions Committee. They included items related to water, sanitation, agriculture, education and food and health – the basic needs of humans.
The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that from 1991 to 1998 there were 500,000 deaths above the anticipated rate among Iraqi children under-five years of age. This amounts to, on average, 5,200 under fives deaths a month.
This – the death of millions of Iraqis as part of the aim of removing Saddam Hussein (who has murdered and terrorised Iraqis for decades with Western backing) – is the conscious and deliberate policy of leaders in the White House and Downing Street. And now they plan even greater infamy on the poor and devastated country.
Professor Karl Sikora, chief of the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation, commented: "The saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because there was no chemotherapy and no pain control."
Pilger also spoke to Dennis Halliday, the former Co-ordinator for the UN’s Humanitarian programme in Iraq, who resigned in 1998 and has campaigned against the cruel sanctions ever since. He told the reporter, "I had been instructed [by the UN] 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. 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. It is the little people who are losing their children or their parents for lack of untreated water."
The successor to Dennis Halliday in the UN, Hans Van Sponeck, is nearly as damning. He says the so-called ’Food for Oil Programme’ only allows a pitiful $100 per person to survive for a year. This amount is also meant to fund the whole of Iraq’s infrastructure and essential services. Van Sponeck concludes, "I have not wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable."
It has not always been such a desperate situation of the Iraqi people. Dr Anupama Rao Singh, Unicef’s senior representative in Iraq, told Pilger that before 1989 (before the terrible damage wrecked by the first Gulf War and the subsequent years of sanctions) the literacy rate was more than 90%. "Iraq had reached a stage where the basic indicators we use to measure the overall well being of human beings, including children, were some of the best in the world. Now it is amongst the bottom 20 per cent," she said.
Prior to 1991, Saddam Hussein used a combination of fierce repression (especially against the Left) and the oil wealth of the country to stay in power. He modernised the country’s infrastructure and built relatively decent schools, universities and hospitals. Before the first Gulf War, 92% of Iraqis had safe water and 93% enjoyed free health care.
Longest bombing campaign since WW2
As well as the sanctions, successive British and US governments have operated what they unilaterally deem ’No Fly Zones’ over north and south Iraq. These zones have no ’legal basis’ in international law whatsoever. Even the ex-Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros Ghali admits to Pilger, "The no fly zones are illegal".
Not that this small detail worries the world’s powers or for that matter the media – the commonplace bombing of Iraqi civilians hardly merits a mention in the daily press.
The bombings by these two imperialist powers take place almost daily, Pilger points out in his article, marking the "longest Anglo-American aerial campaign since the Second World War". Between July 1998 and January 2000, the US air force and naval aircraft carried out 36,000 sorties over Iraq, and in 1999 alone, US and British aircraft dropped more than 1,800 bombs.
Tony Blair likes to present these murderous attacks as part of his moral campaign to protect Kurds and Shias from Saddam Hussein. But Pilger blows these lies apart when he interviews some of the victims of this undeclared war on civilians. A family in northern Kurdish Iraq describe how they lost three generations of their family when aircraft attacked them and the sheep they were tending (were these regarded as the much vaunted ’weapons of mass destruction’?).
In response to this evidence the present UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan can only offer weasel words. When asked by Pilger to address the parents of children killed by sanctions or bombings, Annan says the Security Council was "considering ’smart sanctions’". He pathetically pleads, "Please do not judge us [the UN] by what has happened in Iraq."
But the results of UN sanctions in Iraq are precisely the way in which to judge the UN, a body dominated by the selfish interests of the big imperialist powers. Working people can have no faith in the UN, or, for that matter, in individual powers, such as France, that may temporarily come into conflict with the aims of the US. French imperialism, for example, has plenty of blood on its own hands from years of imperialist intervention in places such as Algeria and Vietnam and is currently busy meddling in the war torn Ivory Coast.
Weapons inspectors find "zilch"
Socialists stand opposed to an imperialist war against Iraq on any basis, whether there is a second resolution authorising force passed by the Security Council or not. We cannot give any trust in UN agencies or resolutions. As Pilger points out, "Led by the Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, the inspectors have extraordinary powers, which, for example, require Iraq to ’confess’ to possessing equipment never banned by previous resolutions. In spite of a torrent of disinformation from Washington and Whitehall, they have found, as one inspector put it, ’zilch’."
The issue of weapons of mass destruction is merely a smokescreen (and a poor one, at that) to create a convenient excuse to go to war, to remove a regime not prepared to play ball with US imperialism, to control Iraq’s oil supplies, and to subjugate the poor, exploited and oppressed of the world.
This much is increasingly clear to many working people around the world. It accounts for the incredible scale of the 15 February demonstrations. Now this unprecedented international mass movement must step up its actions, including strikes and walkouts, to stop this war. This solidarity action with the working people of Iraq can also trigger a struggle inside the country against the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein.