MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 12

International Socialist Review, June–July 2000

Anthony Arnove

The Hidden War Against Iraq

From International Socialist Review, Issue 12, June–July 2000.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

IN LATE 1999, Rhode Island Hospital, just a few blocks from where I live, experienced an overnight power outage. Despite the hospital’s sophisticated emergency power generator, the accident contributed to the death of one patient. The blackout was front-page news for days, and a special hearing was called to determine how it could have happened.

I thought of this story as I visited the hospitals, schools and homes of Iraqis who have lived under a state of siege imposed by the United States for the past nine years, and who face almost constant bombing of their power plants, water-treatment system and social infrastructure.

In Iraq, this targeting of hospitals and power plants is a deliberate policy directed by the U.S. government and imposed in the name of the United Nations (UN). The sanctions on Iraq – in place since August 1990, when the Iraqi government ordered the invasion of Kuwait – are designed to cause suffering and economic hardship.

Defenders of the war on Iraq openly discuss the targeting of Iraq’s power system. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, one of the most outspoken advocates of such war crimes, encouraged the military to “[b]low up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who’s in charge.” [1]

The power grid in Iraq is able to meet no more than 40 percent of demand. In Baghdad, where the supply is the most stable in the country, power is generally on and off in cycles of six and three hours. Farther from urban centers, people often have no power for twelve hours or longer at a time. [2]

While the rich can afford private generators, most Iraqis cannot possibly afford them, so they use cheap kerosene lamps, which can easily explode or tip over and cause fires. The director of Iraq’s national orchestra, Mohammed Amin Ezzat, watched his wife die in front of him when a kerosene lamp caught her clothes on fire. “I threw myself on her in order to extinguish the flames, but it was no use. She died. Sometimes I wish I had died with her.” [3]

Iraq under siege

The consequences of the state of siege are devastating, as I saw first-hand when I traveled to Iraq with a delegation from Voices in the Wilderness and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in March 2000.

You can see evidence of the impact of the embargo anywhere you look. Every sector of Iraq lacks parts and supplies that are kept out of the country under what are known as “dual use” restrictions. A UN committee in New York makes decisions on what Iraq can and cannot import and controls all of the income from Iraq’s permitted oil sales, which is paid into an escrow account at the Bank of Paris in New York.

The sanctions committee, dominated by U.S. and British representatives, routinely denies approval for items it claims could have a military application. Among the items that have been kept out of Iraq under these restrictions are ambulances, pencils, fertilizer, pesticides, chlorinators and water pumps. [4]

The U.S. regularly uses its veto power to block essential items. British journalist John Pilger recently confronted Peter van Walsum, the chair of the sanctions committee, about how its decisions are made:

Pilger: How much power does the United States exercise over your committee?

van Walsum: We operate by consensus.

Pilger: And what if the Americans object?

van Walsum: We don’t operate. [5]

Currently, some $1.7 billion in material has been placed “on hold” by the sanctions committee. Hans von Sponeck, now the second person to resign as coordinator of the UN’s humanitarian program in Iraq, explains: “Even the amount [of goods on hold] isn’t a good guide. You can have $200,000 worth of items on hold that prevents maybe $200 million dollars worth of equipment from becoming useful. We have many examples of that.” [6]

I spoke to doctors in Baghdad and Basra who described how they had not seen a medical textbook or journal since 1990, before sanctions imposed an intellectual embargo on the country. In Baghdad, Dr. Al-Anbari listed the textbooks the hospital desperately needed, including the standard Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. At the same time, they are having to treat diseases that they have little or no experience treating, including rare forms of cancer that are being seen in increasing numbers throughout Iraq – particularly in the south, where the U.S. military used depleted uranium (DU)-tipped bullets, exposing thousands to radiation.

”Diarrhea is the number one killer of children under five in Iraq,” explained Carmen Pauls of the Mennonite Central Committee, who has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Iraq. [7] Tuberculosis, a disease of poverty that had been eradicated in Iraq, now claims thousands of lives. “In medical school, we used to just see marasmus [a form of malnutrition] in our textbooks and on television. Now, we see it regularly in our country. Before 1990, this was not a problem,” Dr. Athir Al-Anbari told me as we walked through Saddam Hussein Pediatric Hospital in Baghdad. [8]

Politicians in the U.S. speak regularly about the threat of “rogue states” such as Iraq using biological weapons. But the sanctions are a form of biological warfare. By destroying Iraq’s modern irrigation and sewage system, water has become a major killer. A water-sewage treatment plant I visited outside Basra had only one functioning water pump, no chemical lab for testing the water, and only one partially functioning chlorinator. Throughout Iraq you see fetid pools of wastewater in public areas, where children play and families live and work.

At a camp for internally displaced persons I visited in southern Iraq, three or four families lived crammed together in an apartment designed for one. The camp residents live in an unfinished housing project, which lacks any guardrails to keep children from falling off stairs or ledges to their death. The camp has no plumbing system and people’s waste collects in the public courtyard.

Just miles from the camp, doctors I spoke to described seeing an “astonishing” increase in cancers. Dr. Thamir Ahmed Himdin, a bone cancer specialist at Basra General Hospital who has worked as a doctor in Basra for the past 24 years, said he has documented “a change in the age, in the pattern, [and] in the aggressiveness” of cancers, including rare forms of bone tumors. Some of the cancers he has observed appear to be less painful than is normally the case, which makes the problem worse: “If the pain is less severe, [people] are less likely to seek care.”

Dr. Himdin attributed the increase in cancers to the use of DU by the allies during the Gulf War, the environmental impact of the war, and the effects of poverty deliberately caused by the siege of Iraq. “We lack certain sophisticated investigative tools, such as MRI,” he added, making it difficult to properly diagnose patients. At best, doctors can perform only one pathology test, a biopsy. The usual treatment for cancer, he added, is to amputate and hope that a secondary cancer doesn’t kill the patient. [9]

After showing us graphic slides of his patients with unusual cancer patterns, Dr. Himdin and his associates took us on a tour of the hospital. The second patient we visited was from Zubair, on the Iraq-Kuwait border, where DU was fired. The patient, who had lymphoma, looked as if he could have been 60, but was only 32. Then, after seeing a few more patients, Dr. Mohamad Bahajat Nafaaw said that now we would visit “the miserable ward.” [10]

Dr. Nafaaw introduced us to Hakim Shaliba, from Basra. A mother of four children, she is 25 but looks like a teenager from the effects of malnutrition. She has tumors in two of her dorsal vertebrae. “Day by day she is deteriorating,” and will be completely paralyzed, Dr. Nafaaw explained. Because “she is poor,” he adds, “we cannot send her to Baghdad” where she might possibly receive better care.

The elite of Baghdad can afford to purchase black-market medicine and to travel abroad for surgery or care, but most Iraqis who are forced to rely on the devastated health care system have no such recourse. Hospitals have become a place that people go to die, not to be cured.

“It’s all Saddam’s fault”

As more becomes known about the suffering of millions of Iraqis under sanctions, pro-sanctions voices have had to peddle more and more lies about the situation in Iraq to place the blame for Iraqis’ suffering on the government.

Numerous charges have been leveled that the UN’s oil-for-food program would alleviate Iraqis’ suffering if only the Baathist regime did not stockpile food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. According to Barbara Crossette of the New York Times, Hussein has “chose[n] to spend what money was available on lavish palaces and construction projects.” [11]

Yet UN experts have consistently refuted this charge. “We have no evidence that there is conscious withholding of medicines ordered by the government,” said von Sponeck, who oversaw a team of 300 UN inspectors who itemize and track every item as it makes its way through the oil-for-food program to the end users. [12]

As of September 30, 1999, according to the UN Office of Humanitarian Concerns in Iraq, “88.5 percent of all Security Council Resolution 986 commodities that had arrived for all phases [of the oil-for-food program] had been distributed to end-user facilities and beneficiaries.” [13] This is remarkably efficient given the state of Iraq’s infrastructure.

The oil-for-food ration, established in 1995 under UN Security Council Resolution 986, has never met the daily caloric requirements of the population, von Sponeck added. It includes no meat or vegetables and typically runs out after around 20 days for most Iraqis, leaving them to scramble for the remainder of the month. [14] Because of the devaluation of the Iraqi dinar, this is a massive task. In 1989, it cost roughly three dollars to buy one dinar. Today, one dollar is worth 2,200 dinars. Yet salaries for workers have stayed the same as they were before the embargo. The average salary for a teacher is roughly 12,000 dinars, or around six dollars per month.

Divided by the Iraqi population, all the money allocated under the oil-for-food program during the past three years amounts to only 55 cents per Iraqi per day, drastically short of what is needed to meet basic human needs, let alone to rebuild the country. [15] The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates conservatively that for Iraq to repair the damage caused by the war and sanctions, it would take $50 to $100 billion “just for essential infrastructural utilities, from a gross domestic product base, which, even including the grey and black economies, is less than $13 billion in nominal terms.” [16]

Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, the past two directors of the oil-for-food program, have resigned in protest against the sanctions. Both have said that the problem lies with sanctions and the severe inadequacy of the oil-for-food program, not with the withholding of goods by the Iraqi government. “Oil-for-food is a stranglehold,” according to Halliday, who resigned in fall 1998 after 34 years of working in the UN system. “It’s just keeping 22 million people in a refugee camp.” Von Sponeck, who has worked in the UN system for 36 years, argues that “the oil-for-food program is inadequate” and “is no longer defensible.” [17]

The very basic premise of the program reveals the true nature of sanctions. The UN is overseeing a policy of starving the Iraqi people, and leading UN Security Council members are bombing the country. Yet other agencies of the UN, such as UNICEF and the World Food Program, are supposed to help people who are the victims of those policies.

The secret war

Defenders of the sanctions present them as a humanitarian alternative to war. Yet they are part of a program of deliberate warfare that targets civilians, and they have been accompanied by the routine bombing of Iraq.

With virtually no public discussion, British and American jets have been bombing Iraq almost every other day since January 1999. The ongoing bombing of Iraq is “the longest sustained U.S. air operation since the Vietnam War,” the Los Angeles Times acknowledged more than a year ago. [18] More than one hundred civilians have been killed in the raids since 1999, according to documentation by the UN in Iraq. [19]

The U.S. and Britain claim that the raids are meant to protect Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in southern Iraq, in areas they have designated as “no-fly” zones. You couldn’t find a clearer example of what the British journalist George Orwell called “double speak” in his novel 1984. The only planes not allowed to fly in the zones are Iraqi ones. U.S. and British jets routinely fly through Iraqi airspace, dropping bombs on civilians, infrastructure and even cattle. In his important new documentary, Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq, John Pilger interviews the British journalist Felicity Arbuthnot, who describes how one family lost four members and more than one hundred sheep in one such attack.

Turkey is also allowed to fly planes and helicopters into Iraqi airspace and to send troops across its border with Iraq into the northern no-fly zone – to attack the very Kurds the U.S. and Britain claim they are defending. In early April, Turkey staged another series of assaults on Kurds in northern Iraq. The Guardian newspaper in Britain was one of the only papers to report this assault:

In what has become an annual event that marks the arrival of spring, thousands of Turkish troops have crossed the border into northern Iraq during the past few days to hunt down members of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ...

Almost anywhere else in the world, thousands of heavily armed soldiers crossing an international border would be big news. But this latest Turkish incursion into Iraq will be greeted with barely a murmur in the west. [20]

Such routine ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Turkey and northern Iraq is acceptable since the Turkish government is a close military ally of the United States. Turkey “plays a critical role in protecting American security interests in the region,” a New York Times editorial recently emphasized. [21] Turkey’s Incirlik base serves as the launching pad for U.S. and British planes attacking Iraq. Turkey, a member of NATO, also helped to head up the 1999 war in the Balkans and has become a major ally of Israel, helping to arm the Israeli Defense Forces.

Betraying the Kurds

In fact, the U.S. has a long history of standing by Turkey during its repression of the Kurds. According to Amnesty International, the Turkish army has killed 26,000 Kurds in southeast Turkey and in the “so-called safe havens the West has set up for Kurds in northern Iraq.” In addition, “the Turkish army has bulldozed over 4,000 villages in Kurdistan ... [while] over three million Kurds have been driven from their homes.” [22]

The U.S. has also consistently betrayed its promises to the Kurdish people. Two decades after Henry Kissinger encouraged Kurds to rise up against the government of Iraq – only to then abandon them for an oil deal in March 1975 – he said by way of explanation, “We did not know much about the Kurds – we thought they were some kind of hill tribe.” A more honest observer later said that “the Kurds were just part of [an] arms deal for Henry.” [23]

But the Kurds, thinking they had the backing of the U.S., took up arms against the Iraqi government in 1975 and were brutally crushed. Some 200,000 Kurds were made refugees and thousands were killed, according to a government investigation:

The president [Henry Ford], Dr. Kissinger, and the Shah [of Iran] all hoped that our clients [the Kurds] would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally’s [Iran’s] neighboring country [Iraq]. This policy was not imparted to our allies, who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert operations, ours was a cynical enterprise. [24]

When confronted about the betrayal, Kissinger simply said, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” [25]

As veteran Washington Post reporter Jonathan Randal notes, the betrayals continued:

[S]uccessive American governments seemed outwardly unbothered by what had happened ... In the closing period of the Iran-Iraq war, Washington took no punitive action against Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical poison gas, which killed thousands of Kurdish civilians at Halabja in March 1988; thousands more succumbed to chemical weapons in the final months of the war; and still further thousands died even after the August 20 cease-fire ending that conflict. In February 1991, President George Bush encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then tried to turn a blind eye to their massive exodus when their revolt collapsed in part because of his own government’s refusal to shoot down Iraqi helicopters spreading terror in northern Iraq. [26]

While useful as a rhetorical tool – and sometimes as a destabilizing factor – the U.S. has no intention of allowing Kurds to fight for an independent Kurdistan, which would redraw boundaries in a region of unparalleled importance to U.S. interests and would threaten to bring the region’s oil resources under democratic, rather than Western, control.

Blood for oil

To understand what is happening in Iraq today, you need to start with one simple fact: Iraq has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia. Some 11 percent of the world’s oil is under Iraq, and it is among the cheapest oil to extract, making it more profitable than oil from Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea. [27] Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has been determined to control the profits associated with this essential resource, which is critical to the functioning of capitalism globally. Control over Middle East oil has allowed the U.S. to leverage power over its economic rivals Germany and Japan.

As early as 1945, the U.S. State Department noted that oil “has historically played a larger part in the external relations of the United States than any other commodity.” [28] British interests dominated Iraq in the 1930s and 1940s. But when explorations uncovered large oil reserves in Iraq in the early 1950s, the U.S. quickly moved to push the United Kingdom (UK) aside. According to the Iraqi historian Samira Haj, “conditions changed dramatically” in Iraq in the 1950s. “Production rates increased, royalties rose sharply, and oil became the leading sector of the [Iraqi] economy.” [29]

The U.S. talked about supporting democracy and human rights in the region, but the truth was far different. As State Department planner George Kennan observed in an internal planning document in 1948:

[W]e have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population ... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. [30]

As part of the “pattern of relationships” described by Kennan, the U.S. helped to establish client regimes that would serve Western interests in the region.

Support for Israel was at the center of this equation. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz succinctly described Israel’s value to U.S. planners:

The West is none too happy about its relations with the [Arab] states in the Middle East. The feudal regimes there have to make such concessions to the nationalist movements, which sometimes have a pronounced socialist-leftist coloring, that they become more and more reluctant to supply Britain and the United States with their natural resources and military bases ... Therefore, strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible. [31]

The U.S. government also cultivated allies in Egypt under Anwar Sadat, in Iran under the Shah, and in Saudi Arabia, despite the brutality of each of these regimes.

Iraq also served Western interests before its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which turned President Hussein from an ally and friend of London and Washington into “the new Hitler.” In fact, the Central Intelligence Agency played a key role in the rise to power of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party within Iraq and in the rise of Hussein within the party apparatus to become president in 1979. [32] During its brutal war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, the U.S. leaned toward Iraq, while arming both sides and playing the two countries against one another. [33]

Today, the media describes at great length how President Saddam Hussein “gassed his own people.” Yet when thousands of people were gassed in the 1988 Halabja massacre, the U.S. increased agricultural credits to the Baathist government and sent a delegation of Washington politicians, including Senator Robert Dole, to encourage friendly relations between the two countries. [34] In fact, the Iraqi government built up its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capacity with the knowledge and support of the U.S. and Britain, purchasing materials from Western companies whose contracts had been approved by the UK Foreign Office and the U.S. Commerce Department.

Even though Hussein alienated his Western allies by invading Kuwait and threatened U.S. control over the flow of oil in the region, the U.S. government preferred to keep him in power when his regime came under attack at the end of the Gulf War. After the overwhelmingly powerful allied forces slaughtered Iraqi troops, Kurds in northern Iraq, Shiites in southern Iraq, and rebellious Iraqi soldiers rose up in a courageous protest against the Baathist government. Encouraged by President George Bush, who had called for the overthrow of Hussein, protesters expected that they would receive support and air cover from the allied troops. Yet the U.S. government preferred that Hussein violently crush the uprising rather than risk a popular revolution. In ABC news anchor Peter Jennings’ words, “The United States did want Saddam Hussein to go, they just didn’t want the Iraqi people to take over.” [35]

U.S. planners were concerned that Iraq might be torn apart, with Kurds and Shiites potentially demanding recognition for long-suppressed rights. The Bush administration especially feared setting a precedent for Kurdish rights, since Kurds had been fighting for an independent Kurdistan against massive opposition from U.S. allies, especially Turkey.

Revolution by fax

Both the Bush and Clinton administrations claimed to support “democracy” in Iraq. In reality, what they want is what New York Times foreign correspondent Thomas Friedman cynically described as “an iron-fisted Iraqi junta” more subservient to the U.S., ideally ruled by someone other than Saddam Hussein. [36]

The so-called Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), passed by Congress in 1998, set aside $97 million for the overthrow of Hussein’s government. But, Halliday notes, the money has mostly gone to buy fax machines for discredited and corrupt Iraqi expatriates with no social base or legitimacy within Iraq. “It’s a sort of revolution by fax.” [37] Among the groups currently funded by the U.S. government through the ILA is a party that seeks to restore the Iraqi monarchy. [38]

In reality, sanctions and the ongoing bombing have shored up the strength of Hussein’s Baathist government in many respects. The sanctions have decimated the Iraqi people, driven most Iraqis into a dependent relationship to the government, shattered institutions that could sustain opposition, and increased nationalism.

“The propaganda war”

The Clinton administration and media rightly worry that if more people in the U.S. knew about the reality of sanctions, they would demand an end to the state of siege imposed on Iraq. For similar reasons, the government has attempted to keep its almost daily bombing of Iraq in the northern and southern no-fly zones off the front pages, with the easy complicity of the mainstream media. “The little-noticed but steady bombing of Iraq ... is much to [the Clinton administration’s] liking,” the Wall Street Journal explained, because it allows the U.S. to bomb Iraq without more public scrutiny. [39]

But as activists succeed in exposing the government’s lies and the consequences of the embargo, pro-sanctions forces have increasingly been on the defensive. The chief UN correspondent for the New York Times, Barbara Crossette, whose reporting on Iraq consists of regurgitating State Department press releases, noted in April that “[i]n the last year, support for tough sanctions against Iraq, which had been dwindling ... [has] diminished even more,” and the UN Security Council has been “faced with growing criticism of embargoes that fail to deter dictators but often hurt civilians.” [40]

”The more Americans know about the world, the more likely they are to favor diplomacy over punitive sanctions in dealing with troublesome foreign countries, a poll has found,” Crossette wrote. “There are concerns that in Iraq ... a decade of sanctions may be strengthening the hand of Saddam Hussein while causing unacceptable hardships to the Iraqi people.” [41]

Explaining why the Clinton administration held a March 23 press conference in Washington, D.C., at which it attempted to raise fears that the Iraqi government is building a base for rebels fighting the government of neighboring Iran, one unnamed senior administration official said, “This is a propaganda campaign. There’s no question that this is what we are doing here. This is part of our effort to show the world the danger Saddam [Hussein] would pose if the controls on the access to his oil revenues were lifted.” [42]

For good reason, it’s not only the U.S. that is losing “the propaganda campaign.” Noting that the UN sanctions committee has held up $1.78 billion of Iraqi purchases under the oil-for-food program, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered a report to the Security Council on March 24 in which he said, “We are in danger of losing the argument or propaganda war – if we haven’t lost it already – about who is responsible for this situation, President Saddam Hussein or the United Nations.” Annan added: “[W]e are accused of causing suffering to an entire population.” [43]

These are not the only signs that the tide is turning against sanctions. Britain’s ITV recently devoted an hour and a half to John Pilger’s documentary, which was seen by millions of viewers. British papers were dominated by anti-sanctions arguments in the following weeks. [44] The Economist, an internal discussion magazine for international elites, recently questioned sanctions, noting: “Sanctions have all but destroyed [Iraq]: its health and educational systems have collapsed; its infrastructure has rusted away; its middle classes have disappeared into poverty; [and] its children are dying.” [45] The magazine presented a chilling picture of life in Iraq today:

Sanctions impinge on the lives of all Iraqis every moment of the day. In Basra, Iraq’s second city, power flickers on and off unpredictable in the hours it is available ... Smoke from jerry-rigged generators and vehicles hangs over the town in a thick cloud. The tap-water causes diarrhea, but few can afford the bottled sort. Because the sewers have broken down, pools of stinking muck have leached through the surface all over town. That effluent, combined with pollution upstream, has killed most of the fish in the Shatt al-Arab river and has left the remainder unsafe to eat. The government can no longer spray for sand-flies or mosquitoes, so insects have proliferated, along with the diseases they carry.

Most of the once-elaborate array of government services have vanished. The archeological service has taken to burying painstakingly excavated ruins for want of the proper preservative chemicals [kept out of Iraq, like pesticides and water-treatment chemicals because of “dual use” restrictions]. The government-maintained irrigation and drainage network has crumbled, leaving much of Iraq’s prime agricultural land either too dry or too salty to cultivate. Sheep and cattle, no longer shielded by government vaccination programs, have succumbed to pests and diseases by the hundreds of thousands. Many teachers in the state-run schools do not bother to show up for work any more. Those who do must teach listless, malnourished children, often without the benefit of books, desks or even blackboards. [46]

Turning the tide

Activists in the 1960s and the early 1970s helped bring an end to the Vietnam War, an unjust war that claimed the lives of more than three million people in Indochina. The defeat of U.S. imperialism by Vietnamese resistance, combined with the anti-war struggle at home and within the ranks of the army itself, set back the ability of our government to intervene as it would have liked in national liberation struggles and crisis situations around the world.

Though successive administrations in Washington have sought to put an end to “the Vietnam syndrome,” as popular skepticism about interventionism came to be known, none has been able to do so. The NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1998 took a significant step in that direction, yet those who defended that war now have to explain why Kosovo remains in tatters and why the ethnic cleansing they claimed to care so much about a year ago is acceptable, as long as Roma (gypsies) and Serbs are the ones being cleansed.

Everywhere, there are signs that the movement to end sanctions is growing, internationally and in the United States. During my trip to Iraq, British MP George Galloway attempted to fly a planeload of activists and supplies into Iraq in violation of the sanctions. Though the British government eventually blocked him, Galloway was turning away volunteers who wanted to be on the sanction-busting flight.

The resignations of Halliday and then von Sponeck, followed two days later by the news that Jutta Burghardt, the head of the UN’s World Food Program in Baghdad, was also stepping down, have raised even greater awareness of the deadly toll of the war on Iraq. “I fully support what Mr. von Sponeck was saying,” said Burghardt. “It is a true humanitarian tragedy what is happening here and I believe any human being who looks at the facts and the impact of the sanctions on the population will not deny that he is right.” [47]

At City University of New York, I was part of a panel on sanctions featuring contributors to the anti-sanctions anthology Iraq Under Siege. When we invited the representatives of the permanent U.S. and UK missions to the UN and Barbara Crossette to come debate us, they all agreed, but then withdrew one after the other, unwilling to actually face an informed and critical audience with their views.

When activists in the International Socialist Organization initiated a signature ad campaign last year to illustrate the growing sentiment that sanctions must be ended, we were deluged with responses. While we were thrilled to publish an ad featuring such prominent anti-sanctions voices as Kurt Vonnegut, Edward W. Said, Angela Davis, Howard Zinn and June Jordan, the most important aspect of the campaign was how many people from around the country and around the world responded by sending in their signature and a small donation to make the ad possible. In the end, we collected more than 1,500 signatures for the ad and received enough donations to run the ad in the New York Times, The Nation, The Progressive, and to have money for future publication. [48]

Demonstrations against sanctions in January and February 2000 drew hundreds of people to Washington, D.C., and New York. The week of protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in April in Washington, D.C., included a demonstration against the embargo on Iraq. And the list of local protests compiled weekly as part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s e-mail update has been steadily growing.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, one of the leading architects of sanctions in the Clinton administration, was greeted with powerful protests at the University of California at Berkeley and at George Washington University in May. Albright had to be shuttled out of Berkeley to avoid further confrontation with the protesters and so that the university could keep her from hearing an anti-sanctions commencement speech by the school’s valedictorian.

The movement to end sanctions is reaching a critical mass, but we still have a tough fight ahead of us. The U.S. is entrenched in its position and won’t be moved without more pressure from below. “The United States is, and will remain, second to none in enforcing sanctions,” State Department spokesperson James Rubin recently wrote in the Washington Post. [49]

Every month that sanctions remain, another 5,200 children under the age of five will die, if present trends continue. [50] On August 6 – the anniversary of the horrific dropping of an atomic bomb on the people of Hiroshima by the U.S., soon followed by the bombing of Nagasaki – Iraq will enter its tenth year of living under a state of siege.

Only a handful of people in the U.S. and internationally benefit from the war crimes being committed with the stamp of approval of the UN. Western oil companies and multinationals that want to make sure that no country in the Middle East, or elsewhere, bucks U.S. interests and control have a stake in continuing this deadly war.

If more people knew the truth about sanctions, they would urgently want to see them end. More protests can stop the hidden war on the Iraqi people.

Anthony Arnove is an editor at South End Press and a regular contributor to the ISR

* * *


1. Thomas L. Friedman, Rattling the rattler, New York Times, January 19, 1999: p. A19.

2. Interview with Carmen Pauls, Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2000.

3. John Pilger, Collateral damage, in Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, Anthony Arnove, ed. (Cambridge: South End Press, 2000), p. 63.

4. See, for example, Pilger, Collateral damage, and Noam Chomsky et al., Sanctions are weapons of mass destruction, in Iraq Under Siege. The UN Web site no longer posts the list of items on hold, as it previously did, shielding the list from public criticism.

5. Pilger, Collateral damage, p. 63.

6. Interview with Hans von Sponeck, Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2000. See Anthony Arnove, Under siege, In These Times 24:12, May 15, 2000: pp. 16–17.

7. Interview with Carmen Pauls.

8. Interview with Dr. Athir Al-Anbari, Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2000.

9. Interview with Dr. Thamir Ahmed Himdin, Basra, Iraq, March 14, 2000.

10. Interview with Dr. Mohamad Bahajat Nafaaw, Basra, Iraq, March 14, 2000.

11. Barbara Crossette, Children’s death rates rising in Iraqi lands, UNICEF reports, New York Times, August 13, 1999: p. A6. See also U.S. Department of State, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (September 1999), available on-line at http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq/iraq99.htm (as of May 28, 2000).

12. Dominick Evans, UN sees British concern on Iraq embargo, Reuters, July 22, 1999.

13. UN Office of Humanitarian Concerns in Iraq, UNOHCI Monthly Stock Report September 1999 (Baghdad, Iraq: UNOHCI, November 24, 1999), p. 1.

14. Interview with Hans von Sponeck.

15. Mark K. Anderson, UN’s oil-for-food program called a cruel taunt, Boston Globe, March 26, 2000: p. E2.

16. Economist Intelligence Unit Country Briefing, Iraq: Economic turmoil, March 8, 2000, available on-line at http://www.eiu.com/latest/311792.asp (as of May 28, 2000).

17. Anderson, UN’s oil-for-food program called a cruel taunt.

18. Paul Richter, No end in sight to U.S. air campaign over Iraq, Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1999: p. A1, and Jonathan S. Landay, Who’s winning quiet war in Iraq? Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 1999: p. 1.

19. UN Office of Humanitarian Concerns in Iraq, Security incidents related to aerial confrontation, February 10, 2000.

20. Chris Morris, Turks pursue Kurds inside northern Iraq, Guardian, April 3, 2000: p. 13.

21. Editorial, Bringing Turkey into Europe, New York Times, December 31, 1999: p. A36.

22. Mike Arrowsmith, Kurdistan: The West’s Dirty War (London: Socialist Workers Party, 1999).

23. Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters with Kurdistan (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999), p. 149.

24. The Pike Report, quoted in Randal, After Such Knowledge, p. 166.

25. Quoted in Randal, After Such Knowledge, p. 165.

26. Randal, After Such Knowledge, p. 181.

27. Robin Wright, UN will let Iraq sell oil for humanitarian supplies, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1996: p. A1; Ghassan al-Kadi, Iraq wants active oil role, United Press International, November 15, 1999; and Dan Atkinson, Iraq set for no. 2 spot in oil export league, Guardian, July 27, 1999: p. 20.

28. Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York: Vintage, 1968), p. 294.

29. Samira Haj, The Making of Iraq, 1900–1963: Capital, Power, and Ideology (New York: SUNY Press, 1997), p. 71.

30. State Department Policy Planning Study, February 23, 1948, cited in Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (Boston: South End Press, 1987), pp. 15–16.

31. Ha’aretz, September 30, 1951, quoted in The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism, Arie Bober, ed. (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1972), pp. 16–17.

32. See Said K. Aburish, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge (New York: Bloomsbury, 1999); and The survival of Saddam, produced by William Cran, PBS Frontline, January 25, 2000. See additional materials at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saddam (as of May 28, 2000).

33. See Dilip Hiro, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (New York: Routledge, 1991).

34. See Noam Chomsky, US Iraq policy, in Iraq Under Siege, pp. 47–49.

35. Peter Jennings, Showdown with Saddam, ABC News Saturday Night, February 7, 1998. See Lance Selfa and Paul D’Amato, U.S. and Iraq: Back from the brink? International Socialist Review 4, Spring 1998: pp. 30–36.

36. “Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime,” said Richard Haass, the former director of Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. Cited in Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), p. 37.

37. Interview with Denis Halliday, Providence, Rhode Island, September 12, 1999.

38. See Ken Silverstein, Crazy about Hussein, The Nation 268: 17, May 10, 1999: pp. 19–23.

39. Neil King Jr., U.S. faces pressure to reassess Iraq bombing policy, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 1999: p. A10.

40. Barbara Crossette, Security Council approves new arms inspection agency for Iraq, New York Times, April 14, 2000: p. A8; and U.N. council to review its policy on sanctions, New York Times, April 18, 2000: p. A10.

41. Barbara Crossette, Americans of two minds on sanctions, a poll finds, New York Times, April 23, 2000.

42. Elaine Sciolino, Iraq builds base for rebels fighting Iran, U.S. contends, New York Times, March 23, 2000: p. A3.

43. Barbara Crossette, Annan exhorts U.N. council on ‘oil for food’ for Iraqis, New York Times, March 25, 2000: p. A3.

44. See, for example, John Pilger, Squeezed, Guardian Weekend Magazine, March 4, 2000: pp. 26–32.

45. Pity the children, The Economist 354/8163, March 25–31, 2000: p. 90.

46. When sanctions don’t work, The Economist 354/865, April 8–14, 2000: pp. 23–24.

47. Agence France-Presse, UN food aid chief joins protest against UN resolution on Iraq, February 16, 2000.

48. See Sharon Smith, Building the movement to end sanctions, in Iraq Under Siege, pp. 185198.

49. James P. Rubin, Tough on Iraq, Washington Post, February 28, 2000: p. A14.

50. See Pilger, Collateral damage, in Iraq Under Siege, p. 64, note 9.

Last updated on 27 0ctober 2021