The Iraqi Sanctions: Not a Price Worth Paying

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 19, Easter 2001

by Moana Cole

On 16 January 1991 seven B-52 bombers, flying the longest combat mission in history, fired the opening shots of the Gulf war. In the following couple of months, firepower equivalent to seven Hiroshimas was unleashed on the people of Iraq. Along with hundreds of others, I was imprisoned for non-violent resistance to the war against Iraq. I spent thirteen months in US prisons.

Away from the media attention it once commanded, the war against the Iraqi people continues. It has been executed by sustained sanctions, frequent air strikes and occasional drive-by Cruise missile attacks.

Sanctions were first imposed in August 1990 by Resolution 661 of the UN Security Council. The sanctions were to be in place, according to UN resolutions, ‘until it was verified that all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were eliminated’.

In modern history, there has been no parallel to the complete and total isolation from the rest of the world to which Iraq has been subjected. The resolution set out ‘a full trade embargo barring all imports to and exports from Iraq’ except for medical supplies, foodstuffs and other humanitarian items as determined by the Security Council Sanctions Committee. Iraq, which imported nearly everything because of its oil riches, could buy almost nothing after the embargo was put in place. Iraq went from being the richest, most progressive of the Arab states to a crippled society, denied access to its principal natural resource with a civilian infrastructure and economy in ruins.

According to World Health Organisation figures, the sanctions have killed over 1.7 million Iraqi people. Two hundred and fifty die each day. Over 4000 children under the age of five die each month as a result of the sanctions. On 12 August 1999, UNICEF released a report detailing a two-fold increase for infant and child mortality in Iraq over the past decade. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on the US network television show 60 Minutes that she believes the price is ‘worth it’.

Even under the ‘oil for food’ system, Iraq is purchasing a fraction of what it needs to sustain itself. It is not enough to rebuild the war’s damage to oil production and water and sewerage treatment plants. Dr Abdul Razzak Al-Hashimi of the Association of Friendship, Peace and Solidarity says of the $18 billion in oil that Iraq has been allowed to sell since 1996, only $5.9 billion has been approved for contract of humanitarian supplies. He went on to comment that this once prosperous country is being artificially and deliberately manipulated into conditions of poverty and degradation.

The Security Council Sanctions Committee has banned pencils for school children because pencils contain graphite, which is also a lubricant. The Committee has also banned batteries and x-ray machines. Ambulances are banned because they can be used in battles. Enriched powdered milk is banned because it can supposedly be used for germ warfare. Good drinking water needs pipes, pumps, filtration and chlorine. But Washington defines chlorine as a ‘dual use’ item, as it does the pipes that would be used to carry the water. Bicycles, buses, music CD’s, soap and toilet paper are also banned as ‘dual use’.

The Iraq Sanctions group, headed by former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark, was told by Dr Mazin Shimari that children in the leukemia ward at the Saddam Centre for Children that Iraq has a zero percent cure rate for leukemia because of lack of medical supplies. They were told that the children they saw will all be dead in a few weeks. An entire generation of Iraqi children is growing up underweight and short in stature because of malnutrition and the lack of adequate medical care. Iraq is a country filled with ‘these too small, too short children’.

Archbishop Guiseppe Lazzarotto, papal nuncio to Iraq, asserts ‘we have a permanent non-declared war’. Ramsay Clark declared, ‘The sanctions are genocide. They weaken and permanently debilitate the strongest of a society and kill the weakest and most vulnerable’.

Saddam and his elite, armed and supported by the West until 1991, have not been affected by sanctions. It is the children and the ordinary women and men of Iraq who continue to suffer and die.

Delegations from around the world have violated US law and UN sanctions to deliver medical supplies to those hospitals in need. But what is given is only a small fraction of what is needed.

If there is no end to the sanctions, an entire generation of Iraqis will not be educated, fed properly and lose their culture. It will be unprecedented genocide. The sanctions against the children of Iraq must be ended or we New Zealanders, who supported the 1991 war and chaired the initial UN Sanctions Committee, will be held to account.

Moana Cole was sentenced to imprisonment in 1991 for a Ploughshares action at the commencement of the Gulf War against Iraq. She is a member of the Christchurch Catholic Worker.

Prayer to end the war in Iraq

Loving God,

We beg your forgiveness for the war we are waging against the Iraqi people, for destroying Iraq’s infrastructure with massive bombings, for using radioactive weapons that contaminate Iraqi land and water, and are causing major increases in cancers among children. Forgive us for imposing economic sanctions that have killed nearly two million Iraqis, mostly children. Forgive us for placing oil interests above human welfare. Heal us of our moral blindness and fill our hearts with love. Help us to renounce all killing, to stop demonizing our adversaries, to value all life as sacred, and to see the Iraqi people as our brothers and sisters. Empower us to engage in non-violent action to end this slaughter of the innocents.

O God, make us channels of your peace and reconciliation.


(Adapted from a Pax Christi USA prayer card)

Comments are closed.