Lifting the Irag Embargo After
Almost 2 Million Deaths
What Have We Learned From the Embargo’s Lessons?
On May 22, 2003, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution
1483 finally lifting the 12–year embargo on Iraq. The United Nations
had imposed a comprehensive ban on trade with Iraq on August 6,
1990, under resolution 661, amounting to a complete siege on the
country. The embargo was then enforced by a military land, air,
and sea blockade. This blockade continued until the end of the recent
2003 war, with land border checkpoints in Jordan, naval interdiction
of ships, and no–fly zones imposed in the north and south of the
After the imposition of the embargo, a devastating bombing campaign
against Iraq in 1991 destroyed the country’s civilian infrastructure
(water, sewage, and electrical power infrastructure, among other
sectors). Much of the diseases rampant in Iraq are due to the destruction
of the civilian infrastructure and lack of spare parts in the 1991
war. Some of which was modestly repaired between 1991 and 2003,
was destroyed again in the 2003 war. Contaminated drinking water
and lack of electricity for hospitals are a major cause of the suffering
for Iraqs twenty five million people today.
In addition, the depleted uranium (DU) shells used in both the
1991 and 2003 wars have caused a significant increase in radiation–related
cancers and birth defects. Iraq still does not have the necessary
tools (primarily due to the embargo) to clean up the DU contamination.
What Was Destroyed in War
The 2003 war can only be a continuation of what happened in 1991,
since the 12–year embargo did not allow the rebuilding of what was
destroyed then. The 1991 war destroyed or severely damaged the following
sectors of the civilian infrastructure, and the 12–year embargo
prevented its the proper reconstruction:
- Drinking water infrastructure
- Sewage system
- Electrical power grid
- National healthcare infrastructure (more than 100 hospitals
and healthcare centers destroyed)
- National education system (over 4,000 schools, institutes,
colleges, universities destroyed)
- Transportation sector (air traffic banned, sea vessels damaged,
railroad cars & trucks crumbling)
- Telecommunications (telephone exchanges and transmitters destroyed)
- Textile and other light industries (factories destroyed)
- Pharmaceutical sector (factories destroyed and components and
ingredients banned by embargo)
- Social fabric and modernity (modern society reduced to sufficing
with obtaining food and medicine only)
Summary of the Effects
According to the humanitarian reports, the ongoing embargo imposed
in 1990, coupled with the destruction caused by the 1991 Gulf war,
has in turn directly caused the following:
1) As of March 2003 (just prior to the war), between 1.7 and 2
million Iraqi civilians have died due to malnutrition and disease,
about 700,000 of them are children. Health Ministry documents under–5
and over–50 deaths due to disease and/or malnutrition at 1.7 million.
If over–5 and under–50 age sectors are added, which is well over
500,000 deaths, that makes the total number of deaths over 2 million.
Estimates of deaths due to the 2003 war range from 10,000 to 100,000.
2) Prior to the 2003 war, 1.5 million children were made orphans.
3) Prior to the 2003 war, 10,000 Iraqi civilians were dying every
month (half of which were children). That amounted to 333 deaths
a day, or 14 deaths an hour. An Iraqi civilian died from malnutrition
and disease every 4 minutes. Since the 2003 war caused even more
destruction of the civilian infrastructure (water, electricity,
etc), coupled with the extensive of anti–personnel cluster bombs
dropped on Iraq, and the mass lootings of hospitals and pharmacies,
this average will be greatly skewed for the initial months after
the 2003 war, until such a time when the civilian infrastructure
is properly rebuilt.
4) The combination of the destruction of the water pipes and the
water pumping stations in the 1991 war and the looting after the
2003 war, coupled with the lack of chlorine and electricity to re–activate
the pumps for over 12 years due largely to the embargo, all make
clean drinking water widely unavailable today in Iraq, and thereby
creating a dangerous recipe for a rapid spread of infectious diseases
and possible epidemics. Prior to 1990, over 90% of Iraqis has access
to clean drinking water, whereas it was between 33–50% just prior
to the 2003 war (1999 UN Report).
5) The destruction of the national medical healthcare system has
been one of the largest single contributors to the death and disease
in Iraq. Over 100 hospitals and healthcare centers were destroyed
in the 1991 war. Prior to 1990, over 90% of Iraqis had access to
high quality medical care, free of charge, whereas the majority
of Iraqis lack it now (1999 UN Report).
6) The destruction of the national school system in the 1991 war
has caused a sharp decline in the overall literacy rate. Half of
Iraq’s schools (4,000 out of 8,000) were bombed. The remaining schools
(4,000) sharply decayed and became dilapidated due to the 12–year
embargo. This lack of enough schools coupled with Iraq’s growing
population, made the problem even worse. When Iraq had over 8,000
functioning schools in 1990, the country’s population was about
18 million. Now that Iraq’s population is well over 25 million,
the number of functioning schools is less than a quarter of what
it was in 1990. This severe shortage of schools has caused a sharp
increase in the illiteracy rate and led to children wandering in
the streets. Prior to 1990, over 80% of Iraqis could read and write,
whereas now the school attendance is almost 50% (1999 UN report).
7) Prior to the 2003 war, the local Iraqi currency (dinar) had
been decimated as a result of U.S. counterfeiting efforts, the 1991
destruction of the civilian infrastructure, and the 12–year embargo
which banned foreign (hard) currency from legally entering the country.
The combination of the counterfeiting, bombing, and embargo has
caused the value of the dinar to drop from its original value of
just over three dollars to being worth 1/20th of a cent (20 dinars
makes a cent), just prior to the 2003 war.
8) Prior to the fall of the former government, Iraq was essentially
a massive welfare state. The state employed over a million people
and provided food coupons for over 80% of Iraq’s 25 million people.
The fall of the government meant the effective end of this welfare
state. In addition, the U.S. administration’s firing of hundreds
of thousands of paid state employees has made the situation even
worse. The government employees, who were barely living above the
starvation level, are now unemployed and income–less.
9) Clearly the most short–sighted decision taken yet by the U.S.
administration in Baghdad was to totally dissolve Iraq’s military,
leaving its employees with no compensation at all. That decision
meant that over half a million ex–military men were left to starve,
along with their families. Since the typical Iraqi family is made
of at least five members, that meant at least 2.5 million Iraqis
were left to starve. What would prevent these starving men from
armed revolt to avoid starvation? Anyone with some common sense
would have devised a plan to either retire these men with some type
of retirement income to prevent them from starving and revolting,
or offering them new jobs as policemen or the like, similar to what
the U.S. military did with the former Japanese soldiers after World
War 2. This decision is indeed a recipe for disaster.
Unfortunately Iraq is to remain a military occupied zone for the
forseeable future. The new UN Security Council resolution 1483,
in essence handed the administration of Iraq to the U.S. and Britain
"as occupying powers under unified command [now called] (the
‘Authority’)." It also states that other countries "now
or in the future may work under the Authority
personnel, equipment, and other resources under the Authority."
Although, the resolution calls for "a process leading to an
internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq,"
it does not place any time limits or bench marks for this to happen.
In other words, the U.S. and British military occupation can take
as long as they want to before forming a new Iraqi government. And
although paragraph 25 calls for a "review [of] the implementation
of this resolution within twelve months of adoption," it does
not specifically place any deadlines whatsoever to establish an
Iraqi government. In other words, Iraq is now the property of the
U.S. and British militaries, with no deadline or specified timeframe
of when Iraq can be free and independent.
The text referring to the lifting of the 12–year embargo is in
paragraphs 10 and 16 of resolution 1483, which specifically voided
the original embargo resolution 661 of 1990 and the so–called "oil–for–food"
resolution 986 of 1995, which allowed the UN to control Iraq’s oil
exports. The resolution honored the current 6–month UN oil plan,
but specifically dissolved the UN oil program and handed over all
responsibility and monies over to the newly formed Development Bank
administered by the US and British military authority.
A very strange paragraph in this resolution obliges Iraq to continuing
paying 5% of its oil revenues to the 1991 war compensation fund.
According to the UN’s official website as of 5–20–2003, Iraq has
already paid almost 20 billion dollars to this compensation fund
established under resolution 687 in 1991.
Resolution 986 of 1995 originally ordered Iraq to pay one–third
of its UN oil plan to this compensation fund. This 33% percent of
Iraq’s oil revenue was paid from December 1996 until December 2000.
After December 2000, the percentage was changed to 25%. The latest
resolution, 1483, now sets this compensation to 5%.
Since Iraq already has paid almost 20 billion dollars to a host
of nations and multinational corporations, why is Iraq still ordered
to pay this compensation, especially when Iraq badly needs the money
to repair its civilian infrastructure still suffering from the 1991
war? Further, since the UN did NOT authorize the 2003 war, thereby
making it an illegal war, why should Iraq be forced to continue
pay compensation, when it itself deserves compensation for being
attacked in the 2003 war?
The ironic part in all this is the original embargo resolution
661 of 1990 stated that it would be lifted after Iraq left Kuwait.
After the 1991 war, the conditions for lifting the embargo were
the so–called "weapons of mass destruction." The 12–year
embargo was maintained and justified by this unsubstantiated excuse.
It is quite clear now after the 2003 war that those weapons were
destroyed immediately after the 1991 war. The reason why the U.S.
and British military failed to prove or find any prohibited weapons
in Iraq, after the 2003 invasion, was because there weren’t any.
The 2003 war clearly proved what earlier UN reports and weapons
inspectors like Scott Ritter had said all along, that Iraq destroyed
its weapons in the early years after the 1991 war, and that Iraq
was effectively disarmed by the mid–1990’s.
In other words, the excuse of "weapons of mass destruction"
used to maintain this crippling embargo for 12–years and then to
invade Iraq, was just that, an excuse, not backed up by any facts.
Twelve years of starvation and deprivation was justified by non–existent
weapons. Almost 2 million Iraqis died needlessly due to the embargo
for an imaginary excuse, called "weapons of mass destruction."
The 2003 war proved that the 12–year embargo itself was the only
real weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, a weapon that the Iraqi
people are still paying a high price for and still suffering from
this failed policy built on misinformation and/or disinformation.
This embargo has killed so many and devasted the lives of almost
all Iraqis. Almost everyone is in agreement that lifting the embargo
is a good thing. It is long overdue, but still a good thing. Nevertheless
the sufferings and injustices of the embargo has left a permanent
mark on Iraqi society. This should help explain the phenomenon of
why not many Iraqis are celebrating this long overdue action.
Many Iraqis are asking "Who will compensate the families of
almost 2 million Iraqis who needlessly died for this terrible policy
of maintaining the embargo for 12 years?" That injustice remains
as a legacy for a failed policy that we as a nation should learn
from, in order to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
The most important lesson that we should learn from this catastrophe
is that embargos (sanctions) do NOT work to force behavioral changes
from governments, rather they only hurt and kill innocent civilians.
Let us hope we never again use embargos (sanctions) as a tool of
An extract from Focus on American and Arab Interests and
Relations dated May 28, 2003.