by K. Shreeram
NEW YORK -- As Washington and London prepare to bomb Iraq, the ritual human sacrifice of Iraqis continues unabated. Corpses continue to pile up, victims of Washington's cynical and duplicitous policies in the Middle East.
The statistics may be old hat now, but the dead are not -- more than 250 people, mostly children under 5, die each day because of sanctions, according to a UNICEF report released in April. More than one-and-a-half million faceless, nameless, and relatively unreported brown people have been killed by the sanctions imposed in 1990. That's about 5 percent of Iraq's pre-sanctions population. In percentage terms, that is equivalent to about 13 million dead Americans. The World Food Programme says more than 1.2 million Iraqi children died due to the embargo between August 1990 and August 1997 -- a generation sanctioned into nonexistence.
The per capita income of Iraq has gone from $2,900 a year to $60 a year. A can of powdered milk costs as much as one month of a doctor's salary. Surgery is conducted routinely without anesthesia. Sanitation facilities are abysmal. Fifty percent of the rural population does not have access to potable water, compared to a 92 percent access rate in 1990. The majority of Iraqis has been on a semi-starvation diet for the last few years, according to the World Health Organization. Infant mortality has increased six-fold since 1990. The once exemplary and free public health system has been decimated. Inflation has increased astronomically. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, the price of wheat flour in August 1995 was 11,677 times higher (1.16 million percent) than in July 1990. Crime has skyrocketed.
"This is a town where people used to leave the key in the front door, leave their cars unlocked, where crime was almost unknown. We have, through the sanctions, really disrupted this quality of life, the standard of behavior that was common in Iraq before," said Denis Halliday, who in September resigned his post as co-ordinator of the UN oil-for-food deal in Iraq.
Writing in the New Internationalist earlier this year, Felicity Arbuthnot describes a little incident she witnessed in Iraq: "In a small grocery store in a poor area of Baghdad early one morning I watched a child of perhaps five, in the mode of small children everywhere, proudly doing a terribly important errand: he bought one egg. A tray of 30 eggs exceeds a university professor's monthly salary....As he left, the child dropped the egg. He fell to the floor, frantically trying to pick the shell, yolk and white, with his small hands, tears streaming down his face. As I reached in my pocket, the shopkeeper gently tapped him on the shoulder and gave him another."
Among the items banned by the Security Council from export to Iraq are adhesive tape, soccer balls, bags, bicycles, books, calculators, candle sticks, toys, children's clothing, shoelaces, lamps, detergents, dolls, eyeglasses, hairpins, paper clips and medical supplies.
The list is endless.
The loss of life caused by the sanctions has made Sadaam Hussein's human rights record virtually pale into insignificance. Amnesty International estimates that Hussein's regime killed 130,000 people between 1979 and 1989. In eight years, the sanctions have killed more than 10 times that number.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, in a Nov. 11 letter to Sir John Weston at the Permanent Mission of UK to the UN calls the sanctions " a violation of the Genocide Convention." He goes on to say "the notion that Iraq is a threat to the region is a false fantasy created by the U.S. to justify its vast military presence in the region, to dominate the oil resources and to contain Islam."
Others, such as Halliday, have pointed out that the sanctions violate the Geneva Convention -- which prohibits the starvation of civilians as a means of warfare -- as well as the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And what of Washington's duplicity? "Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty years, it violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts invasions, terrorist attacks and assassinations against Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every sanction against it in the UN. Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as "rogue" states. Sanctions against them are far harsher than against any other countries in the history of US foreign policy. And still the US expects that its own foreign policy agenda ought to prevail," wrote Columbia University professor Edward Said, in Al-Hayat newspaper in London.
And, speaking of the weapons of mass destruction that Washington claims ad nauseum to be so concerned about, a UN General Assembly committee on Tuesday, Nov. 10, voted 134 - 2 asking Israel "not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, and to renounce possession of nuclear weapons," and to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The two countries voting against the resolution were Israel and the United States.
And in the wake of admissions by UNSCOM chief Richard Butler that UN inspectors had shared intelligence information with Israel, and allegations last week by a British MP that five UNSCOM inspectors were undercover Israeli Mossad agents, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flatly refused to endorse military strikes against Iraq.
"There is not a single Arab country which backs a recourse to force against Iraq, and all are preoccupied by the lot of the Iraqi people," he told Egyptian Ministers of Parliament Tuesday, Nov. 10.
But Washington's hypocrisy, of course, neither begins nor ends with Israel. We live in a country that was the only one to have ever dropped a nuclear bomb on human beings, a country that is the world's largest stockpiler of weapons of mass destruction, and one that has over the last 50 years installed and supported some of the most murderous dictators the world has seen. To hear officials of this country speak self-righteously of the need to eliminate Iraqi weapons and Iraqi violations of international law should turn anyone's stomach.
But historic amnesia and a history-starved populace guarantee settled stomachs in the United States even as that government's policy ensures that, a world away, little food makes its way into the hungry mouths of brown children with shrunken bellies who will join the dead before they have had a chance to live.
[K. Shreeram is a freelance journalist and former news editor of the late Guardian, NY]
Copyright © 1998 K. Shreeram - All Rights Reserved
[According to Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, the death rate of
children under five is more than 4,000 a month - that is 4,000 more than
would have died before sanctions.
"In 1989, the literacy rate was 95%; and 93% of the population had free
access to modern health facilities. Parents were fined for failing to send
their children to school. The phenomenon of street children or children
begging was unheard of. 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 among the bottom
20%. In 10 years, child mortality has gone from one of the lowest in the
world, to the highest."--John Pilger, "Squeezed To Death," Guardian, March 4, 2000]