Though the US involvement in Desert Storm is in the past, their hand in Iraqi affairs is far from over. Since the US and UN war against Saddam Hussein, sanctions that have forced the Iraqi people into pillage, hunger, and illness despite overwhelming evidence these sanction have not and will never meet their stated goals.
Inside a three-walled room -- the fourth long since gone -- a mother coddles her 2-year-old son snugly in her arms. The small child, emaciated and contorted, is suffering from malnutrition and meningitis. Both could have easily been prevented, had the supplies been allowed into the country. The woman slowly raises her head and looks through the window where a pane used to prevent the elements from seeping in. Her older son, lucky enough to reach the tender age of 7, is outside, leaping over a stream of sewage that flows through their barren yard.
The waterways of Basra, Iraqs second largest city, were once compared to that of Venice. Now they are filled with raw sewage. This transformation began with the bombing of Iraq by the United Nations in January 1991 and was perpetuated year after year in an endless downward spiral due to the economic Sanctions that have been in place for over a decade. The United States, with its permanent position on the United Nations Security Council, has broad authority over the sanctions and continually opposes their elimination. Of Iraqs population, which once numbered 22 million, an estimated four million Iraqis have fled the country and more than 1.2 million lay dead as a direct effect of the sanctions. It is only now that former president Bushs words ring with great irony that he, of all people, would call Saddam Hussein the next Hitler.
The destruction of the Iraqi people was, after all, completely planned by the US. A Pentagon document, dated January 18, 1991, writes, "Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply. ... Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease. ... The entire Iraqi water treatment system will not collapse precipitously ... full degradation of the water treatment system probably will take at least another six months." The same embargo that banned the importation of water purifying chlorine a decade ago still exists to this very day, more than ten years after the time when epidemics of cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid were predicted to occur.
The results, needless to say, have been devastating. Iraq, once the most prosperous country of the entire Middle East, has become one of the worst (March 1999 UN Report). Access to potable water, relative to 1990 levels, is only 50% in urban areas and 33% in rural areas. The overall deterioration in the quality of drinking water has contributed to the rapid spread of infectious disease (World Food Program). And the fact that government drug warehouses and pharmacies have few stocks of medicines and medical supplies due to the Sanctions only adds gasoline to an already unquenchable fire (February 1997 World Health Organization).
Children fare the worst in this most abhorrent of situations. Since the onset of the Sanctions, almost one-quarter of all infants are born underweight and the same number is malnourished (March 1999 UN Report). It doesnt get any better as they get older either, as thirty-two percent of children under five are chronically malnourished, with the mortality rate increasing over six-fold to be among the highest in the world (November 1997 UNICEF and March 1996 WHO). Stemming mainly from hunger and disease, the result is the death of 4,500 children under the age of 5 per month (October 1996 UNICEF). That translates roughly to 150 children killed each and every day. At that rate, an entire Minnesota elementary school would disappear every few days. The United States is 100% morally culpable for each and every life that is ended prematurely.
The complete result of Iraqi sanctions is the silent genocide of a nation. Unfortunately, the inability to separate a dictator from its people currently prevents any change from occurring. But, in the words of Denis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, "We cannot hide behind Saddam Hussein. Yes, hes a miserable dictator and hes done some appalling things. None of us would apologize or want to apologize for that. But the fact that we cannot communicate with him, the fact that we dont progress in our dialogues with him, does not allow us, does not empower us to kill the children of Iraq" (May 1999 National Catholic Reporter). Scott Ritter, former UN inspector in Iraq, continues that thought, "The concept of us trying to save the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein is ludicrous. He is a brutal dictator. He may torture to death 1,800 people a year. Thats terrible and unacceptable. But we kill 6,000 a month. Lets put that on a scale." Both Halliday and Ritter resigned from their posts in protest of the Sanctions (June 1999 FOR interview).
Denis Halliday summed the situation up perfectly with the words, "There can be no justification for the death and malnutrition for which sanctions are responsible. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that
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