by Waseem Shehzad (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 12, Shawwal, 1418)
Had they been animals, there would be loud protests in the streets of almost all western capitals to save them. Leaders of the ‘civilised’ west would be vexed over this tragedy and call it an affront to humane values. The American television network, CNN would have suspended its regular programmes to give the world a minute-by-minute account of their suffering and how they are dying while the world dithers.
But they are Iraqi children, almost all of them Muslim, and they are being killed by sanctions imposed by the United Nations security council since August 6, 1990. They must die because their ruler, Saddam Husain, had ordered Iraqi troops to invade and occupy Kuwait. The people of Iraq had no say - have never had any say - in how their country is governed or how decisions are arrived at. But that is of no consequence as far as rulers of the west, especially the US, are concerned. They have decided that the people of Iraq must pay the price in the west’s drive for recolonisation of the vital oil-producing region.
More than 1.5 million people, half of them children, have perished, silently and away from the television cameras since 1990. Their suffering is neither worth reporting nor investigating as far as the western media are concerned.
They are dying neither of bullet wounds nor bombs. These children are dying from hunger, water-born diseases and lack of basic medicines. Whoever has heard of children dying of diarrhea at the end of the twentieth century? And they are not trapped in a war zone where medicines, food or other supplies cannot be delivered.
Their death is caused by a simple act of the United States government which has decided that these children must die because Saddam is a dictator. He was a dictator even when the US and its European allies were supplying him with lethal weapons of mass destruction, including nerve gas. But at that time, he was an ally fighting against Islamic Iran. As long as Saddam’s victims were Irani civilians, the ‘civilised’ west had no qualms. It could do business with him.
In a CBS interview on May 12, 1996, Leslie Stahl had drawn the attention of Madeleine Albright, then US ambasssador to the UN, to the extremely high deaths among Iraqi children and then asked whether it was worth the price. Albright, quite nonchalantly replied: ‘It’s a hard choice, a very hard choice, but we think, we think its worth the price.’ That was two years ago; many more people have died since.
Iraq had one of the best healthcare systems in the Middle East. Prior to UN sanctions on August 6, 1990 - incidentally the date coincides with the first atomic bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1945 - Iraq used to import more than US$20 billion worth of medicines and food annually. At the end of 1995, Iraq’s healthcare system had been reduced to the level of some of the poorest countries in the world: Ghana and Mali.
A report released by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) on December 1, 1995 found that 23 percent of Iraqi children were stunted in growth, compared with 12 percent in 1991. The percent of Iraqi children ‘wasting’ or emaciation requiring urgent attention rose to 12 percent from barely 3 percent four years ago. Today, the situation is much worse, as a team of American peace activists who visited Iraq last May found out.
Led by Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney general, the US Peace Coalition took millions of dollars worth of medicines in defiance of US sanctions. They found that lack of clean drinking water was the major cause of the spread of diseases like diarrhea, worms and dysentry. Four of the five chlorine plants were destroyed in the 43-day bombing campaign in 1991 when the US, joined by Britain and France, dropped 88,500 tons of bombs on the people of Iraq - seven times the explosives dropped on Hiroshima.
The US/British dominated UN has flatly refused to allow the repair of chlorine or water filtration plants. The result is that raw sewage flows into the Euphrates river, the source of drinking water for most of the people. An Iraqi dies every three minutes. In the main hospital in Baghdad, 1,200 children are crammed onto 340 beds, according to Manzoor Ghori of California, who went with the US team last May. Mothers lined up begging for non-existent medicines. There is no electricity and no sanitation.
Not only has the US refused to allow medicines and vital spare parts for water purification plants be imported, it has continued to target other installations as well. On June 30, for instance, the US fired a missile at a water reservoir in the southern port city of Basra. This callous act was designed to prevent people from collecting clean water for drinking. The excuse advanced by the US was that it suspected the Iraqis had locked their radar in ‘contravention’ of UN resolutions.
This was a blatant lie. The Iraqi regime had done nothing of the sort. The US simply wanted to destroy another facility which might have brought some relief to the people.
The US is waging a genocidal war against the people of Iraq. There can be no other explanation for what it is doing. Israel, its favourite surrogate in the Middle East, contemptuously violates UN security council resolutions without any reporbation. Instead, the US pumps $7 billion annually into the Israeli economy as handouts so that it can continue its aggressive expansionist policies in the region.
The blood of millions of Iraqis - children, women and the elderly - is on the hands of American and British rulers.
Muslimedia: August 16-31, 1998