by Abdel Qadir Samir Ali (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 7, Muharram, 1418)
Playing the godess of death and destruction, the US continues to wreak havoc on the people of Iraq. Nearly six months after signing the ‘oil-for-food’ deal with the UN (security council resolution 986 - December 9, 1996), Iraq has received very little food or medicines it was promised. And the deal is due to end on June 7 unless renewed.
In the meantime, the casualty figures keep climbing. Most of the victims are civilians with children accounting for the overwhelming majority of casualties. According to Iraqi health minister Umid Medhat Mubarak, infant mortality rate among children over five years of age has climbed to 8,000 per month (a staggering 100,000 deaths annually), or one child dying every 5.5 minutes. The infant mortality rate for the pre-1990 trade embargo was 1600.
Whatever one’s view of Iraq’s tyrannical ruler, Saddam Husain, the country had one of the best healthcare systems in the Middle East. Thanks to US-led sanctions, today, the system has collapsed completely. Millions of mothers are forced to watch their children wither away and die before their eyes while they are unable to save them. Some 839,400 children have died in Iraq since August 1990, according to Sultan Ishawi, head of the Support the Iraqi Children group.
The UN publishes annual satistics and laments the deplorable conditions in some countries whose governments spend too much on armaments, disregarding the needs of their civilian population. The US, Britain and France, the terrible western trio, also join this chorus of ritual condemnation. In the case of Iraq, however, it is these same ‘civilised’ countries, especially the Us, whose rulers are directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children.
More than two million children have been killed in the past decade as a result of armed conflict, and three times as many wounded or disabled by landmines, bullets and bombs, according to a UN report of last November. The report prepared by a former Mozambican education minister, Graca Michel said, ‘Millions of children are caught up in conflicts in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets. Some fall victim to a general onslaught against civilians, others die as part of a calculated genocide.’ The Iraqi children are the victims of a calculate genocide perpetrated by those who call themselves ‘civilised’.
Exactly five months after Iraq signed the ‘oil-for-food’ deal with the United Nations, and seven years after sanctions were imposed, it received its first shipment of medicines, according to Baghdad newspaper reports on May 10. ‘Four trucks carrying more than 61 tons of medicine arrived in Baghdad on Friday [May 9],’ the papers quoted an unidentified source at the Iraqi health ministry as saying. The first food shipments had arrived last March, closely supervised and monitored by 151 UN inspectors.
The $2 billion oil-for-food deal, however, is misleading. When war reparations and the cost of Iraqi oil extraction are taken into account, it leaves a mere $250 million for food and medicines for 20 million people. This amounts to $3 per person per month! Doctors at the Qadissiyah Hospital in Baghdad lament the fact that they are unable to treat children for even minor ailments because of lack of medicines. More than 75 percent of the incubators in the hospital lie idle for lack of spare parts.
Often, doctors are forced to operate on children without anaesthesia, amid screams of pain and agony. There are millions of unexploded mines and other bombs. Children have lost limbs and suffered other injuries. Death seems to be the least painful way out. Those who suffer injuries are permanently crippled and have to live an agonising existence.
Add to that the incidents of cancer which have increased 500 percent due to the allies’ use of depleted uranium shells during the 1991 war, and one gets the full picture. While there is now talk about the Gulf War syndrome in the US and Britain, there is not even a hint that the western powers have caused such havoc in Iraq. Incidents of leukemia have increased more than 350 percent in the southern parts of Iraq, region where much of the fighting occurred.
Conditions in Iraq remain grim despite the much-trumpeted humanitarian deal. This was admitted even by Yasushi Akashi, the UN under-secretary general. Speaking to reporters at the end of his six-day visit to Iraq, Akashi told reporters in Baghdad on May 8: ‘Indeed there is a significant degree of humanitarian suffering...The conditions in hospitals are deplorable.’
After visiting the country last February, World Health Organisation chief Hiroshi Nakajima admitted that Iraq’s health system was close to collapse. This has not moved the arrogant western powers to avert the ever-rising human tragedy. Intoxicated by their power, they insist on imposing their obnoxious ‘new world order’.
When confronted with half a million Iraqi infact deaths by Leslie Stahl of the CBS television programme, 60-Minutes, last year (May 12, 1996), Medeleine Kerbalova Albright, the US secretary of State said, ‘it is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.’ To achieve what? Would the daughter of Czech immigrants of Jewish extraction display the same indifference if the children were Jewish?
Since the UN sanctions went into effect, an estimated one million children have perished in Iraq. Most deaths are caused by malnourishment, lack of medicines and the total breakdown of water treatment plants due to a lack of spare parts. Throughout Iraq, people are forced to drink sewage-contaminated water leading to the spread of water-born diseases and death. This affects the children in particular, the most vulnerable segment of the population.
The US-led sanctions against Iraq, or indeed any other country, are immoral, against international law and perpetrating genocide against innocent civilians. They are not achieving their purported purpose, the overthrow of Saddam’s regime, if that indeed is the purpose. What they are doing is decimating an entire generation of Iraqi children.
The blood of these innocent souls is on the hands of leaders in the US and Britain.
Muslimedia - June 1-15, 1997