Book Review of New Book "Iraq Under Siege"
Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War edited by Anthony
Arnove. Pub: Pluto Press, London, UK, 2000. Pp: 216. Pbk: 10.99.
By Abd Rahman Koya
[Crescent International, June 16-30, 2000.]
That the west, led by the US, is currently engaged in biological warfare
against a nation is a fact hard to conceal even by official statements
from the White House. The most notorious of these statements is that of
Madeleine Albright, the US state secretary. When asked about the 500,000
deaths of Iraqi children as a result of the economic sanctions, she
replied simply: "We think the price is worth it."
When the US-led allied war planes took off from their Saudi bases for the
first operation of their massive bombing of Iraq, among the casualties
were eight major multipurpose dams, 28 hospitals, 52 community health
centres and 676 schools (Ramsey Clark, The Fire This Time, p.64). That was
the damage done in just the first attack; the air-raids continued for 42
days. Almost ten years later, the human toll has grown from being
murderous to being genocidal as a result of the continuous "economic
sanctions" imposed by the US and its western allies.
Many probably thought that the sanctions would be the end of Saddam
Husseins regime. After all, far milder sanctions contributed significantly
to the destruction of one of the most brutal regimes in Africa, South
Africas apartheid system. But in the case of Iraq they were wrong.
Toppling the "butcher of Baghdad" has never been the wests aim. Richard
Haas, the former director of "middle east affairs" in the US National
Security Council, perhaps came closest to an honest appraisal of current
western policy towards Iraq when he said that "Our policy is to get rid of
Saddam, not his junta". In truth, even Saddams survival is not
unacceptable, for it serves the wests purposes well enough.
The results of the western policies are plain to see. Once one of the
worlds healthiest populations, Iraqis are now succumbing to diseases which
would be easily preventable but for the continuing embargo on essential
items. Years of bombing and one million deaths later, many of them of
children under five, the argument still being put forward is that such a
policy is necessary in the efforts to undermine Saddam. In fact, the
sanctions have strengthened Saddam. The US policy of depriving the people
of Iraq of basic necessities has pushed them into total dependence on the
In sixteen essays documenting the longest and most ruthless campaign
against an entire population since Vietnam, Iraq Under Siege brings
together a wide range of opinions and first-hand experiences from
individuals and organisations who have been involved directly or
indirectly in fighting the economic sanctions. Divided into five main
parts, the book begins by examining the economic sanctions in the light of
the Gulf war in order to present a very different picture from that
usually presented in the carefully-controlled US press.
Among the most interesting items in the book is an interview with Dennis
Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq who resigned in 1998 in
protest against the sanctions. Having witnessed the human tragedy there,
he went on to become the first high-ranking UN official to acknowledge
publicly that the sanctions on Iraq constitute genocide. Halliday is now
among the leading individuals campaigning in the US to end the sanctions.
In this interview, Halliday highlights the administrative incompetence of
the UN in the face of elite members. He best sums up the impact of the
sanctions by saying that they have denied to the Iraqi people the only
kind of human rights they had ever enjoyed: economic and social rights.
This is confirmed in Chapter 11 by George Cappacio, an American who,
writing about the impact of sanctions on Iraqs educational system, saw for
himself thousands of children who dropped out of school to work, even to
the extent of prostituting themselves, to make ends meet.
Noam Chomsky, among this books better-known contributors, gives a
background of the present crisis facing the Iraqi people and how the wests
relationship with Saddam has a similar pattern to its dealings with other
dictators, from Indonesias Suharto to the tyrants in South America.
Chomsky points out that there is a close correlation between terror and
violence and US military aid. Far from US claims that Saddam is the real
target, Chomsky charges that the US had immediately returned to support
Saddam (as it had been doing during the Iraq-Iran war). This claim is not
far-fetched. When rebellions erupted in the northern and southern parts of
Iraq after the Gulf war officially ended, Saddams forces brutally and
successfully crushed the opposition. The US did not bat an eyelid. The
fear was that the "beast of Baghdad" might really be overthrown, thus
altering the "stability" of the whole area.
British journalist John Pilger gives a moving account of his experience
during his trip to Iraq, where he encountered the enormous human and
social toll that the sanctions have taken. Other notable contributors to
this small book, which Muslims must inevitably find emotionally
distressing, include Robert Fisk, Howard Zinn, Ali Abunimah, Rania Masri,
Huda S Ammash and Sharon Smith, all involved in their own ways in their
fight against the sanctions.
But readers will find the most heart-rending experience in Kathy Kellys
account of her activities. Kelly helped found Voices in the Wilderness, an
American organisation which has taken enormous financial and legal risks
by defying the US governments sanctions. Her many brushes with the
authorities reflect a commitment to a cause that few from the
non-governmental organisations can match. Hers is about putting action
where the mouth is.
One strategy that Voices in the Wilderness adopts is to create "a drama of
confrontation with a law we believe to be wrongful," she writes. In 1998,
Voices began openly violating the sanctions by taking medicines and
childrens toys directly to Iraq. For this crime, Kelly was threatened by
the US government with a fine of US$1 million or 12 years in jail. But the
Voices will have none of it: "We will not allow a government to dictate
our conscience. We will not allow the US government, in the name of
democracy and national security, to order us to cooperate with a strategy
designed to starve the people of Iraq ..."
The human catastrophe and the biological terrorism inflicted upon an
entire nation go beyond any violation of human decency in recent history.
Throughout the book, Muslims cannot help being in a state of emotional
distress, although it offers only a glimpse of the serious state of
helplessness Muslims are in.
Instead of making up for its guilt of arming Saddam to the teeth and
covering up years of brutalities against his own people, the west has
chosen to show its lack of remorse by inflicting hardships on the rest of
Iraq. It would be harsh to claim that the Iraqis are being punished for
their years of support for a regime that indulged in untold atrocities;
the fact is that the Iraqi experience offers lessons to Muslims living
under brutal pro-western regimes.
Muslim regimes also have hands that are stained with the blood of Iraqi
children who are continuously being killed by the sanctions. From
neighbours Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who openly collaborated in the
destruction, to the west-bashing Mahathir regime in Malaysia, who voted in
favour of the US-sponsored UN resolutions, including resolution 678 that
authorised the US bombing of Iraq, all are implicated.
Only Yemen dared defy the US by abstaining on resolution 678 in the UN
security council. After the voting, one US diplomat told the Yemeni
ambassador: "That was the most expensive no-vote you ever cast." Yemen,
already one of the poorest Arab countries, was eventually punished: the US
and other Arab countries cancelled much-needed aid.
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