The UN Security Council imposed stringent economic sanctions on Iraq on 6th August, 1990, four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. When the first Persian Gulf War had succeeded to oust Iraq from Kuwait the following year, the Security Council did not proceed to lift all the sanctions. Passed in April 1991, after the war, UN resolution 687 required Iraq to disclose and destroy its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and to refrain from developing others, and called for war reparations to Kuwait. The sanctions stayed in effect until May 2003. They banned all trade and financial resources except for “medicine and health supplies” and “in humanitarian circumstances” foodstuffs, the import of which into Iraq was tightly regulated.
The sanctions had a harsh impact on Iraqi civilians. By 1999, UN figures estimated that more than 1.7 million Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the sanctions, between 500,000 and 600,000 of whom were children. These numbers are disputed, however, even the conservative estimates are dismaying. Former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Dennis Halliday, quit in protest in 1998 after one year as the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. He described the sanctions as genocidal.
Dr. Richard Garfield, a professor at Columbia University noted, “Prior to the Gulf war, an estimated 97 per cent of the urban and 78 per cent of the rural population had effective access to curative services. By 1997, the capacity of the curative health system was greatly reduced…..the number of reported operations dropped by 70 per cent nationally, the number of laboratory tests performed dropped by 60 per cent, an estimated 30 per cent of hospital beds were no longer in use, about 75 per cent of all hospital equipment no longer worked, and a quarter of the country’s 1305 health centers closed. A reported 80 per cent of all medical equipment was out of service.”
Sanctions led to the deterioration of what was previously an excellent national health service. Thousands of Iraqis died of malnutrition, infectious diseases, and the effects of shortages or unavailability of essential drugs. Doctors suffered from intellectual embargo and found it difficult to obtain medical books. They were unable to travel aboard to attend medical conferences or training courses. Donations of medical books and journals by foreign doctors made to Iraqi medical schools and medical associations never reached the intended recipients.
A Canadian MP, Svend Robinson, moved to have the sanctions lifted in the House of Commons in May 2001, “The sanctions certainly have not had an impact on Saddam Hussein, but over the course of the last decade, they have resulted in the death, according to UNICEF, of over half a million children under the age of five…What our delegation witnessed on our return last year was the total collapse of Iraq’s human and physical infrastructure, a nation that has experienced a shift from, as was described by the United Nations development program, relative affluence to massive poverty. Unemployment is epidemic. Inflation has skyrocketed. The average salary is about $5 U.S. a month. There has been a dramatic increase in begging, prostitution and crime.”
The American and coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The purpose of the invasion was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” Later, there were revelations that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. There was no concrete evidence discovered linking Hussein to terrorists. The removal of Saddam led to political instability and to the rise of sectarian insurgencies. The ensuing power struggle for the control of Iraq and ethnic division wreaked havoc on the country. Noam Chomsky, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology states that ISIS “is one of the results of the United States hitting a very vulnerable society with a sledgehammer, which elicited sectarian conflicts that had not existed. It is hard to see how Iraq can even be held together at this point. It has been devastated by U.S. sanctions, the war, (and) the atrocities that followed from it.”
Lydia Wilson, journalist and research fellow at University of Oxford, interviewed ISIS prisoners in Iraq. She noted that young recruits were not attracted by religious fanaticism but because of how their families were treated under the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the repressive U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. They were ignorant about Islam and had difficulty answering questions about their faith. She wrote, “They are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government. They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.” One of the prisoners interviewed stated, “The Americans came (and) they took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”
There have been numerous studies done that examine the impact of sanctions on terrorism. One such study by Seung-Whan Choi and Shali Luo of University Illinois argues that “sanctions intensify economic hardships on the poor within countries and this increases their level of grievance and makes them more likely to support or engage in international terrorism. Economic sanctions are conceptualized as creating an opportunity for rogue leaders to manipulate aggrieved poor people to terrorize foreign entities who are demonized as engaging in a foreign encroachment on the sanctioned nation’s sovereignty. Although the main purpose of economic sanctions is to coerce rogue countries to conform to international norms and laws, they can unintentionally produce a negative ramification and become a cause of international terrorism.”
It is interesting to note that the six countries with travel bans by the current U.S. government have had U.S. imposed sanctions on them.
This blog is the combined effort with my father, who is working on a book about his modest efforts, in the late nineties and early 2000, to lift the Iraq sanctions. It includes his correspondence with Svend Robinson, a Member of Parliament from 1979 to 2004, and others including Hon. Jean Chretien – former Prime Minister of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy – former Foreign Affairs Minister, Art Eggleton – former Defense Minister, Bill Graham – former MP and Chair of Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. It also has letters to the Editors published in various newspapers. For any inquiries, please contact him at mohammed_javed48 [at] hotmail [dot] com.