Sanctions Hurt Children More Than Saddam
Published on Wednesday, January 17, 2001 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Sanctions Hurt Children More Than Saddam
by Larry Johnson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Foreign Desk Editor
By the end of the 47-day Persian Gulf War, an estimated 100,000 Iraqis had been killed.

Today, after more than 10 years of crippling economic sanctions, United Nations officials and human rights groups say another 500,000 Iraqis, mostly children, have died as a result of sanctions-related diseases.

The sanctions, despite the hopes of many Western leaders, have had little apparent effect on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He remains firmly in control, and efforts to find and destroy his weapons are in limbo. But the sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iraq's 22 million people.

Each month in Iraq, thousands of infants die of malnutrition-related illnesses that many believe would not be a problem except for the sanctions restricting the shipment of food and medicine.

According to U.N. reports and Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviews in Baghdad, since 1991, children under 5 died from malnutrition-related diseases in numbers estimated at between 2,690 and 5,357 a month.

  A cramped classroom.
  Sitting four across at desks designed for two students, Iraqi second-graders listen to a lesson in a classroom in Saddam City, a poor Baghdad neighborhood. Sanctions imposed after the war have left Iraq in ruins, with children suffering the most. Dan DeLong / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The United Nations imposed the economic sanctions on Iraq on Aug. 6, 1990, in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait four days earlier.

The sanctions banned almost all trade with Iraq, but a U.N.-approved loophole -- the Oil-for-Food Program -- allows Iraq to sell oil as long as most of the proceeds go to buy food, medicine and other non-military essentials.

Former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Denis Haliday in September 1998 quit his job overseeing the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq to protest what he now calls the "genocide" of the Iraqi people. His successor, Hans Von Sponeck, in March 2000 also quit the job in protest, saying he could no longer work for an organization that allowed such suffering to continue.

The U.N. Oil-for-Food Program has kept the numbers of deaths and cases of malnutrition from rising, but it was never intended as a remedy for the situation.

U.S. officials insist that Saddam is to blame for the country's misery. The Clinton administration has repeatedly said it would support ending sanctions if Saddam would stop all biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs and allow U.N. inspectors free rein in examining Iraq's facilities.

Both President-elect George W. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney have said they believe sanctions have been an appropriate response to Saddam.

Gerri Haynes, vice president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and program manager for the Robert Wood Foundation grant on pediatric palliative care at Children's Hospital in Seattle, said she remains hopeful that sanctions will end.

"It's difficult for people to get outside of their own lives to see how our taxes are being used to hurt people," Haynes said. "But my belief is that if the American taxpayer realized what our tax dollars are paying for, we would be united as one voice telling our government that the sanctions must stop."

Haynes has made three trips to Iraq in violation of the law, delivering medicines and medical texts, with other medical workers and others interested in the effects of sanctions.

Already, there are signs that the sanctions are wearing thin in the international community. In August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez became the first head of state to visit Iraq since the Gulf War. In September, flights to Baghdad began from France and Russia. Dozens of other flights have followed, including regular service from the Jordanian capital of Amman.

And the number of activist and humanitarian flights is increasing. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark led a "Sanctions Challenge" trip to Iraq from New York City, which left Jan. 12 and is expected to return Friday.

Another flight, dubbed the "Baghdad Airlift," was the first to Baghdad from the United States since 1991. Representatives of religious and humanitarian groups on the airlift, which left New York City Jan. 10, planned to deliver $150,000 worth of medicine, eyeglasses, school supplies and medical books -- all without U.S. government authorizaiton. Kristine Swenson and Mark West of Seattle University were on that flight.

A father weeps.  
An Iraqi man weeps over his daughter at a hospital in baghdad. Each month in Iraq thousands of infants die of malnutrition-related illnesses. Dan DeLong / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
It is illegal to bring any aid to Iraq without government approval, a violation punishable by stiff fines and jail time.

Bert Sacks, a Seattle anti-sanctions activist who has made six trips to Iraq, received a letter from the State Department in 1998 threatening $163,000 in fines. To date, however, no one has been prosecuted.

Despite the risks, Sacks said it's worth it.

"If I did a year in jail, and had a part in ending the sanctions a month early, I would have helped save the lives of 5,000 Iraqi children," Sacks said.

"Wouldn't that be worth it?"

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