TEN years ago this week, the United Nations slapped economic sanctions on Iraq after its army overran Kuwait. Now, at the United States' insistence, the sanctions drag on in the face of failure.
Dictator Saddam Hussein remains ensconced in power, immune from the constraints that were supposed to oust him. The victims are the Iraqi people, especially children. An economy in shambles is decimating a generation too young to have memories of, let alone to have fought in, the Persian Gulf War.
Estimates of the children under five who have perished from disease and malnutrition as a result of sanctions range from 250,000 to more than a half-million over the decade. That's 50,000 children a year, 4,000 a month, more than 100 children a day -- a generation vanishing.
Two former administrators of the U.N.'s humanitarian relief program in Iraq have resigned in protest, one calling the sanctions ``genocide.'' That's too strong a term, for it ignores Saddam's role for his people's suffering. But in Iraq, as in Cuba, on which Congress is debating relaxed sanctions after 40 years, sanctions have proven to be both morally repugnant and ineffective.
Broad sanctions will not force Saddam to turn over the weapons of mass destruction he hid or has developed since 1998, when he kicked out U.N. arms inspectors after bombing raids by Britain and America. And they will not foment a rebellion to remove Saddam. Saddam's cronies are insulated. Sanctions have created a two-tiered economy, oppressive for the poor and porous for the elites, who live off contraband oil.
Since 1996, the United Nations has allowed limited exports of oil for food, medicine, and, lately, for spare parts for the oil production. A sharp rise in the market price of oil has upped the value of exports to $7 billion a year, which should ease hunger for Iraq's 23 million people.
But the United States and Britain have blocked contracts for fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and even ambulances, on suspicion that Iraq's military might appropriate them. And the food-for-oil program doesn't help rebuild Iraq's crippled infrastructure: water works, power stations, sewer systems and hospitals. It's the combined effects of anemia, drought and disease -- diarrhea from befouled water and alarming rates of cancer -- that are culling the young and old.
There's no question Saddam bears some responsibility. He continues to pour money into a fetish of palace-building. And he would, it's safe to assume, use some money from the lifting of sanctions to press ahead with a biological weapons, if not a nuclear weapons, program.
But sanctions have failed as a lever to move Saddam. And, while ending the ban on oil sales wouldn't guarantee relief for ordinary Iraqis, it would shift the blame for his people's misery squarely onto him.
There are no foolproof solutions to constrain Saddam, but there are alternatives: economic and travel restrictions targeting the ruling clique and a continued ban on the import of weapons and military machinery, accompanied by a long-term monitoring system. Violations would be met with air strikes. The United States, which has continued to bomb Iraqi military sites, should continue to control the skies over Iraq.
Support for broad sanctions, always ambivalent, is thinning as nations move to re-establish relations. America's allies have become increasingly queasy about the toll that sanctions are taking.
But there's been no sign of regret or even a call for a policy review in the White House and no talk of sanctions on the convention floor in Philadelphia. The news media have all but ignored the topic.
Such intransigence and indifference are disturbing. Economic sanctions against Iraq should be rolled back, if not repealed altogether.
© 2000 Mercury Center