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Iraq and Ruin: A Country, and a U.S. Strategy, in Shambles
Published on Thursday, February 22, 2001 in the Seattle Post Intelligencer
Iraq and Ruin: A Country, and a U.S. Strategy, in Shambles
by Farai Chideya
Iraqui President Saddam Hussein (known as Sah-Damn to fans of Bush the Elder) seems intent on ruining the once prosperous country that sits in the historic "Cradle of Civilization." Are we, the United States of America, helping him?

Since the Gulf War, the international community has imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. It would be nice to think that that's hurting the government, but President Saddam Hussein--the man who used poison gas against Kurdish families--still lives in a palace and manages to look dapper in press conferences. Meanwhile, an estimated 1.25 million Iraquis have died from poverty, hunger and disease due to a combination of sanctions and government neglect. The United States has blocked Iraq from importing goods it needs for medical supplies and generating electric power, on the grounds they could be put to military use.

Few American news organizations have reported extensively from Iraq in recent years, but a Boston Globe reporter in Baghdad two years ago found "children stunted by years of malnutrition. Children who say they are 15 and 16 look more like 9- or 10-year-olds." Voices in the Wilderness is a Chicago-based group that brings medicine to Iraq in open defiance of the sanctions. "Economic sanctions are killing by some measures four to five thousand children under the age of five each month," says coordinator Kathy Kelly. She advocates a new policy: "lift sanctions, embargo military weaponry, (provide) massive assistance to rebuild the infrastructure."

Several members of the coalition which has supported sanctions, including France, now seem to agree with Kelly. Right now, the Iraqui lifeline is an oil-for-food program run by the United Nations, but two of its past administrators, Dennis Halliday and Hans van Spoeneck resigned in quick succession from the post, dispirited over the civilian deaths. "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that," said Halliday, "It is illegal and immoral." Van Spoeneck, who has been critical of both the U.N. and the Iraqui government's role, stated, "How long the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all this, should be exposed to such punishment for something that they have never done?"

And where does the United States stand? President George W. Bush says that the raids were "part of a strategy, and until that strategy is changed, if it is changed, we will continue to enforce them." The Iraqui President tends to speak more clearly than our own on matters like these. If you go to his official website (and you better believe that every Tom, Dick, and Saddam has a website these days), you'll find a Gulf War anniversary speech which states: "on a day like this day ten years ago, Evil and all those who made Satan their protector lined up in one place... the U.S... Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Argentina, Belgium and Australia.... Shall I continue counting or do you still remember the number: thirty-three states, twenty-eight armies, taking the first place in the aggression upon Iraq, and more than forty states taking charge of supporting the direct aggression in addition to world Zionism and its freak and accursed entity?"

The question is not, was not, has never been whether or not Saddam Hussein is a nice guy. The question has always been how the United States and the international community should engage with him, particularly as Secretary of State Colin Powell heads to the region later this month. The "Evil" nations that Saddam lists in his diatriabe are weakening in their resolve to act as one toward Iraq. The Arab states that America counts as its allies have become frustrated with our policy of air strikes which seem like posturing and do little to help the people of the country. And of course the Bush administration's oil ties make it difficult to divorce the personal and the political.

Shortly before he became the vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney was given a $20 million payout from his oil company employer, Halliburton. As Secretary of Defense, Cheney bombed Iraq. But as part of Halliburton, Cheney called for re-engaging with trade with both Iran and Iraq, and stated in a 1998 speech that "unilateral sanctions...almost never work." Of course, sanctions have worked in cases as notable as South Africa, but in this case they seem to be doing more to hurt the Iraqui people than to accomplish any long-range military or political goals. We seem to have an endless supply of smart bombs. But as for smart policy...well, let's just consider all of our options in Iraq as we move forward. The worst case scenario? A Gulf War II that would leave the wily Saddam Hussein in power, produce American military casualties, and another million Iraquis dead.

Farai Chideya is the editor of Pop & Politics (, a journal of opinion for the next generation.


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