Review: Death by sanctions

Reviewed by Zubeida Mustafa

AT a time when the world waits with baited breath for the impending American war on Iraq, Iraq under Siege comes as a reminder that the people of that besieged country have already been under attack for 12 years. Anthony Arnove writes in the introduction to this updated edition: “The war on the people of Iraq has been going on since the imposition of the most comprehensive sanctions in world history on the country on August 6, 1990.”

At present the focus of world attention has shifted to the war which is expected to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, who are dismissed by Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld as “colateral damage”. With the US Congress having given the Bush administration a carte blanche in October 2002 to attack Iraq preemptively and the Anglo-American military build-up in the Gulf region, war is believed to be imminent. The issues under debate in the world media are regime change, control over oil resources, and, of course, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the need to destroy them. The sanctions have receded into the background.

It is a pity that the voice of sanity from peace-loving elements has fallen on deaf ears. Arnove succinctly sums up the repercussions of this senseless war which will lead to the escalation of American hegemony in the Middle East, will give a fillip to the expansionist regimes all over the world on the plea of giving them the justification of waging war against terrorism and will enhance the social injustices and inequities in the US and other countries.

But the book under review is basically about the 12-year war being fought against the people of Iraq. They have been victims of the aerial bombing and the sanctions regime since 1990. The book is a meticulous documentation of the ravages unleashed on the people of that unfortunate country. The contributors, some of them outstanding academics, point out how sanctions have been used to promote the American policy of regime change in Baghdad. Washington has made it clear that the sanctions will be lifted unilaterally by the US only if it found the new Iraqi government “acceptable”. The thrust for this strategy came from the pro-Israel politicians and think-tanks and in the process new rules of conduct were written. Dissent and non-conformity were not tolerated. Backed by a conservative quiescent Congress and the mainstream media which supports war, the administration feels no compunction about adopting a bellicose policy. In fact the peace movement has failed to make an impact so far.

Pointing out the inconsistencies in American policies vis-a- vis Iraq, Noam Chomsky writes that the US backed Iraq when it was fighting against Iran and Saddam Hussrin enjoyed US support when he was gassing the Kurds. After a turnaround, the US is now projecting Iraq as a violent lawless state when in actuality it is America which, as the most powerful state, is out to seize what it wants.

John Pilger raises some pertinent questions. What do you say to parents of children who are dying of the effects of sanctions? Aren’t sanctions the violation of the rights of millions of people? He ends on a poignant note by referring to the tragedy of Mohammad Amin Ezzat, the conductor of the Iraqi National Orchestra, whose wife died when the cheap kerosene oil lamp burst setting her on fire. The intermittent supply has forced the people to use these lamps.

The book explodes the myths which have been created about the sanctions. Some of them are: the sanctions are an effective non- violent method for the containment of Iraq; Iraq is a threat to its neighbours and without sanctions it would build its weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Iraq is violating the UN Security Council resolutions; Iraq has undermined the UN inspection programme; if the people are suffering it is because the Iraqi government is withholding the distribution of food; the Iraqi leadership is trying to enrich itself; ‘smart’ sanctions ensure that the needs of the people are met.

But the fact is that the Iraqi children have suffered due to the sanctions while hundreds and thousands have died due to malnutrition and lack of medicines. The under-5 mortality rate has doubled and UNMOVIC has denied that Iraq has rebuilt its WMDs. How could Iraq then pose a threat to other countries? Obviously the American aim is to occupy Iraq and seize control of its oil resources which constitute 11 per cent of the world oil reserves. It cannot afford to let the prices drop very low. Neither can it live with very high prices which would destroy its oil-based economy.

Given the pressure generated by public opinion in the western democracies, the media have attempted to downplay the negative effects of sanctions. Ali Abunimah and Rania Masri write about this negative role of the media. In an excellent analysis of the American media, these writers describe the devices employed. The civilian victims of bombing are ignored. A bias is injected by having a narrow selection of experts with a distinct point of view in their discussion programmes. They seek to create an artificial balance in the coverage of news and thus mislead public opinion.

Some of the questions posed should move the readers. For instance, Professor Howard Zinn asks if an American president would kill a few hundred Americans simply to ‘send a message’ as is being done in Iraq. Is an Iraqi child less innocent than an American’s and is an Iraqi life less worthy than an American one?

Although all that the book says has a powerful appeal for the minds and hearts of readers, it seems to have escaped the notice of American policy-makers. Though inevitably repetitive at times, the book is the collective voice of 18 academics, professionals and social workers who are also activists in their own way. All of them share a common commitment: they want justice for the people of Iraq.

Iraq under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

Edited by Anthony Arnove

South End Press, 7 Brookline Street, #1, Cambridge MA 02139- 4146


ISBN 0-89608-697-6

62pp. $16

Source: Dawn