Sanctions send Iraq on downward spiral
July 12, 1999
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Years of U.N.-imposed economic sanctions have turned Iraq from a nation of relative affluence into one of massive poverty, according to United Nations officials. And, they add, Iraq's infant mortality is now the highest in the world.
"Sanctions are a legitimate tool on the U.N. charter, but sanctions can kill," said Dr. Astrid Heiberg, president of the International Red Cross. "They are a blunt instrument that damages the poor, the destitute and the vulnerable."
Contaminated water, deteriorating sewage treatment plants and a severe decline in health care services have helped spread disease and malnutrition among Iraq's children, according to UNICEF. A U.N. study determined that one of every four Iraqi children is chronically malnourished.
"If you have a constant situation of increased illness but also no food, the child goes into a downwards spiral of increased malnutrition," said Anupama Rao Sing of UNICEF.
Many Iraqis have experienced that downward spiral. Nawal Radi watched it with her two-year-old son Ameer, who had been hospitalized for a month.
On the day he died, Ameer weighed six kilograms (13 pounds), half the normal weight of children his age. On that day, his mother declined to receive his share of lunch, saying he would take only milk. But the Saddam Pediatrics Hospital had none. Nawal Radi then took Ameer's tiny body to her chest, cradling him as he looked up to her with large eyes.
But Ameer's condition had weakened his immunity and led to chest infections. Needed antibiotics were not available.
His mother screamed and pleaded with doctors when Ameer seemed to have died. Ameer's grandmother then told her daughter he was dead. The mother was not consoled, saying she could have saved him if the doctors would return Ameer to her.
Doctors tried to save the boy, massaging his tiny chest. After ten minutes they gave up and declared the lifeless boy dead.
In New York, the 15-member U.N. Security Council has decided 40 times in the past nine years to keep the economic sanctions on Iraq.
"The sanctions are there because of the non-compliance on the disarmament requirements of the resolutions dating back to 1991," said Peter Burleigh, the acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N., defending the action.
"And the U.S. position is that the sanctions will stay on until there is compliance."
Under the terms that ended the Gulf War, Iraq agreed to disclose and dismantle weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological agents. But Iraq blocked U.N. weapons inspectors or refused to turn over documents, making council members suspect Baghdad is hiding military secrets.
"Iraq has used these weapons in the past against its own people and has invaded Kuwait," said Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British Ambassador to the U.N.
"It's still a dangerous country, so these sanctions have a serious purpose," he said.
Iraq insists there are no secrets and that sanctions are used as a weapon of war.
"Sanctions originally should not be imposed in this comprehensive way which kills children so they should lift it immediately," said Saeed Hasan, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N.
The sanctions do not bar food and medicine, but Baghdad says they prevent Iraq from buying humanitarian aid by preventing the government from raising revenue, especially from its once lucrative oil trade.
In December 1996, the Security Council adopted the so-called 'oil for food' program that allows Iraq to sell $5.25 billion worth of oil, with a percentage of revenue going to the Iraqi public for assistance.
"Where Iraq is responsible for distribution, there is still some $200-300 million worth of medicine sitting in warehouses not being moved and yet they have renewed their army vehicles and their military transport," said Greenstock.
Inside the U.N. Security Council, Iraq is gaining support for sanctions relief.
"We believe that we should lift the sanctions against Iraq because the sanctions against Iraq have been there for 8 years and people are suffering," said Shen Guofeng, the Deputy Chinese Ambassador to the U.N.
Even the British, with U.S. support, now favor suspending the sanctions as long as Iraq cooperates on disarmament.
But Baghdad says it will never agree to any plan requiring a link between weapons and food.
Distrust of the United Nations growing in Iraq
United Nations Home Page
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