Iraqi Silent Genocide

by Jeff Lindemyer

August 6, 2001

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"They died in silence for humanity had closed its ears to their cry..."
--Khalil Gibran Khalil
Inside a three-walled room (the fourth long since gone), a mother coddles her two-year-old son snugly in her arms. The small child, emaciated and contorted, is suffering from malnutrition and meningitis. Both could have easily been prevented, had the supplies been allowed into the country. The woman slowly raises her head and looks through the window where a pane used to prevent the elements from seeping in. Her older son, lucky enough to reach the tender age of seven, is outside, leaping over a stream of sewage that flows through their barren yard. It didn't always used to be this way...

The waterways of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, were once compared to that of Venice. Now they are filled with raw sewage. This transformation began with the bombing of Iraq by the United Nations (which acts as a fig leaf for the United States) in January 1991 and was perpetuated year after year in an endless downward spiral due to the economic Sanctions that have been in place for over a century. Of its population, which once numbered 22 million, an estimated four million Iraqis have fled the country and over 1.2 million lay dead as a direct effect of the Sanctions (Reuters). It is only now that former president Bush's words ring with great irony that he, of all people, would call Saddam Hussein the next Hitler.

The destruction of the Iraqi people was, after all, completely planned by the United States. A Pentagon document dated January 18, 1991 reads, "Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply... Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease... The entire Iraqi water treatment system will not collapse precipitously....full degradation of the water treatment system probably will take at least another 6 months." The same embargo that banned the importation of water purifying chlorine a decade ago still exists to this very day, over ten years after the time when epidemics of cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid were predicted to occur (Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities memo).

The results, needless to say, have been devastating. Iraq, once the most prosperous country of the entire Middle East, has become one of the least (March 1999 UN Report). Access to potable water, relative to 1990 levels, is only 50% in urban areas and 33% in rural areas. The overall deterioration in the quality of drinking water has contributed to the rapid spread of infectious disease (World Food Program). And the fact that government drug warehouses and pharmacies have few stocks of medicines and medical supplies due to the Sanctions only adds gasoline to an already unquenchable fire (February 1997 World Health Organization).

Children fare the worst in this most abhorrent of situations. Since the onset of the Sanctions, almost one-quarter of all infants are born underweight and the same number is malnourished (March 1999 UN Report). It doesn't get any better as they get older either, as thirty-two percent of children under five are chronically malnourished, with the mortality rate increasing over six-fold to be among the highest in the world (November 1997 UNICEF and March 1996 WHO). Stemming mainly from hunger and disease, the result is the death of 4,500 children under the age of five per month (October 1996 UNICEF). That translates roughly to 150 children killed each and every day. At that rate, an entire Minnesota elementary school would disappear every few days. The United States is 100% morally culpable for each and every life that is ended prematurely.

The complete result of Iraqi Sanctions is the silent genocide of a nation. Unfortunately, the inability to separate a dictator from its people currently prevents any change from occurring. But, in the words of Denis Halliday, former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, "We cannot hide behind Saddam Hussein. Yes, he's a miserable dictator and he's done some appalling things. None of us would apologize or want to apologize for that. But the fact that we cannot communicate with him, the fact that we don't progress in our dialogues with him, does not allow us, does not empower us to kill the children of Iraq" (May 1999 National Catholic Reporter). Scott Ritter, former U.N. inspector in Iraq, continues that thought, "The concept of us trying to save the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein is ludicrous. He is a brutal dictator. He may torture to death 1,800 people a year. That's terrible and unacceptable. But we kill 6,000 a month. Let's put that on a scale." Both Halliday and Ritter resigned from their posts in protest of the Sanctions (June 1999 FOR interview).

Helen Fein, Ph.D., Research Associate of the Francois Xavier-Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health writes, "Although every mass killing involves unique circumstances, certain underlying conditions are common to most genocides." Let's apply her conditions to the situation in Iraq to determine if genocide has occurred. "The offending nation, or perpetrator, is usually a nondemocratic country that views the targeted group as a barrier or threat to maintaining power, fulfilling an ideology, or achieving some other goal." Regular or unleaded? "The perpetrators exclude the victim from their universe of obligation-that is, they believe that they do not have to account for or protect the victims, who are seen as inferiors, subhumans, or strangers." Isn't that similar to "protecting the American way?" "Most genocides occur during a crisis, such as a war, state breakdown, or revolution, that is blamed on the victims." I believe the term is "energy crisis" (spelled Persian Gulf War). "In addition, the governments of other countries that might have interfered or deterred the genocide may support the perpetrator directly or indirectly by their lack of action." Countries such as France presently oppose continuing the Sanctions, though that wasn't the case a decade ago. Sounds like we fit the bill quite well.

The unspeakable death and destruction, we are responsible for it all. The Sanctions must be dropped, and they must be dropped immediately. Denis Halliday summed the situation up perfectly with the words, "There can be no justification for the death and malnutrition for which Sanctions are responsible. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that..."


       Jeff Lindemyer is a student at UC Berkeley, California, who is currently residing in Minnesota where he works as an intern for US Senator Paul Wellstone. Lindemyer can be reached at Swans.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Jeff Lindemyer 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published August 6, 2001
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