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Iraq - 11 Years On


Dr. Omar Al Taher

Jordan Times, 16 January 2002

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca,  23  January 2002

It has been exactly eleven years ago today since the US and its allies launched their largest military campaign since World War II with the ostensible aim of ejecting Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

This objective was attained within 42 days of unrelenting aerial bombardment, but Iraq has since been placed under a sanctions regime designed to cripple it economically and subdue it politically.

Over those eleven long years, over 600,000 Iraqi children have died as a direct result of the sanctions. This prompted three top UN officials, Dennis Halliday, Hans Von Sponeck and Bolghardt, to resign in protest at what they termed "the slow and silent death of an entire nation"; the UN has not known a rebellion like this in its 55-year history.

Having visited Iraq lately, I couldn't help noticing that the very fabric of Iraqi society is gradually disintegrating. Mass migration from the country to urban areas has transformed the once great and prosperous cities of Baghdad and Basra into huge shantytowns; corruption, prostitution and beggary are commonplace. Eleven years of sanctions have eroded the previously resilient and vibrant middle class, rendering it destitute and helpless. The far-reaching implications of the embargo are destined to continue to impact Iraqis' lives for decades to come.

Almost everything is denied the people of Iraq, including food, clothing and medicine. As far back as 1994, reports out of Iraq, compiled by Western agencies, spoke of widespread chronic malnutrition and death among young children; an unprecedented human rights disaster. The result of this "collateral damage", as US and British officials wish to call it, is that over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five have been killed; twice the number of those killed by the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

A quick glance at the list of items that Iraq is denied reveals the absurdity and the ugly face of the much-celebrated "new world order". The list includes: books, pencils, paper, soap, light bulbs, clean water, anaesthetic, lifesaving drugs, X-ray machines and films, heart and lungs machine, vaccines, firefighting equipment, etc. The pretext is that such items have a potential for military application. Frankly, everything has the potential for dual usage, and one is genuinely surprised that the list does not include nails, which could be used in nail bombs, and Pepsi bottles, which could be used for Molotov cocktail bombs!

The effects of the embargo against Iraq stand as a stark indictment of the Americans and the British and everything they claim to stand for. One is inclined to point to peoples, as opposed to governments, because these two countries are supposed to be democratic and free, governed by democratically elected officials who are accountable to their respective electorates, i.e., decisions made by these officials are in essence the decisions of their electorates. Their relationship is likened to the relationship that exists between a principal and an agent, which entails that the principal cannot escape liability for the acts and omissions of his agent.

By contrast, the Iraqis could in no way be blamed for the policies of Saddam Hussein because, put simply, the Iraqis never voted Saddam in office. Here lies the difference between the West and Iraq. Punishing the Iraqi people for Saddam's actions is akin to punishing an innocent child for an offence committed by his father. So much for Western fairness, equity and fair play!

Experts on the Middle East fear that this state of affairs is a recipe for disaster in so far as the future of the Middle East is concerned. Historically, Iraq has been a key player in the region, and it logically follows that it would always have a crucial role to play by virtue of the dictates of geopolitics. US and British officials talk, day in and day out, of a Middle East living in peace and harmony. What harmony would be expected from a county that has been singled out and placed under the most comprehensive sanctions regime in modern history? The effects of this genocidal war are likely to backfire, derailing all what the US and its underling, the UK, are working towards.

George Bush's and Tony Blair's sugar-coated speeches that the "quarrel is not with the Iraqi people but with the Iraqi leader" is neither here nor there. The resentment one senses in discussions with Iraqis is directed towards the two countries and, by implication, the two peoples, the Americans and the British. The fear, which is shared by many who have studied the Middle East, is that by antagonising and humiliating an entire nation, the likelihood of transforming every Iraqi into a Saddam is very much a possibility, not to say a probability.

When confronted with the fact that over 4,000 Iraqi children are dying every month due to the embargo, Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, retorted without a qualm: "Well, we think the price is worth it." Furthermore, on innumerable occasions, she went on record stating that even if the UN Disarmament Committee's report gave Iraq a clean bill of health, the US position is not to lift the sanctions so long as Saddam remained in power. This candour, which borders on insolence, explains Iraq's non-cooperative stance. The Iraqi leadership is aware that if all its weaponry (from biological weapons to even hand grenades) are accounted for and decommissioned, the sanctions are there to stay. So, why cooperate?

One cannot help recalling the eerie words of James Baker, former US secretary of state, during his eleventh hour meeting in Geneva in January 1991 with Tareq Aziz, the then Iraqi foreign minister, that Iraq "risks being relegated to a pre-industrial age status" if it doesn't pull out of Kuwait by Jan. 15. Well, this objective was fulfilled with the ejection of Iraqi troops from Kuwait on Feb. 28, 1991. Why does the West continue its aggressive foreign policy towards Iraq?

The answer lies in that following the collapse of the Soviet Union - the Arab world's traditional ally - the US resolved that the time was ripe to redraw the map of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 has outlived its validity, and the area was in need for a new arrangement, this time to accommodate Israel's long-term designs. Iraq, with its huge potential and nationalist aspirations, regardless of its government, was the stumbling block that needed to be sorted out, so to speak.

In an interview a couple of years ago, Tareq Aziz stated that Iraq favours military strikes to the status quo. After all, war is governed by the Geneva Convention, while the silent war that has been waged over the past eleven years, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, continues to go unnoticed and doesn't make news headlines.

However, the pressing question remains: How many more Iraqis need to perish before the American and the British peoples react and put a stop to the atrocities committed in their name?

Copyright Omar Al Taher 2002. Reprinted for fair use only 

The writer who holds a PhD degree in international affairs is attached to law firm in Amman. 


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