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February 28, 2002

Re: The Politics of Dying Children by Matt Welch


by Kathy Kelly
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

A Note from the editor: Matt Welch's analysis of conflicting claims over the effect of sanctions on Iraq, published in Reason magazine, is typical of the "war-blogger" mentality: preening arrogance and pretensions to a strict just-the-facts standard. When he isn't sneering at Noam Chomsky, and otherwise critiquing the politics of sanctions critics, he accuses the anti-sanctions movement of telling "glaring lies" – and then concedes that "the truth is bad enough."

But as Kathy Kelly points out, by underestimating the ancillary effects of the sanctions, Welch's own biases – so prominently on display in his piece – get in the way of truth.

Matt Welch's impressive knowledge of statistics and sources regarding the number of children, under age 5, who have died as a direct result of economic sanctions provides a helpful overview of conflicting claims. Those who agree that the UN shouldn't be instrumental in waging economic warfare against innocent civilians should also agree that the cause of ending economic sanctions against Iraq is best served by using reliable statistics and always providing sources.

Welch rightly points out that the truth is bad enough. But some important points are missing from Welch's article. Welch doesn't present evidence of a deliberate US policy of inflicting great civilian harm in order to coerce a government's compliance with US demands. During the Gulf War, the US deliberately destroyed Iraq's electrical-generating plants, knowing full well what the consequence would be on the water and sewage systems. The US said this was done for "long-term leverage" and to "accelerate the effect of the sanctions." On June 23, 1991, a front page Washington Post article, by Barton Gellman, reported that "the worst civilian suffering, senior [American] officers say, has resulted not from bombs that went astray but from precision-guided weapons that hit exactly where they were aimed – at electrical plants, oil refineries and transportation networks." Gellman quotes a senior defense planning officer who said, "People say, 'You didn't recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage. Well, what were we trying to do with [United Nations-approved economic] sanctions – help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions." Gellman's interview with Col. John Warden II, deputy director of strategy, doctrine and plans for the US Air Force further clarified the purpose of destroying Iraq's electrical grid. By doing so, said Col. Warden, "you have imposed a long-term problem on the leadership that it has to deal with sometime… Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity," he said. "He needs help. If there are political objectives that the U.N. coalition has, it can say, 'Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.' It gives us long-term leverage."

Welch also overlooks reliable medical data (which Richard Garfield believes is credible) in a September 24, 1992, New England Journal of Medicine survey. This research found an excess of 46,900 children's deaths from January through August, 1991. That comes to 5,862 excess deaths a month. The journal also printed an editorial calling attention to this health care catastrophe.

The New England Journal of Medicine attributes many of these deaths to water-borne diseases due to the lack of electricity and water-processing – i.e., due to the bombing of civilian infrastructure.

Tony Hall echoed these concerns after his visit in 2000 to Iraq. In a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Hall said,

"I share UNICEF's concerns about the profound effects of increasing deterioration of Iraq's water supply and sanitation systems on its children's health. The prime killer of children under five years of age – diarrhoeal diseases – has reached epidemic proportions and they now strike four times more often than they did in 1990."

"Holds on contracts for the water and sanitation sector are a prime reason for the increases in sickness and death," Hall wrote in a press release issued June 28, 2000."Of the 18 contracts, all but one hold was placed by the U.S. Government. The contracts were for purification chemicals, chlorinators, chemical dosing pumps, water tankers, and other equipment."

When the UN offered Iraq a deal to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, the UN limited Iraq's oil sales to $2 billion every six months. 30 per cent of this sum was immediately directed to pay reparations to individuals and groups who were harmed by the Gulf War, to finance UN controlled humanitarian distribution in the north of Iraq, and to pay for all UN programs, including UNSCOM inspection teams, throughout Iraq. The remaining amount available for distribution throughout the center and south of Iraq amounted to about $10 a month for each Iraqi citizen. This paltry sum was intended to cover all of the needs of the people in a country which the UN knew had been devastated. Why did the UN limit how much Iraq could spend of its own money under these conditions?

On the 5th of December, 2000, the US Ambassador to the UN Security Council told the Security Council that the US government was satisfied that the oil for food program meets the needs of the Iraqi people.

Hans von Sponeck, the former UN coordinator of humanitarian concerns in Iraq who resigned his post in order to speak more freely about the punitive effects of sanctions, regards the oil for food program as completely inadequate. He denounces it as a moral smokescreen which covers over the fact that UN statistics from December '96 to July 2001 indicate that the amount of money available per capita in Iraq through oil for food sales is $119.70.

Von Sponeck points out that the entire oil revenue from the 4˝ year period came to $44.4 billion. Speaking in Seattle in November 2001, Hans von Sponeck unpacks what he calls the $119.70 scandal.

"For the humanitarian side, for the oil for food program, $26.3 billion became available….Now, that amount of $26.3 billion, if it had been entirely spent on humanitarian supplies, would have meant – quite a sobering figure, I think – $220 US per person per year in humanitarian supplies. That's all. But what actually, what actually had arrived during that period from December '96 to July 2001 is half of it: $13.5 billion. And that translates into a per capita figure of – and I call this, and you understand why, the $119.70 scandal. Because it is clearly a scandal! $119.70 is the entire amount that Iraqi civilians got as benefits under the oil for food program per year per person. And that is for what? That is not an amount in the pocket. This is for food, for medicines, for water, for sanitation, for agriculture, for electricity, and for education. That is nothing."

On December 10 2001, Mr. Denis Halliday sent a statement in support of a Voices in the Wilderness press conference and vigil held at a Baghdad electrical power plant. Summing up his opposition to economic sanctions, Halliday wrote,

"Children die in Iraq today under the UN embargo, linked to Gulf War damage, in numbers and in the full knowledge of the member states of the UN Security Council. With this knowledge, determining to sustain the economic embargo preventing improvements constitutes genocide under the provision of the UN Convention on Genocide. The shortages in Iraq today of electric power and the resulting absence of clean drinking water and sanitation for much of the civilian populace constitute an ongoing crime against humanity. A crime committed in our name by the US-driven United Nations."

I will look forward to Mr. Welch's response to the viewpoints offered by Mr. Halliday and Mr. Von Sponeck. If such a dialogue develops, Mr. Welch may want to leave the caustic language behind.


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Kathy Kelly is co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness and a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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