Creating people's geographies
“First I sold my television, then my furniture, then my car, then my house,” said Mohammed Abdul Razaq, a retired office worker. “Everything that I built up over a lifetime is gone. A bomb is something you hear far away, or at worst, it kills you in a second. Sanctions kill you every day.”
— from Smart Bombs, Dumb Sanctions January 3, 1999 NYT (source)
“We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We’re targeting civilians. Worse, we’re targeting children . . . I am resigning because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”
— Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, 1999 (source)
On this day in 1990, citing Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Bush senior administration imposed the most stringent and inhumane trade sanctions on Iraq, a sham carried on by the Clinton administration for well over a murderous decade. In so doing, three US administrations oversaw the worst humanitarian disaster wielded by a sanctions regime.
It is a sham because if non-adherence to international law were the grounds for intervention (though less barbarous) and not simply admonition, Israel would have been properly targeted many times, of course.
Already battered by war with Iran during the 80s, and then invaded in 1991, Iraqi civilians were subject to the most devastating deprivation of much-needed medicines, water purification equipment and other items which led to the death of a million innocent Iraqis and over half a million children under the age of five.
After thirteen years of this crippling embargo, Iraqis innocents were subject not to any sort of respite but instead to a second invasion in 2003, an unwarranted and illegal attack on a nation that has suffered so much and has the misfortune of sitting on oil reserves and not bowing to US/Israeli/ Saudi designs for the region. (Or to put it more specifically, Saudi regime interests, US-Israeli regime designs).
The genocide of a million lives in Iraq today and continuing occupation has further destroyed Iraqi society, and cost over 3000 US lives since 2003. Iraqi health, utilities and other civilian infrastructure, once among the finest in the region, are now deteriorating under US occupation. The Iraqi power grid is on the point of collapse and daily violence make life unimaginably brutal.
When asked on U.S. television (60 Minutes, May 1996) if she thought that the death of half a million Iraqi children due directly to these sanctions was a price worth paying, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright infamously replied: “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”
Whether or not she later deemed her callous remark as “stupid” (bad PR), it is symptomatic of a mindset that has little regard for the sanctity of Iraqi life or life outside of the materially privileged minority world. Mark Curtis calls such people who populate the majority world and inconveniently get in the way of imperial designs Unpeople, expendable for imperial sectional interests who deem themselves worthier and entitled to privilege.
The genocidal sanctions regime was not without its protestors. Then UN Oil-For-Food Program Coordinator, Denis Halliday quit in disgust and so did his successor Hans von Sponeck, who called the US-spearheaded policy “deliberate strangulation”. These whistleblowers tried to draw attention to what was happening after seeing first hand how the crippling trade embargo was responsible for 5,000+ children dying unnecessarily every month because of the breakdown of water and sanitation and inadequate diet resulting from the sanctions regime. For these UN stalwarts, the inhumanity they were overseeing violated both the UN Charter as well as UN Conventions on Human Rights and the Rights of the Child; it was nothing less than genocide.
Less known is that up to July 2002, as John Pilger reports, more than $5bn worth of humanitarian supplies (food products, medicines and medical equipment), paid for by Iraq, had been approved by the UN sanctions committee were blocked by George W Bush, with Tony Blair’s tacit approval.
As British MP George Galloway later recalled in his unforgettable testimony to a committee of the U.S. Congress on May 17, 2005, these sanctions “…killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to be born at that time….”.
Here is one bright spot, albeit a cold comfort, in this thoroughly reprehensible and shameful devastation. It is the full version of Galloway’s inspiring testimony (48 minutes). Bear out the first six minutes of Norm Coleman’s drone of allegations against Galloway’s for Galloway’s stellar performance. These Senators had no idea what they were in store for with Gorgeous George and the full force of his Scottish broadside (his own statement goes til the 24 minute mark, after which its Q&A time. If you are time-pressed, my suggestion is to watch or listen from minute 6 to 24 if you haven’t already).
Galloway mentions the infanticide of the sanctions regime again at the 39 minute mark, worth listening to if you go the full length. The transcript is available here and here. Selected references follow the clip.
Lest we forget we are witnessing the wholesale destruction of a people. For Oil. For Israeli regional hegemony. For the Bushitters. There is an alternative and it is in our grasp to help create it as creative architects, not mindless puppets in service of despots who care not for the welfare of people, be it their own co-citizens, or Iraqis.