Iraq: Killer Sanctions and U.S. Domination

By Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1091, February 18, 2001, posted at

When ordinary people in the U.S. get caught up in the injustice system, cops, judges, and government officials love to lecture them about "taking responsibility" for what they've supposedly done. You know, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" and all that. But the rulers of this country NEVER take responsibility for the real and enormous crimes they commit.

Take what the U.S. rulers have done to Iraq. The United States and its allies are responsible for murdering anywhere from 500,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqis or more, over the last 10 years. They killed from 100,000 to 200,000 during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. And they've killed hundreds of thousands more since then with disease and malnutrition caused by sanctions that prevent Iraq from importing needed food, medicines and equipment to rebuild its devastated economy and social infrastructure.

One study after another--by United Nations organizations, human rights groups, medical experts, and others--has documented the enormity of the suffering of the people in Iraq and shown that U.S.-backed sanctions are to blame.

So do America's rulers take responsibility for this death and devastation? Of course not! However, they can hardly deny that death and disease are ravaging Iraq. And they are finding the support for sanctions crumbling among their imperialist allies (except for Britain) and client states. So the U.S. is trying to pass the blame off on someone else. It's not our fault, they say, it's Saddam Hussein's.

Last November, then-President Clinton ran out this twisted fable on WBAI radio's Democracy Now program. When host Amy Goodman asked Clinton why 5,000 children are dying every month in Iraq due to U.S. sanctions, Clinton said:

"That's not true. That's not true.... Before the sanctions, the year before the Gulf much money did Iraq earn from oil? Answer--$16 billion. How much money did Iraq earn last year from oil? How much money did they get, cash on the barrel head, to Saddam Hussein? Answer--$19 billion that he can use exclusively for food, for medicine, to develop his country. He's got more money now, $3 billion a year more than he had nine years ago.

"If any child is without food or medicine or a roof over his or her head in Iraq, it's because he [Saddam Hussein] is claiming the sanctions are doing it and sticking it to his own children. We have worked like crazy to make sure that the embargo only applies to his ability to reconstitute his weapon system and his military statement.... He has more money today than he did before the embargo, and if they're hungry or they are not getting medicine, it is his own fault."

Clinton screams "not true, not true," but check it out--he doesn't deny that 5,000 children ARE dying a month!

What's "not true" here are Clinton's facts--and his spin. According to the New York Times (12/6/00), Iraq has received $19 billion through the UN-administered "oil-for-food" program since it began in December 1996. That's $19 billion over four years--less than $5 billion a year. That's $11 billion a year LESS than Iraq earned in 1989--$11 billion less to feed a population that's grown from 17 million to 23 million. And $11 billion a year less to pay for imports that cost much more than they did a decade ago!

To make matters worse, this money does not go directly to Iraq but into a UN-controlled bank account. The funds stay there until Iraq submits purchase contracts, which have to be approved by the UN's sanctions committee. This committee is dominated by the U.S. and Britain, which have consistently worked to block Iraq from using its revenues. Middle East analysts estimate that Iraq has actually received even less than the $19 billion--probably only $10 billion over the last four years.

Who's Responsible for Children without Food and Medicine?

In reality, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children would be without food or medicine even if Iraq was getting double or triple the $19 billion Clinton claims it is, and even if the Hussein regime spent every dime on the Iraqi people. (According to Denis Halliday, the former head of the UN's "oil-for-food" program, "The [UN] Secretary-General has reported repeatedly that there is no evidence that food is being diverted by the government in Baghdad. We have 150 observers on the ground in Iraq.")

Why wouldn't a few more billions of dollars solve the problem? Because the U.S. has destroyed Iraq's means of sustaining life, throwing the Iraqi people into an existence of deep shortages and desperate poverty.

Iraq is a Third World country smaller than California. The U.S. and its allies have been waging war on this country for 10 years, starting with six weeks of bombing during the 1991 war and then continuing with sanctions. The U.S. may want to knock Saddam Hussein from power--but it's not just about one individual. The main goal of the U.S. has been to knock Iraq down and prevent it from being a force in the Persian Gulf region or the Middle East--no matter who's running the show. Why? To prevent any challenge to U.S. client states like Saudi Arabia and Israel and to maintain U.S. imperialism's stranglehold on the Middle East and the world's oil jugular.

In the pursuit of these goals, the U.S. has not only shattered Iraq's military power but its economic and social infrastructure as well. Before the Gulf War, Iraq was a predominantly urban society with a relatively modern infrastructure which included electrical, transportation, water, and medical systems that covered most of the country. All these systems, however, were very dependent on selling oil to other countries, especially the U.S. and Europe, in exchange for needed imports.

The U.S. coalition's bombs systematically targeted Iraq's electrical grid, water system, key industries, and transportation arteries. And sanctions, which have been in place since August 1990, have prevented Iraq from earning the money to buy the imports it needs to rebuild these essential systems.

All this destruction has crippled Iraq's economy and society, and it will take much more than a few years and a few billion more in oil revenues to fix.

A 1999 UNICEF study found that "economic development has come to a virtual halt and the physical and human capital stock of the country have witnessed serious deterioration." Meat and grain production has fallen. Much of Iraq's oil industry is destroyed or in disrepair. Half the people in Iraq don't have jobs now. Income per person has fallen from $3,500 a year in 1989 to less than $500, making Iraq one of the poorest countries on earth. Most public employees make $2 to $3 a month. The San Francisco Chronicle reported (1/16/01) that the "income of shoeshine boys and cigarette salesmen routinely exceeds that of doctors and teachers. The Iraqi middle class has virtually disappeared."

The rationing of food by the Iraqi government has prevented famine. But the head of the UN's "oil-for-food" program told the New York Times (10/20/00), "People have become so poor in some cases that they can't even afford to eat the food that they are given free, because for many of them the food ration represents the major part of their income." In other words, some people are forced to sell their food rations to pay for other necessities. UN officials admit that even if Iraqis had all the food and medicine they wanted, life would still not improve unless basic necessities like electricity, clean water, sanitation and housing were restored--in other words, as long as sanctions are in place.

The last two administrators of the UN oil-for-food program quit because it didn't even come close to meeting the needs of Iraq's people, much less helping Iraq rebuild. Denis Halliday, who resigned in 1998, called the sanctions "genocidal." He says that today Iraq produces only 35 percent as much electric power as it did before the war and that the electricity is often on for only 3 hours a day. As a result, water and sewage systems shut down, lose pressure and leak. And this contaminates the water supply and spreads illnesses like diarrhea, which is killing tens of thousands of young Iraqi children every year. So the U.S., in effect, is waging biological warfare on Iraq.

Older youth are being hit very hard too. Fewer are going to school, and more are being forced to drop out. Literacy is going down. Halliday stated, "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that."

The U.S. imperialists and their allies have not only been waging war against the Hussein regime--they've been waging war against the whole nation of Iraq.

Working "Like Crazy" Strangle Iraq

On WBAI Clinton claimed that the U.S. has "worked like crazy" to make sure that Saddam Hussein "had enough money and enough freedom in the use of the money to rebuild the country economically, and to try and feed those children and get them medicine." The U.S. imperialists HAVE worked like crazy--to maintain sanctions in order to strangle Iraq. And they've opposed every effort to lift or lighten sanctions.

For six years after the Gulf War, the U.S. prevented Iraq from exporting any oil (except what Iraq was able to smuggle out), which had accounted for 90% of its income before the Gulf War. In 1996, the U.S. agreed to the "oil-for-food" program. But it didn't do so because it was concerned about the Iraqi people. It did so because it was afraid that unless sanctions were eased a bit, support for them among other big powers would evaporate and the whole sanctions program would collapse. For the first three years of the "oil-for-food" program, the amount of oil Iraq was allowed to export was restricted. These restrictions were only lifted in December 1999.

On WBAI Clinton said that Iraq now has "the absolute freedom to spend it [oil revenues] on food and medicine and development." This too is a lie. Iraq's imports are still very tightly controlled by the U.S.-dominated sanctions committee which has repeatedly prevented Iraq from importing goods needed to rebuild its economy and infrastructure.

The New York Times (10/20/00) reports that the U.S. was blocking $2.25 billion in civilian contracts Iraq had requested and that 34 percent of the applications to rebuild Iraq's electricity grid are still pending before the sanctions committee.

At various times over the last 10 years, Iraq was even prevented from importing items such as pencils and chlorine (which is essential in water purification)--under the pretext that they could possibly be used for military purposes. In 1999 the former head of the World Health Organization's cancer program reported that "requested radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by the U.S. and Britain." Today, although Iraq is allowed to export as much oil as it wants, much of its oil pumping infrastructure isn't operating; Iraq hasn't been able to import enough equipment to maintain or repair them. Denis Halliday summed up that the U.S. and Britain "have deliberately played games through the sanctions's a deliberate ploy."

Who's the Real "Dictator of the Middle East"?

For the last 10 years, the U.S. imperialists have hammered away at the theme that sanctions must be maintained and Saddam Hussein brought down because he's a tyrant and a murderer. They have tried to put opponents of sanctions on the defensive by accusing them of supporting the crimes--some real, some not--that they've pinned on Hussein and his regime. When Amy Goodman asked Clinton why the past two heads of the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq have quit and called the US/UN policy "genocidal," Clinton replied:

"They're wrong! They think that we should reward...Saddam. Hussein says, 'I'm going to starve my kids unless you let me buy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. If you let me do everything I want to do so I can get in a position to kill and intimidate people again, then I will stop starving my kids.' And so we are supposed to assume responsibility for his misconduct. That's just not right!... He doesn't want to spend that money on his people. He wants to spend that money to become the military dictator of the Middle East again."

Dictator?! Here's the president of a country that ended welfare for its poor--while spending $300 billion a year on its military--complaining that a small oppressed country spends too much on its military! Here's the country with the world's deadliest stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons blaming Iraq for the scourge of weapons of mass destruction! And here's the world's biggest imperialist power--which stations its military all over the world, backs up fascist dictators on every continent, and dominates the whole Middle East region--crying that the real danger to the people is that Saddam Hussein could become "military dictator of the Middle East"!

This hypocrisy speaks volumes about the U.S.'s real agenda. These imperialists aren't against weapons of mass destruction. They're against any rivals or troublesome one-time client states posing challenges to U.S. power.

Hussein's Iraqi state represents the interests of Iraq's big capitalists (state and private) and landowners who have historically been tied to and dependent on various imperialist powers--including the U.S. The Iraqi regime has committed grave crimes against the people in Iraq and is clearly doing what it can to maintain its grip on power and rebuild its military strength. (At this point, however, there's no solid proof that Iraq has been able to rebuild its military to previous levels. Even the former "alpha dog" of the UN weapons inspectors, the U.S.'s Scott Ritter, says that all of Iraq's major weapons have been destroyed.)

So the people of Iraq need liberation. But the U.S.-British sanctions do NOT help the people of Iraq--the sanctions are an obstacle to liberation. The U.S. isn't sanctioning Iraq to help the people in Iraq in any way--it's sanctioning Iraq to maintain imperialist domination of Iraq and the Middle East.

And historically, U.S. domination around the world has included support for oppressor regimes--including the very Saddam Hussein the U.S. rulers today demonize! On WBAI Clinton said Hussein "is the only world leader today who has used chemical weapons on his own citizens." What Clinton DIDN'T say was that the CIA helped bring Hussein and his crew to power in 1963 and that the U.S. and its allies supported the Hussein regime during much of the time it was committing those crimes--including by selling it weapons! They built up the Hussein regime to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran; then they knocked it down after Iraq invaded the U.S. ally Kuwait.

Why the People Must Oppose All Sanctions

In recent years, a growing number of people from many different countries and many different walks of life have spoken out powerfully and taken action against the murderous U.S./British/UN sanctions. This is a heartening development, and it has helped force some easing of the sanctions.

The U.S. rulers have been maneuvering to keep up some form of sanctions on Iraq. It is unclear how the new Bush administration will proceed. There is some talk that the U.S. might consider continuing the embargo against military material while relaxing the sanctions against "humanitarian" goods.

But no matter what changes or refinements the U.S. makes in the sanctions, the basic goal of these sanctions will remain to further the U.S. imperialist interests in the region, not to help the people.

There are important principles here for all who support the planet's oppressed peoples and oppose big power bullying. The people of Iraq cannot be liberated until they throw off imperialism's grip on their country. True support for the struggle of the people in Iraq means supporting the Iraqi nation's right to self determination. It means opposing the U.S. and other big powers who want to dominate and control this oppressed country and its people. It means taking a firm stand against the claims of the U.S. rulers that they have a right to dictate events in the Middle East, including Iraq's right to control its imports and exports, its oil revenues, and its military.

And supporting the people of Iraq means opposing any and all U.S./British /UN sanctions against Iraq.

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