Exposure from The Progressive

U.S. Sanctions: The Deliberate Destruction
of Iraq's Water Supply

Revolutionary Worker #1119, September 23, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

Of all the tyrants and oppressors in the world, there is none that has caused more untold misery and committed more screaming injustices against the people of the world than the rulers of the U.S.

Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party

This August marks the 11th year that Iraq has suffered under sanctions imposed by the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition--sanctions which prevent Iraq from importing needed foods, medicines and equipment.

These sanctions have inflicted death, disease, and suffering on an enormous scale. In 1997 the UN reported that over 1.2 million Iraqis had died since the Gulf War as a result of medical shortages caused by the war and sanctions, including 750,000 children below the age of five. In 1999, UNICEF, the UN organization focusing on children, reported that Iraqi kids under five are dying at twice the rate they were before the sanctions began, now estimated to be 5,000 deaths per month. Much of this suffering can be traced to the U.S. coalition's destruction of Iraq's water system. Eight out of every ten instances of disease in Iraq today results from contaminated water, and Iraqi children are dying from the diseases of impure water--like diarrhea.

The imperialists have tried to justify these murderous sanctions by claiming they're aimed only at the Hussein regime, not the Iraqi people. Former President Clinton said, "We have worked like crazy to make sure that the embargo only applies to his [Hussein's] ability to reconstitute his weapon system and his military statement."

Now comes further--and damning--proof that this is a deliberate and calculated lie and that U.S.-backed sanctions are aimed at the Iraqi nation as a whole.

In the September 2001 issue of The Progressive, Professor Thomas Nagy of George Washington University writes, "Over the last two years, I've discovered documents of the Defense Intelligence Agency proving beyond a doubt that, contrary to the Geneva Convention, the U.S. government intentionally used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country's water supply after the Gulf War. The United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway." ("The Secret Behind the Sanctions--How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," available at www.progressive.org. Also available are instructions on how to access the original documents online.)


Nagy discovered six different Defense Department documents from 1991 that analyzed in detail Iraq's water treatment system. These documents show that U.S. military and intelligence agencies studied Iraq's water system very carefully. They assessed its vulnerabilities. They predicted the catastrophic health impacts of damaging or destroying it. And then they tracked the diseases spawned in the wake of sanctions and war. Together these documents form a blueprint for how sanctions could cripple Iraq's water delivery system--and a heartless assessment of the enormous human toll U.S. actions were taking.

The key document is titled "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," dated January 22, 1991. 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. For example, 96% of Iraqis had access to clean drinking water (three years after the war the percentage dropped to 45%).

All these systems, however, were very dependent on selling oil to other countries, especially the U.S. and Europe, in exchange for needed imports, and "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" analyzes these weaknesses--and their broad and devastating consequences--in detail:

"Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply, most of which is heavily mineralized and frequently brackish to saline. With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations sanctions to import these vital commodities."

"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, and to certain pure-water-dependent industries becoming incapacitated, including petro-chemicals, fertilizers, petroleum refining, electronics, pharmaceuticals, food processing, textiles, concrete construction, and thermal powerplants."

Professor Nagy writes, "The document goes into great technical detail about the sources and quality of Iraq's water supply. The quality of untreated water 'generally is poor,' and drinking such water 'could result in diarrhea,' the document says. It notes that Iraq's rivers 'contain biological materials, pollutants, and are laden with bacteria. Unless the water is purified with chlorine, epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid could occur.'"

The document also assesses possible actions Iraq could take to counter sanctions--including trucking water from the mountainous north, or relying on rainfall --but concludes that there's not enough trucking and pipeline capacity for the former and not enough precipitation for the latter. "Sporadic rains, sometimes heavy, fall over the lower plains. But Iraq could not rely on rain to provide adequate pure water."

"Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" details Iraq's dependence on the use of chlorine to purify water, and the increasing impact that war and sanctions were having on Iraq's water supply: "Recent reports indicate the chlorine supply is critically low. Its importation has been embargoed, and both main production plants either had been shut down for a time or have been producing minimal outputs because of the lack of imported chemicals and the inability to replace parts." And later, "Although Iraq is already experiencing a loss of water treatment capability, it probably will take at least six months (to June 1991) before the system is fully degraded."

In cold language, the document spells out what is in store: "Iraq will suffer increasing shortages of purified water because of the lack of required chemicals and desalination membranes. Incidences of disease, including possible epidemics, will become probable unless the population were careful to boil water...."

Subsequent Pentagon documents (see box) show that the U.S. continued to closely monitor the incidence and spread of diseases caused by the war and sanctions.

Sprinkled throughout these documents are warnings that the Iraqi government may "blame the United States for public health problems created by the military conflict," and "talking points" to help U.S. officials try and point the finger of blame at the Hussein regime.

Professor Nagy concludes, "As these documents illustrate, the United States knew sanctions had the capacity to devastate the water treatment system of Iraq. It knew what the consequences would be: increased outbreaks of disease and high rates of child mortality. And it was more concerned about the public relations nightmare for Washington than the actual nightmare that the sanctions created for innocent Iraqis."


These particular documents do not discuss specific policies or actions--like bombing or sanctions. So some might argue they're simply studies, nothing more, and prove nothing about U.S. intentions. But the U.S. hasn't simply studied Iraq's water system.

During the Gulf War, the U.S. coalition systematically targeted Iraq's electrical grid, water system, key industries, and transportation arteries, dropping 88,000 tons of bombs. The Sunday Herald of Scotland reported earlier this year that a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document detailed how the U.S. planned to systematically destroy Iraq's water system by bombing dams and water and sewage facilities.

Then, after the war, the U.S. and its allies embargoed not just military equipment but chemicals and equipment specifically intended to rebuild Iraq's water treatment systems. A year ago the New York Times (10/20/00) reported that the U.S. was blocking $2.25 billion in civilian contracts Iraq had requested, and one Congressman, protesting the impact of sanctions, wrote then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "The prime killer of children under five years of age--diarrheal 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. Of the 18 contracts, all but one hold was placed by the U.S. government. The contracts are for purification chemicals, chlorinators, chemical dosing pumps, water tankers, and other equipment."

So these new documents prove that the U.S. knew precisely the deadly impact of bombing, then sanctioning Iraq's water treatment facilities. And they constitute further proof that the U.S. has coldly and calculatingly been waging war on the entire nation of Iraq in order to advance its imperialist interests in the region. In short, the U.S. has been waging a form of germ warfare against the Iraqi people.


Government officials and the media try to hide what the U.S. is really up to in the Persian Gulf by focusing on--and demonizing--Saddam Hussein. But these new documents make clear that, while the U.S. may indeed want to knock Hussein from power, their real objective is to cripple Iraq by destroying its economic and military infrastructure--even if hundreds of thousands of Iraqis die in the process.

Why? To prevent Iraq from challenging U.S. regional domination or undermining U.S. client states like Saudi Arabia and Israel so that the U.S. can maintain a stranglehold on the Persian Gulf--where two-thirds of the world's oil reserves are located--and to continue their domination of the Middle East, a critical political, geographic and military crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe. Many other countries around the world depend on Gulf oil to fuel their economies. And the military and strategic control of this region is crucial to the U.S.'s position as the world's top-dog imperialist power.

The U.S. media has refused to cover this story. The key document, "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" was declassified in 1995, yet it's never been mentioned in the major U.S. media. Professor Nagy writes, "I disclosed this document last fall. But the news media showed little interest in it. The only reporters I know of who wrote lengthy stories on it were Felicity Arbuthnot in the Sunday Herald of Scotland, who broke the story, and Charlie Reese of the Orlando Sentinel, who did a follow-up."

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