The Economic and Social Toll of U.S. Policy Towards Iraq

Robert Naiman


years after the United States and its allies imposed economic sanctions

following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the embargo rremains largely in place.

Theembargo continues to exact a heavy toll on Iraqi society, even after the

passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 986 ("Oil for

Food,") that allows Iraq to export oil to pay for food and medicine (and

reparations to Kuwait.) U.S. and British obstructionism on the committee that

approves imports sharply limits Iraq’s ability to repair its war-damaged

electrical, sanitation, or health care infrastructure, also critical to health.


draconian character of the sanctions regime guarantees that it would have a

devastating impact on civilians; the highly centralized and anti-democratic

character of the regime exacerbates the devastating impact. Ironically, the

deprivation caused by the sanctions makes Iraqis more dependent on government

rations for survival.


the early 1990′s, average incomes in Iraq (GNP per capita) fell more than 80%.

This in itself indicates a catastrophic economic collapse, greater even than the

50% economic contraction suffered by Russia as a result of International

Monetary Fund/World Bank "shock therapy" in the early 1990s, greater

than the 30% contraction suffered by Cuba in the early 1990s due to the loss of

its Eastern European trading partners and the tightening of the U.S. embargo.


demographic survey conducted by UNICEF in 1999 indicated that the rate of death

of children under 5 years of age in central and southern Iraq more than doubled

in the second half of the 1990s from its level a decade earlier. Comparing these

mortality rates with pre-1990 trends of declining child mortality UNICEF

estimated that half a million Iraqi children died between 1991 and 1998 who

would have lived if pre-sanctions trends of declining mortality had continued.


the 1990s primary school enrollment in central and southern Iraq fell from 98%

of all children to 88% of boys and 80% of girls. In two years primary school

drop-outs rose from 17% to 40%. As a result of these shifts literacy fell from

80% to 58% of the adult population.


devastation caused by the sanctions has led to increasing criticism

internationally and in the United States as well. Three UN officials charged

with overseeing humanitarian efforts to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi

population have resigned in protest of the continued brutality of the sanctions;

former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Haliday referred to their

"genocidal impact." In the spring of 2000 a U.S. Congressional letter

demanding the lifting of the sanctions garnered 71 signatures, while House

Democratic Whip David Bonior called the economic sanctions against Iraq

"infanticide masquerading as policy."


the periodic bombing of Iraq by the United States and Britain continues, having

killed more than 140 Iraqi civilians in 1999 alone. In addition, Iraqis (and

U.S. and other veterans) continue to suspect continuing health effects from the

use of depleted uranium shells during the Gulf war – over 340 tons of such

shells were fired. (Recently, European governments – investigating following

complaints from their veterans – have confirmed widespread radiation

contamination in Kosovo as a result of the use of DU shells by U.S. forces



of the incoming Bush Administration have pledged to tighten the pressure on

Iraq. Nonetheless it is possible that the change in government in the U.S. may

create a new opportunity to challenge the sanctions, since many Democratic

Members of Congress may be more willing to question the wisdom (and morality) of

U.S. policy towards Iraq when this doesn’t require challenging a Democratic



years of economic sanctions have not accomplished anything other than causing

the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children, and much unnecessary

suffering. If the American people were aware of the human toll of these

measures, they would demand to an end to them. Their removal is long overdue.


Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999, Preliminary Report, Baghdad, July



Results of the 1999 Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Surveys, July 23, 1999



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