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Economic Sanctions - Iraq. 15 Feb Article

The following is the text of Roy Skinner’s newspaper article published in Australia.



Time to acknowledge

Iraqi people’s plight

Having seen the appalling result of postwar sanctions,

ROY SKINNER compares them to the worst excesses

of raiding Mongol hordes.

MY WIFE and I visited Babylon on a rare off-duty and extremely hot afternoon in 1992. I reflected on Iraq’s history and the modern disaster we were helping to alleviate through the UN’s programs. We were puzzled that having destroyed a country’s capacity to provide sufficient water, food and medicine for its people, the international community now deprived it of means to fully rehabilitate essential services. Nothing we had seen in the Middle East over the previous 25 years had prepared us.

The visit to the ruins of the ancient city of civilization did not soothe our spirits. Even Babylon itself reflected the disregard of outside powers for the history and dignity of the country. Arriving in that historical place we saw little evidence of its great past. Wind and rain over centuries had left only grey-sanded impressions of the former great wide and tiered hanging gardens. Less than 100 years before, foreign archaeologists had carried away most of the city’s treasures to other cities, the Ishtar Gate went to Berlin, the stela with 300 lines of King Hammurabi’s law of nearly 4000 years before was taken to Paris (via Susa). Even the Euphrates River had deserted Babylon, cutting its way further to the west.

On a mound facing the lonely site of the legendary Tower of Babel, I thought of the time the Mongol invaders hurled themselves on Baghdad in 1258 AD. They killed more than 800,000 of its citizens selecting most of its scholars, poets, traders and religious men for priority attention. The ailing Abbysid empire was extinguished. Mesopotamia’s extensive irrigation systems were destroyed for all time. In the next century Tamerlane made a similar excursion to the region.

The foreign policy of the Mongols for that region was to destroy people and infrastructure. They did not construct nor allow construction. Making allowances for progress in civilised behaviour, I saw little difference in Iraq between the situation of the 13th century and that of 1991 and onward.

In 1999 we see the accumulated effect of economic sanctions on the people of Iraq. Over 1 ½ million Iraqis have died since early 1991 from the effects of economic sanctions. Of that number more than 500,000 have been children under the age of five. If this were happening elsewhere it would be called genocide openly.

The yearly rate of the deaths of children under five is greater than the American, Australian and New Zealand war dead of each of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The yearly rate is also higher than the Australian war dead of World Wars I and II. To say that the Iraqi leadership is responsible is to deny the truth, but, the question is not related to the numbers of deaths, horrific though they are. Even the death of one child or adult should not be on the collective or individual national conscience of sanctions-supporting nations. The question is related to morality, to the international community’s response to the call of humanity - not mathematics. The Vietnam War body count era was changed by morality - in time.


Conscience-driven will lacking

The Mongols killed the scholars first. The modern sanctions deprive children, teachers and lecturers of adequate educational supplies including books. In addition to all the drugs and medicines needed, doctors have been deprived of medical journals, proper facilities and much more. Deaths caused by Mongols and missiles were brutal but quick. Deaths caused by the numerous effects of sanctions are much slower and more distressing, pre-death illnesses calling for repeated treatments and medications when available.

The present crisis in live stock management in Iraq needs attention too. The once eradicated viral foot-and-mouth disease has returned. In the past few weeks without vaccines, a million sheep and cattle have died or been crippled. Many anxious humanitarians across the world see a backhanded type of biological warfare in vogue.

We have never needed others to lead us to our moral responsibilities. We have passed the prefederation embarrassments. The early 19th-century events such as prayers for God’s blessings before the rounding up of Aborigines by hunting parties, and the flaying of men’s backs directed by a preacher/magistrate, are behind us.

In 1991, 35 per cent destruction or decommissioning of Iraq’s energy-generating plants had been listed by the targeting officers in the coalition headquarters. But 95 per cent was destroyed by coalition bombing. Records now available show how pilots became accustomed to selecting their own targets. That history is being repeated now. British and American pilots have been given the licence again to select their own targets if they feel threatened as they fly over Iraqi territory. In the reality of the circumstances, too many interpretations arise. Those who remember US President Johnson giving himself the right to approve targets in the early 1965 "Rolling Thunder" operation of the Vietnam War, will see the complete swing of the field operational pendulum, and they would recall too that "Rolling Thunder" did not break the will of the North Vietnamese.

The words of hundreds of documents and scores of debates fill my archives indicating the bankruptcy of solid reasoning as to why economic sanctions are imposed on Iraq. Several try to dismiss the idea out of hand, but workable weapons sanctions with associated monitoring could be implemented if economic sanctions were lifted. Non-confrontational, positive and direct engagement could make this possible. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent comment of the Iraqi leadership’s being caged is only conducive to the stiffening of Iraqi resolve. Most people with their backs to the wall gain strength. The impact of Winston Churchill’s famous speech of fighting on beaches and elsewhere and never surrendering should not be forgotten.

There is more than enough evidence from UNICEF, WHO, WFP, and FAO for the Iraqi civilians’ plight to be addressed.

What seems to be lacking is a conscience-driven will to address the basic question of the morality of sanctions. Thousands of Australians and others are joining their efforts to encourage public opinion to ask their legislators to answer it.

Roy Skinner is a former Australian Army officer and senior UN official who served from Egypt to Iraq through six wars and peacekeeping efforts. He is the author of Jerusalem to Baghdad 1967-1992

                                         END QUOTE


For readers outside Australia: Roy Skinner was on the UNTSO military staff of the Jordan/Israel Armistice Commission Jerusalem at the time of the 1967 War after which he opened the Israel/Egypt cease fire mission at Kantara Suez Canal. His subsequent civilian UN service was with UNRWA (including posts of Director West Bank then Syria), UNICEF and Department of Humanitarian Affairs (both in Iraq).

His wife, Margarita, a long term health and welfare volunteer worker in the Middle East, was UNICEF’s Health Coordinator Baghdad 1991/92 and is the author of "Between Despair and Hope Windows on My Middle East Journey 1967-1992".



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