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We're killing the innocent Just back from Iraq, Svend Robinson says UN sanctions are destroying a society SVEND ROBINSON Globe and Mail Wednesday, January 19, 2000 The eyes of the Iraqi mother cradling her emaciated baby communicated hopelessness and anger: "Why are you killing my innocent child?" The baby's doctor had just told us that the child would die within days for want of medicine -- another victim of UN sanctions. I was in the oncology ward of a Baghdad pediatric hospital earlier this month with a delegation from [Montreal based] Voices of Conscience, including doctors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), artists and journalists. We had come to see and hear for ourselves the impact of more than nine years of economic sanctions on the people and society of Iraq. Certainly Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, is guilty of brutal repression of his people, including the gassing of Kurdish communities, and terrible violations of civil and political rights. But Mr. Hussein and his circle are not being hurt in any way by these sanctions. As one Iraqi woman asked me, "If you want to punish an evil father in a big family, do you do so by killing his children?" This latest trip was a return visit for me. I'd led a parliamentary delegation to Iraq in November of 1990, just before the allied bombing started the following January. On that occasion the delegation included Lloyd Axworthy, who was then Liberal foreign-affairs critic. Now the minister, he must remember that earlier visit -- and know as well as anyone the results of the draconian sanctions regime, as well as the massive bombing campaign in 1991. He must know that the sanctions and the U.S. and British bombing, which continues even today, have been devastating to both Iraq's infrastructure and its people. Back in 1990, despite years of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq was one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East in economic, social and cultural terms. Holding the world's second largest oil reserves (after Saudi Arabia) Iraq had an extensive health-care system, clean and abundant drinking water, sewage-treatment plants, electric power generation plants, free education at all levels, and a comprehensive network of social services. What our delegation witnessed almost a decade later was the total collapse of a nation. Iraq has experienced what the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes as a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty. Unemployment is epidemic. Inflation is skyrocketing -- the average salary is $5 (U.S.) a month. There has been a dramatic increase in begging, prostitution and crime. The agriculture sector is in disarray -- a million sheep have succumbed to foot-and-mouth disease and the country has suffered a major drought. The once-thriving cultural sector is another victim of sanctions, as our delegation heard from the artists we met. Amid the litany of grim statistics, what struck me most was the gut-wrenching effect of these sanctions and the continued bombing on the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society, particularly children, women, the disabled and the elderly. A recent and comprehensive United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) report confirmed that the mortality rate for children under 5 in the south and centre of Iraq increased from 56 deaths per 1,000 live births from 1984 to 1989 to 131 deaths from 1994 to 1999. Describing the situation as a humanitarian emergency, Unicef confirmed that more than 500,000 children have died as a result of the imposition of UN sanctions. Another 4,500 children continue to die every month. Doctors we met in Baghdad and Basra spoke of their feelings of helplessness at being unable to save the lives of more than 2 per cent of the children in their care in the oncology wards, and knowing that many of those who survived would return to hellish conditions of malnutrition and open sewage. There was only one nurse on a ward of 100 children that we visited. Iraq has experienced an explosive rise in the incidence of endemic infections such as cholera, typhoid and malaria, and major increases in measles, polio and tetanus. In the pediatric clinic we visited in Basra, in the south, we told that the death toll over the last year is almost certainly linked to radiation and the Allies' use of depleted-uranium anti-tank shells in 1991. In that one clinic alone were 165 cases of massive congenital deformities leading to death in 1999. We saw shocking photos of these children, victims of weapons that continue to kill long after they were used. While in Basra, we witnessed the aftermath of allied bombing that "accidentally" hit a civilian neighbourhood within the past year -- an attack that killed and injured many. And I will never forget visiting the underground shelter in Baghdad hit by a so-called "smart bomb" in 1991, where it killed hundreds of civilians. Lack of hope and an economy wracked by hyperinflation has caused a huge brain drain out of Iraq. The middle class has been destroyed and youth have no faith in the future. We were told of proud Iraqi families forced to sell off their family heirlooms and furniture to survive. In the long run, one of the most destructive impacts of the sanctions is what a Baghdad professor called the "intellectual genocide" of Iraq. Under the sanctions regime, only 3.4 per cent of oil proceeds have gone to education, so the system has collapsed. There is no access to basic scientific and medical journals, no opportunity to attend professional conferences outside Iraq, and no access to computers. Parents give their children chalk to take to school, because the UN bans the imports of pencils (the explanation we got was that graphite has "potential dual use" and could be used by the military). Our delegation carried thousands of pencils into the country as an act of silent defiance. The ridiculous nature of some of these sanctions is astonishing: The Iraqis also sought to import cloth, which they wanted their thousands of unemployed seamstresses to convert into badly-needed hospital bedsheets. They were told they could import only finished sheets, lest the cloth, too, find some military use. In 1996, the UN launched an "Oil for Food" program -- a scheme that allows Baghdad to sell $5.2-billion worth of oil every six months for food and medicine. It has not made any meaningful difference to the lives of the Iraqi people. The 661 Committee (the UN security Council committee that implements the sanctions regime) has imposed absurd restrictions and delays on the import of basic medical equipment and supplies. Resolution 1284 (which basically approves a new sanctions and weapons-inspection process) was recently adopted by the Security Council despite the abstentions of France, China, Russia and Malaysia. It will do little to alter this grim reality. Indeed, some believe that the West's real aim is to gain access to Iraq's huge oil resources and fear that Resolution 1284 advances this objective. Following our 1990 visit to Iraq, Mr. Axworthy spoke out powerfully against the allied aggression. Today, nine years almost to the day since the bombing began, I am appealing to him to apply the principle of "human security" that is the cornerstone of his foreign policy in the Security Council; I'm asking for him to call for an end to all non-military sanctions on Iraq. Mr. Axworthy's senior policy advisor, Dr. Eric Hoskins, has personally witnessed the destructive impact of these sanctions and has in the past called for Canada to speak out in opposition. While Mr. Axworthy may disagree with former UN Humanitarian Chief Denis Halliday and others (including myself) who describe the impact of these sanctions as genocidal, surely he cannot remain indifferent to the suffering and death of so many innocent humans beings. Of course, we must work to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. But the deaths of Iraqi citizens -- in breach of many international instruments and treaties -- is not the way to achieve that objective. As Mr. Halliday said recently, "We are destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that." If I needed any more evidence during my recent visit, I needed look no further than the eyes of that anguished mother in the pediatric hospital in Baghdad. Svend Robinson, who represents the B.C. riding of Burnaby-Douglas, is foreign-affairs critic for the New Democratic Party of Canada. [Voices of Conscience can be reached at: 8166 Henri-Julien, Montreal Quebec, H2P 2J2, phone: (514) 858-7584, email:firstname.lastname@example.org -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full archive and list instructions are available from the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi