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"Eyewitness to Iraq's Nightmare"

Socialist Worker special report on Iraq by Anthony Arnove, editor of Iraq
Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (Cambridge: South End
Press, 2000; London: Pluto Press, 2000).

Reprinted from Socialist Worker #343 (May 12, 2000): pp. 8-9.

For single issues, send $1 to Anthony Arnove, South End Press, 7 Brookline
Street #1, Cambridge MA 02139-4146. Subscriptions: US First Class
Individual ($25); US First Class Institutional ($40); Canada and Mexico
($30); Overseas Air Mail ($50); Australia Air Mail ($60). Mail checks to
Socialist Worker, PO Box 16085, Chicago, IL 60616.


Anthony Arnove

“Eyewitness to Iraq's nightmare: Strangled by a decade of U.S. sanctions”

IN 1990, Iraq ranked 55th out of 130 countries on the United Nation's (UN)
Human Development Index.

That put it among the most advanced nations in the Middle East.

Today, Iraq is 125th on the UN's list.

It is a country in ruins--because of a cruel and bloody war waged against
it for nearly a decade by the most advanced countries on earth, led by the

To punish Iraq for its 1990 invasion of oil-rich Kuwait on its southern
border, the U.S. mobilized a massive military force involving dozens of

During the 43-day air war that began in January 1991, the U.S. and allied
warplanes dropped more bombs on Iraq faster than in any war in history.

The high-tech bombardment reduced Iraq to "a pre-industrial age," according
to one UN report.

Yet as savage as the U.S.-led Gulf War was, the years of economic warfare
that followed have been even more devastating.

The UN has maintained a severe set of sanctions against Iraq for almost a
decade, forbidding the most basic goods from getting to the masses of
people who desperately need them.

Among the list of goods embargoed under the UN blockade are medicine and
medical equipment, pencils, chlorine and fertilizer to name but a few.

According to the UN itself, sanctions have killed more than 1 million Iraqis.

There is only one word to describe this horror: genocide.

Earlier this year, ANTHONY ARNOVE, the editor of the new book Iraq Under
Siege, defied the ban on travel to Iraq and toured the country with an
anti-sanctions delegation organized by Voices in the Wilderness and
Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Here, Socialist Worker presents his eyewitness account.


AFTER ALMOST 10 years of living under one of the strictest embargoes
history has ever known, every ordinary Iraqi has felt the impact.

And everyone you speak to has a heartbreaking story to share.

On my last night in Baghdad, I walked late at night in search of a place to
exchange money.

When I finally found one, the man behind the counter realized I was from
the U.S.--and talked about the wonderful time he had on a trip to Nevada in

As he counted out piles of dinars, Iraq's currency, he told me he had been
the director of Iraq's national airline in Casablanca until 1990, when
sanctions grounded every plane.

In 1990, $3 would have bought one Iraqi dinar. 

Today, as a result of the economic collapse caused by war and sanctions, $1
is worth around 2,100 dinars.

That means that even middle-class professionals earn as little as a few
dollars a month.

According to official figures, more than 14 million Iraqis have no job.

In reality, though, almost everyone I met worked two or three jobs, doing
their best to scrape together a living.

At a middle school outside Baghdad, I asked a group of students to raise
their hands if they had to work after school. 

When the teacher repeated my question in Arabic, every hand went up.

Some of these kids will shine shoes or gather scrap metal. Others will
prostitute themselves.

The schoolteacher explained that she also had to work--after teaching a
full day at the school.

For her second job, she pieced together old scraps of cloth to sell.

The windows of her classroom were shattered, and the room had no lighting.

And not a single student had a pencil, a piece of paper or a book.

"This is the chemistry classroom," a teacher in the next room explained. 

But there was nothing in the room but students, sitting three to a
desk--and the teacher standing before a blank blackboard.

At a middle school and an elementary school that our delegation visited,
school directors said that neither building had a single functioning bathroom.

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, I met with Hans von Sponeck, who had
recently announced that he was resigning as the UN's humanitarian aid
coordinator in Iraq. 

Von Sponeck is the second person to resign this post and call for an end to

In the fall of 1998, Denis Halliday stepped down from the same post,
declaring that sanctions were responsible for genocide in Iraq.

Von Sponeck explained that Iraq's education spending had plummeted by 90

"Before the embargo, $2.1 billion was available for education," he said.
"In 1999, I calculated it was $226 million. That's all."

AS POOR as conditions in the schools are, they can't prepare you for what
you see on a visit to any hospital in Iraq.

Every one is stretched far beyond its capacity--and suffers from the UN
restrictions on what goods can and cannot be imported into Iraq.

The UN's sanctions committee, which is dominated by the U.S. and Britain,
has held up billions of dollars worth of badly needed medical supplies,
including blood, ambulances, medicine and spare parts.

Before sanctions were imposed in 1990, Iraq had one of the most advanced
medical systems in the Middle East.

So in the wards and hallways of every hospital, you see very advanced
equipment, built in France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and other countries.

But the absence of a simple part can make a $2 million machine
worthless--and so the equipment is left lying around, useless. 

Hospitals also lack clean needles and clean sheets. 

The facilities are overcrowded, so patients can't be isolated. As a result,
cross-infections within the hospital are killing people.

In Basra, a major city in southern Iraq near the border with Kuwait,
conditions are even worse.

The area around Basra was exposed to massive amounts of toxic pollution
during the Gulf War--including exposure to depleted uranium (DU).

The U.S. and Britain fired countless rounds of bullets and shells tipped
with DU, which is a radioactive byproduct of uranium from nuclear fission.

More than 300 tons of DU is scattered across southern Iraq and Kuwait. 

Scientists believe that radiation from DU-tipped weapons continues to
poison the air, water and the food chain.

In Basra, Dr. Thamir Ahmed Himdin, a bone cancer specialist, described how
the pattern and frequency of cancer cases has changed dramatically in Iraq
during the past decade.

Cancers are affecting younger and older populations, they proceed more
rapidly, and they are occurring with unprecedented frequency. 

Dr. Himdin said that he thinks many of his patients feel less pain than
other people experience from cancer.

At first, that seemed like a blessing. Then he explained that, as a result,
people, particularly in rural areas, are waiting longer to come to the
hospital to receive care--and so are dying before they can be treated. 

Treatment in many cases, he said, is amputation.

After showing us a number of cases of cancer and malnutrition--including a
9-month-old boy who weighed 6.6 pounds, what a baby ought to weigh at
birth--Dr. Himdin's assistant turned to our delegation and said, "Now we
will enter the miserable ward."

Here, we saw even worse cases of cancer. 

Flies buzzed around the bodies of most patients, who were too weak to swat
them away.

OUTSIDE BASRA, our team visited a displaced persons camp, made up of people
who can't afford to pay rent, including many veterans of the Iran-Iraq and
the Gulf Wars.

The camp is based in an unfinished public-housing project--and is populated
by thousands of families crammed into inhumane dwellings.

The entire complex lacks any railings, so young children can easily fall to
their death off stairs or the ledges in front of their apartments.

The area has no clean water, and in the main courtyard, which doubles as a
trash dump, barefoot children play in fetid pools of wastewater and trash,
alongside mangy goats, dogs and cats.

One family we talked to explained that they have electricity for three
hours on and six hours off.

Basra is in one of the so-called no-fly zones imposed and maintained by the
U.S. and Britain.

Although the "no-fly" zones were supposedly established to protect Shiites
in the south and Kurds in the north, the reality is totally different. 

Rather than protecting people, U.S. bombing raids are further weakening
Iraq's infrastructure--and claiming dozens of civilian lives.

In Basra, I sat on the floor with Umm Hydir--which means mother of
Hydir--who cried as she recounted for us her memories of one such raid in
January 1999. 

She was inside doing chores, and her children were playing in the
residential street just outside their home, when she heard a horrifying

In a state of panic, she and other survivors sifted through the smoke and

Umm Hydir discovered her son Hydir among the 12 people killed by U.S.
cluster bombs.

As she tried to continue telling her story, Umm Hydir called over her
6-year-old son Mustafa, who survived the attack. 

She pulled up Mustafa's shirt to show us the shrapnel from the cluster bomb
that shows beneath the skin of his hands, arms and his entire backside.

Umm Hydir and her relatives showed no resentment toward us. 

They made a distinction between Americans and our criminal government--as
did everyone we encountered on our trip.

"You are most welcome here, we love Americans," people would tell us. "We
just hate your government. Clinton is even worse than Bush." 

I had read about the bombing of Iraq.

But sitting on the floor with this woman who had lost one child and whose
other son had been maimed, I was reminded of the urgency of ending not only
this cruel war on Iraq but all the wars that our government wages around
the world.

"We are tired of words," Umm Hydir said to us. "We want action. You have to
figure out how to stop the bombings."


"I saw him in a pool of blood"

UMM HYDIR is an English teacher in al-Joumeriyah, a residential
neighborhood in Basra. 

"I go teach because I want to forget my sadness," she told us.

She recounted how her street was bombed on January 25, 1999, by U.S. planes
"protecting" the southern "no-fly" zone.

I WAS working in the kitchen when I heard a loud explosion.

I felt that blood was dripping down my face. 

Then I realized that all the glasses, the dishes and the cups were damaged.
Everything in the house was damaged and broken. 

I went to my husband and asked, "Where is Mustafa and Hydir?" 

I quickly ran to the street and saw people who looked like they were mad. I
started looking for Hydir and Mustafa. 

Then I saw Mustafa get up. 

His face was full of glass and small rocks and sand, and his eyes were full
of blood. I saw that his fingers and head were injured badly. 

Then I saw beside him Hydir, asleep in a pool of blood. 

I said, "Hydir, Hydir, speak to me!"

There was no answer. He was still asleep.

That is the story. We have been hit by your missiles. 

I wish for my voice to reach America and all the people in America who are
responsible [for the bombing]. 

I want them to hear my voice--stop the missiles, stop the sanctions. 


“The U.S. government: The world's most violent warlord”

THE U.S. government claims that economic sanctions must continue in order
to stop the Iraqi government from developing weapons of mass destruction.

This is sheer hypocrisy.

The U.S. and Britain supplied the regime of President Saddam Hussein with
most of its biological, chemical and nuclear capability before 1990, when
Iraq invaded Kuwait.

That's no surprise. 

After all, the U.S. is the major supplier of weapons to repressive regimes
throughout the Middle East--and around the world.

In March, the Pentagon announced a $6.8 billion sale of fighter planes to
the United Arab Emirates.

That followed a massive order of F-19 warplanes by Saudi Arabia, the recent
subject of a scathing report on human rights violations by Amnesty

Despite evidence of torture, murder and civil rights violations by the
government, Amnesty noted, "Saudi Arabia had escaped international
condemnation for its record…because oil-dependent nations like the United
States have not wanted to offend the kingdom's rulers."

August 6 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the state of siege imposed on

But August 6 is important for another reason. 

It is the 55th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the
Japanese city of Hiroshima, which was followed shortly by the bombing of

More than 100,000 Japanese died because of this barbarism, and generations
of children have been born with birth defects.

The U.S. remains the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the U.S. "stored 12,000
nuclear weapons and components in 23 countries and five American
territories during the Cold War" with the ex-USSR.

No other country has developed more "weapons of mass destruction" or spread
them as widely.

The U.S. is the real "rogue state."


"Longest U.S. air war since Vietnam"

YOU WON'T read much about it in the newspapers, but the U.S. and Britain
have been bombing Iraq almost every other day since December 1998.

This ongoing bombardment is "the longest sustained U.S. air operation since
the Vietnam War," the Los Angeles Times admitted more than a year ago.

More than 100 civilians have been killed in the raids, according to Hans
von Sponeck, who just resigned as UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.

The U.S. and Britain claim that the bombardment is necessary to protect
"no-fly" zones over southern and northern Iraq.

The two powers imposed the "no-fly" zones after the Gulf War, supposedly to
protect the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.

You couldn't find a clearer example of what novelist George Orwell called
"doublespeak" in his book 1984.

The only planes not allowed in the "no-fly" zones are Iraqi ones.

U.S. and British jets routinely fly through Iraqi airspace, dropping bombs
whenever Iraqi radar "locks on" to their planes.

Turkey has flown into the "no-fly" zones and sent troops across its border
with Iraq--to attack the very Kurds that the U.S. and Britain claim they
are defending.

In early April, the Turkish regime staged its latest assault.

"In what has become an annual event that marks the arrival of spring,
thousands of Turkish troops have crossed the border into northern Iraq
during the past few days to hunt down members of the rebel Kurdistan
Worker's Party," Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

"Almost anywhere else in the world, thousands of heavily armed soldiers
crossing an international border would be big news. 

"But this latest Turkish incursion into Iraq will be greeted with barely a
murmur in the West."

Routine ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Turkey and northern Iraq is acceptable
because Turkey's government is a close military ally of the U.S.


“Media toes the White House line”

THE media's record of reporting on the nightmare in Iraq is atrocious. 

Below are just a few samples of lies commonly repeated about Iraq:


In September of last year, NBC reporter Matt Lauer told viewers "This whole
problem began when [Saddam Hussein] kicked the UN inspectors out."

In fact, Richard Butler, the head of the UN arms inspection teams that were
supposed to be searching for "weapons of mass destruction," ordered
inspectors out of Iraq in December 1998 knowing that the U.S. was about to
launch an all-out bombing attack.

"Clinton administration officials played a direct role in shaping Butler's
text," the Washington Post reported at the time.


Last month, the New York Times' Barbara Crossette wrote: "A year ago,
accusations arose that inspectors from the previous arms commission,
UNSCOM, had spied for the United States."

These were more than accusations--as even the Times acknowledged at the time.

Former inspectors admitted that they had passed on evidence to U.S.
intelligence, including information used for planning bombing raids.


Last August, Crossette wrote: "Iraq appears to be warehousing medicines."

This is an outright lie, as UN officials have repeatedly said.

"We have no evidence that there is conscious withholding of medicines
ordered by the government," said Hans von Sponeck, who oversaw a team of
300 UN inspectors that itemizes and tracks every item that's a part of the
oil-for-food program.


“Iraqi children pay the price for the U.S. war”

THE IMPACT of sanctions and bombing on Iraq has been horrifying:

* The UN Children's Fund estimates that the mortality rate for Iraqi
children under five has doubled since sanctions were imposed. This has led
to 500,000 more deaths among children under five.

* In 1999 alone, U.S. and British forces flew more than 6,000 sorties,
dropped more than 1,800 bombs and hit more than 450 targets in Iraq--more
bombs than were dropped during NATO's war against Yugoslavia.

* The Pentagon spent more than $1 billion last year to maintain its force
of 200 airplanes, 19 warships and 22,000 troops that are part of the Iraq

* Of $8.2 billion allocated under the UN's "oil-for-food" program in the
last three phases, items worth $1.8 billion have been put on hold by the UN
sanctions committee--never making it to the Iraqi people who are in such
desperate need.

* Items that have been kept out of Iraq because they have a potential
military "dual use" include pencils, ambulances, chlorinators for purifying
water, detergent and water pumps.

* Before "oil-for-food" money is spent on the Iraqi people, the UN pays for
all of its operations in Iraq and reparations to Kuwait and other countries
with claims against Iraq from the Gulf War.


Iraq Under Siege

In this moving new collection, leading voices against the sanctions
document the human, environmental and social toll of the U.S.-led war
against Iraq, ending with concrete ideas on how people can help end the

With contributions from: Ali Abunimah, Dr. Huda S. Ammash, Anthony Arnove,
Naseer Aruri, Barbara Nimri Aziz, David Barsamian, Phyllis Bennis, George
Capaccio, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Denis Halliday, Kathy Kelly, Rania
Masri, Dr. Peter Pellet, John Pilger, Sharon Smith, Voices in the
Wilderness, and Howard Zinn.

To order, send $17 (includes postage) to Bookmarks, P.O. Box 16085,
Chicago, IL 60616.

Come to the special panel on Iraq Under Siege featuring Denis Halliday,
Phyllis Bennis, Kathy Kelly, Naseer Aruri, and Anthony Arnove in Chicago,
IL, June 11. For full details and to register on-line, visit or e-mail Discount on advance on-line
registration. You can also call 312-409-1105 for more information.


Anthony Arnove
South End Press
7 Brookline Street #1
Cambridge MA 02139-4146
v 617-547-4002
f 617-547-1333

National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981

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