The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
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Hello, all. I've been following the recent discussion that erupted on the list with some interest, but was unable to respond because I was wrapping up the first draft of a book on the war on terrorism. I just finished that on Friday. As always, I deeply value Colin's encylopedic knowledge of Iraq, something from which I have benefited on more than one occasion. More broadly, I admire CASI's commitment to very serious analytical work, something which helps the whole anti-sanctions movement. More and more of us in the States, when we have to give an interested person just one website to find out everything about the sanctions, give them CASI's. I do have one question for Colin and one serious disagreement. 1. Pencils: There was an excellent article in the New York Times some years back by Stephen Kinzer, called "Smart Bombs, Dumb Sanctions." It's on the web at http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/smrtbmb.htm In it he quotes Farid Zarif, deputy director of the U.N. humanitarian aid program at the time, as saying pencils are forbidden because the graphite could be extracted to make radar-evading coatings for airplanes (like in the B-2 stealth bomber). Colin, are you aware of this article, and how do you think it jibes with your analysis of pencils posted on the CASI discussion list archives? I suppose it's possible Zarif was misled like others, but I'd like to know what you think. 2. Numbers: I would respectfully disagree with those who think number-mongering with dead children is morbid and distasteful. It is those things, but I think it's also essential. You sometimes hear people say, "If even one child has died from the sanctions, ..." -- a statement with little meaning because you can't look at a society of 20+ million over ten years and even say there has been one excess death, let alone attribute it to a specific policy. The scale is wrong. More important, you are always implicitly comparing alternatives. If sanctions had killed a few thousand people and Saddam's invasion of Kuwait had killed 500,000, the entire discourse about this subject would perforce be very different. So the order of magnitude of the number is crucial. Whether it is 400,000 or 500,000 is less relevant, but that should not be interpreted, as it often is, as license to continually downsize the number to be maximally cautious. All that said, I disagree strongly with Colin's claim that we should not attribute any number dead to the sanctions, because UNICEF specifically avoids doing so and because, obviously, any result, whether number of deaths or number of goats raised, is multicausal. That is, I think, a recipe for political and intellectual paralysis. Short of a case where someone gets a bullet in the head, it's always difficult to impossible to disentangle all causative factors. Some of Colin's arguments -- especially saying that some of the dead are due to the continuing effects of the Gulf War, not the sanctions -- I must say are sheer sophistry. When you say "the effects of sanctions" you mean "the effects of sanctions as re-levied on Iraq after the Gulf War when the infrastructure was destroyed." There is no hypothetical decontextualized "effects of sanctions." And, of course, the targeting in the Gulf War was deliberately done to intensify the effects of sanctions. To control for other variables, the most sensible thing to do, as noted by many, is compare with pre-Gulf War conditions and even, as the UNICEF number does, with extrapolated trendlines. The only meaningful, potentially addressable question there is "how much could the Iraqi government reduce the number of deaths with different policies." From what I have seen, they have not followed the most sensible policies, partly because they were committed to a high-tech, resource-intensive public health system and partly because Iraqis, unlike many others, are not used to chronic malnutrition. Still, I doubt one could conclude that they could have cut the number of deaths by any very great number. In any case, if they could have, it's not because of gross malfeasance but because of lack of competence with a catastrophe totally beyond their experience. It is also absolutely necessary to give people, especially in the United States, some kind of number so they get a feel for the scope of the problem. Individual stories reach people more deeply, but they must be complemented with the big picture to get serious attempts at policy change. I also have no problem with the 600,000 children under 5 figure. UNICEF found 500,000 in 8 years, 1991-8. The death rate has certainly come down, but to add a mere 100,000 in three years seems like a rather conservative extrapolation. Here's what I generally say: Although there is great debate about the number killed by the sanctions, the most authoritative results come from a UNICEF survey published in August 1999. Based on an extensive household study, it concluded that from 1991-98 excess death of children under 5 added up to 500,000. In the three years since, although the rate of death has come down substantially, it would be if anything conservative to estimate that another 100,000 children under 5 died. Given the ratio usually reported between children under 5 and total deaths, it's safe to conclude that over 1 million Iraqis have died as a result of the sanctions. In solidarity, Rahul Mahajan -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.